Postcard from Vancouver: How To Truly Protect Philly's Bike Lanes In The Short Term

A movable jersey wall in Vancouver protects simply and quickly.

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 Parked cars, door zones, plastic hit posts, potted plants, curbs, bioswales. What do all of these things have in common? They are all methods to protect bike lanes from moving cars. Some of these methods are quicker to implement than others. Plastic hit posts are perhaps the quickest to implement and would reduce, though not prevent cars from entering bike lanes. They are cheap, easy to replace, but provide the least amount of protection. Parked cars are also a good method provided the street in question has room to push a parking lane out next to moving traffic. Door zones are often required too though since sandwiching a bike lane between the sidewalk and parked cars mean cyclists need room to avoid passenger doors opening into their space. Potted plants offer more protection and would make sense where a strong Registered Community Organization (RCO) like Center City Residents Association (CCRA) could maintain and beautify these pots. Curbs and bioswales get into the more expensive of options for a city to consider and require coordiation from a city's various infrastructure departments like water and streets. 

But what if Philly could start protecting bike lanes using the same methods we use to protect our construction workers during significant road work? That is exactly what Vancouver has done. Jersey walls are cheap, strong and easily movable pieces of infrastructure we can use right now to improve city cycling, particularly on streets with higher rates of traffic where risks to cyclsists are greater. 

This is much better protection on the cheap. No ripping up of roadway needed.

They are protected bike lanes on the cheap and temporary and build the case for more attractive intervention later. So why aren't we using them? With winter here, snow plowing is cited as a concern for physically separating bike lanes from traffic. However, the city has not yet fully prioritized clearing snow out of bike lanes. Letting concerns about plowing streets trump safer cycling during the rest of the year seems foolish when jersey walls can be coupled with a maintenance plan from a strong Business Improvement District (BID) or Neighborhood Improvement District (NID) could ensure protected lanes are kept clear.

Proposal yet unbuilt for JFK. Jersey walls offer shorter-term temporary protection.

While we wait for $20 million to install more attractive protected bike lanes on JFK and Market, we aren't providing pragmatic safety solutions for our cyclists today. While the South Street Bridge and Delaware Avenue present hazards of fast moving traffic next to our cyclists, we could be protecting them on the cheap. Experimentation and quick interventions are needed to make cycling better today and in advance of Bike Share launching next year. We can build the case for better protection and beautification down the road with quick intervention. We can intervene today and treat our cyclists with the same respect as our road construction crews with a simple movable, low-cost barrier. 

This is essentially what will eventually come to Market and JFK once the political and economic capital is found.


Last Updated: Friday, 05 December 2014 @ 23.51
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geoff's picture Geoff Kees Thompson Founder + Urban Planner Website: About the Author:

Other than time away from Philly studying his masters in Urban Planning in the Netherlands, Geoff has lived here since 2005. He founded This Old City to advocate for better public space as a means to economic development, improved public health, lower crime and a more environmentally sustainable future. He currently sits on the Executive Board of SOSNA and is the head volunteer gardener for Saint Mark's Church at 1625 Locust Street.


He is also Chair of The 5th Square PAC, an organization committed to voter education and the funding of progressive urbanist candidates for Philadelphia's future. 


Follow This Old City on Twitter @thisoldcity and Facebook or Geoff individually @geoffkees

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