A city like Philadelphia, with its small streets, bike sharing options, and progressive leadership, is ripe to become one of the most bicycle-friendly places in the U.S. Already, many of the issues the Bicycle Coalition has worked on, like bicycle infrastructure, a great trail system, education campaigns, and the like, have helped create a situation in which Philadelphia is the most-biked big city in the U.S.
Bike safety is an ongoing topic of concern and debate. We spoke with Randy LoBasso, Communications Manager at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and Kelly Cofrancisco, Deputy Communications Director with Office of the Mayor and Philadelphia’s Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems (oTIS) to gain more insight.
LoBasso explained that he’s passionate about his job because not only does he ride a bike, but he knows the dangers of riding on streets without safe infrastructure. He understands how much better a city can be if anyone who is able, and wants to, has the choice of commuting via bicycle or another form of active transportation.
“Where it’s been prioritized around the world, from South America to Europe to Asia, bicycling has been shown to be the healthiest, easiest way to get around cities. I want everyone who is able to ride a bicycle, whenever they want, and I want them to be able to do so without worrying about their physical safety or harassment,” said LoBasso.
Organizing a group called Families for Safe Streets Philadelphia
“Cyclist deaths have fluctuated over the years, and we’re actually down from where we were in 2015. Nevertheless, a single death or injury to a cyclist, or anyone else using the roads, is unacceptable. In November, after the tragic death of Emily Fredricks on Spruce Street, we made several demands, some of which — including repaving and re-orienting Spruce and Pine Streets’ bike lanes and putting side-guards on trucks — have already begun coming to fruition,” said LoBasso. “That said, these demands have taken much too long to implement, and, for Emily and those like her, it’s too little, too late.”
The Bicycle Coalition has begun helping organize a group called Families for Safe Streets Philadelphia. This group is made up of the families and people who have been affected by traffic violence in the city, and David Shepard, who heads Families for Safe Streets New York, has been working with the coalition to get the group started. This group will, alongside the Bicycle Coalition, help advocate for safer streets for all road users, and be a strong voice for victims moving forward.
As usual, LoBasso said they have continued advocating for safer streets, which includes automated speed enforcement, protected bike lanes, better multi-use paths, and increased funding for streets in neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia.
“Right now, too many people don’t feel safe riding a bicycle in Philadelphia. That needs to be changed, and the most reliable way to change people’s opinions is through better infrastructure.” LoBasso noted that everyone in Philadelphia should have safe streets and both the City and PennDOT should be working to ensure Philadelphians can get around their neighborhoods safely, and into the city safely, no matter which form of transportation they choose.
Is the city doing enough to protect its cyclists?
“While the City and PennDOT are moving forward with some good projects, like the new protected bike lane pilot on JFK and Market, the West Chestnut protected bike lane (and construction that will soon follow to connect it to Center City), new bike lanes in Strawberry Mansion, and other projects in Southwest Philly, generally, the pace at which safe infrastructure is being built is not fast enough,” said LoBasso. “There are many reasons for this, of course, including monetary and legislative constraints.”
What can be done? LoBasso said that first, the Mayor and Council must continue to add capacity to the Philadelphia’s Streets Department so it can do the work of designing, building and maintaining high quality bike lanes and upgrade the city’s road network. Second, the State legislature needs to pass SB788, a technical fix to the vehicle code, so that parked car protected bike lanes can be installed on state roads within city limits (such as Parkside Avenue, Chestnut Street). “Currently, the City has to build lanes of lesser quality because of this problem with the vehicle code. Lastly, the state should give the City more tools, such as automated enforcement to help calm traffic and reduce speeding,” he concluded.
OTIS’s plans to protect the city’s cyclists from traffic related fatalities
As part of the City’s Vision Zero plan to reduce all traffic related fatalities, oTIS is working with the Streets Department and PennDOT to include safety upgrades in roadway projects. “The JFK Blvd and Market St. Safety Pilot Project includes improved pedestrian crossings, protected bike lanes and new turn lanes for vehicles, all of which have safety benefits for all modes of transportation,” said Cofrancisco. To see the plan, visit www.visionzerophl.org.
Cofrancisco said oTIS works across Philly from Center City projects like Market/JFK, to upcoming protected bike lanes on 13th Street in Yorktown and neighborhood bikeways on 13th and 15th Streets in South Philadelphia. You can see a full list of all of their current and completed projects here.
“Every fatality on our roadways is a tragedy. A basic tenet of Vision Zero is that traffic deaths are preventable. We are fully committed to finding the most effective means to prevent future tragedies. That is why oTIS works across the city and to improve safety for all modes of transportation. Whether it is to improve safety for people driving along or walking across Roosevelt Boulevard through our Route for Change program, or cyclists on Spruce and Pine, or the pedestrians on JFK and Market,” said Cofrancisco. More details on each of these projects is included below:
- Roosevelt Blvd Route for Change
- Spruce Pine Repaving & Safety Project
- Race Street Safety Project at Franklin Square
Lane logistics and legislation
The City is continuing to move bike lane projects forward by working with neighborhoods, roadway users, and City Council. Cofrancisco said this process has resulted in a record five pieces of complete streets legislation this fiscal year that includes new or upgraded bicycle lanes. oTIS believes that by working closely with all of these groups, they can create sustainable supported safety changes in Philadelphia.
“The City recognizes the need for all travelers to access our roadways safely and that active transportation whether walking (to transit or a final destination) or biking, brings many health benefits to its residents. oTIS is happy to partner with the Health department on the Vision Zero task force and supporting the health department’s work to promote walking and biking.” Cofrancisco concluded, “Please stayed tuned to our Office of Complete Streets webpage to find out about new projects.”