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

IT"S NOT WILLIAM PENN’S FAULT, exactly, but if it weren’t for the city grid that he and surveyor Thomas Holme laid out in 1682, our roads wouldn’t be so narrow, and adding bike lanes wouldn’t be a problem. Although the really small roads aren’t Penn’s handiwork, but the result of early landholders subdividing Penn’s blocks of land, creating even skinnier streets. Of course, if the land they divided wasn’t so flat, it wouldn’t be such a great place to ride, but, well, that’s … God.

This conflict was basically fated.

The wheels really started spinning back in the early 1990s, when Ed Rendell was mayor and the Bicycle Coalition — led by Weyrich — agitated successfully for the city’s first bike racks and lanes. A traffic engineer and cyclist named Tom Branigan noted that many city streets were wider than your standard 12-foot traffic lane, but not quite wide enough for two full lanes. Branigan’s solution: adding four- or five-foot bike lanes to those streets, with one clear lane for cars and one for bikes. From then on, the city painted lanes wherever they fit (mostly outside Center City). The result wasn’t perfect — there were lots of lanes to nowhere. Still, street bikes multiplied like bunnies.

Twenty years, a few gas hikes and one “green movement” later, biking suddenly got bigger. Between 2005 and 2008, the number of cyclists zipping around Philly doubled. Even Camden is connecting bike lanes over the Ben Franklin Bridge into Philly. (Just who, exactly, is hot to Schwinn it into Camden is another story.) But still. This bike thing is national — global, in fact. Cities are racing to be part of what the U.S. Department of Transportation declared in March to be “the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.” This bicycle moment was always going to happen. And people — well, some people — were always going to hate it.

But one thing you can say about Philly’s leaders: They know their constituency. “I’ve said recently that Philly really embraces change,” Cutler remarks wryly, “just as long as it looks exactly the way it did before.”

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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