Philly Rolls Out Bike Lanes at a Snail’s Pace, and Mayor Jim Kenney May Slow Down Progress Even More

It took six years of advocacy for Philadelphia to get this 11-block bike lane on Chestnut. Immediately after its construction, the council member got cold feet. Photo: Bike Coalition of Greater Philadelphia
It took six years of advocacy for Philadelphia to get this 11-block bike lane on Chestnut. Immediately after its construction, the council member got cold feet. Photo: Bike Coalition of Greater Philadelphia

Since 2007, New York City has built 98 miles of protected bike lanes. In the same time frame, Philadelphia has built just 2.5 miles.

Thanks to the narrow streets, bicycling in Philadelphia is still relatively high compared to most American cities. But the city has barely begun to tap the potential for street redesigns to reduce traffic dangers and make cycling appealing to people of all ages.

One reason for the slow progress is a special rule, enacted in 2012 as part of the city’s complete streets policy, that gives each City Council member veto power over bike lanes if a regular travel lane or parking lane is impacted. Before a bike lane can be implemented, it must have the explicit endorsement of the council member representing the district.

The main effect is to drag out the process of installing street safety improvements. Getting “approval for a single, one-mile stretch” of bike lane “can require years of consensus building,” writes Samantha Melamed at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

That’s what happened on Chestnut Street in West Philadelphia. After six years of advocacy and organizing for a protected bike lane on a dangerous 11-block stretch of the road, the city finally implemented the project. But then Council Member Jannie Blackwell, who had been a supporter, received some pushback from constituents and said she wanted to reevaluate the bike lane after three months.

The Chestnut Street bike lane is still in place, but Blackwell wants to make it harder to build similar projects. She recently introduced a bill that would give council members veto power over all bike lanes. Currently, the city is not legally obligated to get approval in some of those cases.

If enacted, the rule could disrupt the city’s plans to convert painted several bike lanes to protected bike lanes.

Dena Driscoll, a mother of two and co-chair of the advocacy group 5th Square, says the rule makes the work of advocating for safer streets much more difficult.

Recent expansions of the bike network have set off a backlash among some residents who intensely object to repurposing parking spaces or simply encouraging more people to bike. Advocates may get 800 signatures in support of a bike project, said Driscoll, but if a few people highly active in local politics oppose it vociferously enough, that may be enough to kill it.

Council members “are listening to some of the loudest voices,” she said. “There’s no clear way to know if we’re going to get their support or not get that support.”

In some neighborhoods, she said, the addition of bike lanes is associated with gentrification. In other cases, bike lane upgrades in affluent neighborhoods trigger backlash.

When Mayor Jim Kenney was elected in 2015, he said his administration would complete 30 miles of protected bike lanes. He has not commented on the legislation. Two years into his time in office, it already seems unlikely that he’ll achieve his promise to improve the bike network.

UPDATE March 8: The Kenney Administration says: “We are continuing our conversations with the Councilwoman about this matter toward a resolution that satisfies the needs of the bicycling community and residents.”

Driscoll transports her young children around the city by bike, and she is exasperated.

“At this point [council members] already have so much power,” she said. “The Kenny administration, they’re still going to the council people to ask for that permission. They’re still defaulting to whatever the council person thinks is the quote-unquote temperature of the neighborhood.”

Updated March 8th to clarify between proposed changes and existing rule. 

  • ZeroVisionPhila

    Philly streets aren’t wide enough to accommodate all the wishes of the anti Driving groups!

  • Phill Lucas

    Street design becomes theoretically safe soley through creation of rules… but exactly when did it become reasonable to assume that people ever actually follow rules?

    Drivers: blow past stop signs. They also sneak through a light thats just red all the time. They speed with inpunity and comfort. AAAAND – will intentionally increase the danger of a situation where another road user breaks from the rules, as we see in this video!
    Pedestrians: cross over red signals at crosswalks streets and Jaywalk. They also often walk along on the road instead of the sidewalk.
    Cyclists: jump lights and sometimes ride the wrong way. Blow past stop signs too.

    Theory is always trumped by reality.

  • John M. Baxter

    Yes, and the Dutch also refuse to eliminate lanes on busier streets that need them, making Vision Zero a reasonable, gentle approach, rather than an aggressive, nasty approach the way it seems to be wished for in Philly.

  • Phill Lucas

    -> “nasty a[pproach” indeed. Mutual benefit is a good focus. Not conflict.

  • John M. Baxter

    Yes, in spite of my frequent comments about the way some forms of Vision Zero seem designed to merely punish motorists, I, for one, do support the use of bike lanes. It’s only common sense, as you say. I m certain that when the steamship was invented, they used separate shipping lanes from those used by sailing ships.

  • Phill Lucas

    -> “not wide enough”. Coin flip: Perhaps, theyre not wide enough to be giving cars exlusive reign?

  • John M. Baxter

    That is the typical attitude where it is no longer politically correct to drive a car. That kind of hostile rhetoric needs to be toned down, and you need to recognize that crashes occur because of human error of all types on both sides. The law considers the error, not the mode of transportation, and so should you. If a bike rider or pedestrian subjects him or herself to a dangerous situation, it is not the fault of the person driving the larger, heavier vehicle. Lighten up and get used to 20th century technology!

  • John M. Baxter

    Yes, indeed. Just don’t take away needed auto lanes to put bike lanes in. On one busy New York boulevard, they slightly narrowed four or five car lanes, added left turn lanes, and slipped in a protected bike lane. This is fine, and even eliminating a car lane would be fine if the street does not actually need them all. But, don’t constrict auto traffic–that’s just poor road design and use of space.

  • John M. Baxter

    Just don’t take away car lanes that are actually needed, that’s all.

  • Oh, I definitely do appreciate that cyclists on the narrow streets of South Philly face different challenges than do cyclists in Northeast Philly. The contrast is extreme. And then there are the trolley tracks on 11th and 12th Streets! Those can ruin your whole day.

    On my most recent visit, I spend an entire afternoon just grooving on the small streets of South Philly, and being facinated by their look.

    Speaking of small streets: even though it’s not in South Philly, the outrageously small St. John Neumann Way was so cool to ride on! I wish cities had more streets like that, where cars just can’t go.

    Though, come to think of it, I wonder how Google Maps got its Street View shots for that street. At first I assumed that someone walked the street with the camera. However, the shadows that are visible in these shots reveal that a vehicle-mounted camera must have been used. But what kind of vehicle?

    Oddly enough, I ran into a Google Street View camera car not far from that street; it was parked on 6th near Jefferson Street. The guy who was getting into it was nice enough to let me turn the tables and take a picture of the car.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/6074fbaa100f851dd4c7a1ad0260581d7af613cead00cc8dfd2a5106eb76a782.png

    We spoke for a minute; but I hadn’t yet discovered St. John Neumann Way, so I didn’t know to ask him about it. If I find him again on my next visit, I sure will ask him!

    Anyway, back to South Philly. During one of my days of wandering around down there, I found myself in that new development where the streets all have names of Italian cities: Roma Drive, Napoli Way, etc. Overly lyrical names for a a set of not-very-attractive buildings, I must say. I had gotten there by means of Penrose Avenue; so I wanted to find another way out.

    I made my way west until I found 26th Street. I turned to go north on that street, thinking that that would lead me somewhere good. Imagine my surprise when I found that that street turns into a highway a half a mile later. Oh, Philly! So I had to turn around and go back the other way — on the wrong side of the street, which I hate doing. I retraced my steps to Penrose, and continued my South Philly exploration from there.

    That’s the fun of exploring. I should mention that I typically don’t consult the map while I am riding. My preferred practice is to study the map before leaving for the day, and to establish a general game plan. Then I set off and learn by doing, deviating from the original plan and making mistakes along the way. You learn most by your mistakes! In every daily ride, I gained some more knowledge; and my ability to know where I was became enhanced.

    I will occasionally steal a glimpse at the map during the day, mainly to check whether some perception that I had formed based on recent learning is correct. But I definitely don’t rely on the map constantly when pleasure riding. Anyone who rides with a GPS voice announcing each turn is not learning anything. I think that someone who does it that way is missing the joy of discovery.

    Anyway, there’s plenty of Philadelphia left to discover. And it won’t be long before I take my next crack at it.

  • John M. Baxter

    That is probably the most contrary and absurd statement I have ever read. Quite obviously, EXACTLY the opposite is true.

  • Jayfar

    Yep, that’s pretty much what it is. Or some dude butt hurt because he got a speeding ticket.

  • Phill Lucas

    This ^^

    Too many parties see multimodal advances as being anti-car. Theyre not. Theyre pro-people-moving.

  • habitus corporis, soros $hill

    “waaah why can’t i do 60 down a street 12 feet wide the libs are oppressing me” – nma dude after dusting the cheeto crumbs off his keyboard, probably

  • habitus corporis, soros $hill

    cars are the worst use of space though….?

  • habitus corporis, soros $hill

    yes how can we all forget the aggressive lane removals that have taken place in philly…. all zero of them

  • habitus corporis, soros $hill

    yes but literally no one is saying to do that…

  • John M. Baxter

    You, sir, are sadly misinformed! Chestnut and Walnut, and the Coalition wanted 22nd street but didn’t get it. . .

  • Phill Lucas

    Rules make streets theoretically safe.
    But always, people make them realisitically unsafe.

    People in cars: run red lights, blow past stop signs, speed with impunity and (in this case) happily turn a silly situation into a dangerous one by not driving cautiously.
    People on foot: jaywalk, cross red lights (as above), and walk along streets instead of sidewalks.
    People on bikes: ride against the traffic flow, and do the same with lights and stop signs as people in cars.

    So lets move beyond the facile driver vs pedestrian vs cyclist misnomer, and face the facts. People in all modes of transport misbehave. So a street that doesnt protect us from our selves and others misbehavior, isnt a safe street. Therefore, streets must be designed for all users quirks.

    They’re generally only designed for cars as king.

  • ZeroVisionPhila

    But overall the streets are safe. But it has become a anti car movement. Of safe driver punishments and #Death4Dollars

  • habitus corporis, soros $hill

    get a grip, that was a 9 year process with an untold number of community meetings… leaving the street in the previous three lane configuration that long was negligent and unsafe on the city’s part.

  • Review the history on how bike lanes came to be and how motoring interests pushed to sweep bicyclists off the road.

    http://iamtraffic.org/equality/the-marginalization-of-bicyclists

    Also review the most common types of collisions and where the bicyclist is positioned on the roadway where they occur:
    http://iamtraffic.org/engineering/behaviors-and-risk/

  • John M. Baxter

    Well, it may have taken a long time, but still obviously did not manage to inform most of Ms. Blackwell’s constituents. Plus, heaven forbid narrow-minded, anti-car Vision Zero proponents would search for an equally effective solution that would still allow the majority of motorists something resembling free traffic flow. These crashes have complex and subtle causes, but Vision Zero severely oversimplifies the situation–“it’s just speed”—NOT. Try looking for solutions that involve ALL the stakeholders and not just bicycling/pedestrian advocates, and don’t take normal traffic flow away from the majority of safe drivers. There are far better, more subtle, and conciliatory ways of solving these problems than the present gung ho, lane-eliminating form of Vision Zero we have in Philly. I write this having a lot of respect for Vision Zero goals, and many of the more sensible features. FACT: More serious car-pedestrian crashes in New York City would be eliminated by changing traffic light sequencing than by “slowing traffic.”

  • John M. Baxter

    Regardless of any of this, I am not against bike lanes. Motorists in the past may have tried to get bikes off to one side, but in today’s environment it’s quite obvious requests for bike lanes come from biking advocates. Not sure why you don’t seem to want them. . .but a slower vehicle should not be mixed with a faster one–hence the left lane/right lane rules that too few obey when driving a car. And, if a separate lane makes a bike rider feel and be safer, I say more power to them!

  • Did you read either of the links?

    Motorists still try to get bicyclists off “their roads” and bike lanes make that worse. All the time we hear of stories of bicyclists honked and yelled at being told to get in the non existant bike lane, or out of the “middle of the road” or to get on the sidewalk.
    Plenty of biking advocates don’t help either since they keep crying that riding on roads is dangerous (it can be but a cycling education course teaches one they can do a lot to avoid problems) and this marginalizes those of us who understand how to ride correctly and safely. Bike lanes are not safer and no amount of “feelings” will change that.

    Bicyclists can and with no problem ride as drivers with motor traffic and this practice is done by lots of people. They’re highly visible to other traffic, predictable, and they aren’t at risk of the most common crashes which all occur from riding too far to the right or in bike lanes. As for mixing with high speed traffic, other slow moving vehicles do it just fine. The only place where bicyclists and other slow moving vehicles are not allowed in most places are on freeways or expressways and that’s because those roads were specifically engineered for high speed motor traffic.

  • John M. Baxter

    “Speeds more appropriate for a city” is standard Vision Zero doctrinaire overkill. It ignores all that is known about actual motorist behavior. Most of us don’t need to be slowed, only an admittedly critically misbehaving minority. Vision Zero needs to be democratized and made more selective. Slowing everyone down is like Prohibition on Wheels. Slow down the minority of idiots, and leave the rest of us alone!

  • John M. Baxter

    Believe me, I DO NOT advocate or even accept any kind of harassment of bike riders. I ride recreationally frequently myself, so I understand how bad that can be. I guess you are speaking of very capable riders on slower moving streets. What you advocate may make a lot of sense in those situations. I tend to focus on faster, through boulevards and on those it seems to be segregation would be desirable because I’d be surprised if all bike riders could keep up.

  • The menacing of vulnerable road users is most definitely not attributable to “a minority of idiots”. It arises from the everyday driving behaviour of the majority, behaviour which is nothing short of sociopathic, but which we have been indoctrinated to accept as normal. The time has come to undo this error.

    Urban streets are the domain of pedestrians; so policy must prioritise pedestrians’ interests. It has been conclusively proven that, while a person is likely to survive a collision with a car that is moving at 20 miles per hour, survivability decreases dramatically at higher speeds. What’s more, cars’ stopping distances explode at speeds greater than 20 miles per hour, a condition which greatly increases the likelihood of a collision with a pedestrian.

    Therefore, a speed limit of 20 miles per hour is the absolute highest that should be found on any road within a city. And the strictest possible enforcement, including by modern electronic means, should be employed.

    In addition, other policy initiatives that have the slowing of auto traffic as a primary or secondary effect, such as bicycle lanes, pedestrian plazas, bus lanes neckdowns, traffic circles, and speed bumps, should be widely undertaken.

    As a result of bad policy, several generations have become accustomed to driving within cities at excessive and dangerous speeds. The cure for this is good policy aimed at achieving drastic reductions in driving speeds in urban areas. A corrective of this sort is long overdue.

    If you want to drive fast, then get on the highway. But, while in a city, a driver is going to have to behave in a civilised manner, and to drive at a speed that is consistent with protecting the safety of city streets’ primary users, pedestrians.

  • I never got the impression you’d harass others, don’t worry. I’m just saying that these behaviors of harassment of cyclists tend to increase when more facilities are built.

    What I advocate works well on these faster roads too. Of course it’s not everybody’s cup of tea but attempts by biking advocates to teach these techniques is not very common. Many simply like to insist such riding is dangerous.

    This is pretty interesting read on riding on these types of roads

    https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2017/10/3/how-to-bike-on-a-stroad

  • John M. Baxter

    Bottom line: You do not know your subject and have not analyzed objectively. What you are asking us to do is to drive at an annoying speed for a lifetime awaiting the collision with a pedestrian that likely will never happen. Not only that, but most such crashes ARE NOT the result of speeding. You fail to heed the lesson of Prohibition–the Volstead act–that restricting the behavior of all to get rid of the misbehavior of a small minority is unacceptable in American democracy. Your statement that urban streets are the domain of pedestrians is simply absurd on many through routes through cities. I frequently drive one in Wilmington, Delaware–Martin Luther King Boulevard–on Saturday mornings. Over a period of years I have probably seen 15 or 20 pedestrians crossing there, at most, while there are many hundreds of cars–thousands in that period of years. One normally drives the entire length seeing nobody walking trying to cross.The 30 or 35 mph speed limit is extremely appropriate. Your utopian concept of everybody driving at 20 mph is a typical behind the desk solution to a problem that completely falls apart when driving down real streets in the real world. (Exceptions might be extremely pedestrian busy center-city streets in shopping districts.) A sensible form of Vision Zero that balanced the needs of all road users would first find ways to link speeds to actual crash causes, with statistics that are already available. It would then find ways–perhaps a force of well-trained traffic enforcement officers and a powerful database–to monitor speeds and keep track of frequently careless drivers and get them off the roads, then solve the other problems that kill pedestrians. I’d even go for speed cameras if accuracy and reliability problems could be solved and they were set near the threshold of danger. Other solutions include things like lighting at intersections because dawn and dusk frequently obscure walkers, and, yes, enforcement of crossing rules, crossing times that are more than adequate, countdown crossing timing indicators, splitting the period of time when pedestrians cross away from the green light when cars can turn right and left, discrete left turn lanes, moving the crosswalk back from the intersection so the driver is looking straight ahead when he or she drives across it, etc. I have traveled in cities like Barcelona where they have many Vision Zero features, but no hard-nosed desire to slow cars to 20 mph because that sounds like such a great way to solve the problem to a bureaucrat who sits behind a desk and never drives. Your philosophy is harsh, anti-car rather than pro-safety, undemocratic and, most of all, oversimplifies a complex subject, therefore completely lacking not only in sophistication, but in a democratic sense of involving and attempting to satisfy all stakeholders to the extent possible. Play nice with the other kids!

  • Michael

    Finally. A rational and sane Mayor prevails over the drive to convert roads currently used by 97% of commuters for buses, ride share and cars to bicycle lanes used by a tiny, but very vcoal minority. Wish we had a rational mayor like that in chicago.

  • LinuxGuy

    I think you may want to play this interview. It can be streamed or MP3.

    https://player.fm/series/bicycle-coalition-podcast/speaking-with-a-hater-wbob-from-zero-vision-phila

  • ZeroVisionPhila

    I done this interview it was edited.

  • LinuxGuy

    I do not think that the title that was stuck on is good, calling a person a hater. How can anyone talk to people like that? When real data cannot be used, it goes to name calling? Sad.

  • ZeroVisionPhila

    I didn’t know what they were going to call it. But that’s what they say about anyone that goes against the agenda. I guess it was for publicity. It’s been worse when I went to the Killovard. When I said to the family only if she would have walked to the 10MILLION$ upgraded intersection. She would be here today. As they were holding signs to slow down! As I said #ItsNotMySpeed

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