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unnamedLast week, the Streets Department released a study that evaluated Chestnut Street by focusing on the segment between 45th and 34th Street, a stretch the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia has been study and advocating for improvements since 2010.  The study largely confirmed our assertions, with some alarming statistics:

  • Chestnut Street has the highest crash rate per mile among all city streets
  • Chestnut Street is among the top 10 streets for pedestrian fatalities and severe injuries, and
  • Chestnut Street is among the top 5 streets for bicycle crashes.

Between 2011 and 2013, there were 92 crashes involving vehicles, 19 crashes involving pedestrians and 12 involving bicycles in the studied section. Seventy-five percent of the crashes recorded along the entire Chestnut Street corridor occurred along the eleven blocks of the study area.

So what is the answer?

In 2012, the City’s Pedestrian/Bicycle Plan recommended a bike lane along Chestnut Street to match the westbound bike lane on Walnut in West Philadelphia and, in 2013, the City’s University City Southwest District Plan recommended a buffered bike lane along the corridor. We incorporated Chestnut Street into one of the six corridors that became the focus of our Safe Streets Healthy Neighborhoods initiative.

We recognized that the Streets Department needed to know if there was neighborhood public support for making safety improvements.

Also in 2012, we set out to ascertain the depth of public support for making Chestnut Street in West Philadelphia safer for all users. BCGP Planning Fellow, Susan Dannenberg, met with community and civic organizations along the corridor from 63rd to 34th Streets, in addition to University of Pennsylvania and the office of Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell. One of the outcomes of that outreach was a consensus that motor vehicle speeding needed to be addressed and effectively reduced, which had the result of adding more voices in favor of a traffic study to help understand how the corridor could be made safer.

The Street’s Department traffic study evaluated the impact of putting Chestnut Street on a road diet (going from 3 travel lanes to 2 lanes) and found these benefits:

  • speed reduction
  • reduced weaving behavior, especially during off peak periods
  • reduced motor vehicle crashes

The study found that a road diet would have minimal impacts on motor vehicle travel between 45th and 34th during peak hours:

  • speeds would be reduced by 4 miles per hour
  • the travel time would only be increased by 1 minute

The study proposed replacing one travel lane with a left hand parking protected bicycle lane.  Such a measure would have these additional benefits:

  • crossing distances for pedestrians will be reduced by 10 feet
  • bus-bicycle conflicts will be greatly reduced because of placement of the bike lane on the left side of the street
  • improved level of comfort for bicyclists

The study recommended installing a parked car protected bike lane on the north side of Chestnut Street between 45th and 34th St. The bike lane would connect the existing north-south bike lanes on 43rd and 44th St of University City to the existing conventional bike lane on Chestnut Street extending from 34th Street to east of the Schuylkill River. Such a lane type could incur the loss of 6-12 parking spaces along the eleven blocks to create pocket left turn lanes.

We think the Streets Department report defines the safety issues well and comes up with reasonable solutions to make the street safer for all users. In order to move this concept forward, City Council must pass an ordinance to permit the lane and parking space reduction. We will be working with the Streets Department and Council to help move this project forward.

On a related note, PennDOT will be rehabilitating the Chestnut Street Bridge, which may include a reconfiguration of the bike lane from the south side to the north of Chestnut Street and link up with the proposed parked car bike lane.  We have asked the Streets Department to include that design as it works on it with PennDOT. This would significantly improve the connection to Schuylkill Banks and eliminate the conflict that bicyclists currently have at 30th Street in front of the Post Office.

View the full report on Scribd

John Boyle

Author

John has been a commuting cyclist for more than 20 years. In 1994 he began working as a volunteer for the Bicycle Coalition of the Delaware Valley after attending a volunteer night, and later served as a board member in 1997-98. In 1999 John left Philadelphia for Charlottesville, VA, where he helped establish the Alliance for Community Choice in Transportation (ACCT), a bicycle and walking advocacy group.

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