Philadelphia’s leading biking advocacy organization is pushing the city to move faster on seven safe-streets initiatives following a cyclist’s death last week in the city.
The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia issued a petition asking the city to accelerate its Vision Zero safety plan, unveiled in September. The petition was included in the organization’s newsletter that was emailed Thursday and had about 700 signatures by evening.
The petition mirrors requests the organization sent to Mayor Kenney in letter just after the accident. He has yet to respond, said Sarah Clark Stuart, the Bicycle Coalition’s executive director, though a city official said Thursday that the mayor would reply next week. The Nov. 28 death of 24-year-old Emily Fredricks, killed on Spruce Street when a trash truck turned into a bicycle lane, has galvanized cyclists on the need for more bike-friendly infrastructure in the city.
“This crash and fatality focused a lot of people’s attention on Vision Zero and protected bike lanes, and how they help reinforce each other,” Clark Stuart said. “We thought this was the moment to ask the administration to accelerate its pace.”
The petition seeks some form of protection for the heavily traveled bike lanes and intersections on Spruce and Pine Streets; a plan from the city describing where it wants to place 30 miles of protected bike lanes by 2022; fresh paint on faded lane markers in the city; the addition of $1 million to the Complete Streets Office for Vision Zero projects, and introduction of regulations that would require large trucks to have protections that would prevent people from falling under their wheels.
Another request — that the city limit where a private trash collector can travel — isn’t allowed by law, said Mike Carroll, deputy managing director for Philadelphia’s Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems.
Philadelphia has about 200 miles of bike lanes, but only about 2.5 miles of them are protected. That can be done with flexible poles, but anything from planters to parked cars, as are used on Chestnut Street in University City, can be used to create a barrier between cars and cyclists.
Clark Stuart noted the city has $550,000 in grants for protected bike lanes. Money isn’t the issue, she said, and she wants city government to take the lead in establishing a master plan for protected bike lanes.
“I think they do know where they want them to go generally, and I think it’s time for it to come out publicly,” she said.
Carroll disagreed that the city was dragging its feet in implementing Vision Zero.
“I have trouble with the idea that we could be moving faster,” he said. “It really implies that we’re not doing anything, and we did a lot.”
This year, the city has ramped up road paving, which means more repainting for bike lanes, and installed a bike lane buffered by parked cars on Chestnut Street through University City.
The city is considering the Bicycle Coalition’s requests but said that in some cases, the mayor cannot act unilaterally. Even putting protected bike lanes on Spruce and Pine Streets might require approval from City Council, something needed for any street alteration that changes parking or driving lanes.
The Bicycle Coalition petition requested a plan for those two streets in the next 60 days and action within the next six months. Spruce and Pine are among the most heavily traveled bike routes in the city, with 500 to 1,000 people using them daily, Clark Stuart said. Those streets go through the districts of council members Mark Squilla and Kenyatta Johnson. Squilla’s chief of staff, Anne Kelly, said their office would want to see a proposal from the city for protected bike lanes.
“If there were protected bike lanes, then the sanitation trucks would be stopping in the middle of the streets; it would block traffic,” she said. “That’s why we defer to [the Office of Transportation & Infrastructure Systems] for the study and the recommendation.”
Both Squilla and Johnson would likely need to be consulted and community meetings held before the streets could be changed.
The city has held back from releasing a map of bike lane priorities, Carroll said, because it is still gathering data on how people travel by bicycle, but also because releasing a preliminary plan can stir passionate and angry responses from the community. The city had that experience in recent years when it floated the idea of protected bike lanes on Spruce and Pine and faced an outcry from the community, he said.
“Information got out to the public, and we were forced into a type and style of engagement with people where they thought we were coming with a project, and we did not consult them,” Carroll said.
The city will seek community input before any changes are made, Carroll said.
Fredricks’ death has mobilized cyclists throughout the city who are frustrated with infrastructure that they argue prioritizes cars at the expense of bikers or pedestrians. On Nov. 29, about 100 people lined the bike lane on Spruce Street from 11th to 13th Street during the morning commute to draw attention to bicycle safety there.