Bicycle Coalition

On Thursday, a story appeared on debating whether or not people who drive more expensive cars are bigger jerks than people who drive less expensive ones. It was based on a recent survey which claimed this was, in fact, the case.

I was interviewed by the reporter for the story to give the cyclist’s point of view.

My answer: Nope. And when I see a driver with their face in their phone, I’m usually not looking at the make and model of the metal encasing with which they’ve chosen to surround themselves.

I spoke to the reporter for a while, and we got into several topics surrounding the streets bicyclists and motor vehicle users share in Philadelphia. Being that reporters are under deadlines and have word counts and such, he obviously wasn’t able to put everything I said in there—or even “much” of it. Instead, he quoted me saying “Drivers on phones worry me … And also people from New Jersey. They don’t give me enough room.”

I was misquoted here. (I don’t think I’ve ever used the term “worry me” in my life!) But either way, it’s worth explaining what I was getting at.

In our conversation, I spoke specifically to my own commute from the Kensington section of Philadelphia into Center City, which I do each morning and afternoon.

The most stressful part of this trip is along 6th Street between Callowhill and Market Streets. Mostly, because cyclists drive across two expressway exits—only one of which has a stop light. (And FedEx trucks park in the bike lane near WHYY all the time.)

Anyway, drivers coming off the expressway just south of Callowhill Street come across what’s called a “Conflict Zone” (green paint meant to tell drivers to yield for cyclists). And—wouldn’t you believe it?—most drivers approaching the conflict zone either have no idea they’re supposed to yield, or just don’t. It’s a good argument and example for getting rid of the idea of conflict zones. They rarely work.

Bicycle Coalition

Conflict zone on 6th Street

My suspicion is that most of the drivers coming off the expressway are not as familiar with city streetscapes as people who regularly drive in the city, probably because they do not live here.

On that same stretch of 6th Street is the exit to get onto the Ben Franklin Bridge, and ask any cyclist: You regularly see aggressive drivers in near misses with each other, wrestling their way across three lanes and onto the bridge.

Bicycle Coalition

Exit for Ben Franklin Bridge from 6th Street

So, while some drivers coming from, or driving to, New Jersey, are not familiar with city streets and what the paint and markers mean (or, simply ignore them), “people from New Jersey” are not the only culprits here.

As far as giving “me enough room”: Pennsylvania law requires all vehicles to provide four feet when passing cyclists, and this mostly-unenforced rule is mostly ignored. That’s not unique to New Jersey (even though they don’t even have a required “passing length” in the Garden State), it’s the reality cyclists currently live with. But I don’t think I ever said, “They don’t give me enough room.”

I tried to make the point that most drivers are simply unaware of how much room they’re supposed to provide, despite the Bicycle Coalition’s publicity campaigns. And what’s the solution here? Better, safer bike lanes that physically don’t allow motor boxes to slip into a cyclist’s path or share a “conflict zone.”

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