Biking the Suburbs

Although Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have a combined nearly 300 miles of bike lanes (over 200 in Philadelphia and 60 in Pittsburgh), the rest of the state has remarkably few.  The map below of Southeastern Pennsylvania clearly illustrates the disparity in the number of bike lanes that exist between Philadelphia and its surrounding suburban counties.

Why is this the case?  We’ve explained it before, but we’ll explain it again. The answer lies in a strangely worded PennDOT requirement called the “Bicycle Occupancy Permit,” or the BOP.  PennDOT’s regulations require that a bike lane cannot be installed on any state road unless the municipality is willing to sign a Bicycle Occupancy Permit and accept full legal liability and maintenance requirements. Check out the embedded map of Southeast Pennsylvania’s bike lanes:

As Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are considered big enough to not need to sign a “permit” to accept liability, PennDOT doesn’t require a BOP for bike lanes on state roads within those two cities. However, all other municipalities must accept full legal and maintenance responsibility (read plow snow from bike lanes while PennDOT plows the travel lanes.)

Consequently, few municipalities are willing to accept that responsibility. That’s how Pennsylvania has created a disparity in how it accommodates bicyclists; Philly and Pittsburgh have city-wide bikeway networks, while the rest of the state has only a smattering of bike lanes here and there.

The state’s bicycle advocacy community has been calling for an overhaul of this policy for many years.  After working hard to help secure passage of Act 89 in 2013, the state transportation bill that funneled new gas tax revenue to PennDOT to make the state’s transportation networks more “multi-modal,” bicycle advocates met with PennDOT officials in early 2014 and asked them to take action to remove this burdensome and nonsensical policy obstacle.

A year later, in March of 2015, anxious for a solution so that they could start installing bike lanes on state roads in their jurisdictions, the five counties of southeast PA formally asked PennDOT Secretary Richards to take action to fix the BOP problem. She responded by saying an agency review would produce a solution by early 2016.

And in October 2015,  upon learning that agency review would be delayed, the Bicycle Coalition’s former executive director, Alex Doty, in his capacity as chair of the Pedal Cycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (PPAC,) asked Secretary Richards to take early action on the BOP.

Five months later, no formal response has yet been made to Doty’s request.

Last week, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia organized a sign-on letter to Secretary Leslie Richards calling on her to remove the BOP as a policy obstacle to making Pennsylvania’s roads safer and better able to accommodate bicyclists. Seven other bicycle organizations from around the state also signed on.

February 2016 Sec. Richards Letter Regarding the BOP

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