Not so fast: Bike lane expansion gets a red light on Lombard

Bicycle commuters make their way north along 13th Street bike lane at Pine/

For the first time since bicyclemania took over City Hall during the Nutter administration, a red light will stop bike lane expansion on Lombard Street in Center City.

The figurative light was flashed by Second District Councilman Kenyatta Johnson. And it must be obeyed, unlike real red lights that bicyclists like to blow through.

Camera icon City of Philadelphia
City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson

The plan, from the Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems, had been to install “protected” bike lanes along several blocks of Lombard west of Broad Street for a six-month trial period. That office didn’t respond to my requests for comment.

The bike lanes would be “protected” by posts and would become no-stopping zones. That was the main problem.

In a July 21 letter to the office, Johnson said he’d received “a remarkably large volume of constituent correspondence” on this issue. His office told me about 100 calls and emails came in, 80 percent of which opposed the plan.

It wasn’t the first time that residents who might otherwise be OK with bike lanes said the posts were a step too far.

Back in the spring, people who live on Pine Street talked to me about “protected” bike lanes heading their way. They felt they were being kept in the dark, because they were being kept in the dark.  The city didn’t answer their questions — or mine.

The existing bike lanes in Center City are called “buffered.” They take up a full lane of traffic, but even with them, some bicyclists still don’t feel “safe.” Thanks to $300,000 from the federal Alternative Transportation Program, the posts were to be added. If cyclists still don’t feel safe, I guess the next step is a moat. Filled with alligators.

What has not been announced is how tall and thick the posts will be, what will be the spacing between them, and whether they’ll be flexible.

Residents told me they feared the posts would make it impossible to stop in front of their own homes to drop off groceries or to pick up Granny. I know they are only homeowners and taxpayers, but they have rights, too, one of which should be curbside access to their homes.

Bob Previdi, policy coordinator for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, tells me he’s heard the posts will be flexible, but he doesn’t know much more.

Center City is not the only neighborhood threatened by “protected” lanes.

On the drawing board are “protected” lanes for North, South, and West Philly.

Previdi says the coalition is “sympathetic” to accessibility, but the “larger issue” is the “safety concerns of everyone on the road.”

To me, bike lanes are safe enough. Residents are allowed to stop for up to 20 minutes. Some people, Previdi says, “stay for extended periods of time.”

He’s right, and that’s why God gave us the Philadelphia Parking Authority — to ticket people who abuse the rules.

I’ll bet not 5 percent of Philadelphians are aware of the massive street remake on the drawing board. The city wants it that way, because when the peasants find out how their streets are going to be changed, they reach for their torches and pitchforks.

The Bicycle Coalition went nuts when City Council appropriated the right to approve new bike lanes because the coalition knows the majority of Philadelphians do not want them. That’s one thing the Lombard Street protest proves.