Dozens showed up to the Washington West Civic Association meeting to talk bike lanes

Almost as soon as the City of Philadelphia announced it would begin working on a protected bike lane network this past April as part of carrying out Mayor Kenney’s pledge to install 30 miles of protected bike lanes over five years (first proposed by the Bicycle Coalition in 2015), rumors flew across the Internet and neighborhoods about what protected bike lanes are, what they do, and where in Philadelphia they’re planned.

This was evident at Tuesday evening’s Washington West Civic Association meeting, which for the most part was less a “listening session” – as was planned, and hoped for, by the Board of the Washington West Civic Association and the City’s Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems (OTIS), who was invited to present by Wash West at the meeting – and more a “debate” on safety, streets, and, at times, philosophy.

To be clear, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia has not yet endorsed protected bike lanes on Spruce and Pine Streets because no plans for them have been presented.   A Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant announced earlier this year would bring $300,000 to Philadelphia for protected bike lanes.

There are many places the city has thought of putting protected bike lanes due to that grant, including West Chestnut Street, Columbus Boulevard, and Lindberg Boulevard.

But Tuesday night was all about Spruce and Pine.

Spruce and Pine Streets are some of the most trafficked by bicyclists in all of Philadelphia. The streets’ lanes are ripe for some kind of protection and/or upgrade, though the City has already noted that if such a plan were to come to fruition, installation wouldn’t happen until 2018 at the earliest, because, in part, the OTIS is still waiting on a decision about a second TAP grant from PennDOT.

So, OTIS staffers Jeannette Brugger and Kelley Yemen were invited to Tuesday’s Washington West Civic Association’s meeting to listen to neighbors’ thoughts on protected bike lanes, after giving a short presentation. And on Tuesday, and beforehand, there were many rumors circulated about protected bike lanes on Spruce and Pine.

First off, I had to write this on Tuesday, before the meeting:

We’ve been told or have heard from third parties that members of OTIS were also staff of the Bicycle Coalition (not true) and were being paid by the Bicycle Coalition (not true), and that the Bicycle Coalition would potentially support a bike lane that blocks ambulances and other emergency vehicles (not true), and that the city had planned on installing the bike lane in secret (not true) any day now (not possible).

One flier noted that the Bicycle Coalition had already endorsed protected bike lanes on Spruce and Pine Streets, which was, also, (not true.)

I have gotten numerous phone calls from Washington West and Society Hill residents stating their opposition to protected bike lanes, believing bollards are the only option. Those in attendance at Tuesday’s Washington West meeting got to see 14 different kinds of protected bike lanes that could be used, one day, on Spruce, Pine, Lindberg Avenue, or other places around the city.  Lanes with plastic delineator posts are one of those 14 and clearly, not the only option that should be considered.

In some cases, noted Brugger, the City’s Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator, different kinds of physical protection could be used block-by-block, based on what’s best for that particular corridor. And whatever the solution, OTIS says they will contact and consult with Council, residents and businesses before actually going forward with any proposal. The complaints that the city’s installations are imminent are based on a belief that is not based in reality.

Additionally, we heard claims there are no laws governing cyclists (not true – read more here), that the Pine Street bike lane shift from the right to the left after 10th Street (not true), and when debating bike lanes, Philadelphia shouldn’t be compared to some of our peer cities, like New York and Chicago (why not?).

It’s understandable that some are worried about the process given that there isn’t much information about the City’s plans, yet. But save a hostile government takeover by some kind of Bike Fascist party, no one is putting down protected bike lanes in the middle of the night without warning. There were some legitimate questions asked and gracefully answered by Brugger and Philadelphia’s Complete Streets Director Kelley Yemen on Tuesday.  They did an admirable job considering the heated nature of the topic and emotional level of those in the room.

We are as anxious as any for this process to get going.  But, until the second TAP grant is awarded, it’s conjecture to know when, where or at what pace protected bike lane projects will be prioritized, what they will look like and when they might be installed.  More conservations will undoubtedly happen.

Some media outlets were on hand to cover the board meeting. PlanPhilly had perhaps the most comprehensive coverage. Check it out here.

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