The statewide parking protected bike lane legislation, which would have made it easier and cheaper to install safe bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure on streets across Pennsylvania, failed to pass the legislature this year.
Last night, we sent out a version of this post to the more than 4,000 Pennsylvanians who joined our 2020 campaign calling for safer streets throughout the Commonwealth. Today, we want everyone to know first that while our work for getting this legislation through the state Legislature in 2020 is over, efforts to get it passed in 2021 have already begun.
Over the past year, we have learned a lot about how the state legislature functions, we’ve made new allies across the Commonwealth, and have developed a new game plan for the next Legislative session, co-sponsorship memos for which begin circulating on December 1.
For a quick recap, here’s what happened this year on the legislation (Senate Bill 565 and HB 792): SB 565 was Introduced by State Senator Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia) and HB 792 was introduced by State Rep. David Maloney (R-Berks). They were designed to amend the parking section of the state vehicle code to allow PennDOT to install protected bike lanes (bike lanes in between curbs and parking lanes on state roads), after local ordinances and rules are met. If that seems like a no-brainer, that’s because it is.
After a successful lobby day in April (which several of you came to) as well as many letters, emails, phone calls, and even demonstration “pop-ups” attended by Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Pittsburgh), HB 792 passed the PA House of Representatives in June 2019 by a vote of 200-1. The same bill also passed in the 2017-2018 session by a large margin.
The legislation (either the Senate or House bill) needed to pass the Senate Transportation Committee, then move to the full Senate. Senator Farnese quickly became a champion of this legislation, and got himself assigned to the Transportation Committee when a seat opened and brought up his bill (SB 565) for a vote in early February 2020.
But another Democratic Senator from Philadelphia, John Sabatina, had other plans. The night before the bill was scheduled for a Committee vote, Senator Sabatina drafted an amendment that would have forced all bike lanes installed within Philadelphia to go through a process in which a local registered community organization (RCO), state senator, state representative, and city council member, write letters of support for said bike lane. The amendment was largely seen as a poison pill meant to sink the entire bill.
But our supporters all over Pennsylvania quickly got into action. Using a draft email from the Bicycle Coalition, more than 1,500 people sent emails to the Senate Transportation Committee the night before the vote was to take place, calling on them to reject Sabatina’s amendment.
Your voices were heard loud and clear. The amendment was pulled and Senate Bill 565 sailed through the committee, unanimously.
Within a month, the COVID-19 pandemic would send state and local governments, and businesses, around the country into a tailspin. Soon, the Legislature wasn’t hearing bills that weren’t related to the pandemic.
But toward the end of the summer, the Legislature was getting back to business and SB 565 began moving through the Senate. We worked with Senator Farnese’s office to get it taken up by the Senate Appropriations Committee, which passed it unanimously, and then two floor votes before it was eventually scheduled for its third vote in the full Senate on September 29th. The good folks at Centre Bike met with Senator Corman’s Chief of Staff to ask that he schedule it for a third vote and things seemed to be lining up. The only problem? Senator Sabatina had, again at the last minute, sought to introduce an amendment that would grant registered community organizations veto power over any bike lane installation in Philadelphia.
Sabatina’s stubborn idea wasn’t just bad for the safety of Philadelphians — 130 of whom have died in traffic crashes in 2020 (the most since 1997) — it was actually bad for the registered community organizations that Senator Sabatina allegedly sought to empower. Because when legal veto power over public space is given to a volunteer organization in a neighborhood, the organization assumes some legal liability, opening themselves up to litigation. Seventeen RCOs publicly came out against Sabatina’s amendment, sending him public letters; and four RCOs in the Northeast, in and near his district, wrote a letter to the editor of the Northeast Times asking him to pull the amendment as it threatened their ability to exist.
Senator Sabatina never publicly responded to the letters or addressed their concerns that his amendment would harm RCOs in his district, and the entire City of Philadelphia. He refused to pull his amendment, or revise it, and, because of that, Senate Bill 565’s final vote was delayed twice.
Even though Senator Sabatina was the only Senator who seemed to support his amendment, the Republicans would not allow the bill to be brought up for a final vote if it involved a vote on the amendment.
Then, less than a week ago, the Senate and House passed their budgets, which signals the end of the legislative session.
This is not the way we wanted this to go. We are very disappointed that one Senator stood in the way of legislation that would have benefitted the entire Commonwealth. But the good news is, we’re already in touch with legislators in Harrisburg to talk about moving this legislation forward early next year. We’ve learned a lot of hard lessons about how the state Capitol works and how stubbornness and willful ignorance often rules that day.
We said early on that we are taking this legislation to make Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and all of Pennsylvania a safer place to bike, walk, and roll, to the very end. Whatever it takes. Expect to hear from us in 2021.
But in the meantime, remember that your letters, phone calls, and showing up, helped get this legislation further than it’s ever gotten, in any legislative session, ever before. The wheels of government are slower than the 7 mile per hour speed limit on the Kelly Drive Trail. But we’re here for all of it. And we can’t do it without your help.
Sarah Clark Stuart
Executive Director, Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia
Policy Director, Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia
Executive Director, BikePGH
Advocacy Director, BikePGH