Unblocking Bike Lanes and Philadelphia Police, Twitter Advocacy To Improve Behavior
Many laws are enforced by the public either directly or indirectly by the threat of an observant public. People are deterred from committing an array of infractions for fear that wrongdoings will be observed by strangers and reported to authorities. Jane Jacobs called this phenomenon “Eyes on the Street,” and we regularly make decisions as city dwellers based on our safety and who will be able to assist us in a highly visible location versus one in the shadows.
Just as the threat of danger motivates us to act differently, the threat of punishment can have the same effect. Did you know that you can report cars parked in bike lanes to the Philadelphia Parking Authority? The PPA welcomes your reports of bike lane abuse to their Twitter account @PhilaParking and to the hashtag #unblockbikelanes. It’s as simple as taking a picture from your phone that captures a car blocking a bike lane and including some details about the time of day and location, and tweeting it to the PPA. This program has been around for a while, with mixed results.
Last week, I tried this out and received a response from the PPA that they would “add a note on their location list.” My morning commute includes the 22nd Street bike lane, which is often blocked near the intersection with Lombard Street by the 7-11. Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Helen Ubinas had recently drawn attention to this problem spot last week insisting that “We’re either serious about enforcing all of our laws or we aren’t”. This particular spot has been observed by many bicyclists as being incessantly blocked by cars and often police vehicles, stopped temporarily to go the 7-11.
As if by clockwork, the morning after I read this article, I spotted a car blocking that very section of bike lane on 22nd Street and immediately notified the PPA.
This brings up an important point. Police officers should be setting an example for the community. If they are not, then public scrutiny through use of #unblockbikelanes and the tagging of @PhillyPolice could make a difference. Our police have no excuse for blocking bike lanes, especially in the case of dealing with personal matters like stopping into the 7-11 at 22nd and Lombard. They are creating an unsafe situation for the public by pushing bikers out into traffic. This goes precisely against their mission to serve and protect. Next time you see a Philadelphia police car parked in a bike lane, tweet a photo with the hashtag #unblockbikelanes and direct it to @PhillyPolice including the squad car number.
Better yet, if officers are present in or near the car blocking the lane you can ask for their badge numbers and lodge a formal complaint against them with their precinct. Or if you feel comfortable speaking in more detail with them, you could always remind the officer that their actions endanger cyclists by forcing them into vehicular lanes. Police leadership has committed to better behavior in this realm, but reminders and public action will help force change.