Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Dear Mayor Jim Kenney

Dear Mayor Kenney,

With a new Mayor of Philadelphia comes issues new and old that need to be addressed. Over the years I have lived in a number of major cities up and down the eastern seaboard and to be quite frank Philadelphia is the most dysfunctional city I have lived in.

City agencies who use archaic data management make it impossible to retrieve any data from the past, large scale malfeasance, limited accountability, and a City Council that is easily distracted by shiny objects. To say nothing of a school system that is grossly underfunded, unsafe to learn or teach in, and at the mercy bickering elected officials in Harrisburg. Who act more like children than the children they are supposed to be watching over.

To add to this are ongoing bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure issues. While you have committed to adding 15 miles of new bicycle lanes every year. I don’t see how this will happen with City Council’s stranglehold on bicycle infrastructure. Thanks to the Greater Philadelphia Bicycle Coalition’s deal with the Philadelphia City Council, giving City Council final authority over the installation of new bicycle lanes. Most likely any future bicycle lanes will resemble an ineffective patchwork system benefiting no one.

Then there is the general lack of maintenance of existing bike lanes. You don’t have to travel far within Philadelphia to see bike lanes where the lane markings have faded to the point that you can’t tell if there is a bike lane. Yes, it costs money to do this. But if you can’t maintain the existing infrastructure, how are you going to add more?

Another thing that needs to change is the Mayor’s Bicycle Commission or as it should be called, the Mayor’s Bicycle Racing Commission. Yes, the annual Philadelphia International Cycling Classic is an important draw for Philadelphia tourism. However the International Cycling Classic and the commission do not represent most cyclists. The current commission is made up of people with active involvement in bicycle racing, including a patronage position for Mayor Nutter’s wife. It should be retooled to include actual citizens of Philadelphia, with a minority of its members from racing and advocacy organizations.

Having lived in and visited New York City for many years I have never seen a sidewalk shut down without an alternative being provided. Or scaffolding with a roof making the sidewalk safe for pedestrians. Yet in Philadelphia shutting down half to an entire block of sidewalk for months on end by a construction company is standard operating procedure. Forcing pedestrians to walk in traffic or cross in mid-street, with no safe alternative.

You have committed to doing something about this. But, like bicycle lanes, I believe you face an uphill battle. Given the fact that L&I is so slipshod in how they operate that they got caught falsifying inspections in 2015.

I know both you and Mayor Nutter have some process in the works to hold Open Streets in Philadelphia. I was very pleased to read that you went to New York City’s Summer Streets this past year. So you could experience the potential of what can happen in Philadelphia. Don’t let the naysayers in the business community try to minimize the scope and size of the events. For many years Philadelphia had Open Streets events on an annual basis. It’s time to bring that tradition back.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Year in Cycling - 2015

Pope Francis
When the plans were released for Pope Francis’s visit to Philadelphia, they included closing five square miles of Center City to automotive traffic for three days. While many residents of Philadelphia left the area to avoid the crowds and the challenges of not having access to their vehicles.

For those of us who stayed we were rewarded with a unique experience. The chance to travel around Center City on foot, bicycle, skateboard or any other human powered vehicle. Other people had barbecues, parties, played games, or just hung out with their friends and neighbors. A day that was recognized as #PopenStreets.

The highlight of that weekend was the Pope Ride. Organized by Alexandria Schneider, she initially thought this would be her and a dozen friends riding around Center City. But as the numbers grew it the ride soon blossomed into a full scale event. With 3000 people participating the day of the ride.

Many people were heard to comment that this should happen every year. Including Mayor-Elect Jim Kenney. While some were very vocal that this would be a bad thing for the future of Philadelphia, the city of Philadelphia used to hold an annual Open Streets event. Once known as Super Sunday (http://bit.ly/1V5iEBX), in 1989 it had been held for 19 consecutive years. Presented as the “Biggest Block Party in the World”, Super Sunday had something for everyone. Live entertainment, animal rides, a job fair, sports demonstrations, movies, and enough food to feed all of Philadelphia. It would not be that difficult to recreate this again.

The City of Philadelphia shuts down ten miles of Broad St. for the Broad St. Marathon. As well as one mile of Broad St for the annual Mummers Parade. Why can’t we do the same thing for the benefit of every resident of Philadelphia?

Stu Bykofsky
Of course all of this positive energy was not without its naysayers and none was more vehement that Philly’s own Stu “old man yells at clouds” Bykofsky. As Stu went completely off the deep end in a column titled “Cyclists are never satisfied” (http://bit.ly/1Sa153Q). When he engaged in a personal attack on the Pope Ride’s organizer, Alexandra Schneider. One could almost see the spittle flying out of Stu’s mouth and hitting the screen of his computer. As he said the words he was typing out loud.

Stu Bykofsky’s attitude was summed up very succinctly by one person who posted a comment. “The amazing thing about Stu is that he only relates events in the world to his own experience, not to the greater world at large.”

That’s not to say that Stu does not have his moments. Every so often Stu tries to prove that riding a bike, for any reason, does nothing more than exercise his futility. This year Stu took a spin on Indego bike share to see if he could get to work faster on a bike (http://bit.ly/1QWzdj0).

According to Stu it takes him 16 minutes to walk 1 mile from his home to work. Which means he walks at 3.75 miles per hour, an astounding speed as the average walking speed is 3.1 mph. At 3.75 miles per hour he is practically jogging to work, especially when you consider that Stu is 74 years old and a lifelong smoker.

But on a Indego bike it was a whole different matter. Instead of riding one mile to work, Stu rode a two mile roundabout route. One that utilized bike lanes, the very same bike lanes that Mr. Bykofsky feels are unnecessary. It took him 21 minutes and 22 seconds to ride two miles at an average speed of 5.71 mph.

One person even replicated Stu’s route, including stopping at all red lights and stop signs, they got very different results. After riding the route 3 times it took an average of 13 minutes and 42 seconds. with an average speed of 10.63mph. Considering most cyclists ride at 10 to 15 miles per hour this, Mr. Bykofsky’s speed was baffling compared to his ability to jog to work.

2015 was the year we could safely say that the #unblockbikelanes concept was finished and done. No amount of data is going to change unwillingness to ticket cars parked in bike lanes. As well as the causal lack of respect that prevails in Philadelphia when this sign was placed in a contra flow bike lane. Giving cyclists the choice of riding into oncoming traffic or on the sidewalk.

In response, I proposed the concept of placing safety cones along bicycle lanes to create temporary barriers (http://bit.ly/1Sa2Myk). Regrettably no one was inspired to do that. However in New York City the Transformation Department (http://bit.ly/1QWzjXC) has instituted this concept with great success.

Spoke Magazine started publication this year and has turned out to be a welcome addition to the cycling media. A print magazine, publishing on a quarterly basis, Spoke Magazine has consistently published well written articles on a diverse selection of topics. Normally most cycling media tends to bog down on articles about the technical minutiae of bicycles and components. Spoke Magazine has written about people, places, and infrastructure. Now that they have added a website you can access previous articles online.

On March 23rd Philly Pedals published an op-ed written by Michael McGettigan (http://bit.ly/1mgcym5) castigating the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia for being too much of an insider in local politics  and how they needed to “work on their advocacy a bit.As a former two term board member of the BCGP Mr McGettigan called out the BCGP for  recent failures and poor judgment.

Sadly this bombshell seemed to be the end of any consistent publication of articles. An unfortunate state of affairs that I hope will be rectified.

The Manayunk Bridge
The Bridge to Nowhere or as it is better known as, The Manayunk Bridge was supposed to be the shining new jewel of the regional trail system. Connecting Manayunk and the Schuylkill River Trail to Lower Merion and the Cynwyd Heritage Trail. And it did, except for one slight problem.

Instead of categorizing the bridge as trail, it was classified as park. Limiting it only being open from sunrise to sunset. Which in reality is 8am to 6pm fall and winter and 8am to 9pm in the spring and summer. This of course assumes that the Lower Merion Parks Department opens the gates on time. Which has not always been the case.

The problem is that no lighting for the park or the bridge was part of the budget. While I understand the liability and safety issues of having people on the bridge and in the park at night. The reality is that the bridge will benefit people from Lower Merion on the weekend. Provided they don’t want a cup of coffee in the morning or enjoy an evening dinner. If you are a bike commuter or heading out for an early morning workout on the Schuylkill River Trail you are out of luck.

With a new Mayor in office who has made some degree of commitment towards pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure. Along with an interest in holding Open Streets events, we will see what happens in 2016.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Tis the Season

With the Christmas season upon us there is still time to put on some warm clothing and go for a bike ride. There are three seasonal themed bike rides coming that offer something for everyone.

Feeling charitable? On December 14 at 9:30am go for a ride with Philadelphia Open Ride’s, Bikes for Tykes ride. Bring an unwrapped present that will be donated to Toys for Tots.

If you are looking for a family friendly ride you can bring your children. Then join Philadelphia Kidical Mass as they ride through South Philadelphia to view the Christmas light displays. On December 14 at 4:30pm.

Feeling a sense of cabin fever or just plain hungry? Norman’s Irregular Bike Rides is going to Dim Sum Garden in Chinatown for lunch. On December 25 at 12:00pm.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Safety is the new black

Want to see what the well dressed female cyclist will be wearing this spring? Then look no further.

Using materials and colors more commonly associated with safety vests and high visibility clothing. Fashion designer Jeremy Scott has created a line of Chanel inspired women’s wear with a safety motif.
A model wears a safety-yellow Chanel-like suit with reflective white trim.
A model strutted out onto the construction-themed set, serving “chicest site-safety supervisor ever.”

To see the entire line use the link below to see a 3 minute video featuring the entire line.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

What is Open Streets?

In the days following the closure of Center City, Philadelphia there has been a strong sense of euphoria over the sense of freedom that had with car free streets. Much has been made of the great experience that people had and there has been a tremendous rush to replicate this experience again. In the not so distant future. What has not been discussed is what an Open Streets is and how it works.

How prevalent are Open Streets events? They are held in 246 municipalities in Europe, South America, and in 100 U.S. cities last year.

Contrary to what some people may be under the impression, an Open Streets event is not a bicycle specific event. It is intended for pedestrians, runners, and human/muscle powered vehicles. Such as bicycles, rollerblades, and scooters.

The normal layout for a Open Streets event in the United States involves blocking off 3 to 7 miles of a main road to automotive traffic for about 5 hours on a Saturday or Sunday. With the location being cleared of parked cars and multiple cross streets are kept open to allow automotive traffic to move through the city. Along the route there are stages and stations hosting a wide range of activities. Fitness, yoga, dance, and sports classes are offered. Along with music, dance, and theatre performances.

Open Streets origins dates back to 1974 in Columbia, South America. Where Each Sunday and on public holidays from 7 am until 2 pm certain main streets of Bogotá, Cali, Medellín, and other municipalities are blocked off to cars for runners, skaters, and bicyclists. At the same time, stages are set up in city parks. Aerobics instructors, yoga teachers and musicians lead people through various performances. Bogotá's weekly ciclovías are used by approximately 2 million people (about 30% of the population) on 74 miles of car-free streets.

The question that should be asked is, does Philadelphia have the wherewithal to make this a reality? Over the years I have lived in several major cities on the East Coast and Philadelphia never ceases to surprise me. badly. For a major city of its size, Philadelphia residents maintain a small town mentality. Resistant to change and unwilling to make the effort to do so.

While Mayor Nutter is looking into an Open Streets event before his term in office ends and Democratic candidate for Mayor Jim Kenney has expressed an interest in holding one. It remains to be seen if there will  be enough positive public pressure to make Open Streets in Philadelphia a reality.