Last week, PennDOT installed a new 2-way cycletrack on West Spring Garden Street, between 33rd and 38th Streets.
Formerly, this had been a 1-way non-buffered bike lane. But when Spring Garden Street was repaved, the parking lane was shrunk and put in a 2-way bike lane to replace the original east-flowing bike lane to accommodate the westbound and eastbound movements.
Having now ridden on the lane ourselves, read user feedback, conducted measurements, and compared the two-way lane to similar designs in other cities, we have concerns.
First, because it’s a two-way bike lane on the outside of parked cars, the person riding a bike on the contraflow side is potentially endangered by motor vehicles pulling out and running into the cyclist head-on. Because of this, two-way bike lanes are most-often constructed between parked cars and curbs, or between motor vehicle traffic and curbs—not between motor vehicle traffic and parked cars.
We are aware of similar lanes in other cities. But those lanes have subtle differences that make them safer.
For example, there is a similar cycletrack on Plaza Street in Brooklyn, New York, but that lane includes an outside paint buffer between the cyclist and motor vehicle traffic. The buffer allows the contraflow cyclist to get by a potential illegally double-parked car without cycling against traffic, unlike the Spring Garden Street lane.
A one-way contraflow lane against parked cars and motor vehicle traffic exists over the Gowanis Canal in New York City. But the one-way design on this lane does not allow for cars to double-park without impeding motor vehicle traffic. (More on these similar lanes in a bit.)
The lack of a buffer, and some motor vehicle users’ tendency to park, stand and stop on bike lanes, creates situations like the one below (taken from a Facebook user’s video):
Secondly, the contraflow side of the track (that is, the bike lane against traffic) forces people on bicycles to ride in the doorzone — which is always a concern.
“The two way painted bikeway approach works in several other cities on low speed roadways with stop signs like Spring Garden in this stretch. This is a new bikeway type for Philadelphia,” noted Philadelphia’s Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems, in a statement to the Bicycle Coalition. “Our approach is to work with Drexel Police and Philadelphia Police 16th District. Sixteenth District Community Relations Officer Jesse Woodhouse is announcing the issue at Roll Call at the beginning of each shift and make sure there is particular enforcement on this stretch as drivers get used to the new bikeway.”
The issue with double-parked cars has been the most aggressive in riders’ points of view. As many cyclists know, double-parked cars is a prevalent issue in Philadelphia. OTIS understands this. “If the issue remains, we will consider flex posts between the travel lane and the bikeway,” they noted.
While the Bicycle Coalition understands and appreciates OTIS’ intent on this issue, and wants to support new bicycle infrastructure designs, we’re very concerned about this particular design.
Upon consideration of OTIS’ proposal to use delineator posts and enhanced enforcement, we think there is a strong likelihood that these measures will not provide enough protection to really improve the design. We aren’t convinced that this design of a two-way bike lane can work without a buffer.
The Plaza Street, Brooklyn 2-way lane features a 3-foot buffer and at least one speed hump.
Designs in other cities use a contaflow bike lane separated by a double yellow line with sharrows in the travel lane such as on G Street NE in Washington DC, and the Berteau Greenway (Neighborhood Bikeway) in Chicago that includes speed humps and a neighborhood traffic circle in the Ravenswood section of the City.
The Bicycle Coalition recommends that the Spring Garden Street roadway be reconfigured with an eastbound one-way buffered bike lane, or a one way protected bike lane.
Spring Garden was formerly an east-bound one-way standard bike lane. Now that the street has been repaved and repainted, it’s possible to go back to the east-bound bike lane with a buffer, like so:
Note this street has room for a buffer between the cyclist and traffic, and room for a doorzone buffer.
But our most preferable change to the street would be the following street-mix:
We feel this is the safest, most inviting bike lane for all road users. It is not two-way, but provides safer access for cyclists going eastbound, from West Philadelphia to Center City. Given this was a PennDOT-installed project, the protected lane was not an option due to pending legislation in the state Capitol.
In the meantime, if you have ridden in this lane and have a comment, please send it via email to email@example.com.
John Boyle and Sarah Clark Stuart contributed to this blog.
Flex posts will just ensure drivers pulling out of their parking spots drive in the bike lane to the end of the block
Question: did Otis/Streets/PennDOT present this design to the BCGP or any other bike authorities in/around PHL? If so, when and to whom and with what recommendation?
— mcget / Trophy Bikes
Hey Mike: No, we did not see the design before installation.
The biggest and completely unsolvable issue I see here is drivers being completely unable to see contraflow cyclists when they pull out of a parking spot on the side with the bike lane. Drivers are already on the curb side of the road and if a large SUV or van is parked in front of the driver trying to exit, there is just no way they can see the contra-flow cyclist. In essence the driver could be doing EVERYTHING right and taking all the proper precautions and still hit an unsuspecting cyclist. On of the videos shows this.
There are numerous, lower traffic alternatives both north and south for westbound cycle traffic. Those should be used and some sort of eastbound bicycle lane on the RIGHT side of Spring Garden restored (no need for those awkward merging maneuvers and eastbound bike traffic will be on the proper side for two-way traffic east of 33rd Street). Westbound traffic could just migrate up to Haverford, where there are already bike lanes, and/or redirected to a more traffic calmed Hamilton Street and block to the south.