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After several months of planning and meetings, a Philadelphia neighborhood organization has successfully blocked the construction of a new protected bike lane and section of the East Coast Greenway.

Taking place in March, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down, the East Torresdale Civic Association voted 106-12 against a street safety proposal to install a protected bike lane on State Road, between Linden and Grant Avenues.

Philadelphia’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability began speaking with the East Torresdale Civic Association in December, noting State Road has had several injurious crashes over the last several years, and, given PennDOT had planned on repaving in 2020, this was a good time to make the street safer for pedestrians, drivers, and people who bike.

But many in the neighborhood worried that the project would lead to an insurmountable loss of parking spaces along State Road. After several iterations of a plan, a vote was held at the March 9th meeting, and neighbors decidedly voted against the safety project.

“The large meeting room was packed,” a Bicycle Coalition member who lives in the area and attended the meeting, told us the next day. “The neighbors are angry about the loss of parking spots since the project is in a densely populated area near the Torresdale Regional Rail station.”

State Rep. Mike Driscoll, who attended the meeting, told the Northeast Times that “Some roads are meant for bike lanes, and some aren’t,” but apparently did not expand upon what the factors are for roads that are, and what the factors are for the roads that aren’t.

(The Northeast Times reported on the meeting, and the reporting by writer Jack Tomczuk was very good. We suggest you check out the full story.)

Ultimately, even though the City did not need the blessing of the civic association or a Councilperson in the area to make the street safer for everyone, OTIS decided not to pursue the project.

While we understand the city not going against the wishes of the neighborhood in this instance, the decision is still disappointing. Not just because a wide street like State Road seems like an easy spot for the city to install safe infrastructure. But because we know traffic crashes are preventable, and this is a way to prevent them. To be blunt, the next person seriously injured or killed while driving, walking, or biking along this corridor could have seen their life go a different way.

A protected bike lane along State Road would have filled a critical gap in the East Coast Greenway (a bike trail in the process of being built, between Maine and Florida) and the region’s Circuit Trails network, linking Philly’s Pennypack on the Delaware and Bristol’s historic Spurline Trail and D&L Trail in Bucks County. When through-cyclists get to Philadelphia, this section of the Greenway will be a gap they need to deal with.

“It would also create safer access to nearby jobs, retail, and transit by way of the Delaware River Trail, all without needing a car,” Daniel Paschall, of the East Coast Greenway Alliance, said. “While a protected bike lane and sidewalk might not look or feel exactly like an off-road trail, it drastically improves a person’s level of safety and comfort and meets the standards of the East Coast Greenway.”

Ultimately, a connected network of protected bike lanes, sidewalks, and trails are about creating safe transportation and recreation options for people, Paschall continued, “whether they live nearby and are out for a short trip, or they are visiting from another neighborhood, region, or even the other side of the country.”

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