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‘Bikelash’ season is here

Feel like Philadelphia bicyclists have been under an unusual barrage of attacks lately? That's actually a sign of progress, writes Metro's bike columnist.
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Like Christmas and the Fox News-described “War on” it, Bikelash season comes along but once a year. Unlike the War on Christmas, Bikelash is more of a warm weather tradition, kicked up not by Christian tradition but by the potential for change.

This year in Philadelphia, Bikelash has hit pretty hard. Harder than normal. And it’s been weird. Here are some of the anti-bike stories that have circulated this summer: 

A pedestrian and bicycle project for West Center City was hotly, angrily debated in the news, on the web, and at a community meeting; a lawsuit was filed by Urbanist PAC 5th Square to eliminate illegal median parking on Broad Street; new signs have been installed on 15th and 13th Streets in South Philadelphia, informing road users of the law, and green-backed shadows to note bicycles are vehicles, too, are on their way (yes, some are mad about this!); and, my personal favorite: suburbanites have been warned that teenagers could soon be popping wheelies in your town.

It's a given that these sorts of stories pop up every summer. And Philadelphia is not alone. Check out the comments sections below daily papers’ articles about bicyclists from Charleston to Boise, and there’s crop of anonymous storytellers complaining how all cyclists break the law; someone almost got hit by a cyclist; and bike lanes, once installed, will snarl traffic.

I’m here to remind you that all of this is good. Bikelash is nothing to be afraid of. It just means the long, slow, painful process of bringing Philadelphia into the 21st Century continues.

I did not just come up with the term 'Bikelash.' It’s been a thing for almost a decade now. CityLab described it recently as “the resistance and hostility that the increasing presence of bikes on city streets sometimes produces in people who don’t ride bikes.”

Thousands of us use bicycles every day to get to work, school, the grocery store, our friends’ homes, or wherever, every day. And pushback from members of the community means something good is happening.

“Bikelash, I think, a little counterintuitively, is a great thing to be dealing with,” noted Andy Clarke in a Streetsfilms video when he was president of the League of American Bicyclists. “It’s a high-class problem to have. Because it means that we’re actually making a difference. It means we’re actually forcing difficult decisions in a good way, in a constructive way, on communities as they decide what they’re going to look like in the future.”

Of course the future involves more bike lanes on more streets throughout Philadelphia. That’s just progress. How long it takes for us to get there, however, is being debated in community meetings and, eventually, in City Hall. 

This week, the City of Philadelphia will begin installing its first one-way parking-protected bike lane on West Chestnut Street. It took six years of debate and advocacy to get that project installed. And for most of those six years, it seemed like a lost cause. Eventually, community groups and near neighbors embraced the project, and, eventually, so did Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell.

Six years of advocacy for one bike lane sounds ridiculous. Because it is. But don’t fret. This summer’s extreme and weird Bikelash means Philly is changing for the better. Learn to love it.