Thursday, December 6, 2012

Olley, olley, oxen free

The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia has finally revealed the details of the Safe Streets bill they were negotiating just in time to have it summarily rushed through committee and city council to make sure there was the illusion of public discourse and approval.

There are some aspects of the bill that in small ways will provide protection for bicyclists; two existing laws have been amended. The first now allows cyclists to ride two abreast instead of single file and the second does not require cyclists to ride in a bicycle lane if one is available. While these may seem minor, almost petty changes it does protect the bicycling community from potential retaliatory ticketing by the police. Which a cyclist in New York City was subjected to when he asked a police officer to stop blocking a bicycle lane with his squad car.

It also raises the fines for cyclists who run red lights, stop signs, and riding on the sidewalk. Holds drivers responsible for dooring and most importantly parking in bicycle lanes. This will not resolve the problems of church parking on Spruce and Pine St. as this is a long standing deal with the city and it is not going to change.

Councilman Mark Squilla has made statements that lead me to wonder if this bill is the tip of the iceberg. That may lead to more restrictive actions to come, since he has described it as “a good start”. He has concerns that “the bill doesn't specifically address enforcement, a bone of contention” The problem is that you can not mandate the Philadelphia Police Department enforce these new traffic laws any more than any other.

While this bill does address some of the long standing issues regarding bicycle infrastructure in Philadelphia it has come at great cost. The Philadelphia City Council passed a bill this spring that gives them the final decision about bicycle lane placement. Leaving infrastructure in the hands of a group of people whose decisions will be swayed by populist opinion instead of experienced professionals like traffic engineers. The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia signed off on that bill as “A Bill We Could Live With”. Lets hope that this doesn’t become something that comes back to haunt us.

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