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On May 11, 2018, Pablo Avendano was delivering food for Caviar food delivery during a heavy thunderstorm. He was turning left at 10th and Spring Garden Streets when his wheel got caught in a grate that was under water. His bicycle was brought down and he was fatally struck by a vehicle.

10th and Spring Garden Before

The inlet on Spring Garden in May 2018

After Mr. Avendano’s tragic crash, the dangerous grate was swapped out for a bicycle-safe grate. This is good — but the city needs to do better. The installation of this grate at 10th and Spring Garden was too late for Mr. Avendano.

Spring Garden After

The bicycle safe grate that replaced it

Wanting to keep all cyclists safe from these inlet grates, we did a visual scan of unsafe inlet grates on select streets with bike lanes between July and October 2019. Our list included: Chestnut St, MLK Drive, 22nd St, Spruce St, Pine St, Center Square, 13th St, Spring Garden St, Washington Ave, Snyder Ave and S. Christopher Columbus Blvd.

We found 60 unsafe bicycle inlets.

Of those, we identified 24 of them as “Priority 1.” These are grates with long tilt bar or parallel bar slots. Many of which were oriented to the directional travel of the bicycle traffic.

“Priority 2” grates are not bicycle safe but are not oriented at a dangerous angle.

We then sent our findings over to the Office of Transportation Infrastructure and Sustainability.

Bicycle Safe Grates have been around for decades but there are no regulations requiring them. PennDOT recognizes the importance of bicycle safe grates. Chapter 13 of the PennDOT design manual (Storm Drainage Systems) states that: “All grate inlets shall be bicycle safe in those areas where bicycle traffic (or wheelchairs) are anticipated.” Bicycle compatible drainage grates area also recommended in the 2012 AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities.

Our survey only covered a fraction of the 270-plus miles of bike lanes and the high injury network. We also realize that replacing these grates will involve coordination between the Streets Department and Water Department. We would like to see a long term Vision Zero policy directive that replaces all the bicycle unsafe inlets in the City.

A big thanks go out to long time BCGP volunteer Chuck Aronson for going out and geotagging photos for the map.

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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