By Randy LoBasso
Philadelphia’s bicycling community woke up to interesting news in 2017: someone (or someones) had glued nearly three blocks of toilet plungers to 22nd Street to create a makeshift protected bike lane.
The 22nd Street lane—well-used by commuters and recreational cyclists on the daily—had become translucent. Its paint was faded by years of wear and tear, and the street pavement plagued by cracks and potholes. The tactical guerilla urbanism, those responsible said, was to point out how unsafe the well-biked corridor was.
Now, three years later, the city is finally giving the 22nd Street bikeway the safety it deserves—or at least a fraction of it.
The City of Philadelphia recently announced the 22nd Street bike lane will be moved to the left side of the street, where it will be partially-protected with flex posts. This is welcome news.
According to a release from the Philadelphia Streets Department, 22nd Street is also being repaved and restriped between Snyder Avenue and the Ben Franklin Parkway. In addition, the bike lane will be protected between Washington Avenue and Market Street.
Of course, there’s always room for improvement
Between South Street and Market Street, there is only parking on one side of 22nd Street, which makes it a no-brainer for protection. For the rest of the project (Snyder to South, Market to the Parkway), motor vehicle parking defines the street, and has not been eliminated due to community concerns.
Which means the lane itself is not fully protected, which would be the safest option along this street, where, through its core (South to Market) 74 people were injured in crashes between 2013 and 2017, 36 percent of whom were walking, and 11 percent of whom were riding bicycles.
That said, there is another bright spot.
When the initial project was proposed, protection was only to be installed between South and Market Streets due to space constraints, and the parking issue. That’s when the South of South Neighborhood Association (SOSNA) got involved and advocated for a parking-protected bike lane between Washington Avenue and South Street. The organization did some of its own research of the street’s spatial constraints, parking concerns, car, bike, and pedestrian counts.
“[The City] realized that accommodating a protected bike lane like the one between South and Market meant getting rid of parking on one side of the street—and the politics just aren’t there. We can’t remove 50 parking spots,” says Daniel McGlone, a SOSNA board member. “So, we looked at similar streets in New York, and showed them to the City.”
At that point, they were asked to do outreach within the neighborhood to get businesses and neighbors on board, get the parking and loading issues figured out, then get their City Councilperson on board. And that’s what they did.
The 22nd Street corridor is one of the most-biked in the City (207 people on bikes per hour, according to 2019 Bicycle Coalition bike counts), and a third of all rush-hour traffic is people on bicycles, according to SOSNA’s data.
SOSNA members were able to figure out how to make their transportation priorities equitable and took time out of their own schedules to extend a Center City bike lane into South Philadelphia.
“[Getting this project done was] a matter of having those connections in our neighborhood to do the outreach, canvass, talk to people on the street, and come to them with a plan that doesn’t just talk about a bike lane,” continues McGlone. “It’s not just for people who bike. We asked for two mid-block crosswalks and four-way stops, too. It’s about more than just bikes; it’s a safety project.”