New Philly Mayor Promises 30 Miles of Protected Bike Lanes by 2021

A map of possible future protected bike lanes proposed by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

The bike-friendliest big city on the Eastern Seaboard has been falling a bit behind the times, but it’s lined up for an upgrade.

Philadelphia has come a long way on the network of conventional bike lanes that it started striping in 1995. With about 2 percent of commutes by bike and a rich biking culture, it’s made bike transportation noticeably more common than in peer cities like Boston, New York, and (elsewhere in the country) Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Houston.

But over the last few years, a second city — Chicago — has been making a dash for Philadelphia’s longtime status as the country’s bikingest city of more than 1 million. In 2011, Chicago began rapidly installing one of the country’s best-connected networks of buffered and protected bike lanes in its downtown and central neighborhoods. That corresponded to a steady rise in biking, and at last count, Chicago was nipping at Philadelphia’s heels in its percentage of commutes by bike.

Now, Philadelphia’s new mayor has taken a page from Chicago’s book. In the run-up to his landslide victory last May, Jim Kenney pledged to build 30 miles of protected bike lanes in the next five years.

That’d be enough to reverse what Kenney had called an “embarrassing” lack of the low-stress infrastructure in Philadelphia, and then some. It’d be more protected bike lane than any city has currently built, enough to once again place Philly clearly among the nation’s leaders for comfortable biking streets.

One month into office, Kenney announced Philadelphia’s first Office of Complete Streets

Mayor Jim Kenney, left, at a Philadelphia factory tour last month. Photo: U.S. Department of Labor.

Sarah Clark Stuart, executive director at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, said in an interview Tuesday that Kenney “seems very inclined” to follow through. Earlier this month, he announced the creation of the city’s first Office of Complete Streets. The new commissioner of that office will be tasked with executing Kenney’s campaign pledge to “break down silos and coordinate services amongst departments, such as streets, water, and police.”

“New protected bike lanes, I think, are going to be driven by that office,” Stuart said.

In a transition report circulated Tuesday, Kenney’s team made its first public mention of his enthusiasm for protected bike lanes since taking office next month. It added that his administration aims to add 15 miles of bike lanes (protected and otherwise) in 2016 alone.

Kenney and his new complete streets commissioner, whoever it is, will have plenty of help. Last month, the Bicycle Coalition released its own proposal for where to put 30 miles of protected bike lanes around the city, most prominently with a JFK/Market couplet through the heart of downtown.

Few U.S. cities have a stronger sense of their own history than Philadelphia. Thanks to two very different men — Mayor Michael Nutter and now Mayor Jim Kenney — it looks like being a great city to bike in is going to be a big part of the city’s future, too.

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10 thoughts on New Philly Mayor Promises 30 Miles of Protected Bike Lanes by 2021

  1. Presumably the lanes on the above map are on streets where it wouldn’t be necessary to remove a parking or driving lane? In Philly, we have a draconian law in which the repurposing of driving/parking lanes requires councilmanic approval. A big reason for Philly’s stagnation.

  2. Ostensibly every black street outside Center City involves minimal to no parking reduction since it’s mostly buffering or adding posts to existing lanes, and those in red are actual road diets or reductions. More absurd is that BCGP proposes exactly two protected intersections in the entire plan, one in faraway Packer Park.

  3. 38th/Chestnut, which is better but not even as busy as 34th St nearby. 38th is one of the few overbuilt 4-lane roads easily justified with a 2-lane road diet, but nearly every cross street is already a bike lane, for which BCGP has no reason not to include protected intersections, since this addresses the crux of road safety and Vision Zero. BCGP gets much more credit for what they actually contribute towards the cycling campaign.

  4. There is a reason for that! Councilmen and women want to respond to the majority of their constituents, rather than the wishes of bike riders. If that’s draconian, it is also democracy at work. Simple.

  5. It is arguable whether a “majority” of Philly residents support motor vehicles above all else, but the problem is actually a *lack* of democracy. With 27% voter turnout in November 2015 and massive poverty, its hard to argue Philadelphia has a vibrant democracy. Nationally over the past 90 years, the undue influence of powerful business interests on public policy and public consciousness (through propaganda) has resulted in the prioritization of motor vehicle traffic by politicians, bureaucrats, and well-meaning citizens. If Philly politicians are just responding to the status quo and not leading the way (educating people) to safer, quieter, healthier, more economical transportation…well, they won’t be remembered for doing much good.

  6. Mr. Miner, I have spoken with one very likable councilman, met with a second, and met with the staff of a third. Some of the public may be lethargic, but those three councilmen were anything but. And, when they make decisions about closing needed auto lanes, it is in an attempt to serve the majority in their constituencies. It is interesting that in my youth, I was an angry liberal like you. As I grew and matured and mellowed out, I continued to believe in many liberal causes very strongly, but at the same time I began to see how well the system works and how much wiser many of the decisions my elders had made were than I thought they were when I was 25. Philly is a good place and the decisions made are likely going to be fairly reasonable compromises. I am just trying to help ensure all sides of these questions are seen before those decisions are made. If you were the mayor, we would be in trouble.

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