While riding up Pine Street in Center City last week, Aaron Bauman was amazed to have gone a mere five blocks without having to merge into traffic. Usually, he says, he doesn’t go more than one or two blocks without having to get out of the way of a motor vehicle illegally obstructing the lane.
“The fact that drivers are allowed to block these Center City lanes with impunity, even during rush hours, underscores the city's lack of concern for bicyclists,” said the South Philly resident who’s been bicycling in Philadelphia for more than a decade.
He’s not alone in feeling this way. When Center City District released its bi-yearly bike counts and transportation surveys earlier this month, it showed a sharp spike in Center City bicycling (up 22 percent in the last two years, and 79 percent in the last six), but residents are increasingly frustrated with the same motor vehicle impunity of which Bauman speaks.
According to the Center City District transportation survey, the most important issues hindering mobility are vehicles blocking lanes, enforcement, and poor street conditions. Delivery trucks, motorists and taxis were the three “biggest offenders,” according to the survey.
And that’s a problem. Philadelphia continues to be the most-biked big city in the United States, but for many motor vehicle users, that’s less a point of progressive pride than it is an inconvenience.
Motor vehicle users using bike lanes as their personal parking spaces isn’t new—and it’s not exclusive to Philadelphia. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio set off a firestorm among bicyclists when he told journalist Brian Lehrer earlier this month that blocking a bike lane to “drop off a child or, you know, bring some groceries into a home — that should not be a ticket.”
Unfortunately, this is common thinking among city and political leaders and regular people around the country. Stopping in a bike lane feels safer than blocking motor vehicle traffic.
Political leaders are afraid to take subsidized on-street parking away in booming downtowns and outlying neighborhoods as long as Americans remain addicted to their cars and energy stays cheap. Such priorities often leave people on bicycles in the dust.
“I think most people just don't appreciate the impact they are having on the bicycle riders,” said Matthew Galenas, a regular bicycle commuter, who travels from University City to Center City, daily. “I assume they rarely, if ever, bike in the city and don't realize how dangerous they are making the streets for us. On the other hand, there are the professional drivers and delivery services who, I believe, know exactly the issues they are causing but choose to prioritize their business over the safety of vulnerable road users.”
One of the worst offenders in the city are delivery trucks. UPS and FedEx trucks are regularly seen – and documented on social media – sitting in bike lanes around the city while the drivers make deliveries, often across the street from open spaces and loading zones.
For FedEx Ground trucks 317747 and 319085, FedEx Home Delivery truck 311563, and several others documented on Twitter over the past year by user @PhilaBikes, delivery trucks can be seen parking in bike lanes with their tags either removed or obstructed by delivery slips or parking tickets.
There may be some good news, though. According to Philadelphia Parking Authority statistics provided to Metro, 4,302 tickets were written to vehicles in bike lanes throughout 2015—the plurality of which (1,394) were on Pine Street between the 300 and 2100 blocks.
According to PPA statistics, 3,434 tickets were written as of Oct. 1—which means there’s been a steady increase in tickets over the past few years (about 358 per month in 2015 compared to roughly 381 per month, so far, in 2016), and a more than 120 percent increase since 2014, when the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and PPA were meeting to talk about better ways to improve enforcement on this issue.
Enforcement is currently the best line of defense as long as motor vehicle users continue putting cyclists lives at risk for their own convenience, but it’s not the ultimate solution. Long-term, motor vehicles need to be physically blocked from obstructing cyclists’ paths, similar to the way sidewalks (for the most part) provide a physical and cultural barrier between people and motor vehicles.
This is not an issue deserving of the Philly Shrug. When motor vehicle users pull over to the side of the street and obstruct the bike lane, they are putting cyclists’ lives at risk for their own convenience. And more than ever, people are tired of the hindrance.
Randy LoBasso is the communications manager at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.