22nd Street Ready For a Better Bike Lane, For Now It's Not Happening
Back in early August we brought you word that a vital connection along the 22nd Street bike lane had been scraped and was ready for repaving. This section connects two important cycling arterials of Spring Garden and Fairmount Avenues. 22nd street, as a reminder, hosts the only dedicated bike lane west of Broad Street. Cycle Philly mapping for the area confirms heavy bike usage in the area:
After writing my article I called Councilman Greenlee's office and spoke to Bill myself. The exchange was telling about how we've let our aldermen take what should be transit safety decisions determined by the appropriate experts working in the Streets Department, and have allowed them to turn these decisions into political ones or worse, personal ones. Firstly, the councilman didn't seem to know that 22nd Street is the only street with a bike lane west of Broad in Center City. He also didn't know that both Spring Garden and Fairmount hosted important east-west bike arterials. After mentioning the importance of maintaining these connections along 22nd Street, Greenlee spoke of how the neighborhood association did not want a bike lane along this section of 22nd Street.
Let's break that logic down a bit because it's very problematic and emblematic to how we are enabling our politicians to make decisions on our behalf. Firstly, there are good many Registered Community Organizations (RCOs) here in Philadelphia. Zoning Code changes the city enacted has given a formal place for RCOs at the table in regards to feedback for what these organizations can and should feel empowered to weigh in on. Community feedback can be helpful and fill in contextual gaps the city is sometimes too distracted to understand. That being said, little care or thought has been been given to the RCO reform process. Anyone with a living room and some free time can essentially create their own RCO, register it with the city, claim a boundary of influence for said RCO and claim that they represent an important constituency in the neighborhood. Councilman Bill Greenlee's mention to me that folks from the community association didn't support a bike lane there doesn't inspire much confidence in me. I'm on the board of SOSNA, one of the more respected RCOs in the city. We hold public meetings, publish minutes and coordinate with other RCOs in the area. We have a paid staff person and have secured thousands in grants for programs within the neighborhood. Greenlee mentioning that RCOs in the area don't support a bike lane had me wanting a whole slew of other questions answered: Which RCOs? What is the leadership structure of the organization? What are the qualifications and experience of the RCOs members? Do the opinions expressed by the RCO's leadership match that of those in their catchment?
Bill Greenlee is a councilman-at-large, meaning he represents the entire city of Philadelphia. The area in question is within Darrell Clarke's representative area, who is not a councilman-at-large, instead only representing the 5th district. Neither have held community meetings or any formal feedback sessions on this bike lane. Greenlee himself is making a decision for an area Clarke has given him deference to. When I stated the 22nd Street lane was a way to provide for the safety of others on the street and calm the 22 foot wide single lane, Greenlee replied that he "wasn't convinced" of the need for it.
Transportation and infrastructure decisions are not popularity contests or ones made on personal hunches, they are important ways we enable engineers and planners the ability to make decisions that laypeople or the politically connected are often not capable of making. I'm aware of no other profession other than planning where we regularly undermine the ability of a practicioner to do their job because we "aren't convinced" their decision is sound.
So what's the result in all of this? Well a very wide 22nd Street has been repaved and crosswalks have been repainted. We have a street in Philadelphia that's wide enough to support a progressive style bike lane but that will continue hosting a 22 foot wide car lane that is technically not a two lane street. This street narrows to a single lane over the course of 3 blocks and provides no protection to the cyclist because a councilperson living in the area, "isn't convinced" we should put a bike lane there. This represents at a micro level the framework of decisions being made all over the city by a political class that does not support cycling. Yes Philadelphia has narrow streets and to install bike lanes often means either a travel lane or a parking lane will be disrupted. However, even on a very wide section of street more capable than most to support better bike infra, politics are preventing change. Politics, not engineering constraints, are what constrain cycling progress in Philadelphia. If we needed cut and dried proof of that, the repaving and restriping of 22nd Street proves it.
Don't like Bill Greenlee's stance? Sign the petition and tell him! You can also reach him at his office at: 215.686.3446