On Tuesday, November 29, 2017, Emily Fredricks was killed while riding her bike. She was in a bike lane and had a green light when a Gold Medal Environmental garbage truck made a right hand turn and ran her over. A maneuver that is commonly referred to as a “right hook”, which often occurs when a driver fails to check for a cyclist on their right hand side and/or the cyclist is the vehicle's blind spot.
While other cyclists have been killed on the streets of Philadelphia something different happened this time, the Philadelphia cycling community coalesced and took action. 100 people participated in a human protected bike lane, a memorial bike ride was led by 75 cyclists, individuals went out and restriped parts of the Spruce St. bike lane, and transformed bike lane logos.
As cyclists in Philadelphia we face a molehill that has become a mountain when it comes to cycling infrastructure. Many of the bike lane markings that were installed during Mayor Nutter’s administration have faded away with no plans to maintain them.
In 2012 the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia allowed Philadelphia City Council to pass an ordinance that gave them final decision making authority over the installation of bicycle lanes, calling it “a bill we can live with”. In exchange for a Safe Streets bill that failed to benefit anyone. This bill resulted in Bill Greenlee and Kenyatta Johnson preventing bike lanes from being installed. As well as allowing Councilwoman Blackwell to declare the new Chestnut St protected bike lane a pilot and subject to being removed. All under the claims of “neighborhood concerns”. All without a single public meeting.
Then there is Mayor Jim Kenney. During his campaign he promised to install 30 miles of protected, now 2 years into his term of office there is no sign from the Mayor’s office of any plans. To make this possible Philadelphia received $550,000 in federal grants a year ago. Money that is being held hostage by Councilmen Darrell Clarke and Mark Squilla. A problem that has been compounded by oTIS, Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems. Who after a year to develop a plan for protected bike lanes recently stated “ On Thursday afternoon, OTIS officials said they have yet to create a design or official proposal for protected bike lanes along the streets, and they did not guarantee that they would ever do so.” (LINK)
Then there is the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. For the past ten years the BCGP’s approach of working the system from the inside, education, and concentrating on long term goals has compounded these problems. While giving up their public advocacy chops, one of the more recent examples of this was when Councilman Kenyatta Johnson would not approve a bike lane on Lombard St. Johnson Made this decision by cherry picking emails that backed his claims of “neighborhood concerns” without a single public meeting. The BCGP’s response was nothing, no rallies or protests were held. This is just one such example over the years.
Then there was the BCGP’s summer “Bike Nice” campaign. In which posters were put up around Philadelphia chiding cyclists to wear helmets, ring bells, and stop at signs. A campaign that was designed to placate public perception about dangerous cyclists was nothing more than a slap in the face to cyclists. As it failed to address issues like cyclists using the lane and drivers parking in bike lanes.
There are signs that the reluctance to act in Philadelphia cycling advocates is changing. There are discussions about holding more rides to protest bike lanes blocked by cars and additional human protected bike lanes. There are rumors that the organizers of CycleScenePHL (LINK) are going to form a new cycling advocacy group, one that may be more focused on public actions.
So what can we as cyclists do to effect change in Philadelphia? We are going to have to do more than Tweet and post to social media. It means going to meetings at City Council and Civic Associations, getting on the board of Civic Associations, participating in future public actions like rides and human protected bike lanes, and if possible financial support of any advocacy group besides the BCGP.
We can be the force of change in Philadelphia, but we can’t sit back and count on the actions of a small group of individuals. Everyone must make an effort to participate to make a positive change for all.