If you ride a bus or a bike on Chestnut or Market Streets in Center City, you probably know, all too well, that the painted “Bus/Bike Only” designations on the street may as well be translucent.
And in some cases, they are!
Either way, no one respects the lanes as they’re marked. The rules are not enforced.
Such realities have made riding a bicycle through these Center City streets, or getting anywhere on a bus quickly, nearly impossible.
City officials have noticed. On Thursday, members of the City, SEPTA, PPA, Police, and City Council President Darrell Clarke held a press conference at Broad and Chestnut to talk about a new program to tackle this congestion problem.
According to the officials, there will be a new “focus on illegal movements along Market and Chestnut Streets that impact Philadelphians riding buses, walking, bicycling, and driving.”
What that focus means, exactly? An increase in moving violation and parking enforcement along the Bus/Bike Only lanes to, hopefully, create less congestion and use the lanes in the ways the paint, alone, could not.
“People need to get to where they are going – to work, to school, to see their loved ones – and not worry about getting stuck in traffic. It’s that simple. That is why the City is joining forces with SEPTA and the PPA to put this project in motion. We don’t need any new legislation, we are just enforcing laws already on the books,” said Mayor Jim Kenney at Thursday’s press conference.
Going into effect on September 24, the focus will be on Chestnut Street between 22nd and 10th, and Market between 7th and 13th. The only accepted use of the bus/bike lanes on these streets by other (motorized) vehicles will be right turns, according to the plan.
Scott Petri of the PPA noted that the PPA does not want to see more tickets written, but more likely will be written. An unbelievable amount of motor vehicles regularly block bus stops, he noted. A Philadelphia Police spokesperson agreed, noting the goal is to change the culture of driving in Center City, not to hand out more tickets. (Although more tickets will likely be handed out.)
Council President Clarke, who recently introduced legislation to add an additional civilian force to enforce traffic in Center City, spoke of his legislation and noted he was working with the administration on some details of the plan. Such a force could likely supplement this increased enforcement effort, and make it a permanent place in Center City, clearing congestion and enticing more people to ride public transportation and bicycles.
To be clear, we are skeptical of this overall plan and do not support enforcement as a first resort. Enforcement should be the last option, always. We are also unaware of any specifics of this plan outside of what was said at the press conference. This is not a Bicycle Coalition-approved effort. Re-engineering the streets, we believe, is the most useful tactic for creating safer and less congested streets.
But we want this to succeed.
We’ll be keeping a watchful eye on the modes of enforcement and increased policing presence out on Market and Chestnut Streets next week, and will report back with any developments.
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