By Kyle Hearing
Earlier this week, Center City District (CCD) released a draft of their Keep Philadelphia Moving report on congestion.
The report seeks to quantify how mobility has changed since 2013 for the roughly 500,000 people traveling within Center City each day.
The short answer is that congestion has gotten worse since 2013 when CCD last collected travel time data; vehicular travel times increased by 10 percent to 20 percent, while bus travel times increased from 25 percent to 40 percent (bicycle and pedestrian travel times did not change much). The report details the causes of congestion, contextualized by the rapidly changing social and physical nature of Center City before offering suggestions for how to mitigate the growing problem.
Many of the recommendations made by the report focus on the need for funding to conduct more thorough data collection efforts and install the equipment necessary to monitor traffic on an ongoing basis. More sophisticated understanding of the problem along with the capability to assess the effectiveness of various initiatives is certainly crucial to addressing the problems posed by congestion.
CCD’s suggestions for mitigating congestion that the Bicycle Coalition supports include reviewing how peer city’s enforce traffic to determine if there are lessons to be learned, especially traffic enforcement by un-armed civilians, the elimination of on-street parking during business hours to create loading zones for deliveries, and designated pick-up and drop-off zones for taxis and transportation network companies (such as Uber & Lyft) to operate safely.
CCD also mentions the possibility of travel demand management in the form of congestion pricing – essentially, a toll for drivers coming into Center City at certain times of day. While this is currently being considered in Manhattan and has been effectively deployed in cities overseas including London, Singapore, and Stockholm, the report notes that this politically unpopular proposal would be unlikely to reach implementation anytime soon.
There are several progressive ideas that the Bicycle Coalition believes would make Center City streets less congested, safer, and more efficient. Travel demand management could take the form of a fare free transit zone dedicated bus lanes.
- Dedicated bus lanes to speed service
- Free fare zone
- Triple the number of loading zones to limit the number of roadway obstructions
- Limit on street parking to loading/unloading between 8:00AM and 6:00PM
In addition to increasing the number of loading zones and pick-up drop-off locations, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia recommends that a zero tolerance for illegally parked delivery vehicles be implemented.
Currently, delivery companies such as Fedex and UPS treat parking tickets as a business expense.
However, if illegally parked delivery trucks, which frequently block bike lanes and sight lines creating dangerous situations for bicyclists and pedestrians, were regularly towed or issued escalating fines as part of a zero-tolerance policy for illegal parking, this behavior would decrease, dramatically reducing congestion.
Clearly upping the ante on delivery vehicles that flagrantly ignore parking regulations is desperately needed. CCD’s report found that PPA issued 77,456 tickets in the 6th and 9th Police Districts in 2017 and collected $5,362,442 in fines.
Between 2013 and 2017, PPA issued 420,000 tickets and $29M in fines and found that 80 percent of the tickets and 81 percent of the fines occur within the 6th and 9th Districts.
If $5.3 M in fines in one year is having little impact on illegal parking in Center City, then PPA and the City need to change their current “write as many tickets as possible” approach.
A couple of points not made in Keep Philadelphia Moving is that dedicated and protected bicycle lanes not only make cyclists safer, they made motorists and safer too. Buffered and protected bike lanes act as traffic calming mechanisms and encourage motor vehicles to reduce excessive speeding or weaving. They also creating shorter crossing distances for pedestrians.
Overall, CCD’s report helps prompt a more informed civic conversation about congestion mitigation. Its recommendations (and ours!) should be actively considered for implementation by the City, Philadelphia Parking Authority and Philadelphia Police Department.