Members of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia spent last Friday afternoon staked out at 11th and Federal Streets in South Philadelphia with three missions.
First of all, we wanted to get cyclists’ and pedestrians’ impressions of the work-in-progress 2-way protected bike lane.
Second, we wanted to give cyclists a heads up on where the project stands, and some tips on cycling in the area while we wait for the rest of the protection and infrastructure to be installed.
Third, we had candy left over from Halloween. We wanted to give some of it out.
We spoke to about 15 people bicycling and walking on 11th Street, and, for the most part, their rants and raves about the bike lane were the same: Most people liked the lane and appreciated what the city was doing along the corridor. About half of all respondents thought the bike lane, as is, was complete, and all except one said they’d experienced illegal motor vehicle parking in the bike lane.
As has been broadcast since earlier this year when the bike lanes were announced, discussed at community meetings, and striping began, this small bit of streetspace dedicated to bicyclists hasn’t come without controversy.
The city, at first, eliminated 18 motor vehicle parking spots in order to make the intersections safer for pedestrians and bicyclists—something members of the car-driving public have not appreciated. A few people disrupted a community meeting in Passyunk Square this summer that got a bit out of control, in which actual death threats were tossed around due to parking spots.
Since then, though, the city will restriped additional parking spots, by winter.
But that wasn’t enough for one couple we ran into, walking across the street.
“Are you surveying about the bike lane?” I was asked. “Yes,” I said.
“They suck!” one man continued.
Taking notes as they spoke to me, both members of the South Philadelphia community were against the bike lanes because, they said, of the design. They were dangerous, they thought, and got rid of too much parking. Then, they showed us examples of Montreal bike paths on their phones, which we agreed were better.
But here’s the thing: The city actually went out of its way to keep as much parking as possible due to community concerns, we explained; would you have rather the city eliminated all the parking along this corridor? They laughed, and commented that there’d have been riots if that happened.
After speaking for about 20 minutes, they agreed to wait and see what the final design looks like—with added parking spaces, physical protection between the motor vehicles and bicyclists, and barriers at the intersections to reduce conflicts between people on bikes and people in cars.
Two highlights of the day, for me: A family biking home from school, the children of which said they used the lane to get to school every day. And a man in a motorized scooter, using the lane to get fresh air in his neighborhood (the photo above).
Installing the barriers and additional infrastructure to separate motor vehicles from people on bicyclists cannot come soon enough. A lot of the ongoing controversy around 11th Street has sustained because the installation hasn’t been completed—which, in and of itself, is due to situations out of the city’s control.
We intend to continue monitoring 11th Street and head out to do at least one more event this fall. We are hoping the new separation infrastructure can be installed by the end of the year.
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