Saturday, May 28, 2011

A call to arms

A call to arms

In 2009 Philadelphia City Councilmen Councilman Frank DiCicco attempted to introduce a bill that would have levied excessive fines and bicycle confiscation, far in excess of what automobile drivers might have to face. In addition requiring everyone owning a bicycle who is over the age of 12 to register their bicycle with the police department at a cost of $20.00 per bicycle. Fortunately nothing came of it.

Now City Councilman at Large Large William K. Greenly has decided to make it next to impossible to create bicycle lanes. By introducing a bill that would require Philadelphia's City council to approve any future bicycle lanes, co-sponsored by Council members Darrell Clarke and Frank DiCicco. It appears that bicyclist and bicycle infrastructure have become the political low hanging fruit of the Philadelphia City Council an easy way to score points with local voters while achieving no benefit. Requiring City Council approval of all new bike lanes is bad policy because City Council approval is not needed for new vehicular travel lanes, crosswalks or bus stops.

Do you really want something that will have long term impact to the city of Philadelphia in the hands of a group of people who are only concerned about the next election so they can keep their jobs instead of qualified traffic engineers. Philadelphia has bad track record with it's elected officials and government agencies. We've seen city council members abuse the DROP program and the Philadelphia Housing Administration and the school system are both under federal investigation for abuse of power and misappropriation of funds. The Philadelphia City Council keeps trying to engage in brinksmanship almost like a game of Russian roulette in The Deer Hunter and intimidate bicyclists throughout Philadelphia.

So what would I do?
While the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia is asking people to e-mail City Council members, what is really needed is a visible public response, one that can not be ignored. I would create a Courteous Mass Ride, a group ride that obeys the traffic laws so the ride becomes a parade instead of peloton. Each rider would bring a letter addressed to Councilmen William Greenlee, Darrell Clarke and Frank DiCicco. it would depart from City Hall the route would pass by Councilman Greenlee's home and then over to the post office at 900 N. 19th St. in Philadelphia where the letters would be mailed. If you take this approach it could take 15 to 30 minutes for the entire mass to pass his house and with advance notice to the media would make a great photo opportunity. Similar rides could also be created for the bills sponsors.

Any volunteers who want to annoy some sacred cows?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Bike to Work & Ride Silence

There were two annual bicycle rides this week both designed to make a statement and both in need of major adjustment as to how to deliver the message and to make the message remembered by the non-bicycling public.

On Friday May 20 the city of Philadelphia its annual Bike to Work day ride. During which 50 cyclists, Mayor Nutter, Congressman Bob Brady, and Congressman Chaka Fattah rode from the Philadelphia Art Museum to City Hall. The ride was on a cool spring day, with light drizzle and the entire ride couldn't have been more than a few miles, hardly a strain for anyone.

Unfortunately the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia picked the worst possible quote to promote the success of the event, from Congressman Brady; “he could get used to this whole bicycling thing, provided it always came with a bottle of water and a police escort.” This really doesn't sound like someone who sees the possibilities of commuting by bicycle. Anyone reading it is not going to think that bicycle commuting is safe.

So what could be done differently? City officials should make a real commitment to cycling to work, one day at week for the month of May as part of Bike to Work month. But its got to be the same people the entire time so the public connects names and faces. Also so the public officials connect with what cyclists experience, good and bad, when cycling in Philadelphia. The BCGP needs to be a lot more careful about the quotes it selects and understanding the message they send.

The other is the Ride of Silence that occurred on Wednesday, May 17 . An 8 mile, 60 minute, full escorted ride through the streets of Philadelphia to commemorate cyclists who have been killed in traffic. While it may be very impressive to have 250 cyclists riding silently through the streets of Philadelphia, the lack of uniformity fails to deliver a message to the people who watch them role by. As they have no idea what is going on and won't care or remember an hour later other than they saw a large group of cyclists.

So what could be done differently? The ride is led by a white Ghost Bike on a trailer, ask that every cyclist who participates in the ride to wear a white shirt. 250 cyclists riding through the streets of Philadelphia all wearing a white shirt would make a much more memorable statement.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

All I'm asking for is some respect

Aretha Franklin sang it best when it came to respect and that appears to be what the city of Philadelphia is doing with its campaign, Give respect, get respect, when it comes to addressing the laws and safety issues that pedestrians, cyclists and drivers must face. The campaign is being implemented in an effective manner, a team of police officers on bicycles and a patrol car will be handing out these brochures to educate their rights and responsibilities. They will alsowrite tickets to cyclists and drivers who endanger others.

This was clearly a well thought out and researched to create maximum effect with minimal disruption, while at the same time giving police the ability to say, “don't say we didn't warn you” when drivers and cyclists get ticketed in the future.

This campaign could have been a lot worse, New York City also kicked off an an educational campaign of its own last week. Unfortunately this was proceeded by the police departments Operation Safe Cycle. In theory the NYPD was going to start ticketing cyclist for some of the more egregious traffic violations, in reality they went after easy targets to make their data look good. This included ticketing cyclists in Central Park for running red lights when the park is closed to cars and having a tote bag on their handle bars. But the worst was when the NYPD created a speed trap in Central Park based on outdated information that the speed limit for cyclists was 15 miles per hour when it is actually 25mph. Requiring the NYPD to send police officers to 9 ticketed cyclists to apologize for ticketing them.

Then to add insult to injury New York City kicked off its educational campaign by calling cyclists who break the laws jerks. Lets face it folks no matter how cute the videos might be or how famous the stars are you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Philadelphia has found a much more effective method by educating everyone instead of targeting one group. The people who created the Give Respect, Get Respect program should be commended for creating a rational plan that educates everyone without name calling.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

When is a bike lane not a bike lane?

When its in Philadelphia.

In the last few years the city of Philadelphia has created and expanded a network of bicycle lanes that allow cyclists to travel throughout Philadelphia. A great benefit to many of the residents of the city who need an alternative to the cost of owning a car and may want to save money and time by not having to depend solely on SEPTA.

However there remains one glaring problem, lack of enforcement when someone uses them as a parking space. Other cities that have put in the effort to create this type of infrastructure have also made sure that bicycle lanes are treated as a lane of traffic, so if you park in one you can get ticketed. Unfortunately in Philadelphia that is not the case and with no protection bicycle lanes have become parking spots and loading zones.

I can be sympathetic to companies like UPS who are only making temporary stops. While ridding along the Spruce and Pine St. bicycle lanes it's hard to have any sympathy for someone who parked there car a bicycle lane and walked away from it. One of the worst examples of this occurred in December 2010 when a two way, contra flow lane was opened at 30th St. between Walnut and Market. Which was immediately filled with a collection of vehicles using it for parking; including police cars, delivery vehicles, contractors, and several lunch trucks. Of course a picture is worth a thousand words and this link to a Flicker account will show just how egregious this is.

It's time for the city of Philadelphia to close this loop hole by updating its traffic laws so bike lanes have equal protection under the law. As long as this practice occurs cyclists will be forced out into the street, abruptly, placing them at risk of getting hit. While leaving drivers under the impression that we can't stay in our lane.