When the bike lanes on Spruce and Pine were installed in 2009, they were pretty cutting edge, as far as U.S. bike lanes went. Stretching from river to river, the lanes were installed after removing a lane of motor vehicle traffic, and prioritized bicycle transportation and pedestrian safety. Despite the occasional motorists who used a lane as their personal parking spot, the lanes were pretty comfortable to ride on.
Things have changed.
Spruce and Pine Streets through Center City, like many bike lanes all over the city, have deteriorated to the point that it’s tough to tell where the motor vehicle lane ends and bike lane begins. We have often noted in our office that Spruce and Pine are used as bike lanes, at this point, because people are used to using them—not because the lanes themselves are good infrastructure, anymore.
The deteriorated condition of both streets, and two extreme bike crashes this past winter—one of which killed 24-year-old Emily Fredricks, the other of which badly injured Rebecca Redford—has led the Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems and the Streets Department to prioritize street paving for these two streets in 2018. This is an opportunity to decrease harmful interactions between motorists and cyclists within the next nine months.
Their plan: Switch the bike lane from the right side to the left. We believe this is a good start, a step in the right direction, and we encourage as many people as possible to come out to meetings on both side of Broad Street, on April 4 and 5, to hear about oTIS’ plan and express your point of view about it.
As we noted when these meetings were first announced, what Spruce and Pine need, in our opinion, are protected bike lanes and protected intersections. We will be sharing that view at these meetings, and hope you will, too.
But there are potential benefits to this plan, and we hope it will be a stepping stone toward better bike lanes here.
One benefit of switching the lane from the right to the left is visibility. Drivers have much more visibility on their left than on their right and a narrower blind spot than on the right. Personally, on one-way streets without a bike lane, I ride on the left simply to make sure I’m more visible to the potential driver behind me, since I’m on the driver’s side, rather than the passenger’s side of a car.
The second benefit is that shifting the lane will reduce the likelihood of interactions between cyclists and motorists taking right-hand turns. Right hand “hooks” are the most prevalent type of bicycle crashes in cities nationwide.
Angle crashes, of cars turning right, into cyclists, are the most common type of bicycle crash on these streets, with 61 percent of crashes being angle crashes, according to a Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia analysis.
Lastly, shifting the bike lane to the left will reduce interactions with the #7 bus.
So, those are the initial benefits that can be realized the soonest. They are positive and the plan should be implemented to realize those benefits. But more is needed. As we’ve written on this blog before, we believe, at the very least, protected intersections are needed to prevent negative interactions where cars are turning. Even with the bike lane on the left side, cyclists will still be mixing with cars turning left, and we think protected intersections offer safety benefits that should be implemented as soon as possible.
The lanes themselves should also be upgraded beyond shifting them from one side to the other. The second-most prevalent type of crash on these streets: Side swipes in the bike lane.
Of course, the other glaring issue with these lanes is motorists’ propensity to park in them whether it’s allowed or not. And although the Philadelphia Parking Authority has increased its ticketing more than 120 percent since we began meeting with them in 2013, increased enforcement hasn’t solved the problem of illegal parking and loading/unloading. Contractors, FedEx, UPS trucks, and, basically, anyone, is still parking there whenever they feel like it, forcing people riding bikes into traffic, often to the surprise of the motorist behind them.
A real change to the bike lane’s engineering is what’s needed to make cyclists, pedestrians, and motor vehicle drivers safer on these streets. Although this is not an either/or scenario. This is just what the city believes can be done in the short-term. But that’s why it’s important to come out to these meetings and make your point known.
This year’s plan should move forward but the Bicycle Coalition also wants to participate in a community engagement process to craft a plan for the entire Spruce and Pine corridor that addresses parking, loading, and greater separation between bicyclists and motorists.
Come to one of the two meetings on April 4th (Kimmel Center at 300 S. Broad Street) or April 5th (Levitt Auditorium at 401 S. Broad Street) between 6-7:30pm
Listen, learn, and let the City know what you think.
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