There was a perceptible spike this summer in the number of bikers using the Kelly Drive and Schuylkill Banks pathways. More and more people seem to be biking into Center City for work or pedaling these trails on weekends to profit from the economic and health benefits of biking. Indeed, many who frequented the recent Made in America festival biked there, and no doubt some pilgrims attending the soon-to-be papal visit events will do the same. Biking is a more convenient and less stressful way to commute.
Fortunately, there are many responsible bikers who use these paths. Unfortunately, there are also many irresponsible ones. In the last two years there have been three serious accidents - and a considerable number of near-tragedies - involving irresponsible bikers.
I'm hoping that someone will not have to be killed before the city administration cracks down on the cadre of ride-on-the-wild-side bikers who disregard and disrespect the rights of others - walkers, runners, skaters, other bikers - on these extremely narrow pathways. They pedal at dangerous speeds or recklessly and impatiently cross into oncoming traffic to pass slower people in their lane.
Young children and the elderly are the most vulnerable - both are slow-moving and sometimes less aware of their surroundings. Yet anyone is vulnerable.
I know. I often walk along both the Kelly Drive and Schuylkill Banks pathways. Just recently I had to hop hurriedly off the path and onto the grass to avoid getting mowed down by two oncoming, speeding bikers - they had crossed the yellow line dividing the path and into my path. I shouted: "Slow down! Stay in your own lane!" I got the finger in response. It wasn't the first time.
The Parks and Recreation Department publishes a "Rules and Regulations" manifesto on its website. It says bikers are to travel no more than 7 m.p.h. and are to relinquish the right-of-way to all other users of the trail. But too many flout these regulations.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not in favor of banning bikers from these trails. Many bikers are sensible. Some ring a bell to alert you they are nearby. Others shout "On your left!" as they are ready to pass you. Still others ride at safe speeds and stay in their lane.
I recognize, too, that the biking culture forges a sense of community. Take the Philly Cycling Classic. It galvanizes both city and suburban residents in a day of good spirit. Then, too, the many bike trails in the Delaware Valley link and enhance the relationship between the city and the suburbs in discovering many different neighborhoods and their personalities - for example, Roxborough or Valley Forge.
As well, bikers consider environmental concerns. When they opt to bike to work, it cuts down on traffic congestion and air toxicity. And the responsible biking community constantly educates and promotes the safety measures of cycling.
Despite these many positives, the Kelly Drive and Schuylkill Banks pathways need more attention and vigilance. Both attract an abundant number of international and out-of-town U.S. visitors who want to take in the beauty that is Fairmount Park. So shouldn't there be more policing of rogue bikers, just as there is for rogue automobile drivers on our streets?
I spoke to a Parks and Recreation safety officer who told me that both bike police and those in cars are asked to patrol - "run up and down occasionally," was the way he put it - the Kelly Drive and Schuylkill Banks trails to keep a check on irresponsible bikers. "And we don't have enough park rangers," he added.
In that case, there needs to be a more concerted effort by the parks department and police in making these trails safer for everyone.
Including the bikers.
B.G. Kelley is a Philadelphia writer. firstname.lastname@example.org