Friday, September 23, 2011

Reader Feedback

Following the post about Chinatown and Bicycle Lanes I received this e-mail from Peter F. a reader in New York City about his recent experiences riding Philadelphia's bicycle lane. While many of us take for granted what we experience it is always interesting to see how an outsider experiences them.
Nice blog!  I'm a NYC bike commuter, who was in Philly Friday....took my folder on AmTrak, as you can see from the pix.  Feel free to publish it and my account below! 

Here's a story of my return ride to Penn Station 30th from Independence Sq that I wrote to my friend, a fellow cyclist who lives in Philly:

Spruce Street bike lane is very nice. As you instructed, from Independence Square I picked it up a few blocks away and took it to 22nd Street which I thought you said.  But unable to get onto JFK Boulevard from 22nd I continued on it in search of the next Left to Penn Station. Which took me to the absolutely lovely new green painted bike lane on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Like Dorothy finding the Yellow Brick Road, I was certain I arrived at the Nirvana of newly bike-able  Philly. I  hung a left toward the Art Museum  Surely there would be additional  bike routes there to lead me to 30th Street Penn Station. 

And yes, there are more pavement stripes that look like bike lanes at the Eakins Oval by the museum.  Nice!

Buoyed by this excellent experience I check Google Maps (unfortunately Ride the City, which maps bike routes in many cities, omits Philly) and saw promising walking directions via the Schuylkill River Trail path and figured I would take that. But I missed the entrance to the trail.

 No matter, following the circle another 100 feet or so I take a right on 24th Street which has a new painted  stripe on the right side. "I am a bike path" it says to me. Down the hill I ride, confident that I will emerge on a route back to JFK Boulevard.  

The "lane" gets narrower. "And what's with the trucks?" I say to myself  Seconds later I am on a narrow strip at the side of the US Highway 30 with no exit in sight until I get a half mile back to 15th Street!  Ugh!  Nothing like riding over sewer grates and discarded highway garbage with a few feet separating a concrete wall from 6 ton semis. And too narrow to turn around and go back. I commit to the terrifying ride to the first exit. Low gear and slow so if I fall I'll be on the wall side. 

I make it safe and sound, and once again am impressed by the pharmacologic effects of adrenalin! 

If you point me to a Philly DOT site I will compliment them on what is a much improved bike network but ask them to post a clear sign on the 24th street intersection that it leads to the highway and what looks like a bike lane is not one at all. Of course, they should paint diagonal lines in the space between the line and the curb so that it would be obvious this is curb space and not a lane.   The Philly bike network seems to be largely paint anyway, so this is inexpensive to do. 

Plenty of excitement for one day.  And looking at the map, you likely said 20th Street and not 22nd for the R turn from Spruce. That damn bike lane on 20th and the green painted beauty on Franklin seduced me into a false sense of a traffic-calmed Philly. It's rough side just a few moments away!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Park(ing) Day - 2011

On Friday, September 16 take sometime to walk around Center City Philadelphia and celebrate Park(ing) Day. Park(ing) Day was founded by Rebar, a San Francisco art and design studio, in 2005 to raise awareness of the need for green spaces in urban environments. By converting a single parking space into a parklet for one day, the only limitation on what you can do is that of your imagination. Philadelphia celebrated Park(ing) Day for the first time in 2008 with over 25 installations for relaxing, cycling, creating art, education, and socializing.

On Friday, September 16 take some time to walk around Center City Philadelphia and visit some of the 34 Park(ing) Day parks. To see a map with the location of all of the parks and for additional information, please visit:

Parade of Asses


Once again Philadelphia has survived the annual Parade of Asses or as it is better known, the Philadelphia Naked Bike Ride, part of the World Naked Bike Ride. Don't worry if you missed it, the Philadelphia Inquirer will be flogging the pictures on the main page of their website for the next 364 days, just like they did with the 2010 ride.

Like Critical Mass the PNBR accomplishes nothing other than creating a parade and while this ride has grown exponentially around the world, in my opinion it has jumped the shark. The best example of this is when G4TV's Attack of the Show sent out one of their on air hosts to cover the ride in Portland, OR. Sarah Underwood, a Playboy centerfold, who reported on the ride by participating in it. It's this kind of investigative journalism that shows how seriously the WNBR is taken.

WARNING: Video is not office friendly.

As much as the PNBR has stated goals, the average person has a completely different reaction.

Why We Ride:

2.     We ride to RAISE AWARENESS about FUEL CONSUMPTION and the environmental impact of car culture.
4.     We ride to PROMOTE ECONOMIC SUSTAINABILITY as a way of life and a corporate responsibility.

Man on the street

1.     Look at all of the naked people riding bicycles!
2.     This is going up on YouTube.
3.     Most of these people need to put their clothes back on.
4.     What was that all about?

Participating in the PNBR is the same as clicking “Like” on the Facebook page of a non-for profit, you’re not doing anything to help that organization. The PNBR does not raise any money to help an advocacy group that meets the goals of the PNBR. Nor do the hundreds of riders that they attract actually do anything that benefits the community they live in. However unlike the recent column in Philebrity I would not call the people who participate in this “bad citizens”, not everyone can or wants to spend $50 to ride through Philadelphia to participate in the Bike Philly ride. Instead I would view them as a group of children in need of guidance, to harness the potential that exists.

So what would I do?
By all means since the PNBR is part of the core value of this group then the ride should remain intact. What about a voluntary donation of $1 per rider, at the start or the end of the ride, with the proceeds going to an advocacy group so the end of the ride something more than just an excuse for a party.

I would also recommend that the PNBR participate in the Philly Spring Cleanup, in past estimates the PNBR has had close to 2000 participants. Can you imagine what would be possible if 25% of the participants met at a central location and then bicycled out to local parks in need of help to pick up trash and clear brush?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Chinatown and Bicycle Lanes

There has been an outbreak of NIMBYism in Chinatown. It appears no matter what is done to make Chinatown more accessible and create positive change there is a vocal minority seeking to maintain a status-quo. Instead of making an effort to benefit from these changes for the community and business they would rather impede and obfuscate.

A temporary bicycle lane from North 13th Street and South 10th Street between Market and Vine Streets has been created for a period of 3 to 6 months. A test to see if this is a viable location. It didn't take long for the standard list of excuses to surface, supported by the usual list of players from the private and public sectors.

First is 1st District City Council candidate Mark Squilla who suggested to Wilson Wan to organize a petition against the bike lane. This isn't the first time someone who is on the city council or running for city council has tried to go after bicycle lanes. Instead of doing their own dirty work, like DiCiccio and Greenlee, the ploy is to make this look like it is motivated by local citizens.

Next was Chinatown Watch Chairman Joe Eastman who feels that this is about city government dictating policy without taking any input from the community. When in reality his true concern was about; "This is a commercial area. If we lose any of these parking spaces, people will go somewhere else.” A sentiment also stated by Wilson Wan.

Last up is Jong Chin, who has owned a restaurant on Race Street since 1965 and Executive Director of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp. He is concerned that the bike lanes will make the streets too narrow for fire trucks as well as buses that pass frequently en-route to New York City.

What everything boils down to is three motivations; politics, safety, and commerce.

Politics – Mark Squilla is exploiting local residents on an issue that will have little impact on community and has become a tactic used by current city council members to get their names in the paper. At the same time they avoid dealing with any of the real quality of life issues their constituents face like unsafe schools, crime and the no snitching mentality. Bike lanes are just low hanging fruit that require no real commitment or effort and gets their names in the paper.

Safety – A very common tactic is to claim that bicycle lanes will impede the ability for emergency vehicles to navigate through the street. As if somehow cyclists will not get out of the way of an emergency vehicle with it's lights and sirens running. If anything cyclist can get out of the way faster and leave more room than a car. This was the same excuse made when a bicycle lane was installed in front of Thomas Jefferson Hospital and yet no emergency vehicles have been delayed from accessing the hospital.

Commerce – This is what it really boils down to. Fear that a bicycle lane will lower the revenue of area businesses by reducing parking. In a city like Philadelphia where the majority of its residents get around using public transportation and an increasing number of cyclists. I seriously doubt that the loss of a small number of parking spaces is going to have any effect on a restaurant, more likely is a lack of imagination.

So what would I do?
If I were a restaurant I would have weekly cyclist special, it is much easier for a cyclist to pull over and lock their bike easier than a car. As a cyclist I would hold an organized ride to Chinatown where every rider would go into a restaurant in Chinatown along the bike lane and have lunch. Calling ahead and making reservations if possible.