Republican 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.
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.
Councilman David Oh called me back and left a message explaining the bill’s language. The analyses and conclusions stated above remain the same.
“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.
sent Oh the following:
I am writing to let you know that I do NOT support your bike lane violations bill in its current form.
Specifically, I do NOT want legislation which weakens protective rules already in place–such as the four foot passing law.
Nor do I support legislation which mandates that riders stick to the extreme right hand of the road in our city.
Trolley tracks, car doors, gutters filled with glass and debris, and other factors make it unsafe in many cases for a cyclist to stick to the extreme right of the road.
In addition, your “share the road” language, the requirement that a rider use a bike lane if present, and the language directing that riders “shall not impede traffic” also has the effect of putting riders in danger.
If a bike lane is blocked what happens if a rider goes into the other lane to pass? If a rider is traveling 20 mph and the cars 35mph, what happens? Again, riders should not be forced to ride “in the door zone,” in dirty gutters, into trolley tracks, etc.
It appears as this bill, which is being sold as a way to “unblock bike lanes” is actually a thinly-veiled attack on cyclist safety in Philadelphia.
I urge you to remove the regressive language currently contained in this bill.
Happily, none of our traffic laws have much influence anyway. Perhaps they should focus on passing a law that mandates enforcement of laws.
I’ll add that I do agree that it’s rude to impede the normal flow of traffic. I think it would be appropriate to reclassify all of Center City/South Philly/Port Fishington streets as 12 MPH speed-limited streets, for which bikes turn out to go at the normal flow rate.
813. Bicycle Lane.
(1) Any person operating a bicycle shall ride in designated bicycle lanes when available.
This bill doesn’t even sound good – it’s a mandatory bike lane law set up to punish bicyclists that can’t ride through parked cars, make left turns from the right side of the road, or offend following motorists by going as slow as the cars blocking the road in front of them.
If the bike lanes help bicyclists, they’ll use them voluntarily. They don’t always help in congested traffic, or in complicated intersections. Telling urban bicyclists they don’t have the right to avoid potholes and debris, or choose the correct lane at intersections is an attempt to restrict normal and safe bicycle transportation in Philadelphia.
I’m of the opinion that motorists need to yield to bicyclists, just as they are supposed to yield to pedestrians. The recent Duck boat incident shows how far we have to go. But I think things would actually go very well for everybody if only drivers would get over their thoughtless arrogance. Mr. Oh should go ride a bike. I think he’d find it a learning experience.
You cannot achieve Vision Zero unless motorists yield to bicycles, even when the bicyclist is wrong. Motorists need to do the same with pedestrians. A car is, among other things, a lethal weapon. Operating one brings with it responsibilities.
It wouldn’t take much for the Philadelphia Police Department to abuse the “impeding Traffic” clause and turn it to another version of Stop and Frisk. Just like the Tampa Poliec did.
I am tired of bicyclists being treated like a nuisance when cars are a deadly weapon often yielded by drivers who have no consideration.
I agree with Mr West above that Mr Oh should spend a day navigating these streets on a bicycle. I also agree with Mr Dolce that telling urban bicyclists they don’t have the right to avoid potholes and debris, or choose the correct lane at intersections is unfair.