Competing Priorities May Slow Infrastructure Safety Projects

Bicyclists want better protection from vehicles. Motorists want faster commutes. And city leaders can’t seem to reach a consensus about what’s best for residents.

Philadelphia’s WHYY-FM covered a Streets Department budget hearing in April, in which City Council President Darrell Clarke and Mike Carroll, director of the Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems, debated what the city’s priorities should be. Clarke thinks the city should focus on easing traffic congestion, while Carroll is pushing for infrastructure changes that make the streets safer.

In 2012, Council passed a bill giving it the final say on most bike lane projects, and not until late last year was a new bike lane built that replaced either a parking lane or a traffic lane. Since then, opinions seem to have become more firmly divided about infrastructure priorities.

Recent Developments

At a public hearing in April, City Council collected input on a proposal to swap parking and bike lanes on Spruce Street, between Front and 22nd streets. Many large trucks travel this one-way street, and they have large blind spots on their right, where the current bike lane is. Safety advocates say moving the bike lane to the left side of the road would allow truck drivers to more easily see cyclists.

This project has been in the works since 2016, and some residents have expressed opposition to any changes that would affect their ability to park. Business owners in the area are also curious about how changes might affect their ability to receive deliveries. Yet, the need for an upgrade is evident – last November, a cyclist was struck and killed at the intersection of Pine and Spruce; and the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia said that between 2009 and 2016, 61 percent of crashes involving cyclists on Spruce and Pine streets occurred at an angle, likely due to a turning vehicle.

Pending Legislation

Currently, city planners and traffic engineers oversee bike infrastructure, but going forward they may be required to get permission for all bike-related projects. In February, a councilwoman introduced legislation that would require an ordinance before any bike infrastructure changes could occur (that includes restriping the bike lanes). The council was set to vote on that measure in April.

Sarah Clark Stuart, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, said the proposed legislation was “baffling” and constitutes “an overreach.”

Council already has the final say on bike lanes that remove or restrict parking lanes or travel lanes. And in the past few years, bicycle safety advocates have expressed frustration with how slowly bike infrastructure projects proceed. If Council places further restrictions on projects or the approval process, bicyclists – and pedestrians – may continue to suffer serious and fatal injuries. According to the Bicycle Coalition, of the 96 people killed in Philadelphia crashes last year, 40 were pedestrians and three were cyclists.

Motorists want an infrastructure that accommodates their needs; but with thousands of pedestrians and cyclists in the city, there must be some compromise, when it comes to infrastructure improvements.

If you were struck by a vehicle while walking or cycling in the city, the attorneys at Wapner Newman can help. For almost 40 years, we have been the trusted advocates for countless personal injury victims and their families throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We offer risk-free consultations and work on a contingency basis, which means that we do not require you to pay any fees until we have secured a recovery on your behalf. We encourage you to contact us today for your free case consultation.