City Councilwoman trying to turn West Philly ‘buffered bike lanes’ temporary

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 New 'buffered' bike lanes unveiled on Chestnut Street in West Philadelphia.  Bike lane is to the left, on-street parking is next and after that are regular travel lanes (Tom MacDonald/WHYY).

New 'buffered' bike lanes unveiled on Chestnut Street in West Philadelphia. Bike lane is to the left, on-street parking is next and after that are regular travel lanes (Tom MacDonald/WHYY).

The first protected bike lane in Philadelphia has been dedicated, but a City Councilwoman is stirring up controversy. 

The protected bike lane re-organizes Chestnut Street between 45th and 33rd streets. Instead of only paint, a row of parking now separates bike traffic from cars and trucks.

The new arrangement is supposed to be permanent. But City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell made this pronouncement at the dedication: “I’d like to make it a trial basis for three months to see how it works. I have people, councilpeople, people in the area as recently as yesterday on Sansom, 47th and Sansom, and we want to be fair. My first obligation is to the people who put me here.”

Mike Carroll, a deputy managing director overseeing the project, says there’s nothing temporary about it. “It’s an infrastructure project, not a trial or a pilot,” he insisted. “We’ve been in communication with the councilwoman’s office from the very beginning. I think what she’s getting is sort of the anxiety that people have when it’s new, and we understood that it’s going to take some getting used to.”

Neighborhood resident Maurice Jones favors the new lane but understands it has caused some issues. “I know there is some concerns and anxiety in the neighborhood concerning it, but as you grow, and the city is important, and change can be contentious. But change can be good for the city,” Jones said.

However Councilwoman Blackwell, who represents parts of West Philly, says she wants to make sure neighbors have a say in this and future bike lanes.

“What I want to do is put in legislation, when [City Council goes] back September 14th, calling for an ordinance to be passed to do this around the city. Because right now, if the Streets Department wants to do it, they do it, and they get support, and that’s fine,” she said. “The other side has to have its say, as well. We want to be fair.”

Mayor Jim Kenney says some people don’t adapt well to new approaches. “This kind of change is difficult for people. This is an older city with things being done the way they have been done for a long, long time,” he said. “We are still a car-centric society in Philadelphia, and other cities have come along further than we have, and everyone needs to share the space safely. I think that is the main goal.”

Councilwoman Blackwell still considers the issue temporary. When asked if she would try to end the Chestnut Street lane, she said she will make a decision after 90 days.

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