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Bike lanes and intersections in Society Hill remain unprotected

Because of an apparent “hold” that the Society Hill Civic Association (SCHA) had put on installing flex posts at the intersections east of Eight Street along Spruce and Pine, the SHCA “has invited negative attention from the press, the city government, and the greater population of Philadelphia. Numerous people, including one pedestrian, have gotten into crashes along Spruce and Pine Streets in Society Hill, which could have been avoided if these traffic control devices had been installed.” So says a new letter signed by more than 50 residents of Society Hill to their Civic Association.

That group of residents has been working together, with support of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, since late last year when Society Hill resident Al Meinster became aware that the City did not plan on completing the intersection protection project on Spruce and Pine Streets, as was originally planned.

He also found out that this was because the Civic Association’s leadership had somehow stopped the City from installing the flex posts without telling the neighborhood residents, or even all members of the Civic Association.

At that point, he got in touch with us, told us what he knew, and we emailed our members and supporters who lived in the neighborhood, asking if they’d heard about this, or been a part of the decision-making process. No one had. We met with a group of about 20 people soon after to discuss what could be done. In that time, those neighbors have organized, written letters, and participated in meetings with SHCA and the City of Philadelphia.

We have continued to support those neighbors in favor of safe streets as they organized and made their case to both SHCA and the City that flex posts should be installed now.

Additionally, Sarah Clark Stuart and Randy LoBasso wrote a letter to city officials about the situation; and Laura Fredricks, of Families for Safe Streets, and Randy LoBasso, published an op/ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer about it.

But it is the neighbors who are leading this charge.

The good news? SHCA president Larry Spector noted in a recent neighborhood newsletter that he’d “agreed that OTIS could conduct a pilot project to test an as-yet-unspecified alternative intersection safety measure that might satisfy concerns about both bike safety and the practicality of delineators.”

That’s good! But it doesn’t address the issue of safe streets now, and certainly doesn’t get to the root of the problem.

That being: safer streets were kept from both the residents of Society Hill, and the thousands of people who use these streets everyday. It was done in a non-transparent manner. That’s not OK.

It would have been one thing if a vote had been held, in public; or if the Councilperson representing Society Hill objected on behalf of the organization in City Hall. At least folks would have understood what they were dealing with. But none of that even happened. Unaware of their civic association’s decision, residents were just waiting for their block to get treated, as noted in this WHYY story:

“I assumed it would be another couple of weeks,” said [Kasia] Stein, who has lived in Society Hill for a decade. “It was a multi-month process with the milling of the street, then they paved the street, then block by block they were adding the painting stripes. And then finally the posts.”

Technically speaking, neighborhood approval isn’t even required for work on this particular bike lane, since putting in any protection — whether at the intersections or the entire length of the street — doesn’t get rid of a lane of parking or travel. The City could have installed anything they wanted to along the street to protect cyclists, whether or not the SHCA approved.

Nevertheless, this is where we are. Now, the group of neighbors is working to undo the Civic Association’s “hold” on installing the intersection protections, and hopes to be heard at the next board meeting. Members of the group have also met with City officials to figure out a plan that works best for the safety of all road users. 

Randy LoBasso

Author

Randy LoBasso is the policy director at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

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