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Amid growing societal anxiety and recommendations to practice “social distancing,” a friend of ours made the decision to drive their car to work today, from South Philadelphia to West Philadelphia.

Part of the so-called ‘interested but concerned’ sect of bicyclists she said she “would like to ride a bike but doesn’t feel safe riding in traffic.”

Time and again, constructing safer, protected bike lanes has led to both an increase in bicycling traffic and traffic calming that have made Philadelphia’s streets safer. 

And in the midst of an abnormally warm spring and the Coronavirus pandemic — both situations of which are likely to get much worse before they get better — the Bicycle Coalition is encouraging more people to ride bicycles and recommend that the City accelerate ongoing planned bike lanes and install additional, temporary pop-up lanes to get more people out of their vehicles and onto the streets.

Indego, Philadelphia’s bike sharing program, has already announced a surge in ridership this year, according to WHYY, noting a mix of warm weather and worry over the global pandemic has led more people to commute outdoors.

Indego clocked 14,000 rides during the first nine days of March, that’s close to twice the number from 2019.

The numbers continue a hot streak for Indego. Ridership set a record with more than 86,000 rides for the January and February months. Last year those numbers were around 63,000. This year beat out the record high set in 2017 at 81,000.

“I think the early spring this year has been a positive thing for our program overall,” said Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability Programs Manager Aaron Ritz.

Maybe you’re using Indego at this time. If that’s the case, check out our guide for beginners, available here.

But here’s the other thing. There are too many Philadelphians like our friend, mentioned above.

More bike infrastructure would make our city stronger in situations like these. With climate change and global pandemics likely to continue and grow more prominent in the near future, a strong bike culture is a way to build resiliency. In the case of lost access to fuel, operators and staff, human-powered transportation will be there.

Here are the broad, and specific, recommendations to get more people onto bikes during the contagion period:

Immediately begin work on pre-planned and legislated protected bike lanes and convert all high-trafficked existing curbside bike lanes into pop-up protected bike lanes. While curbside bike lanes are safer than traditional doorzone lanes, they are also regularly blocked by private vehicles. Blocking access to illegally parked cars on these streets would allow for easier movement not just for people who bike to work, but their families and children, as well. Among the streets where this can be done, now: South Street Bridge, Delaware Avenue, Columbus Boulevard, Spruce Street, Pine Street, 10th Street, 6th Street, 13th Street, and the Ben Franklin Parkway. Some of these streets are already proposed for upgrades; we are simply proposing that the process be sped up in the short term.

Put more PPA and PPD officers on these bike lane beats. As we’ve seen on streets with protected infrastructure, flex posts are essentially meant to be run over and don’t stop the most egregious offenders from illegally pulling into the bike lane, forcing people on bikes, scooters, wheelchairs, and other transportation modes, into vehicular traffic. Ticketing and towing these motorists’ vehicles will both send a much-needed message to scofflaws and Philadelphians who opt to ride a bike to work during this period.

Require all buildings allow people to bring bicycles inside. Philadelphia does not have enough bike parking right now, and the easiest solution is for the City to call upon all buildings to allow bicycles inside for storage purposes.

The main reasons more Philadelphians don’t ride bicycles is because they don’t feel like safe enough in the current lane network. Philadelphia has a total of five miles of protected bike lanes on its 2,500-mile street grid, though we are set for 15 more by the end of this year. Given the circumstances the world is currently in — and what’s to come — that process should be sped along now.

Bicycle Coalition Marketing and Development Manager Ashley Vogel contributed writing and ideas to this blog post!

Randy LoBasso

Author

Randy LoBasso is the policy manager at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

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