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

IF THE PATRON SAINT — Patron Crank, to some — of People Who Are Not Bike People is Stu Bykofsky, he doesn’t have a whole lot of acolytes. The Bike People have the government, herds of helmeted spinners, an army of bike messengers, and even SEPTA converging around efforts for a bike-friendlier world, whereas the other side is a scattershot group at best. Outside Bykofsky’s soliloquies, protests really only tend to flare up in seething letters to the editor (“ … I don’t think we should spend tax dollars and make it even more difficult to navigate in Center City just to make life easier for a small percentage of the population,” simmered one typical protester), and, more often, in random coffee-break chatter. Typical might be someone like parking magnate Joe Zuritsky, who is, for the record, “very pro-bike,” but adds, “There’s no room for them now, the way we use our streets for parking and driving.”

Among Bykofsky’s many reasons to oppose the master bike-lane plan is one rampant gripe, easily the major source of current road rage: that certain type of cyclist who races through red lights, who darts between cars, who — most offensively — rides on the sidewalks. The rule-breaker.

The most powerful ammunition the anti-bike-lane crowd has are two dead men, Tom Archie and Andre Steed. The same month that the Spruce/Pine bike lanes debuted, 78-year-old Archie was trying to cross Passyunk, a one-way street, when a cyclist zooming the wrong way knocked him over; he fell so hard his brain bled. He never woke up. A week later, Steed, 40, was at the corner of 16th and Locust when a bicyclist plowed into him, then rode off, leaving him bleeding on the sidewalk. After a week in a coma, he died. The cyclist wasn’t caught.

Soon after, City Councilmen Frank DiCicco and James Kenney proposed laws that would, among other things, require the registration and licensing of bikes, and bump fines for sidewalk riding from $54 to $300. (Your average traffic ticket is much less.) But then the cyclists unloaded.

The Bike Coalition blasted the laws, maintaining that singling out cyclists wasn’t the answer when the problem was “all road users … bending the law to suit their own needs, with little if any consequences.” Between two and four cyclists are killed on Philly roads annually, advocates pointed out — where was the reaction to that? Overnight, a group called Philadelphia Bicycle Insurrection formed, its website said, to “push back, hard, at negative publicity, openly hostile press coverage and politically opportunistic smear campaigns.” In a bow to understatement, the Insurrection’s Facebook page — over 1,500 followers strong — declared bikers “the most at-risk and abused class in the Philadelphia transportation system.” Paging Jean Valjean!

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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