Byko: Neighbors want protection from 'protected bike lanes'

Byko: Bicyclists in Center City Philadelphia have long needed to share the road and their marked bike lane with parked vehicles, like this police car along N. 13th St. in 2012.

Like daffodils in the spring, “protected bike lanes” are coming to Philadelphia, but I don’t know exactly when.

I don’t know when they are coming because the people who know -- the Streets Department -- refuse to make anyone available to discuss it.

I am asking because the neighbors who live along streets with bike lanes are being treated like mushrooms -- kept in the dark, buried in manure.

Before I tell you what I don’t know, let me tell you what I do know.

The painted bike lanes we have -- such as along Pine and Spruce Streets -- are called “buffered bike lanes.” They take up a full lane of traffic, but that’s not enough. Some bicyclists still don’t feel “safe.” To mollify them, the city (thanks to a $2.67 million grant from the federal Transportation Alternatives Program) will add “delineators” to the bike lanes. Delineators are vertical rods spaced along the bike lane.

 That is what I know. What I don't know is how tall and thick they will be, if they will be flexible and, most importantly, if they will allow a car, taxi, delivery truck or ambulance to pull up to the curb.

That’s the big fear expressed by what I call the Blackwell Neighbors.

I met with about a dozen neighbors, a couple from the 200 block of Pine Street, but most from the lovely court Blackwell Place, tucked between Pine and Lombard and Second and Third Streets.  

The back entrances of their homes do not  access a street and they ask what they are supposed to do if they can’t stop at  the curb in front of their homes. Right now, stops of up to 20 minutes are allowed in bike lanes, which the neighbors said is acceptable.

We met in the Blackwell Place home of Lisa Woolbert. She said another concern they had was traffic backup. “We have the horse and carriages, we have SEPTA buses, we have Pennsylvania Hospital vans that carry their personnel, also Jefferson, and the Big Bus tourists,” she said with a sigh.

Almost in tears, Marcy Rothman said, “My grandson is profoundly autistic and has to be picked up right in front of the house, against the curb.” She fears delineators would make that impossible.

This is not a problem in Society Hill alone.

Representing the adjoining neighborhood, Washington Square West Civic Association president Rick Spitzborg  told me someone from the city met with his group three months ago, but didn’t have specifics. “They said when they got the money, they’d come back,” but they haven’t yet, he said.

The civic association agreed to bike lanes years back, Spitzborg said, but without specifics, it would not take a position on protected bike lanes.

Protected bike lanes also are coming to Torresdale and Frankford Avenues, Race Street, Parkside Avenue, North 33rd Street, Walnut Street, 30th Street, South and Lombard Streets, Lindbergh Boulevard, Passyunk and Oregon Avenues, 10th and 13th Streets, Civic Center Boulevard, and Delaware Avenue, PlanPhilly reported last April.

The Blackwell Neighbors said Councilman Mark Squilla hasn’t done much to allay their fears.

When I reported on this a year ago, his office staff told me they knew about looming problems with sanitation vehicles and delivery trucks. “Houses of worship, too, during services, that was brought to our attention,” said Anne Kelly, Squilla’s chief of staff.

Gail Frederick, who lives on Pine, said, “We can’t paint the outside of our house, we can't change our shutters, without getting the OK from the Historical Society, now we get 21st century devices added just because people want  to ride their bikes?”

Frederick has gone on bike vacations in Vermont, but having access to her home “is a quality of life [issue] for people who chose to live here.” 

Carol Colabelli told me, “We do have a bike lane, there has been no problem, until they came up with the idea of putting the barriers in.”

Margarita Montanaro added, “They’re trying to fix something that's not broken.”

At the start of our meeting, the neighbors said they had agreed to bike lanes and were fine with that. By the end of the meeting, although no one said it, I could feel buyers’ remorse in the room.

Mostly I could feel fear.

It’s unthinkable the city would make it impossible for them to unload their cars in front of their homes. It’s also unthinkable the city won't reassure them, but that's where we are.