Could Philadelphia Become As Green And Progressive As Portland?

That’s the goal of a cadre of Philly cyclists who dream of turning the city into a bike-friendly paradise. In their way: one cranky Daily News columnist … and a whole lot of angry (sometimes punch-throwing) Philly drivers

“Cycle tracks will abound in Utopia.”
 — H.G. Wells

THE SECOND SCARIEST THING that ever happened to Michael Sanders occurred on a sunny Saturday in June, as he was pedaling to his job as a bike mechanic at Bicycle Therapy on South Street. Clad in his usual “work” clothes — that would be shorts, tennis shoes, t-shirt — the sinewy 36-year-old sailed north in the bike lane on 22nd Street on his black road bicycle. He’d gone about 12 blocks, zipping along at a good pace and passing slower bikers on the left, when he heard a car behind him. Then a man’s voice, shouting something.

The words were indistinguishable, but Sanders recognized the tone. Am I doing something wrong? he wondered, checking under him to make sure he was still inside the white stripe of the bike lane. Then he heard more shouting. This time, he heard it loud and clear: “GET OUT OF THE ROAD!”

He turned to see a sleek black Saab 900 and its driver — “a normal-looking guy” — well-groomed, in a baseball cap and polo shirt.

“I’m in the bike lane!” Sanders yelled back. He was, in fact, on its far edge, but the guy still had enough space to pass easily. The Saab edged over menacingly; Sanders slowed down. The driver then cut him off, pulling over to the curb near 22nd and Christian, barking at Sanders to pull over, too.

Pulse pounding, Sanders dismounted. “He tries to run me off the road, and wants to pull over to tell me that I’m the jerk? I was dumbfounded. Aggravated. Angry. I wanted to tell him I did nothing wrong.”

The driver got out, and the arguing began in earnest. “He told me if I didn’t get out of his face, he was going to punch me,” Sanders says. The two men stood, inches apart. “Really? You’re going to punch me?” Sanders prodded.

And then it happened.

Even though he saw the swing coming, the thunk of knuckle on cranium, right at the point where the side of his stubbled head met his neck, was a surprise. It hurt. Sanders stumbled backward. A moment later, he righted himself, walked around to the back of the car, texted the Saab’s license number into his phone, then dialed 911. Meanwhile, a resident across the street — coincidentally, an acquaintance of Sanders’s — raced out; he’d seen the whole thing. The Saab driver was back in his car, revving the engine. Sanders stood in front of the car.

“You’re not leaving!” Sanders told the driver.

“I’ll run you over!” the driver threatened.

Sanders didn’t move. The Saab lurched into reverse, zooming backward down to Carpenter Street, where it swerved around the corner and disappeared.

Police eventually tracked down the driver, and in August arrested him on charges of assault, threat and reckless endangerment. Sanders plans to testify in court against him.

“That’s the second-scariest thing that’s ever happened to me biking in this city,” he says.

The first?

“Well, one time a driver pulled a gun on me.” 

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  • Diane

    Delighted to see the magazines extensive coverage on “Bike Lanes”, and quickly devoured the 8 less than content rich pages, which disappointed my “Bike People” spirit.

    Once again Philly mag. there is more to “our region” than just our city! Our city and its suburbs have for years been building cohesive bike trails and safe riding routes in Bucks, Chester, Montgomery and Delaware counties. Successes and failures are local efforts with the big picture plan of an interconnected trail system for all of our regions use. The Schuylkill river trail project is one great success, 67 planned miles connecting counties.

    Bike and non Bike People live and work in this region; its education, culture & life style are the richness of this region. There is little real education on sharing the roads for cars, pedestrians & cyclists. The League of American Bicyclists has a great deal of information to tap into, which was not referred to in the article. Bicycling magazine, published in our region, ranked Philadelphia 27 out of 50 for bike friendly cities.

    Lets stop venting Philadelphia and start talking, planning and implementing information to educate our region.

    For the record I am an avid cyclist.

  • Amanda

    Too bad this article was posted before the recent murder of a toddler by a driver and maiming of two other children and woman…all in one weekend. But drivers are up in arms about going 2mph slower. When will this podunk excuse for a city and police start enforcing red lights/stop signs/cell phone use for the people operating two ton vehicles who feel entitled and that the world should be catered to them. The people in this city show no respect for the well-being or rights of the people around them.

  • eltoro

    roll rampantly through our city every minute of every day. experienced both form of outrage mentioned. more than once. luckily that jerk off was caught. most cases don’t end so luckiy. and with the retarded laws in this city, i’m surprised it didn’t end the other way around. this town will never be like Portland because we’re not smart enough to realize that anger and ignorance is unnecessary and a detrement to a better way of life. this town hates peace.

  • Katharine

    As someone who was not a cyclist, I was initially concerned when a bike lane was put on my street. In the past, I have witness bicyclists riding aggressively and in ways that seemed designed to aggravate drivers. I thought that the lanes would lead to an increase of these antics in my neighborhood. I have been pleasantly surprised to find that I have witnessed none of this behavior since the bike lane was put on Spruce. Giving cyclists a designated space on the road seems to have decreased conflict between drivers and cyclists. As far as the traffic issue is concerned, it is really a non-issue in my neighborhood. Spruce and Pine are not arteries for commuters, especially since the South Street bridge closure.

  • Denise

    Really, a grant to teach bike ED? typical government response.
    Obey 3 rules.
    1.STOP AT ALL STOP SIGNS.
    2. DO NOT DRIVE BETWEEN CARS.
    3. STAY OFF THE SIDEWALK. There is your BIKE ED.

  • Andrew

    Why exactly does this magazine (and most other publications writing about this issue) paint a picture of biker vs. driver, us vs. them. I think the entire bicycle issue is overblown by a few loud voices. In the end we are talking about transferring only a small part of our street network to a group of low impact users. While bikers may be a new irritation to drivers already stressed by the challenges of urban driving, I think for the vast majority of people in Philadelphia, bicyclists are a non issue. The public needs to understand the benefits new cycling facilities bring to the city. They provide people with new mobility options and recreation opportunities, while making our streets safer. In a city that prides itself on having an ingrained way of doing things, maybe we should all lighten up and try new things for a change. Why must everything be such a battle?

  • Andrew

    Why exactly does this magazine (and most other publications writing about this issue) paint a picture of biker vs. driver, us vs. them. I think the entire bicycle issue is overblown by a few loud voices. In the end we are talking about transferring only a small part of our street network to a group of low impact users. While bikers may be a new irritation to drivers already stressed by the challenges of urban driving, I think for the vast majority of people in Philadelphia, bicyclists are a non issue. The public needs to understand the benefits new cycling facilities bring to the city. They provide people with new mobility options and recreation opportunities, while making our streets safer. In a city that prides itself on having an ingrained way of doing things, maybe we should all lighten up and try new things for a change. Why must everything be such a battle?

  • David

    This really shouldn’t be about two categories of people. I drive and I bike and I try not to be a jerk. Think about this, how many times have you, that’s right you yourself made a bone headed move while driving in your car. Maybe once in a while, right. Well multiply that by the numbers and there a lots of unintended, jerk actions happening all day by decent law abiding people, even if only 0.001 of a percent are making those mistakes offensive to the rest of us. Cyclists who weave in and out between cars in the street and pedestrians on the sidewalks are just as bad as the drivers selfish enough to believe they are the only people who matter. This debate isn’t about driver against cyclist, it is about taming and calming the rhetoric when a jerk is identified as a “biker” or a “driver.” Those people are jerks first.

  • jack

    Bikes go slow, clog up the roads and are generally helmed by self righteous over-educated gree-fascists. No Thanks Philadelphia