As Philly moves toward 'Vision Zero,' new Council bill could slow down bike lanes
Metro's bicycle columnist says City Hall and City Council are pulling in opposite directions on street safety.
Ask anyone if they’re in favor of traffic safety. Chances are, unless you’re speaking to a sociopath, the answer is yes. Who wouldn’t be in favor of fewer people getting killed while traveling?
Around the United States, mostly due to increased distractions while driving, traffic crashes, and deaths, are on the rise. In Philadelphia, about 100 people are killed in traffic violence each year, thousands are seriously injured, and it costs the city and its people roughly $1 billion.
So, from both a moral and economic point of view, it would make sense to use proven engineering, education and enforcement techniques from other advanced societies around the world to fix these problems. That’s what many cities are beginning to do. Philadelphia has vowed to join them.
But saying and doing are two different things. And while none of our elected representatives are overt sociopaths on this issue, getting politicians to the popular decision by making lots of small, less popular ones, is difficult.
Which brings us to City Council. A new bill introduced by Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell would potentially make it harder, costlier, and more time-consuming for Philadelphia to create safer streets.
In late February, she proposed language that states "any modification to an existing bicycle lane that would affect the flow of traffic" would require an ordinance.
The language is not clear on what the standard is for "affect[ing] the flow of traffic," or who decides if modifying the bike lane affects traffic.
The language does, however, expand City's Council requirement that it must authorize the Streets Department for upgrading a bike lane. Such language would update a 2012 law that gives District Councilpeople—not engineers—final say over engineering decisions involving multi-modal travel.
Bike lanes are proven traffic calming measures that make travel safer for everyone. That includes people in cars, on the sidewalk.. You want to save money and lives? Bike lanes are a proven tool for doing just that.
In addition to giving cyclists a better place to ride, they reduce the width of the road, which not only forces people in motor vehicles to pay more attention to where they’re going, but also creates a shorter distance for pedestrians crossing the street.
And while Blackwell has noted she introduced her legislation to give neighbors more say over local infrastructure implementation, it’s hard to figure out how giving City Council more unique powers strengthens community input—especially since community input is already part of the process for installing new infrastructure.
It’s likely this bill was brought up because some people have complained about the relatively new bike lane on Chestnut Street. A study of the street has shown that it takes about three minutes longer during rush hour to get down Chestnut now, and that’s a problem for some.
But Blackwell’s legislation wouldn’t undo that. It simply gives Philadelphia’s already-dominant legislative body even more power on somewhat-related issues, to the detriment of everyone’s else’s safety.