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Pop-up bike lane in New York City

One of the positive benefits of unblocked, protected bike lanes is that they allow anyone using them to go at their own pace. If you’re someone who chooses to use a bike lane — whether you’re on a bicycle, in a wheelchair, on a scooter, or whatever — and the bike lane is fully protected, you can use the space to travel at your own pace to get where you need to go. 

That’s why when you’re on city and regional Circuit Trails (or MLK Drive right now), you see people of all abilities and age groups utilizing the space.

That’s less likely to happen on painted bike lanes on city streets. Why? Because standard bike lanes separated from moving motor vehicle traffic with a line of white paint does not feel safe enough for, and often is not safe enough for, anyone to get around the city.

Even unprotected buffered bike lanes, like those on Spruce and Pine Streets, are not safe enough for anyone to get around, as they’re regularly blocked by parked private and delivery vehicles. 

As has come to light in recent days, Philadelphians without motor vehicles — about a third of us — have not been given an adequate means to get to and from COVID-19 testing centers. 

As noted in a recent Philadelphia Inquirer story about getting tested without a motor vehicle, people seeking COVID-19 tests are feeling the hardships of living in a car-oriented society when another option always should have been available. 

That’s why my colleague Ashley Vogel and I wrote this piece for WHYY when the pandemic stay-at-home order officially began. 

“Bike infrastructure providing safe passageways between neighborhoods, would better position our City now and in the case of future public health emergencies,” we wrote. “Giving people safe access to their family members, and providing contracted delivery workers a less stressful ride to their customers, would go a long way toward improving our residents’ ability to do what they need to do amid a tremendous disruption.”

We then laid out a number of streets where the city could easily and simply put up pop-up bike lanes to allow Philadelphians easier access to their streets.

To be clear, while the testing facility at the stadium complex in South Philadelphia is drive-up only, the vast majority of the testing facilities around the city are not. I asked this question in mid-March and was told walk-ups are available at 20+ sites (which you can find by calling your healthcare provider or calling 267-491-5870) — but not all those sites are accessible to all Philadelphians. 

Many of those experiencing symptoms are (understandably) afraid to ride SEPTA and risk getting other people on the bus, train, or trolley, sick. Professional drivers are encouraged to not drive at this time — and the same risk of getting someone else sick is a prominent worry.

That has left many Philadelphians, according to the recent Philadelphia Inquirer article, with one option: Walk. Far.

As noted in the Inquirer story,

“In South Philadelphia, Karissa Justice, 28, also doesn’t have a car. Last month, when cough and flulike symptoms turned into severe shortness of breath, her doctor told her to call an ambulance. At Jefferson Hospital, she learned she hadn’t developed pneumonia, she said, so she was tested for the coronavirus and discharged. No one there seemed to know how she should get home without a car, she said, but they urged her to avoid close contact with people,” the article reads. “So Justice walked 2½ miles.”

Pop-up bike lanes, Ashley and I noted in our WHYY story, could be constructed on streets already poised for bike lane projects in 2020 and 2021. Places like 10th Street, 13th Street, 22nd Street, in addition to closing down certain streets, could create a safer, more accessible Philadelphia as we work our way through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bike lanes not only give more people easier access to where they need to go, but, when protected from vehicular traffic and unblocked by illegally-parked motor vehicles, they allow people to travel at their own pace without risk or being intimidated or injured. This would especially help those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, like loss of breath.

This is an unprecedented time in history. The Bicycle Coalition has taken on this issue (and the issue of closing more streets to allow people outside to practice social distancing) because it’s a space in which we have experience. Making streets safe for people is part of the greater good, and, right now, more than ever, it’s important our streets are safe for everyone.

We have the chance, right now, to make streets safer for people walking and rolling to get fresh air, to get to their jobs, and to get live-saving tests and medical treatment. 

Randy LoBasso

Author

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

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