City Council is eyeing an overhaul of Philly bike laws

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A report last year from the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia found that Philly had the highest percentage of two-wheeled commuters among the nation’s 10 largest cities. Numbers released by the Central Philadelphia Development Corporation last month showed a 10.5 percent increase in downtown bike commuters over the past two years, with an average of 873 riders entering the area between 8 and 9 a.m. during the first two weeks of October alone.  

Bicyclists are now hoping to see the strength borne from their increased numbers cemented into law as City Councilman Mark Squilla’s Complete Streets bill hits a Council committee this Thursday. “The city’s efforts to become more bicycle friendly and safer for all users of streets and sidewalks is now moving beyond just policy, but will actually be reflected in the city’s code,” Bicycle Coalition Policy Director Sarah Clark Stuart said on Monday. “I think that is a very important step forward and indicates that this is becoming part of doing business in Philadelphia.”

The proposed legislation would update rules for all types of drivers, providing for increased penalties for bicyclists who don’t follow the law, as well as for motorists whose behaviors endanger bikers. “Penalties are just one part of it,” Stuart said of the legislation, which the Bicycle Coalition has been working since June to develop in collaboration with Council and Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration. “There are other aspects to what the bill does that will reinforce that things like opening your car door into traffic is prohibited, which has been an issue for bicyclists who get caught by doors that are opened right in front of them.”

One of those aspects would be a new Complete Streets handbook, which combines best practices developed by city initiatives like Greenworks and Philadelphia 2035 and Zoning Code Commission recommendations into one centralized rulebook that all new development would be required follow.

“For example, if a store chooses to redo the sidewalk in front of it, when it goes and gets its permit, the agency – whether it’s the Streets Department or the Department of Licenses and Inspections – will go through a checklist and make sure the various guidance from the different agencies have been adhered to so that the sidewalk is wide enough, that there’s enough space between any street furniture that they propose to put in there, that they don’t build a wheelchair ramp and crimp the sidewalk,” Stuart said. “So it’s going to make the review of projects more uniform and eliminate problems at the front end, because it’s very hard to make corrections after the concrete has been poured and the project is finished.”

The breakdown

The bill as currently written would:

– Prohibit parking in bike lanes and make opening a car door into traffic a city code violation while updating the law to allow cyclists to ride two abreast and to ride in the street even if there is an available off-road side path.

– Increase fines for all non-parking bicycle violations, like riding on sidewalks and running red lights, from $3 to $75, unless there is a higher state penalty for the same violation.

– Mandate that all private and city-sponsored development projects adhere to a checklist of criteria incorporating best practices from a number of organizations and compiled in a centralized Complete Streets handbook. All developers would be required to make their checklists available online within 60 days of a project’s approval.


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