Connecting the City

Sorry I didn’t post yesterday. The WiFi at my lunch place was down. Remember back when I wouldn’t post for months at a time? Anyway.

My observant mother-in-law was in San Francisco the other day and spotted this:

From Heidi Van Woerkom.

From Heidi Van Woerkom.

Curious, she found her way to Connecting the City, an organization working creating a series of such protected/buffered bike lanes across San Francisco. These kind of bike lanes are extremely important, because they alleviate the four main issues with common bike lanes:

  1. Separating the rider from vehicular traffic moving at higher speeds
  2. Removing conflicts between cyclists and parking vehicles
  3. Removing conflicts between cyclists and the doors of parked vehicles
  4. Preventing delivery personnel from using the bike lane as a parking lane

What I find particularly interesting about this organization is that, while they are currently focusing on a few exemplary projects, their goal is to create a true network of bike facilities. It is feasible that a person could ride a bike on slow, local traffic lanes and get to one of these improved bike facilities, and take it safely all the way across town. This is very important for getting the less-aggressive or -experienced cyclists onto the road, while they may not currently feel safe enough biking or that there isn’t enough bike infrastructure to get them where they are going. I applaud the efforts of Connecting the City in San Francisco and hope to see similar improvements in other cities across the country.


Is London Serious About Building a Network of Elevated Bike Lanes? – The Atlantic Cities

Here is another post from Henry Grabar, discussing the possibility of elevated bike highways in the city of London. There is a lot of abandoned or underutilized elevated rail in the city, and one designer, Sam Martin of Exterior Architecture, has proposed that these rail links be redesigned for long-distance bike travel. He has caught the ear of Mayor Boris Johnson, already known for his significant work on bike infrastructure in the city with Barclays Superhighways.

I’m not wild about the idea myself. Part of why I like using a bike is that you are a part of the street life, not enclosed in a capsule like you would be in a car, or in these bike tubes. I also wonder how good they would be for short trips, which is how bikes are most often used, or if they would be simply for the spandex shorts crowd. Grabar discusses in the article, and I agree, that the shared street is preferable to grade separation, regardless of mode.

12 Innovative Ways to Rethink Our Cities From the U.S. Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale : TreeHugger

The Red Swing Project. From

Jennifer Hattam brings us more DIY urbanism from the US pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Some of the things this post covers I have already discussed, such as community gardens, parklets and DIY bike lanes. Some new things from this post include the Red Swing Project, where a website tells people how to build this simple swing and mount it somewhere in the city; a seed bomb vending machine, which for 50 cents will give you a ball of compost, clay and seeds to toss into the derelict lot of your choice and grow flowers; and New York’s dumpster pools, where dumpsters are cleaned out and lined with a waterproof barrier to become temporary swimming pools. Other interventions find innovative ways to incorporate technology into the urban design process. There are a lot of good ideas on show at the Biennale, and I hope that this will lead to more innovation in the future.

Junction design the Dutch – cycle friendly – way – YouTube

I really like videos like this that create simple video examples of how to address urban design problems. This video talks about how to set up an intersection so that a driver doesn’t have to cross a bike path blind to turn right. My only question is, so where’s the parking? if Jan Gehl got his way, the bike lane would be closer to the sidewalk with the parking closer to the travel lanes and a buffer between, so that cyclists don’t get doored. This is great: but then how do you work in bulb-outs for the pedestrians? A lot of good questions about how to design a truly multi-use intersection.

DIY Urban Design

GOOD Cities just put together a great slideshow of DIY urban design. There are 21 great examples of techniques like unofficial bike lanes and signage:


attaching seating to signs:


advertising replaced by public art:


yarn bombing:


and Guerrilla gardening:


A lot of these ideas, and even some of the images, appear in Jay Walljasper’s The Great Neighborhood Book. I really like the idea of taking your neighborhood into your own hands. Let’s face it, a lot of times cities, especially large ones, don’t always have the time or funds necessary to make a neighborhood great. But there are always tool like these that can help you do it yourself.

The State of Cycling in Philadelphia

The Storefront for Urban Innovation.

A group of students organized a panel discussion of bicycling authorities last evening at the Storefront for Urban Innovation on West Girard Street to discuss the state of cycling in Philadelphia.

After a brief introduction from Diana Lind, editor in chief of Next American City, who hosted the event, a student moderator introduced the panelists. The first topic of discussion was bike safety.

Bike Safety

“Something we’re trying to do as a bicycling movement in America is to Design facilities that are comfortable for eight-year-olds and eighty-year-olds,” said Alex Doty, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. He said that the danger in cycling is one part actual danger and one part perception, and that people need a safe route, a place to park their bike, and to know what kind of gear they need before they are comfortable riding.

Even at this event, it was hard to find a good place to park a bike.

This leads into the need for education. As cycling becomes more popular, there are more cyclists out there who don’t know exactly what the rules are for them. “In the state of Pennsylvania, bicycles are classified as a vehicle … and have to follow the same rules as every vehicle out there,” said Lieutenant Mike Brady, a Philadelphia bicycle police officer. He mentioned how he often will pull over another cyclist after they have gone through a red light or rode on the sidewalk and they would be surprised that a cop would even be concerned with them.

Fortunately, despite the growth in cycling, last year had a record low for cyclist fatalities, at only two. “Two too many,” said Andrew Stober, chief of staff of the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities. He pointed out that most of the growth going on in Philadelphia is adjacent to major employment centers in Center City, University City and the Navy Yard, and that this makes cycling a convenient choice for new residents. “We’re putting in infrastructure that helps people get to those destinations safely,” he said.

Safety, real or perceived, is what will get more people biking. Doty mentioned that about 10% of the population will bike in current conditions and 50% will never bike no matter what, which leaves 40% who are interested but concerned with safety. He argues that off-road trails allow a safer gateway to cycling, and mentioned The Circuit, the new effort to create 750 miles of connected regional trails. Philadelphia already has twice as many bicycle commuters as its peer cities in the United States. The narrow streets of Philadelphia do present challenges, and Doty said that this keeps Philadelphia from doing the sort of large-scale infrastructure overhaul that is happening in New York. “We’re never going to be able to carve great bicycle infrastructure out of Center City,” he said, but emphasized that we need to make it a viable option.

Cyclists today are disproportionately young males, who are the most willing to take risks, but also the most willing to disregard biking laws. Stober pointed out that as more people bike and we get away form the male, 18-24 demographic, we will get safer cyclists. “And more people that vote,” chimed Doty.

Biking in Philadelphia

The State of Cycling in Philadelphia Panel.

Doty mentioned that the 10th Street bike lane started as a pilot program, and despite being very successful, political pressures from the Chinatown community were such that the bike lane will be removed from Filbert to Vine and marked as a sharrow. John Chen, executive director of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation, defended the decision, saying that Chinatown is essentially a business district, and needs visitors who drive there, as well as parking both for visitors and for loading.

The Chinatown example shows how important community involvement is. Stober mentioned that it is easy in some communities, such as at the approaches to the South Street Bridge, where residents actually asked for a buffered bike lane to calm car traffic. He said the communities around 10th, 13th, Spruce and Pine Streets needed a little more convincing, but they mostly agreed to the project, and have found good results.

there may be such a thing as too much community involvement, however. Councilman Bill Greenlee had introduced a bill that would make it such that any new bike lane had to be approved by the City Council, and that there would be no more pilot programs. Stober and others were able to work it down to only needing Council approval if a parking or travel lane were removed for the bike lane and to reinstate pilot projects, but even with these gains, no other large city has this level of interference with bike lanes. However, the city still has a great program where, if a business owner wants to replace one parking spot with a 12-spot bike rack, the city will pay for it.

Doty discussed other problems related to the Greenlee proposal. He said that trying to work by council districts (terribly gerrymandered in Philadelphia as they are) can lead to connectivity problems in the bike network. He emphasized the importance of pilot projects. “If you can put bike lanes in on a pilot basis, it shows that the world won’t come to an end,” he said. In fact, bike lanes on Spruce and Pine Streets have reduced serious accidents—including between cars—by 44%, making those streets more livable for everyone.

Julian Root, a Bicycle Ambassador for the Bicycle Coalition and courier for TimeCycle, said that bike lanes are important for making new cyclists feel safe, but being legally classified as vehicles, they have the right to travel on any street, bike lane or not. He mentioned that, while bike lanes do help with safety, he feels that there are other ways to deal with it, such as the timed lights on Pine Street that discourage people from driving over the speed limit. “I have a much bigger problem with pedestrians than with motorists,” Root said; they need to be educated about properly crossing the street. He said this was a big issue near the universities, where kids from the suburbs are having their first experience with the big city. He proposed that the universities have “Urban Basics 101” classes for incoming freshmen.

On the topic of education, Doty mentioned that local schools do have bike safety classes, but they are done off-road in gym class. By comparison, students in Germany and the Netherlands receive a “bicycle license” after six weeks of instruction. Doty said that Bicycle Ambassadors host “lunch and learns” where they teach adults about how to safely ride a bike in the city.

Bike Share

Bike sharing is getting another big boost in Philadelphia, after seeing successes across the country and the world. Lt. Brady said that the police were excited about the prospect of reduced congestion, but worried about bike theft.

“I think the environment is becoming right for bike share in Philadelphia,” Stober said. He answered Lt. Brady’s concern by saying that the bikes were made to be ugly, or at least conspicuous; that they were made so that parts were not easily removable; that many have GPS tracking; and that the fact that you have to be a member to check a bike out makes it so that they are sure who has a bike at any given time. He said we should see major changes in 12-24 months.

Q & A

During the closing Q & A session, many questions related to delivery trucks parking in bike lanes. Many of the panelists pointed out that delivery companies leave space in their budgets for parking tickets, so no matter how good the parking authority is about their job, the companies don’t have an incentive to follow the law. Lt. Brady said that the city was working to procure heavy tow trucks that could two delivery vehicles, and that if they could do this more regularly, it would be a much stronger deterrent. Root also mentioned that cyclists have the right to enter the main stream of traffic to go around the truck.

Doty said that there was an issue with parking authority jurisdiction. He had been told by parking authority officers that, since it was in a travel lane and not a parking spot, it wasn’t their prerogative, and that someone should call the police. He said that this related to the issue of complete streets, which would have designated loading zones for delivery trucks.

Stober pointed out that some streets in Center City do have designated loading zones, while others only allow loading in the morning so that trucks aren’t interfering with midday traffic. Although this can work in some areas, it comes back to the narrow streets of Philadelphia. There are many cases where there just isn’t enough room for everyone.

Questions also turned to taking bikes on SEPTA. Transit ridership has gone up as the economy has gone down, and has actually stayed level as it slowly continues to rise, leaving less and less room for bikes on trains and buses. Stober said that bike share and well-located bike parking near transit facilities can make up the difference for multi-modal commuters. Root reminded the audience that folding bikes are allowed on all SEPTA vehicles at all times.

Stober finished the meeting by saying that Philadelphians are famously resistant to change, and that some people will oppose these new efforts. This makes it that much more important that cyclists contact their elected officials and make sure their voices are heard.

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