Making life in the bike lane safer for all

Mayor Michael Nutter gets some help putting on his bicycle helmet from Sarah Clark Stuart of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia after dedicating a bike lane on Pine Street. (Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)

The Police Department's welcome crackdown on bike safety was launched after two Philadelphia men died from injuries suffered after cyclists hit them last month. The move shows the city is trying to balance the safety needs of motorists, bikers, and pedestrians.

City Council is also getting into the act, with one good measure to boost fines for unsafe cycling and a second silly proposal that calls for registering bikes.

Cars and trucks still pose the greatest risk to pedestrians, but the growth of bicycling has highlighted the dangers from some riders on two wheels.

Indeed, bike use is a good thing and should continue to be encouraged. But the high-profile deaths of the two pedestrians has focused attention on an old problem: reckless cyclists who ignore traffic rules, ride on sidewalks, and zigzag among pedestrians.

The deaths of Tom Archie, 78, hit by a biker going the wrong way down a South Philadelphia street, and paralegal Andre Steed, 40, struck in Center City, are the worst-case scenarios.

The tragic accidents occurred as the city is trying to better accommodate bicycling in an effort to encourage more usage and bolster safety. The recent opening of dedicated bike lanes along two main streets, for instance, means cyclists can cross Center City with greater safety.

Bicycling advocates have been among the first to recognize that, as cycling grows, so does the imperative to make sure riders follow the rules of the road.

So the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia has launched an ambassadors program, whose half-dozen seasonal employees go out and educate adult cyclists on how to ride safely in traffic. They're out on Center City streets in the mornings and afternoons. These good works are being funded through the city, using federal funds.

Where the city has been lax, though, is in police enforcement against reckless cyclists. That's about to change, fortunately, with the public awareness campaign and ticket blitz being done by police in Center City.

One thing's for sure: A onetime crackdown probably won't do the trick, so this initiative should be repeated periodically to increase awareness and change the culture for some reckless riders.

Even though better enforcement is welcome, the city should rethink the bicycle registration requirement proposed by City Councilman Frank DiCicco as a companion measure to higher fines. This seems like an overreaction to an issue. The negative fallout isn't worth the meaningful benefit, if there is any.

Center City is renowned for its walkability, but Philadelphia as a whole has a long way to go on safeguarding people on foot.In fact,A new walking-safety study from a national organization found that pedestrians here face far greater risks than those even on the crowded streets of New York City and some North Jersey towns.

While many other communities are more dangerous for walkers, Philadelphia's quality of life stands to benefit from even small improvements in pedestrian safety.

Enhancing cycling as a means of traveling safely in the city is an important part of making the city more livable. The challenge now is to insure that expanding two-wheeled travel doesn't make things worse.