Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Protected Bike Lanes ... Everywhere!

Kinzie St protected bike lane, Chicago
Protected bike lanes are a long time coming in Philadelphia. Five years ago, we were among the country's leaders in bike infrastructure -- back when buffered bike lanes were the big new thing -- but while other cities, such as New York, D.C., and Chicago, rolled out ever-more-extensive bike infrastructure, we ... regressed. Pointless "super-sharrows", an infrastructural solution now a decade out of date, were installed instead on Samson Street.

Even so, a cadre of geeks have been beating the drum to improve the buffered bike lanes we already have and install new protected cycle lanes. And it looks like we have some headway: Ryan Avenue linking Mayfair to the Boulevard in the Northeast is due to receive the city's first protected bike lane, and the Bike Coalition's now beating a drum for the installation of one on Chestnut Street in West Philly -- which yours truly first conceived of some three years ago now, back when the buffered bike lane on Walnut was installed.

This, as Tom Beck reports for Citified.

Part of the issue is spatial. Philadelphia's major core streets just don't have a lot of space, and in fact a lot of our bike-friendliness is because of that. It's not particularly suicidal to ride down, say, 6th Street in South Philly, where you have to be a douchy driver indeed to exceed bike speed. (Though we do have more than our fair share of douchy drivers.) It's much more difficult to ride along wider, overstriped streets with more traffic lanes than they really need. Sometimes, as is the case with 22nd Street in Fairmount, the extra space exists without the taking of a traffic lane -- but the political will does not. And Center City's principal buffered lanes, the ones put in before Ariel Ben-Amos moved over to the Water Department, all involved the taking of a parking lane to be put in, in the first place.

That said, there are definitely avenues in the city fit for protected bike lanes. Lots of them. In general, if there's a flush median a.k.a. a center turning lane a.k.a. a suicide lane, there's space for bike lanes on either side. And if both bike lanes and a center turning lane exist, there's space to make them protected. Here are more than a few examples.* And, though the old core might be largely bereft of places to put protected bike lanes, as you head out into the Northeast, there is plenty of underutilized space on streets such as Frankford, Castor, or Tyson avenues, space currently given over to passing lanes that makes crossing streets harder than it need be.

It might be all politics in the end, though. Bike commuting is concentrated around Center City, and most of the Bike Coalition's protected cycle tracks abet that. Despite the prevalence of striped lanes in the Northeast, it's still perceived as a place where one drives. And our 2.4% commute mode share is, in absolute terms ... not a lot. It'll take a commute mode share closer to 20% before bike commuting is thought of as something other than a "hipster thing" short of massive Millennial political coalition-building.
* The one caveat we must observe is that major mass transit infrastructure, such as a busway or light rail line, has a natural priority over bike infrastructure. Indeed, this is the main difficulty with installing bike infrastructure on Girard Avenue. This is also what makes Erie the most difficult of the Bike Coalition's recommendations: the 56 uses the old trolley median (closed to traffic) as an impromptu busway. And, seeing as the route is one of the city's busiest, improving mass transit capacity along Erie takes precedence over improving bike infrastructure.

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