Spruce and Pine Streets

The buffered bike lanes on Spruce St and Pine St through Center City Philadelphia are two of the busiest bike lanes in Philadelphia, and an example of how bicycle lanes can transform streets for the better.

Spruce St bike lane
Facts about Spruce and Pine lanes
  • The lanes were a campaign promise Mayor Michael Nutter made during his 2007 mayoral campaign.
  • The lanes were installed as a pilot project in 2009.
  • The Planning Commission and Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities studied the street, and found that the bike lanes were successful in reducing speeding, increasing bicycle flow, and did not adversely impact traffic flow. Read their findings here.
  • PennDOT found that both streets became much safer for all users after the bike lanes were installed. The first year of the lanes saw a 44% reduction in serious car crashes, 58% reduction in pedestrian crashes, and 17% reduction in all total crashes.
Weekend Car Parking in Pine and Spruce Lanes

Prior to the installation of the Spruce and Pine bike lanes, several religious institutions in Center City had an informal understanding with the City and the Parking Authority, allowing their congregants to use the right travel lane as parking during services. The congregants were required to place a placard in their window.

While we were successful in getting the bike lanes installed, we were not able to undo this agreement. Below is a 2010 letter from the City of Philadelphia’s Pedestrian & Bicycle Coordinator explaining why the city allows that parking.

Date: 2010 

The City of Philadelphia has a long tradition of allowing members of religious institutions to park in areas where parking is usually prohibited. Allowing members of churches and synagogues to park is perceived as a method of supporting those institutions and the services they provide to their communities.  It also mitigates the impact that neighborhood residents experience from increased parking demand from the religious institutions.

When contemplating the bike lane pilot project last year, it was determined that the political feasibility of marking the bike lanes depended in part on preserving parking privileges for religious institutions. During public meetings we repeatedly heard that neighbors supported the bike lanes provided that the ability of people to park while attending services was maintained.

During that period, my personal observations and my discussions with representatives of churches and synagogues made me realize that the issue was more complex than just allowing people to park for an hour or two on Sunday mornings. Services on religious holidays can create unexpected parking during the week.  Several Center City religious institutions generate a substantial amount of revenue from weddings, which are usually held on Saturday afternoons at churches and on Sunday afternoons at synagogues.  As a result, parking, including parking of limousines, will frequently occur in the afternoon. 

Like many residents, I was surprised by the parking demand in the late afternoon on Spruce and Pine Streets between 16th and 19th Streets.  I was even more surprised when I found that almost all of the cars parked there before 6 PM had placards on them. Then I walked up the steps to Tenth Presbyterian Church and saw that the 6:15 service that Sunday was filled to standing room only. 

The Streets Department, the Philadelphia Parking Authority and the religious institutions are in continuing discussions to see how parking along these streets can be contained. For example, Tenth Presbyterian has arranged for off-street parking and has encouraged their members to use that parking.  The Streets Department annually reviews the permitted conditions under which religious institutions may authorize their members to park in no parking zones, and will assure that those conditions are strictly limited to the times when services are actually being held. 

I certainly understand that the practice of parking in the bike lanes limits the benefit that can be provided by the bike lanes.  However, even when cars are parked on two or three blocks of a street with bike lanes, the provision of the bike lanes along the remainder of the street remains a major enhancement. The demands on Philadelphia’s streets are numerous. Sharing the road takes many forms, including the use of bike lanes for parking by members religious institutions.

I encourage all members of the Coalition to be polite and considerate regarding other roadway users.  Thank you for your cooperation. 

Charles Carmalt
Pedestrian & Bicycle Coordinator
Office of Transportation & Utilities
Municipal Services Bldg, Suite 1430
1401 John F Kennedy Blvd
Philadelphia, PA 19102
215-686-6835
Charles.Carmalt@phila.gov 

Free or illegal church parking on Sundays is not an issue unique to Philadelphia. Washington D.C. and San Francisco have also had to deal with clashing interests between long-established religious institutions and the increasing demand for street space brought about by city core development. Two articles which shed perspective on these issues:

Delivery Truck and Other Parking in Bike Lanes

The bike lanes are the legal loading/unloading zone for delivery trucks and private vehicles dropping off people or cargo if the curb regulation allows for loading/unloading. For more on the laws concerning parking in bike lanes, see our section on bike laws.