Bicycle Coalition aims at South Philadelphia improvements

Over the past few years, bicyclists have scored big gains with the creation of a network of dedicated bike lanes that criss-cross Center City.

Now, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia is preparing to tackle a tougher problem: how to make South Philadelphia more bike-friendly.

The group won a grant from the Community Design Collaborative to design a series of bicycle-friendly corridors through the tight-knit rowhouse neighborhoods and is now reaching out to residents with a series of community meetings to get their input.

The first meeting is being held Nov. 30 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the East Passyunk Community Association, near Ss. Neumann-Goretti High School.

Susan Dannenberg, the study’s project manager, says that South Philadelphia poses a number of specific challenges to installing bicycling infrastructure because of its narrow streets and “super-tight infrastructure.”

“There’s no room to put in bike lanes,” the go-to solution for improving the bicycle experience in other parts of the city, she explains.

Instead, the coalition will be looking at ways of slowing traffic by “developing a vocabulary of psychological clues,” like signage, that slow traffic and make the roads safer for cyclists, Dannenberg says, adding that “you can put up a speed limit but people don’t slow down until the environment tells them to slow down.”

The coalition is working with a task force composed of local stakeholders, including community groups and local politicians, and city agencies to figure out precisely what kind of interventions could be made and which streets to focus on ― though an early consensus is centered around 10th, 13th and 15th streets.

Broad Street itself is being largely left alone because of traffic patterns and its use by SEPTA buses.

Ideally, Dannenberg says, the improvements will attract bicyclists to the designated streets, much like the bike lanes have done in Center City, and improve traffic flow for cars on other roads.

The study is part of a larger effort by the coalition  aimed at improving bicycle infrastructure in the neighborhoods surrounding Center City. Next on the coalition’s plate will be West Philadelphia, which ― outside of the neighborhoods surrounding the University City colleges ― has low bicycling rates.

A second community meeting is scheduled for the end of January, with a public presentation of the plan occurring in April. Though no money is specifically set aside to implement the changes, Dannenberg hopes that the study will come up with practical steps that the city could take as it does things like street resurfacing.

Dovetailing with the coalition’s efforts, which are focused on the areas north of Oregon Avenue, is a Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission study focusing on the areas south ― from 10th through 20th streets ― to the Navy Yard.

Dan Nemiroff, the transportation planner running that study, says that the area poses a particular series of bicycling barriers, including highway interchanges and “monster intersections” like the one at 20th Street and West Moyamensing Avenue.

Fieldwork and data collection should begin in the next few weeks, with a report reviewed and accepted by the city, which asked for it, slated for July.

“As much as we can, our recommendations can kind of flow together” with the coalition’s study, Nemiroff says.

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