Philadelphia’s bicycle infrastructure falls behind those of sister cities, report finds

December 9, 2014

Of the country’s ten most populous cities, Philadelphia has the most bike commuters and enjoys more miles of bike lanes than any other place on the East Coast. All that may soon be a thing of the past if the city fails to recommit to improving its bicycle and other traffic infrastructure, according to a report published yesterday by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

Bicyclists in Philadelphia

Philadelphia’s bicyclists are in serious danger, says a report released last week. From Ed Malet.

The organization identified three key findings:

1. Pedestrians are in the most danger.

First, the good news: After measuring traffic collisions and the fatalities and injuries that resulted from them, the coalition found that the number of deaths surpassed the count in 2009 (95 fatalities) just once, though the number of crashes since then have increased somewhat.

Unfortunately, pedestrians bore the brunt of those fatalities: four out of every 10 deaths last year. In comparison, the rate of pedestrian deaths statewide is 1.25 percent.

Granted, Philadelphia is more populous than other cities in Pennsylvania and so has a greater likelihood of higher numbers of everything, but that shouldn’t take away from the sobering statistic.

 2. Streets are safer for everyone when there are more cyclists on them.

Citing a plethora of sources, the coalition pushed for bigger investments in bicycle infrastructure. The group highlighted work that showed that the addition of bike lanes increased the number of cyclists on the road because they made would-be cyclists feel safer. The coalition also pointed to research from the University of Minnesota that found that motorists give cyclists in bike lanes wider berth.

Local findings further supported the organization’s case. Referencing a report from the Mayor’s Office, the group noted that, after bike lanes appeared on Spruce and Pine streets, “serious motor vehicle crashes on those streets dropped by 26 percent for the three years after installation, with little to no impact on a motorist’s average travel time on those streets.” Fender benders also fell by 31.5 percent.

“When bike lanes are added to streets, it acts as a traffic calming device,” Sarah Clark Stuart, deputy director for the Bicycle Coalition, told the press. “That slows motor vehicles down. Therefore, they have less of an opportunity to get in a crash, or the crash is less severe.”

That line of thought—slower speeds cause less harm—invigorated New York City’s campaign to officially lower its default speed limit from 30 to 25 miles per hour last month.

3. Philadelphia’s investment in transportation infrastructure has shown a marked decline.

In the last ten years, the transportation budget of the city’s Streets Department, when viewed as a percent of the total general fund, decreased 37 percent. Indeed, when compared to those of its sister cities, Philadelphia’s is startlingly meager: Baltimore’s streets budget composed 5.5 percent of the general fund, while Pittsburgh’s made up 4.2 percent; in the City of Brotherly Love, the figure is just 0.7 percent.

“Philadelphia has a very constrained budget and a limited tax base, so it’s operating and capital budget has been constrained over the past few decades,” explained Stuart. “There have been a lot of demands on its budget from other sectors—social service and security—and, unfortunately, departments like Streets and Parks have had to bear the brunt of a lot of cuts.”

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Category: Transportation

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