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IMG_0304Republican Councilman David Oh introduced a bill yesterday which would sharply increase the fine for cars parked in bike lanes—a regular, daily occurrence that is both annoying and dangerous for city cyclists. Unfortunately, the bill also includes vague language which would undo many wins for road users and puts cyclists in increased danger.

The main crux of Oh’s bill—raising fines for drivers who unlawfully park in bike lanes—is welcomed. According to the bill’s language, stopping and standing in bike lanes, citywide, would increase from $50 to $200.

Anyone who’s been following our #unblockbikelanes posts knows we’d like to see this practice of drivers putting cyclists lives at risk for their own convenience end as soon as possible. A larger fine may help that happen—if enforcement is also increased. But this bill does not take particular issue with enforcement.

Bike lane parking aside, there are several other parts of the bill are incredibly regressive and roll back some of the improvements the Bicycle Coalition and others fought for in the Complete Streets bill. Things that will make our roads less safe.

We do not support this bill as written.

Philadelphia law states that bicyclists are allowed to take the entire lane of traffic if they deem it necessary. There’s a reason for this. Philly’s roads are narrow, can present parked cars (and swinging doors) on either side, and are packed with unsafe trolley tracks that make it impossible to stay to the right. There’s no reason to change this law.

I emailed Councilman Oh’s office for some clarification on the bill’s language, specifically, “not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic” and “share the road.” What is the normal flow of traffic, for instance? I regularly see cars driving 40+ miles per hour on Frankford Avenue. Am I impeding traffic if I safely ride my bike at 15 miles per hour on the same street?

Not to mention bikes must leave the right-hand bike lane to make a left turn, which this bill apparently makes illegal.

The second provision in the bill, besides being incredibly unclear, puts the onus of safety on the slower, more vulnerable vehicle. This is unacceptable.

Does this mean that every time a vehicle approaches a bicycle that the bicyclist has to head for the curb? There’s already a 4-foot passing law on the books. Bicyclists have all the rights and responsibilities of a driver. This broad, vague language seems to disregard all of that.

I did not get a response from Oh’s office. See update below.

Onto the blocked bike lanes. Enforcement of these gross violations has been, to put it lightly, terrible. Over the weekend of May 30th and 31st, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia’s Twitter blew up, so to speak, with cyclists all over the city reporting massive numbers of cars and trucks taking up bike lanes. I took a ride that weekend, too. Cars were parked everywhere. Enforcement seemed impotent. So, I asked the PPA if they could send me their stats from the weekend. They did, and showed me an entire seven—seven!—violations of blocked bike lanes through Philadelphia over those two days.

bike lanes blocked may

This sort of example, provided alongside our analyses of blocked bike lane violations, shows that you can’t just increase the price of a parking ticket and wipe your hands of the problem. Without a guarantee of increased enforcement, the only redeemable portion of this legislation is totally lost. If you agree, we encourage you to send Councilman Oh an email of your own.

Change needs to happen, but putting the burden on the more vulnerable road users for the benefit of motor vehicles is a bizarre way of going for it. Given this particular bill will not be looked at until City Council reconvenes in the fall, we encourage our supporters to pay close attention to the debate.

UPDATE:

Councilman David Oh called me back and left a message explaining the bill’s language. The analyses and conclusions stated above remain the same.

On “impeding”:

“Not impede is in the ordinance already. I’ve simply taken that language and I take it to mean if a road has a specific speed limit — such as 35 or 40 miles an hour, or 25 — those are meant for vehicles that can go that rate of speed. Typically: cars, motorcycles maybe. So, a bicycle that cannot go that speed should share the road and move over so cars can continue to go in that direction.”

On “Sharing the Road”:

“Sharing the road is exactly that. We’re going to have bicycles and we’re going to have cars and motorcycles and scooters and we have to accommodate each others’ speed. If bicycles are vulnerable, car drivers have to be alert obviously.”

Oh also stated that someone has complained to him from the other side already, noting that cars should be allowed to park in the bike lane to accommodate older residents.

Randy LoBasso

Author

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

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