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!