I raise a family on Chestnut Street, where I bike, walk, and drive. With three lanes of traffic, vehicles approach highway-level speeds, encouraging dangerous weaving between cars to get ahead. At these speeds, it's not uncommon that a driver loses control of the vehicle, driving up onto the sidewalk or even plowing into a building. In the eight years I have called West Philly home, my parked car has been sideswiped three times.
Residents have been calling on the city and PennDot to fix this unsafe road for years by removing a travel lane, as has been done on adjacent streets. After years of calling for these changes, we finally saw improvements.
This month, the travel lane was removed and the first parking-protected bike lane in Philadelphia opened between 45th and 33rd Streets. The goal is to slow speeding vehicles, provide clearly marked lanes for drivers and bike riders, and reduce the distance for pedestrians crossing the street. Flexible plastic posts separate a row of parking that now divides bike traffic from cars.
While I am glad to see these initial changes, much more needs to be done:
Add loading zones. With no loading zones for delivery vehicles or dropoffs, drivers are double parking in travel lanes, causing confusion and traffic jams. Adding loading zones will reduce double parking and allow for easier unloading.
Repave and sweep streets. With little repaving and no cleaning of this road, the bike lane has divots and debris that are beyond what many riders can safely handle. Repaving and street sweeping, which is routine in many other cities, needs to happen in Philadelphia.
Don't make riders switch sides of the street. The bike lane abruptly ends at the intersection of 32nd Street, with another bike line placed at the far opposite side of the street. Requiring bike riders to cross three lanes of traffic as cars are speeding by is dangerous for everyone.
Expand to less-affluent areas. The safety improvements on Chestnut have been limited to only a relatively well-off neighborhood, Spruce Hill.
These necessary safety improvements must extend the entire length of Chestnut Street. Instead of three lanes, the street should become a strict two-lane road for cars and trucks for the entire stretch from Cobbs Creek to the Schuylkill.
While most residents welcome these improvements, some are opposed. Some were concerned to see an unfamiliar change, especially during the three-week rollout by the Streets Department. These residents object that there are two travel lanes rather than three, especially as vehicles are double parking.
Mostly, though, residents are frustrated by the glacial pace of change and the city's limited efforts to adopt a safe and equitable transportation system throughout our city. With Philadelphia having the highest vehicular crash rate of any city in America, it is disappointing that injuries and fatalities are only met by calls to form task forces.
At the ribbon cutting on Tuesday, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell surprised everyone by reversing her previous support for the safety improvements and declared she would reevaluate after 90 days if these changes would become permanent. Rather than calling for their removal, she should use her influence to expand the program and ensure its success.
Politicians should never demand that we reduce safety improvements; they should advocate for expanding safe streets. It is imperative that street safety improvements are rapidly expanded to all Philadelphians, regardless of their zip code or income.
I want the children of my neighborhood to be able to play out front and bike to school without the risk of serious injury or death. I want the elderly to be able to cross streets without anxiety. I want all Philadelphians to be able to safely get to workplaces, schools, and places of worship.
This city cannot be built around speeding cars. Safety improvements are fundamental for the well-being of residents and visitors. Our politicians must advocate for safety improvements on Chestnut Street, in West Philadelphia, and throughout our city.
Dave Brindley lives in Walnut Hill, where he founded the anti-litter site NotinPhilly.org and built a protected bike lane on the 3700 block of Spruce Street. firstname.lastname@example.org.