“The City of Brotherly Love” doesn’t love its bike community too much. Let me further explain what I mean in this open letter to my city.
You may be wondering why am I writing this, or why you should care especially if you don’t ride a bike. This applies to all people; anyone operating a vehicle, parents buying bikes for children, teenage children riding bikes, and all people using bikes as a means of transposition. Earlier this summer my cousin was fatally struck while on his bike by a vehicle in the Hunting Park section of Philadelphia. This area is down the street from a park that hosts many families on day-to-day basis, especially in the summer. However, there are no bike lanes in or around it, which is the case for most of the North Philadelphia area. Such traffic signage or lanes could’ve saved my cousin’s life and could help save the lives of many others.
As a biker myself in and around the North Philadelphia area, I noticed that there are not many bike lanes or signs warning motorists of bikers. In Philadelphia, there is also a lack of rule enforcement for bikers. Since you don’t have to take a test to ride a bike, many people are not aware of their rights or rules they must follow when riding a bicycle.
With that being said, let’s get into the subject matter that gave me mixed emotions. On May 1, 2015 the City of Philadelphia launched its first ever bike-sharing program called Indego. When I first heard of this program I was very excited that Philadelphia was finally joining on the movement for Eco transportation. That excitement quickly faded when I saw one of the locations of the dock stations. Simply riding past one location, I began to think of all of the hit-and-runs, and I remembered how my family’s heart was broken over my cousin’s death. Those life experiences made me realize that not all Philadelphia’s streets are equipped for bikers, especially those outside of Center City.
First let me say that this is in NO way, shape, or form bashing Indego or the efforts by the City of Philadelphia in bringing Indego to our city. I think Indego is a phenomenal program but it shines a light on the flaws that the City of Philadelphia has in regards to bicyclist traffic laws.
In an article by Biz Journal, Philadelphia has seen a fluctuation of bikers in the past two years. The City of Philadelphia has to do a better job at making both bicyclist and motorist who share the road safe and comfortable.
Indego is sponsored by Independence Blue Cross becoming a means of public transportation in and around the city. In the first two weeks of the program’s launch, Indego had over 8,000 bikers. For those of you that do not know what a bike sharing program is, let me explain. Throughout different neighborhoods in the city you’ll find a blue kiosk meter (ours is blue anyway) and to the left or right of the kiosk you’ll find a bike rack or “dock station”. Through the kiosk you can become a member or pay to rent/use a bike for a period of time. The cool thing about bike share is that you can pick the bike up at one location and drop it off at any other location throughout the city. There’s even an app where you can see real-time bike availability or dock space to securely dock the bike once you’re finished. Once you return the bike you can continue on your way. It’s a fast and easy way to commute short distances without heavily relying on traditional public transportation such as buses, trains and even taxis.
Areas that do not have bike lanes or signage are the areas that are most concerning to myself and all other cyclists. As Indego kicked off, I began looking at the locations of the kiosks, which are in different neighbors, and sections of the city. Many of these dock locations are currently without bike lanes.
For example, as I was driving through Temple University, on my way home I saw that there was a dock station on 13th and Montgomery. I thought “what a great place to put this dock.” It makes it accessible to Temple students, teachers, and faculty to get around campus and in and out of the city. I continued to drive and noticed that the streets heading north of the city were not properly paved or equipped with bike lanes or traffic signs that warn motorist of bicyclist on the roads.
Let’s do the numbers. In North Philadelphia alone, there have been 5 accidents involving bicyclist and motorist since April, including the story of two Temple University students. Both accidents happened within two weeks of one another and left one dead and one critically injured. The first accident left 22-year-old Rachel Hall critically injured by a hit-and-run driver and the second claimed the life of Jay Mohan, who was 26-years-old. The death of Mohan occurred as he was heading Eastbound on Girard where there are no bike lanes on either side of the road. Hall was stuck heading on Diamond near Broad where once again there are no bike lanes or signage.
Not all of the blame is to be put on the vehicle operator but they are protected more than bicyclists who ride in open air. Motorists need to be more aware of cyclists especially in areas where bike lanes are not available.
OUTSIDE THE CITY
Just to provide proof on just how bad the streets are, I mounted my GoPro onto my bike to document my route through the outskirts, specifically the North Philadelphia area of the city. While riding I noticed that bike lanes are on streets that are heavily traveled such as Allegheny, Broad, and Aramingo just to name a few. Granted, there are bigger side streets that have bike lanes, which to me is quite surprising but some of the lines are barely visible. Nonetheless, it’s a step in the right direction for people commuting on bikes through these neighborhoods.
In areas where there are no bike lanes, motorists become very frustrated when they have to share the road with bicyclists. Many people have different experiences with bikers; therefore everyone has different perspectives. Often enough, the biggest complaints I hear are of cyclist speeding down one-way streets, and weaving in and out of traffic. People also complain that cyclists are overcrowding the sidewalks, and are often seen running red lights and stop signs. People complain that cyclists are a nuisance since they don’t have any rules or laws to obey, which is not true. What many people, including cyclists, do not know is that there are laws and rules that need to be followed while riding a bike.
So, in addition to adding bike lanes and signs there should be enforcement of bike laws and rules that bicyclist and motorist must abide.
Since you don’t need to take a test or study in order to start riding a bike legally, many people that ride bikes are not aware of bike laws that must be obeyed when riding a bike, especially in streets. Just as bikers need to be informed of laws, so should motorists, which many are not aware of the bike laws protecting bikers. In fact, I will assume that 95% of motorists on the road do not know that bicyclist have the right to ride on the road just as much as cars do. In fact Title 12-801 says “Persons riding bicycles shall have all the rights and shall be subject to all duties applicable to an operator under the provisions of this Title and The Vehicle Code.” In other words bicyclists have the same responsibilities that motorists assume, with the exception of riding on highways. So, just as bicyclists need to be aware of motor vehicles, so should motor vehicles be aware of bicyclists because in fact the road is to be shared.
These laws should be enforced when anyone who purchases a bike, which include children’s bikes, and adult bikes. This especially should be enforced with people using Indego bike-share.
With the launch of a Bike Sharing program in the city, Philadelphia should make it a point to emphasize the traffic laws that exist when riding a bicycle. This point-of-emphasis would not only apply to people using bike-share but also to everyday bicyclist who use their bike either for transportation to work or just for recreational activity. Most importantly, this traffic law emphasis would apply to motorists as well, who disregard the rights bicyclists have on the roads as well. In addition to traffic law enforcement, there should also be more bike lanes or traffic signs warning motorist of bikers on the road.
People who want to ride bikes either through Indego or their own personal bicycles should become more aware that there are some laws, which all bikers should know and understand. Our city officials and community groups must come together to not only enforce the traffic laws but also make people aware that they do exist. Enforcing these rules will prevent tragedies such as the one my family had to face.
We need to make our roads safer for all who use it, and that includes bicyclists. The solution may be simple, but the problem must be addressed first. THE TIME IS NOW!
Concerned Bicyclist in Philadelphia
Photo Cred: I. Matos