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As biking death prompts safety concerns, Philly to upgrade bike lanes on South and 27th Streets

Next year protected bike lanes will show up on South and 27th Streets in Philadelphia.

In the wake of a cyclist’s death in November, advocates renewed demands for protected bicycle lanes, which include physical dividers like posts, planters, and even parked cars.
In the wake of a cyclist’s death in November, advocates renewed demands for protected bicycle lanes, which include physical dividers like posts, planters, and even parked cars.Read moreAP Photo / Matt Rourke

Philadelphia is ending the year with a commitment to protect more than six blocks of bike lanes on South Street to the Schuylkill.

The existing bike lane on South, from 21st to 27th Streets, will have flexible posts added to it by mid-2018, the city's Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems announced Wednesday morning. The protective posts also will extend from South Street to Lombard along 27th Street.

Following a cyclist's death last month, city bike advocates renewed demands for protected lanes, which include physical dividers such as posts, planters, and even parked cars, between cyclists and motorists. Emily Fredricks, 24, was traveling in a bicycle lane on Spruce Street when she was hit by a trash truck Nov. 28. Her death prompted demonstrations and a letter from the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia to Mayor Kenney demanding the city speed up installation of bike infrastructure.

The costs of the upgrade haven't been determined yet, said Kelley Yemen, Philadelphia's complete streets director. Along with installing protector posts, the work will include repainting the lanes and possible adjustments to the intersection of 27th and Lombard streets.

On average, 862 cyclists a day pass through the intersection of South and 27th Streets, said Sarah Clark Stuart, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition. The protected lane will reach the South Street Bridge over the Schuylkill, she said, which about 50 percent of the city's cyclists use to travel from Center City to University City and West Philadelphia.

"It's probably the most biked bridge in all of Pennsylvania," she said. "To have the South Street bike lane protected is very much welcomed for such a highly used route."

This summer, Philadelphia got a significant stretch of protected bike lane on Chestnut Street through University City. Mayor Kenney has stated he wants 30 miles of protected bike lanes in the city by 2022. Presently, about 2.5 miles of the city's 200 miles of bike lanes are protected.

The plan announced by the city Wednesday is less ambitious than the original goals for the neighborhood, which included a protected lane on Lombard Street as well. City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson opposed that plan, prompting the Bicycle Coalition and the city to propose the current design of protected lanes on South Street and 27th, without significantly altering Lombard Street. The Bicycle Coalition is continuing to lobby for protections on that street, Clark Stuart said.

Bike lanes aren't universally embraced. Making space for cyclists can take away travel or parking lanes, and city officials have said that adjustments to bike lanes should be done in collaboration with the neighborhoods.

"This announcement follows months of community outreach, during which hundreds of residents and community groups voiced their views," Michael A. Carroll, the city's deputy managing director for transportation and infrastructure, said in a statement Wednesday. "While consideration of Lombard Street continues, we believe it is important to move forward with this limited project on South and 27th Streets to improve safety for hundreds of bicyclists riding to or from the bridge."

The process of approving the South Street protected bicycle lane included seeking buy-in from community groups and negotiating with the area business association to ensure the alterations wouldn't get in the way of stores' loading areas. It's a template the city expects to follow as it moves forward with other protected lane projects next year, Yemen said.

"It is how bike lane projects should work," she said.

The process is slow, though, and frustrating for biking advocates who want to see safety improvements quickly. The city has said that in some cases, infrastructure changes require City Council's approval, and in general it would prefer to obtain public approval for a bike lane upgrade before going forward with changes.

"It is how bike lane projects should work," Yemen said.