Ever wonder why there are so many bike lanes in Philadelphia but so few in the four surrounding suburban counties? We’ve explained it before, but its time for an update on our efforts to resolve the long-standing problem preventing making suburban roads safer for bicycling. The primary reason is because PennDOT has a policy that requires municipalities to agree to maintain and assume liability for bike lanes (and sharrows and signs) on state roads.
Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have overarching agreements with PennDOT that circumvent this policy, called the “Bicycle Occupancy Permit.” It has been the bane of suburban bicyclists and county planners for years. Municipalities generally refuse to agree to plow a bike lane or assume liability for a few feet of asphalt that is sharing the roadway that PennDOT is already responsible for. Because almost all roads in the suburbs are state roads, this policy effectively obstructs the installation of bike facilities in the suburbs. Meanwhile, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have installed hundreds of miles of them.
Since 2012, Bicycle Coalition staff and citizen advocates who work through our affiliate groups (Bike Delaware County, Bike Bucks County and Bike Chester County) have been working with staff from Delaware, Chester, Montgomery & Bucks counties, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and PennDOT District 6 to identify some good candidate roads for bicycle facilities and develop pavement marking plans. The approach was taken so that all parties could find common ground on which roads were priorities for improvements and then to decide on which facilities worked best for those roads so that the pavement marking plans were ready when the road was next repaved. A contractor was hired by PennDOT District 6, McCormick Taylor, to prepare the pavement marking plans. This effort resulted in the development of pavement marking plans for seven roads in the four counties.
All parties involved in this effort assumed that the BOP policy would be addressed and resolved by PennDOT’s Central Office. PennDOT’s own Pedal Cycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (PEPAC) had formally requested PennDOT staff in early 2014 to implement solutions so that the policy wasn’t such an obstruction. But, that effort did not yield any results and the matter was handed over to PennDOT’s Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) in late 2014. The TAC in turn, decided to study the matter and hired contractors Gannett Fleming and Drive Engineering to develop a “statewide framework for bicycle and pedestrian policy.”
After going through the process of identifying the roads and developing pavement marking plans and realizing that the BOP remained an obstacle to moving forward, the counties decided to go on the record encouraging PennDOT to address the BOP problem. They sent a joint letter to Secretary Richards in March 2015 asking that the policy be reviewed and revised.
The Secretary replied in April that the ongoing process to develop a new bicycle pedestrian policy could “include an evaluation of the existing BOP requirements.”
We think a new state policy on bicycle and pedestrian issues can and should be figured out before early 2016. We call upon PennDOT and the TAC to issue the new policy before the end of 2015 and for once and for all and revise the BOP requirements so that suburban roads can be made safer for bicycling.