Monday, January 9, 2017

Cycling year in review - 2016

With 2016 over and one with its time to look back at some the happenings that occurred in the Philadelphia cycle scene.

Byko’s Safe Bike Ride  
It finally happened, after years of Stu Bykofsky yammering on about all cyclists breaking the law and how useless cycling was as a form of transportation. Stu went for a real bike ride, Byko’s Safe Bike Ride, a charity fundraiser where everyone would obey the traffic laws.
While this was not the ride to change Stu Bykofsky, it was very fun participating in the first and last time Stu will ever engage the public. My favorite moment was on April 8th, 2016 ( post on the ride's Facebook page. When Stu implied that because the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia did not have any data to support his claim that all cyclists run red lights and stop signs. That the BCGP was trying to hide something. When asked why he could not perform his own survey and post the results his response was a classic case of denial, no one would accept the results.
One bad thing did come out of this ride. The BCGP made a deal with Stu and as usual the BCGP is on the losing side of the bargain. He would stop using the phrase pedalphille and the BCGP would stop calling him anti-bike. While I never like his use of the word pedalphile, it did make him look like a petulant child. Stu still remains anti-bike, you name it he’s against it and it's only  matter of time before Stu comes with new word to insult cyclists with.
After the ride was over and the weeks became months something changed about Stu Bykofsky wrote about. Normal Stu has has several got to subjects which you can expect multiple columns on, to the point of ad nauseum. Bicycles, sidewalk cafe seating, and the Mummers. Much to my surprise he has avoided writing any columns on these subjects, especially during the SEPTA strike. When I expected a rant to end all rants about cyclists. Instead nothing, not a murmur, a whisper, or a lie on Stu’s part.
I don’t know what 2017 will bring with Stu Bykofsky and columns. I remain skeptical that he can stay clear of his go to columns about bicycles, sidewalk cafe seating, and the Mummers for very long.

Ride of Silence
I have avoided the annual Ride of Silence in Philadelphia for years. It always looks like a bunch of MAMIL’s are out for a training ride. Rather than a low pace ride to draw attention to cyclists who have been hit and killed by people driving cars. The pace of the ride excludes slower riders and families with children. Combined with the police escort with flashing lights and blaring sirens that detracts and distracts from what the ride is about. As this ride has always been organized by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia I just assumed it was another example of the BCGP being out of touch with the cycling community of Philadelphia.
It turns out that this ride has been organized by a group of volunteers under the auspices of the BCGP, with only one slight problem. The BCGP has never provided any oversight for this event, effectively leaving these volunteers free to do whatever they want. Whether it reflects the intent of the ride or the message the BCGP wants to promote.
This is yet another example of the level of disconnect the BCGP has not only within its own organization. But also with the cycling community of Philadelphia that is evolving to include the voices advocates from Philly Kidical Mass. Who want to include their children and families into the Philly cycling scene.

Man blocks Bus
In May a cyclist was overtaken and passed by a SEPTA bus so close it almost hit him. This is not an uncommon occurrence in Philadelphia, this time however the cyclist took matters into his own hands by blocking the bus with his bicycle until the police arrived. The most frequent comments were along the lines of; he can’t block a bus like that, what if someone is going to the hospital or a job interview or he should have filed a complaint with SEPTA. There were problems with these theories, no one was being prevented from getting off the bus. As for SEPTA investigating, there is no way SEPTA would ever admit error, to do anything less would make them liable in a lawsuit. To say nothing about how 30 days earlier a cyclist was killed by a SEPTA bus driver when he “swerved” in front of the bus.
There was some very questionable behavior on the part of the driver. Despite the hour long delay and the police showing up, SEPTA had no idea that the bus was out of service. Until someone posted what happened on social media. Why didn’t the bus driver notify his dispatcher?

Ride DNC
Alexandria Schneider, organizer of the PopeRide, was back again with another huge ride. This time its was to celebrate the electoral process. Starting at the top of Broad St. and riding down to the Wells Fargo Center. With 200 people departing from the start for a ten mile ride, they were joined at the midpoint, City Hall, by another 1000 people. I’m not sure what opportunities will occur in 2017, but I look forward to the next large scale ride Ms. Schneider will plan.

Open Streets
In 2015 the shutdown of Center City for the Papal visit and the PopeRide proved to be the motivation for the city of Philadelphia to try its first Open Streets event. Where several miles of streets are closed to everything except pedestrians and human powered vehicles. The event was highly successful.
I did take issue to the way it was promoted, as 10 miles of car free streets. In reality it was three miles of car free streets. The other seven miles were the Schuylkill River Trail and Martin Luther King Blvd, both of which are closed to automotive during the day of Open Streets.
While I hope that this event is a sign of things to come. With multiple Open Streets events throughout the year in different locations. I remain skeptical that this will be anything more than a non-event. With very few miles actual car free streets, let alone a major street.

Mayor Kenney
Of course Philadelphia Mayor Kenney had some involvement this year in cycling and infrastructure development.
First up was the ban on parking cars in the median of South Broad St. With the Democratic National Convention in town and Broad St being designated as an official route for any marches or protests. In order to facilitate this all cars had to be removed from the median on South Broad St. This worked out so well that a petition circulated asking the Mayor to make this a permanent solution.
The problem is parking the South Broad St median is something of Catch 22. Parking on the South Broad St. median has always been against the law, but never enforced. It has become a Philly tradition that ranks right up there with throwing snowballs at Santa Klaus and drunk Mummers parading on New Year's Eve. Blocking the median has always been a safety hazard for traffic and people attempting to park their cars on the median.
Mayor Kenney had the perfect opportunity to make this a permanent solution until a small percentage of the Negadelphians decided that this tradition should be preserved. To the detriment of the community. At which point Mayor Kenney stated that this should be resolved at the local level, leaving the issue permanently unresolved. Its seems that when Mayor Kenney took on Big Soda which spent 3 million dollars to prevent the Soda Tax he was a man of great strength. But a couple of South Philly Negadelphian’s and he runs and hides like a frightened child.

Mayor Kenney was very slow on the uptake was his use of Twitter. Something that was readily apparent during the early days of the 2016 SEPTA strike occurred.

         Rather than have any level of sympathy for the hundreds of thousands of Philly residents and suburban commuters that the strike impacted. He instead chose to use what passes for humor in South Philly. Mayor Kenney has since learned the need for restraint and listening when he stated in an interview; “He said he’s had to learn to control his temper, listen without reacting, and stop tweeting, unless it’s positive. “Sometimes it’s time to grow up, it’s time to realize that your job is really important, that your own personal likes and dislikes are not germane to moving the city forward,” he said.”
My hope is not only will Mayor Kenney listen, but he will also act on what will benefit most Philadelphians. Instead of allowing their voices to be drowned out by a loud minority who want to hold Philadelphia and its residents back.
Of course 2016 wasn’t finished without a complete surprise. The 5th St. tunnel bike lane got delineator/flex posts and was proclaimed Philadelphia’s premiere protected bike lane.  That was until a few weeks ago when the DPRA (Delaware River Port Authority) removed them because winter is here and they need to plow the tunnel. Because in Philadelphia we get so little snow to begin with. But don’t worry the DPRA will put them back in April. Once again demonstrating that Philadelphia’s commitment to Vision Zero is optional and seasonal.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Hidden Secrets - Turtles

With the colder weather approaching I wanted to share pictures from a ride early this spring. Who knew there were turtles in the Manayunk Canal? Not I.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Adam and Eve were the first of all unions to defy management.

With midnight Tuesday, October 31st rapidly approaching the probability of the SEPTA bus, trolley, and subway operators going on strike appears even more likely. So what does this mean for you? If you normally rely on any of the above mentioned modes of to travel around Philadelphia you will be out of luck.

So what are your alternatives? Driving? You and every other person in Philadelphia is going to try this. Whether it’s car sharing services like taxis and Uber or personal vehicles the streets are going to become a massive traffic jam during rush hour.

One of the most available options for many people is going to be a bicycle. In 2009 when SEPTA workers went on strike by the second day the number of cyclists had increased by 38%. Since that time bike lanes have expanded and Ride Indego is now a part of Philadelphia. Which means there will be even more cyclists in the event of a strike this time.

If your bike has been sitting for a while the best thing I can suggest is inflate the tires and take it for a test ride. Do your tires deflate after two or three days? Then you the inner tube has been punctured and should be repaired. Do the gears change and stay in gear or do they slip while you are pedaling? Do your brakes stop the bike without the brake levers coming too close to the handlebars. Then you should get a tune up. Which could take a few days as everyone else is going to do the same.

Riding in traffic can be a daunting experience if you are not used to it. Fortunately the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia appears to be taking some proactive actions. Currently they are recruiting volunteers to lead bike trains/buses. Just like a bus or train these are group rides that depart from a specific location and arrive at a final destination. Riding in a group makes things safer for everyone. Stay tuned to the BCGP facebook page for additional details.

If you are planning on cycling in the event of a strike please invest in some lights, whether you buy them at Walmart or your local bike shop. You should invest in rear tail light, more commonly known as a “blinkie”. This type of light makes you more visible to people driving cars who are not used to watching for cyclists. Especially with it getting dark by 5pm.

SEPTA transports 576,000 passengers a day. While no one wants a strike to occur, in the event one does please ride carefully.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Meet the New Boss, Not the same as the Old Boss

Mayor Kenney has taken an interesting step forwards in making Philadelphia city streets more user friendly for pedestrians, cyclists, and cars. He has appointed Philadelphia's first Complete Streets Director, Kelley Yemen. Ms. Yemen comes with a strong pedigree, including a Masters in City and Regional Planning from Rutgers and 9 years of experience. Including four years working in New York City working for the city as a Project Manager and Pedestrian Planner.

As the Complete Streets Director, Ms. Yemen’s job will be to act as traffic director for the city streets and water departments, planning commission, and licensing and inspection to coordinate plans to improve roadways for cars, pedestrians, and bicyclists. With her first stated goal will be to examine how the city can create a improve how the Philadelphia's bike lanes can better connected.

I hope she is up for the challenge, because she has her work cut out for her. First off she has to deal with multiple city agencies all of whom operate like medieval fiefdoms. All too often accountable to no one, even within their own organization.

Then of course there is the problem of the current status of the bike lanes in Philadelphia. All too often they are a patchwork network that seem to start and stop in a random manner. Creating a more uniform network is going to take a lot of work. Work that will be hampered by the deal with the devil made the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia with the Philadelphia City Council.

That deal was when the BCGP in exchange for an ineffective Safe Streets Bill gave Philadelphia City Council final approval over the installation any new bike lane that removes a lane of traffic or parking. No matter what city engineers recommend. Worse yet it does not have to be a council member who is responsible for a that district. Any council member can halt the installation of bike lane. With nothing more than their word, with no requirement for public meetings or input.

Ms. Yemen also has to deal with the aftermath of Andrew Stober, the former spokesman for the Mayors of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU). Who more often than not communicated what the Mayor’s office wanted to do. While doing practically nothing explain and advocate for what the Mayor’s office wanted to do.

I wish her luck and offer my full support to Ms. Yemen. I hope she is able to handle and has the authority to overcome the internal politics that delay and prevent timely problem resolution.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

"Tradition is the illusion of permanence."

Philadelphia is full of traditions. Cheesesteaks, throwing snowballs at Santa Claus, Mummers parading drunk and assaulting people, and parking in the median along South Broad St. Parking on the median started in 1916 and became an entrenched entitlement since the end of WWII when car ownership became more common. It’s also been against the law to park in the median since 1916. But like most traffic laws in Philadelphia getting the Philadelphia Parking Authority or the police to enforce traffic laws, let alone on a consistent basis is a near impossibility. But all of that appears to be changing, sort of.

During the closure of Center City streets during the 2015 Papal visit by Pope Francis it gave city government the opportunity to see if there was a demand for Open Streets events. As well as how exactly it might work. Now thanks to the 2016 Democratic National Convention we might see the end of parking on the median on south Broad St.

During the convention the city enforced the existing no parking policy regarding the Broad St. median. In order to allow protesters to move safely down Broad St. Shortly thereafter a petition was circulated by 5th Square online that drew over 1000 signatures from Philadelphia residents living in the area of South Broad St.

It was just announced that in a meeting a few weeks ago between Mayor Kenney and various city agencies that the PPA is going to start ticketing the most egregious offenders. Those parked in crosswalks and turn lanes. But anything more than that has been dumped back into a leaderless solution that “that any other changes should be community-driven.” Good luck with that, all it takes is small vocal minority to stop change in Philadelphia.

While I would like to say that this recent news has brought signs of a light at the end of the tunnel, the reality is no one has turned on the light. Let’s remember that the likelihood of the PPA doing any ticketing, let alone even moderate enforcement is highly unlikely. This is the same PPA that has barely ticketed cars parked in bike lanes and gives the appearance that it has been become nothing more than a drinking game for the PPA.

Unfortunately Mayor Kenney has engaged in foot dragging that Philadelphia politicians are notorious for, when dealing with traditions that only benefit a small minority of people who reside in Philadelphia. That has come in the form of his comments about how this change should be community driven. A true source of frustration when you realize that this is the same Mayor Kenney who eliminated the long held practice of parking in the City Hall apron. As well as taking on City Council and PAC’s (Political Action Committees) who spent over three million fighting the soda tax.

Keeping the median clear on the southern end of Broad St. Will make it easier for emergency vehicles like the police and fire departments to move along Broad St. safely and effectively. It will eliminate the risk of collisions when people enter and exit their cars or attempting to cross a high speed road when accessing a car parked along the median.

But all of this requires leadership from Mayor Kenney and related city agencies. Something that is lacking.