Transport: Breaking Away

The murder rate is still shockingly high, the long-awaited smoking ban includes gaping exemptions, and a former councilman was convicted of bribery, fraud and money laundering. Yes, it’s been another banner year for municipal government. But residents can take pride in knowing that the city does at least one thing as well as anybody: bicycling.

Since 1998, the city has added more than 200 miles of bike lanes as part of the Bicycle Network Plan, Philly’s effort to facilitate pedal power, especially as it becomes an increasingly popular means of commuting to work. In addition, the city has persuaded SEPTA and PATCO to make it relatively painless to carry bikes aboard transit lines. The surprise: It seems to be working. Alex Doty, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, says the city has done a “first-class job” of accommodating cycling and promoting its benefits, and coalition personnel who tally the number of people riding bikes during rush hour have witnessed a six percent increase each year of cycle traffic into the city. The city has done so well, in fact, that Doty believes we harbor the potential to become the Amsterdam of the East Coast (but without the soccer hooligans, outrageously potent pot and legalized prostitution).

There are conspicuous drawbacks to biking to work, of course — helmet hair, sweat, the possibility of a dangerous liaison with a Buick — and advocacy groups want the city to approve additional bike racks and parking. But a highly anticipated project may help alleviate those concerns: a “bike station,” similar to ones in Portland and Chicago, that would include storage lockers, maps, a repair shop and a café. The empty ex-visitor’s center on JFK is one potential location.