Monday, December 4, 2017

So, now what?



On Tuesday, November 29, 2017, Emily Fredricks was killed while riding her bike. She was in a bike lane and had a green light when a Gold Medal Environmental garbage truck made a right hand turn and ran her over. A maneuver that is commonly referred to as a “right hook”, which often occurs when a driver fails to check for a cyclist on their right hand side and/or the cyclist is the vehicle's blind spot.


While other cyclists have been killed on the streets of Philadelphia something different happened this time, the Philadelphia cycling community coalesced and took action. 100 people participated in a human protected bike lane, a memorial bike ride was led by 75 cyclists, individuals went out and restriped parts of the Spruce St. bike lane, and transformed bike lane logos.


As cyclists in Philadelphia we face a molehill that has become a mountain when it comes to cycling infrastructure.


Many of the bike lane markings that were installed during Mayor Nutter’s administration have faded away with no plans to maintain them.


In 2012 the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia allowed Philadelphia City Council to pass an ordinance that gave them final decision making authority over the installation of bicycle lanes, calling it “a bill we can live with”. In exchange for a Safe Streets bill that failed to benefit anyone. This bill resulted in Bill Greenlee and Kenyatta Johnson preventing bike lanes from being installed. As well as allowing Councilwoman Blackwell to declare the new Chestnut St protected bike lane a pilot and subject to being removed. All under the claims of “neighborhood concerns”. All without a single  public meeting.


Then there is Mayor Jim Kenney. During his campaign he promised to install 30 miles of protected, now 2 years into his term of office there is no sign from the Mayor’s office of any plans. To make this possible Philadelphia received $550,000 in federal grants a year ago. Money that is being held hostage by Councilmen Darrell Clarke and Mark Squilla. A problem that has been compounded by oTIS, Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems. Who after a year to develop a plan for protected bike lanes recently stated  “ On Thursday afternoon, OTIS officials said they have yet to create a design or official proposal for protected bike lanes along the streets, and they did not guarantee that they would ever do so.” (LINK)


Then there is the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. For the past ten years the BCGP’s approach of working the system from the inside, education, and concentrating on long term goals has compounded these problems. While giving up their public advocacy chops, one of the more recent examples of this was when Councilman Kenyatta Johnson would not approve a bike lane on Lombard St. Johnson Made this decision by cherry picking emails that backed his claims of “neighborhood concerns” without a single public meeting. The BCGP’s response was nothing, no rallies or protests were held. This is just one such example over they tears.


Then there was the BCGP’s summer “Bike Nice” campaign. In which posters were put up around Philadelphia chiding cyclists to wear helmets, ring bells, and stop at signs. A campaign that was designed to placate public perception about dangerous cyclists was nothing more than a slap in the face to cyclists. As it failed to address issues like cyclists using the lane and drivers parking in bike lanes.


There are signs that the reliance to act as Philadelphia cycling advocates is changing. There are discussions about holding more rides to protest bike lanes blocked by cars and additional human protected bike lanes. There are rumours that the organizers of CycleScenePHL (LINK) are going to form a new cycling advocacy group, one that may be more focused on public actions.


So what can we as cyclists do to effect change in Philadelphia? We are going to have to do more than Tweet and post to social media. It means going to meetings at City Council and Civic Associations, getting on the board of Civic Associations, participating in future public actions like rides and human protected bike lanes, and if possible financial support of any advocacy group besides the BCGP.


We can be the force of change in Philadelphia, but we can’t sit back and count on the actions of a small group of individuals. Everyone must make an effort to participate to make a positive change for all.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Final Countdown



It was a rainy day on Tuesday, August 29, 2017 for the ribbon cutting of the new protected bike lane on Chestnut St and Philadelphia and City Councilwoman Janine Blackwell chose to rain on the ceremony. When she announced that the lane would operate for 90 day trial basis, which could result in the removal of the bike lane. The same lane Blackwell signed an ordinance to make it permanent

So where do we stand? Since that time the promised community meeting to get public input has not happened. The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia has engaged in another e-mail campaign, which failed to work with Councilman Kenyatta Johnson when he used councilmanic privilege to prevent a bike lane in his district. Otherwise, little if any, public pressure has been applied.

The process and design of the Chestnut St. protected bike lane was part of the problem. It took six years to get the lane installed and approved. So long that the community approval part of the process had to be repeated. In order to use the lane one has to cross from one side of Chestnut to the other. Not a safe process given the speed some people drive at on Chestnut. Then there is the problem of the traffic lanes narrowing from three lanes to two and no signs alerting drivers.

On Wednesday, November 29, 2017, 90 days will have passed and the final test will come. Thanks to a deal with the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia (https://philadelphiabicyclejournal.blogspot.com/2012/09/dancing-with-devil.html) , Philadelphia City Council has final approval on all bike lanes that remove parking or a lane of traffic. Which means that Councilwoman Blackwell has the ability to overturn her own ordinance that made the Chestnut St. bike lane permanent. It won’t matter how many e-mails Councilwoman Blackwell receives supporting  the bike lane or what the BCGP’s study data reveals. All that will matter is Councilwoman Blackwell’s nebulous claims about lack of community support.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Bluster, Bluff, Lie

On Tuesday, October 17 Merilyn Jackson became the story, instead of her writing about it. For those you who are not familiar with Ms. Jackson’s work she is an occasional theatre and dance reviewer at the Philly Inquirer and other media outlets. You know the type, this who can do those who can’t review those who can do.

First came the bluff.
It all started with a single and now deleted tweet by self described “hyper liberal” Merilyn Jackson (https://twitter.com/Merilynjune).

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A tweet taken by many in the cycling community as a threat to kill cyclists. When most people confronted with their own tweets they generally have the common sense to not make matters worse. Clearly this is not the case with hyper liberals, who use the same playbook as Donald Trump. Even when Ms. Jackson’s additional tweets about ageism and ableism were debunked with actual facts, she engaged in bluster.

The Bluster.
First off, if you are woman color you need not fear Ms. Jackson when she gets behind the wheel of her 2000 pound murder weapon.
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Or how the poor are to lazy to work and therefore do not need cars.
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It seems that Ms. Jackson doesn’t want to actually kill cyclists because her daughter is a “well known expert class mountain biker”.

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If anyone can figure out who her daughter is let me know. I’m curious if this just another lie Ms. Jackson told to bolster credibility.

The Lie.
But need not worry at the end of the day Ms. Jackson issued a non-apology apology. You see it wasn’t her fault, it was her sassy mouth.

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This is not Ms. Jackson’s first entree into the Trumpian world of denial and deflection. Take her reaction to an architectural review by Inga Saffron.
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When Ms. Saffron pointed she was wrong.
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Ms Jackson’s response was classic Trump deflection. She chose to double down and dig the hole that she was in even deeper.
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There is a larger problem at work, how do you deal with someone who has an irrational belief like Ms. Jackson? Actual facts and studies have no influence, taking them for a bike ride is never going to change anything, neither will talking to them get past the world of denial they live in. Subjecting them to public ridicule or shame just makes them feel they are either a victim or, worse yet, taking a heroic stand.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but letting this sort of behavior go unchallenged is just as bad. The best answer I can think of is every person will have something that they feel works best for themselves and that is the choice they must make. I chose to write about it.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Guerillas in our Midst

Throughout America there are cells of guerillas, plotting to throw off the constraints of government agencies. Working in secret, often anonymously in cities like New York City, Seattle, Portland Oregon, and Jersey City. These tactical urbanists are known as DOTr, Department of Transformation, and they are changing the way roads areperceived.


Operating in anonymous cell, some have funding from a supportive public. DOTr groups create protected bike lanes by placing traffic cones, planters, and toilet plungers on existing bike lanes and creating temporary bike lanes and crosswalks where none exist. The goal, is to push the city to work faster when it comes to improving safety on its streets.


Tactical urbanism does not involve people dressed like a SWAT team. Instead it consists of ordinary citizens who are tired of the slow pace or out right resistance of local government to make the lives of pedestrians and cyclists safer. While many of their installations are quickly removed by local government, all of them have inspired conversation. In some cases it has led to the creation of an officially approved permanent solution.


Now this concept has reached Philadelphia in the form of Safer Streets PHL. A group of urbanists, cyclists, and pedestrians have come together to address the decay and disrepair of Philadelphia's bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Their first action, on Thursday, August 24, was the creation of a temporary protected bike lane using toilet plungers as barricades. All though it only last a few hours during the morning, it started a conversation. One my favorite comments I found online was how people never realized how many cars drove in the bike lane until they saw broken plungers.


On September 8, Safer Streets PHL swept the protected Chestnut St. Bike Lane free of debris that had been left behind during construction. The type of things that can puncture tires and cause cyclists to lose their balance and crash. In the process they filled 9 trash bags.



I look forward to seeing what the future brings when it comes to Safer Streets PHL. A concept that I thought would never come to Philadelphia.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Caught Between a Rock and a Rock

Randy Lobasso wears two hats in Philadelphia, he is the spokesperson for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and citizen journalist for Metro Newspaper. Where he writes columns about bicycling and infrastructure. In his most recent piece, “Philly Needs to Change its Street Safety Approval Process”, he bemoans the growing problem of Philadelphia’s City Council control over bike lanes.

You see in Philadelphia, City Council, not Civil Engineers, have the final authority as to whether or not a bicycle lane is installed. Any City Council member can stop a bicycle lane from being installed for any reason or no reason at all. This is often done by claiming “neighborhood concerns” or cherry picking which replies from community members are valid.

However Mr. Lobasso glosses over the key reason why this has happened with this statement, It's time Council gives up this unneeded privilege it gave itself five years ago and leave street safety to the experts.” Philadelphia’s City Council didn’t wake up one day and engage in coup d'etat to take control of bicycle lane infrastructure, it was given to them by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia in May 2012. Which I wrote about in “Dancing with the Devil.”

In exchange for an ineffective Safe Streets Bill the BCGP agreed to let Philadelphia City Council pass a bill giving City Council final approval of bicycle lane infrastructure. The same bill that City Council tried to pass in 2011 and was stopped by the BCGP when they marshaled their forces against it.  

So let’s face it everyone, while the Philadelphia City Council is the problem, they will never give up control over bicycle lanes. The root of the problem is the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. They are the ones that made this deal in the best interests of Philadelphia cyclists. A deal that continues to work against the needs of the Philadelphia cycling community. The only question that remains is when will the BCGP learn that Philadelphia City Council can not be trusted and how many more deals like this will be made before they do.