MAPS: An Early Look at Where the CyclePhilly App Says We Need Bike Lanes

18th Street Bike Lane. Let's Do This!

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A new Census report came out yesterday showing that bicycling is the fastest-growing mode of transportation for commuters in Philadelphia.

Two percent of workers in Philly biked to work between 2008 and 2012, which is low in absolute terms, but more than double the 0.9 percent number from the 2000 Census. The percentage of people walking to work fell from 9.1 percent in 2000 to 8.6 percent for 2008 to 2012. One explanation might be that as the city has installed more separated cycling infrastructure, more people have taken to biking instead of walking.

A more pessimistic take on the walking numbers might be that more people are working in the suburbs than commuting from the outer neighborhoods into Center City.

One interesting finding from the national data was that the number of male cyclists was almost double the number of female cyclists. Studies show that women are more comfortable cycling on separated bike lanes than in mixed-traffic, so if America's Number One Green City wants the bike commuting rates to keep growing, city politicians are going to have to get behind more protected bike lanes.

Luckily, a new tool from Code for Philly points the way forward.

Developed in partnership with the City of Philadelphia, DVRPC, SEPTA, and the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, the CyclePhilly smartphone app allows cyclists to record their bicycle trips and compare their routes to other cyclists on an interactive map.

The information revealed on this map is politically useful because "it can be used by regional transportation planners in the Philadelphia area to make Philly a better place to ride," as their website puts it.

That is, once we can see which streets are most heavily used by cyclists, groups like ours can bug District Councilmembers to install protected bike lanes on the most highly-trafficked streets. The app hasn't been out for that long (May 1, I believe), but already there are some recognizable patterns that reveal which streets are good candidates for separated bike lanes.

The website has maps for all the different kinds of cycling trips that people have selected, like Commute, School, Work Related, Exercise, Social, Shopping, Errand, Other. Since we're talking about commuters here, let's take a look at what the Commute map tells us about which routes are most heavily used in Center City.

We are always hearing about the need for north-south bike lanes west of Broad in southwest Center City, so here are the routes people are currently finding useful for those trips:

The bike lanes on Spruce and Pine and 22nd are well-used, while 16th St and 18th St look like candidates for protected bike lanes.

Nobody should ever bike on 16th St, since that feeds into 676, and because it's pretty wide, people trying to get out of the city can drive super aggressively. When I got my bike a couple weeks ago, Geoff warned me about this, and he was right. I try to stay off it, but whenever I do have to ride on 16th I get yelled at more than on any other place. Some people think this should stay wide to get people out of the city quickly, but that's not our priority. Let's paint a bike lane on it and calm the traffic. 

18th Street is an even better candidate for a separated bike lane, even though we would have to scratch a parking lane. It'd be worth it, but bike advocates should have a clear understanding of what we'd be getting ourselves into politically. Any ideas about what's up with 20th Street? 

Here's Northwest Center City:

The interesting routes here are Spring Garden, Ben Franklin Parkway, 22nd Street, and then Pennsylvania Ave and N. 21st Street above the Parkway. Nobody rides on JFK Blvd or Market, because they are terrifying. But they are also extremely wide, and could accommodate protected bike infrastructure. We need a north-running lane here somewhere between 22nd and Broad. Here too, bike lanes for 16th and 18th would seem the most likely candidates. Things could get hectic around 676 though.

Here is Southeast Center City, where we see a lot of activity on the Spruce and Pine Street bike lanes, and then on 4th, 5th, and really 6th Streets. 6th St has a bike lane between Walnut and Spring Garden, which is nice, but we need to extend the separated lane down to the south to Passyunk Square, and all the way north to the Temple area at least. It's weird how there's no activity here on 13th Street. We need some more time to collect more data, clearly.

Up in Old City we see that 6th, Arch, and Race Streets are the most interesting, and once again there's no activity on Market because it's scary. Protected bike lanes for all!


To the north of that, 6th Street remains a popular route even when the separated lane goes away, so we need to upgrade the area north of Spring Garden to a protected lane. And Master Street and 2nd Street are also good candidates for separated bike lanes. East Girard is crazy wide and scary to ride on. It could accommodate any number of interventions, including a trolley-only lane and a protected bike lane. Business owners like angle parking, which would be an improvement, but it's worth pointing out that this could be a bike route as well-traveled as Spring Garden. 

Finally, let's take a look at University City, and the connections between University City and Center City, since the State of Center City presentation made a passing mention of the goal of better connecting those two economic centers.

Here is how people are biking between Center City and University City now:

It's all about the Walnut and Chestut Street bridges, and South Street bridge, as you'll see in the following map. But mainly Walnut. Market Street and JFK bridges need bike infrastructure if people are seriously about increasing connectivity. Market and JFK are currently engineered as traffic sewers for people entering and exiting the city.

The Central District plan envisions protected bike lanes on JFK and other changes that would make this area relatively more pedestrian-friendly, but these interventions seem to have disappeared from the political agenda since they were tested back in 2011. Let's put this back on the front burner.

In University City, the interesting streets are Market, Chestnut, Walnut, 33rd, 34th, and 38th. Chestnut, Market, and 38th in particular are due for serious road diets. All of these are wide stroads that have way more lane capacity than is appropriate in a mixed traffic pedestrian-heavy area. Bike lanes!

West of that, cyclists prefer to use Walnut, Market, Spruce, Baltimore, 46th, 41st, and 38th. 

These maps will look a bit different once more people use them, and we'll do an update again in a few months to see what's changed. In the meantime, we recommend turning this app on every time you ride your bike, and help us make the case for more and better bike lanes all over Philadelphia!

Last Updated: Friday, 09 May 2014 @ 16.06
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jongeeting's picture Jon Geeting About the Author:

Jon Geeting is a Philadelphia-based freelance journalist and policy researcher. His writing also appears at Next City, Primary Colors, and Keystone Politics, where he covers politics and elections, land use and transportation, and urban economic policy. He also writes a monthly Political Machine column at Philly City Paper.