In his effort to force more community input from registered community organizations when bike lanes are installed in Philadelphia, Senator John Sabatina seems to have forgotten one thing: To get community input.
Earlier this year, the Philadelphia state Senator sought to attach an amendment to Senate Bill 565 to delay the installation of bike lanes in Philadelphia with a broad, confusing requirement for a meeting with a registered community organization, and a letter in support of the bike lane in question within 30 days of a community meeting.
The city already basically does that. Philadelphia already has the most rigorous process for installing bike lanes of any major city in the United States. The amendment is meant to slow down the process and potentially stop bike lanes from being installed.
But in this effort to give registered community organizations more power over bike lanes and bike lanes only, Sabatina’s amendment could actually put more liability on RCOs and potentially put them out of business. RCOs understand this. They could have told Sabatina before he wrote his disastrous amendment. Seventeen RCOs have publicly condemned the amendment, and now, four RCOs in Northeast Philadelphia (in and near Sabatina’s district), have written a letter to the editor condemning the senator’s approach.
Here is the letter, in full:
Amendment would hurt RCOs
There is an amendment to a transportation bill working its way through Harrisburg, introduced by state Sen. John Sabatina (D-5th dist.), that would throw a wrench into the Registered Community Organization process.
The amendment in question is one that would require RCOs to formally approve bike lanes before they could be installed by the City of Philadelphia. The intention of the amendment is to provide more community input for these traffic safety tools.
The Holmesburg Civic Association as well as the Upper Holmesburg Civic Association and others signed onto this op/ed are strongly opposed to this amendment.
As the heads of RCOs in the 5th District, we are united in believing that our senator’s amendment would have the opposite effect of its intention.
We oppose it because of the degree that it would increase our legal exposure. Any RCO in Philadelphia can tell you about the legal risks RCOs — which consist of volunteers — are already exposed to.
Forcing our organizations to exercise veto power over a traffic safety device would, at the very least, increase our insurance premiums immediately and, at the most, jeopardize our organizations’ existence and put our board directors at risk. RCOs were created for an advisory role, not for veto power. Such power is delegated to city councilmembers.
Changing our organizations’ definitions and authority is a conversation and process that should involve more thought than a little-publicized amendment to a transportation bill in the state Senate.
We urge Sen. Sabatina to rethink his amendment and propose one instead that maintains the role of RCOs in the city’s civic engagement process, and to convene residents and provide them with the opportunity to comment on projects as they are being planned.
Tara L. Gontek
Holmesburg Civic Association
Upper Holmesburg Civic Association
Andrew Pry Ortega
East Kensington Neighbors Association
Unfortunately, we are reaching a point of no return. While this is the closest the Bicycle Coalition and our allies have ever gotten to passing this legislation, which would make it easier and cheaper to install parking-protected bike lanes in the city and around the Commonwealth, the amendment is a non-starter, perhaps purposely so.
Here’s the bad part: There are only a few Senate sessions left before the next session begins, and if Sabatina doesn’t amendment his amendment’s language before that, it’s unlikely we will see the bill pass before the end of the year. Even if the senator would agree to retract his amendment, the Pennsylvania Legislature has weirdly re-focused on potentially disenfranchising the Commonwealth’s voters over President Donald Trump’s conspiracy theories about a stolen election. Things are looking grim, for sure, but we are continuing to work to make this a reality.