The Bicycle (Riding) Lobby Has Won, and Philly Will Never Be the Same Again

At a mayoral forum Thursday night, bike lanes and Swedish traffic policy went mainstream.

How many there rode bikes? A LOT. | Photo credit: Jim Kenney Twitter feed.

How many in the audience at the 2015 mayoral mobility forum rode bikes to get there? A LOT. | Photo credit: Jim Kenney Twitter feed.

For years now, a lot of the shorthand, sarcastic, political insider criticism of Mayor Michael Nutter has referenced his affinity for bike lanes. As in: “Yeah the poverty rate sucks, but hey, how about those bike lanes!”

Part of that has been driven by a deep-seated conviction (I’d argue it’s a mistaken one) among many elected officials that Nutter cares way more about Center City interests than “neighborhood” ones. But dislike of Nutter doesn’t explain everything. Bike lanes, and really the entire “mobility” agenda—which includes everything from cycling infrastructure, to road paving, to pedestrian accommodations, to traffic enforcement and much more—has long provoked epic eye-rolls whenever raised with the city’s political class. In other words, these concerns have been dismissed by a lot of powerful people as little more than the obsession of entitled Center City millennials, and thus unworthy of City Hall’s attention.

But if Thursday night’s Better Mobility 2015 Mayoral Forum was any indication—and it was—then the political calculus has changed, and City Hall will likely be forced to reckon more seriously with questions of pedestrian and cyclist safety in the future.

The forum, which was organized by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and moderated by Citified, featured all of the mayoral candidates except State Senator Tony Williams, who was ably represented by surrogate Omar Woodard, policy director for the Williams campaign. Though there were important distinctions between the candidates, all were eager to proclaim their interest and commitment to cycling and transit, all said they supported “Vision Zero” (the Swedish-born notion that traffic fatalities can be eliminated through better planning and infrastructure design), and all said that improved conditions for cyclists and pedestrians were important concerns for a diverse array of Philadelphians, in spite of some public perception to the contrary.

That’s a major political evolution over a relatively short period of time, particularly given that this mayoral field isn’t exactly replete with cutting-edge thinkers and urbanists. Long story short: bike lanes have gone mainstream.

For a thorough report from the forum, check out our compilation of live audience Tweets (and post-game analysis) from the event below. Many thanks to the Bicycle Coalition for sponsoring the event, to the candidates for ably wrestling with these questions, and to audience members for investing an evening to learn more about their options in the 2015 election.

[Update, 8:20 a.m.: One final point. For a while last night, the forum’s Twitter hashtag, #BetterMobility2015, was trending in Philadelphia. You’re never going to see #PensionFundBalance2015 trend. There’s a core of voters that care deeply about mobility issues, and sooner or later, council members—particularly at-large members—are going to figure that out.]