philadelphia-city-hall-587By the time the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia’s representatives showed up at City Council on Tuesday, our petition for Safer Streets had received more than 220 signatures and stories from supporters concerned about Philadelphia’s streets — which, after a tough winter, are full of pot holes, faded paint and ravaged bike lanes.

That petition was handed over to Council, and BCGP staff members Bob Previdi and Sarah Clark Stuart testified about the importance of increasing the Streets Department’s budget. The Streets Department cannot fill pot holes, repave streets and paint new bike lanes at an adequate pace with their current budget. That’s why we asked for your help in telling the city why all Philadelphians need to see a change this fiscal year. Here’s what we wrote in that petition:

When roads get repaved, that’s when new bike lanes can get installed. Roads that get repaved get a pavement marking plan and those plans tell the stripping crew where to lay down thermoplast, thus creating a bike lane. The City’s 2012 Pedestrian/Bicycle master plan proposed where new bike lanes should go in order to build out the bicycle network and Mayor Michael Nutter proposed nearly $5 million in additional funds for the coming fiscal year, which City Council has to approve for us to see on the streets.

When the Streets Department puts together its paving program in the fall/winter before the paving season begins, a cross-check between the roads slated to be repaved and the Bicycle Network plan needs to occur in order to ensure that bike lanes get included on a road’s pavement marking plan.  Consequently, the fewer miles of roads that get repaved, the less bike lanes get installed. The 900-mile repaving backlog of streets is downright embarrassing.

The Bicycle Coalition and its partners proposed in the Better Mobility platform that the next mayor should commit to a doubling of the bike lane installation rate from 6 miles a year (the average number of miles of lanes installed between 2008-2013) to 15 miles of new bike lanes annually. Bike lanes that are desperately needed, especially as Indego Bike Share is unveiled on April 23. But before the next mayor comes into power, we need to set an example.

“Twenty-six-point-one of Philadelphia workers take public transit to work,” Previdi told Council. “Eight-point-five percent walk and 2.1 percent bike. Together, over a third of Philadelphia’s workers get to and from work using streets and sidewalks and they do not use a car. And those commuters need safer streets even more than motorists, because they are so much more vulnerable.” He read one of the stories from our petition, too, in which “bicyclist, pedestrian and transit user” Lindsay asked: “Isn’t it time to change the way we plan our streets so we can PROTECT our citizens from careless, distracted, aggressive drivers?” You can read her, and others’ stories, here.

NBC 10 did a short report on the issue yesterday, which is available here:

Previdi spoke first, explaining much of what we’ve been putting out over the last few months. The response from Council? Overwhelmingly positive.

Councilman O’Neill, who represents the 10th Councilmanic District in Northeast Philadelphia, agreed with Previdi that the city should begin looking at adding protected bike lanes to our streets. “It’s an eye opener,” he said of the potential to separate cyclists from motor vehicle traffic.

Protected lanes’ potential to both calm down traffic and keep cyclists safe is just “common sense,” O’Neill stated.

That positive response wasn’t just felt by O’Neill, though. Councilman Mark Squilla, of the Second District, said he believes “protected bike lanes are a great way to go for the future,” and even implied he’d be open to creating some bike-only streets in the city.

Councilwoman Marian Tasco, of the Ninth District, asked about bicyclists’ behavior, recounting a story of her friend who was hit by a bicyclist while crossing the street.

“Well, automobile drivers don’t behave all the time, either,” said Previdi. He added that more bike lanes always mean better behavior on all fronts. Case in point? After the buffered bike lanes were installed on Spruce and Pine Streets in Center City, traffic crashes declined 26 percent without slowing down traffic. The enhanced safety created after Pine and Spruce Streets were refurbished are examples of what we should be doing all over the city.

Coalition Deputy Director Sarah Clark Stuart testified next, noting in her testimony that the Streets Department is severely underfunded. And not just for Philly, but compared to our peer cities, too.

After all, between 2008 and 2013, Philadelphia added 36.2 miles of bike lanes—no small feat, but it pales in comparison to Boston, which installed 81; Chicago, which installed about 72 miles (which includes 17.7 miles of protected lanes); and New York City, which installed 175.4 miles of standard and buffered lanes, and 31 miles of protected lanes. Philadelphia is falling behind in terms of pure numbers, and on a per capita basis.


We know. Talk is cheap. But the difference between now and, say, ever, is that Council is responding. They’re taking our evidence- and data-driven suggestions at face value and are showing us they understand that bike and pedestrian safety is important to all Philadelphia road users, and perhaps even more so now that bike share is set to launch.

This could not have happened without your help. You shared our success stories, attended the Better Mobility mayoral forum in March and signed our petition for better, safer streets. The city government is listening. Let’s keep it up.

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