Mark Squilla’s Complete Streets Bill Is Good for Cars

Drivers who rage at city cyclists should find comfort here.

This Thursday, City Council’s Committee on Streets and Services will introduce bill 120532, and many cyclists will cautiously rejoice. Better known as Complete Streets, the bill’s the work of Councilman Mark Squilla. If passed, it could do some great things for cycling in the city. But before the usual chorus of “cyclists never obey the law and should be impaled on the nearest signpost” types chimes in, the bill’s strength is that it offers cyclists more protections in exchange for more responsibility.

The meat of the bill involves guidelines for city transportation projects, which I’ll get to later, but some of the key points for cyclists and motorists regarding changes to the Traffic Code (Title 12 of The Philadelphia Code) are:

  • It would bring fines for non-parking violations of bike rules, such as sidewalk riding and running reds, in line with state penalties (from $3 to $75).
  • It would allow cyclists to ride two abreast (the law previously required cyclists to ride single file), which frees cyclists from the perils of always squeezing between cars of the parked and moving varieties.
  • It would remove the “sidepath” rule that stipulates that when a path is available (such as on MLK or Kelly drives), cyclists cannot ride on the street. A huge bonus for anyone who’s ever had their undercarriage rattled by the root-buckled pavement of the path adjacent to MLK.
  • It would penalize motorists who throw open their car doors carelessly. (In other words, if you “door” a cyclist, you break the law.)
  • It would outlaw parking in bike lanes and allow for fines of $50 to $75 (with the exception, of course, of the church parking that happens on the Pine and Spruce street lanes, which is more or less the only time this happens. But whatever.)

If you’re of the mind that the only way cyclists are ever going to get respect on Philadelphia’s streets is if they and cars are treated as equals, this bill goes a long way toward that. (My stance remains that bikes and cars are not equal; they’re fundamentally different vehicles and the laws governing them should reflect that, and that bikes and cars should have equal rights on the road.) But just as I’m skeptical that the Philly police will ever consistently or even occasionally enforce the traffic laws already on the books (file under “we’ve got more important things to worry about”), I doubt that these new requirements would be enforced any more regularly, even if the bill would, as advocates point out, simplify things for enforcers.

What I’m more hopeful about is the language in the bill about future transportation projects: “Give full consideration to accommodation of the safety and convenience of all users of the transportation system, be they pedestrians, bicyclists, public transit users or motor vehicle drivers.”

All future transportation projects would follow a newly created design handbook that pulls in all sorts of policy goodies from the city’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan, Philadelphia 2035, the Zoning Code Commission Report, Greenworks Philadelphia, and the Green City, Clean Waters Plan.

All that good policy contributes to that precious walkability (which Council is naturally dicking around with elsewhere) and the emerging bicycle economy. But perhaps most crucial is the symbolic importance of the bill. Should it become law, it would codify that streets are not the sole province of cars, and that crosswalks, and bike and bus lanes are not infringements on sacred car territory. Though it’s a little sad and a lot ridiculous that we’d need a law to do that in the first place.