The Fairmount Civic Association voted by in favor of the proposed Fairmount Bike Lane at the group’s meeting Thursday night.
The meeting was the first of three community meetings the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) will attend to seek additional community input on the proposed bike lanes – one lane in each direction on Fairmount Ave from Broad Street to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The Bicycle Coalition has already surveyed local residents and businesses in the area, and so far, the majority of people show support for the lanes.
A June 2012 online survey found that of the 375 respondents, 70% of which live in the neighborhoods along Fairmount Ave, 87.4% were very much or somewhat in favor of the lanes. In November the Bicycle Coalition canvassed 65 area businesses. Of the 40 stores and restaurants the Bicycle Coalition was able to get in touch with, 80 percent were supportive of bike lanes.
At the packed-house Fairmount Civic Association meeting Tuesday the pro-bike lane comments got much more applause than the handful of skeptical questions.
Among the concerns, some fear that bike lanes will interfere with delivery trucks that double park to unload in front of stores and restaurants.
“We’ve seen [double parking],” said Charles Carmalt, MOTU’s bicycle/pedestrian coordinator. “We know [it’s] there, but double parking is illegal today if you’re blocking a travel lane, and it will remain illegal.”
He said double parking still occurs on streets with bike lanes like Spruce Street but that bicycles have to know how to get around those vehicles. In his observations, he said, drivers tend to be more understanding and more tolerant of bikes moving around double parked cars on streets with bike lanes.
In addition, the bike and double parked vehicle conflict already exists.
“To a large extent the bikes that are going to be using it already are,” Carmalt said.
Isn’t Spring Garden close enough?
Another concern expressed at the meeting and in the surveys is that the lanes are unnecessary because there are existing bike lanes on Spring Garden Street and on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
“Probably the most important part is [building] a network,” Carmalt said. “When you drive a car, you don’t only want to be driving on one street… We try to create a network to give people opportunities.”
Fairmount Civic Association members asked specifically about the need for Fairmount bike lanes given the almost parallel bike lanes on Spring Garden Street, which the Pennsylvania Environmental Council has plans to turn into part of the East Coast Greenway.
Sarah Clark Stuart, policy director at the Bicycle Coalition, said those plans are ambitious and expensive and not likely to happen any time soon. In the meantime, she said, Spring Garden Street has much more traffic, traveling at higher speeds and significantly more bus routes than Fairmount Ave.
One Fairmount Civic member said he bicycles with his daughter to her school everyday, and when she starts riding on her own, he would feel much safer if she were on Fairmount Ave versus Spring Garden.
“I can’t stress enough the difference between Spring Garden and Fairmount when it comes to safety,” he said.
In addition, diverting bicyclists away from Fairmount Ave would, most likely, divert them away from the corridor’s shops and restaurants, Stuart and Carmalt noted.
Parking and congestion concerns
In the surveys gathered by the Bicycle Coalition some people expressed fear that a bike lane would cause congestion and reduce parking spaces.
Because Fairmount Ave is so wide, 48 feet from curb to curb, bike lanes in each direction could be installed without removing any parking spaces and still leave plenty of room for vehicular travel.
Remaining community meetings
The Bicycle Coalition and MOTU will attend two more community meetings to share the bike lane proposal and seek community feedback. Each association has its own rules as to which Fairmount-area residents can vote at the civic meetings. Those rules can be found on each of the association’s websites.
Francisville Neighborhood Development Corp
Monday, Feb. 25, doors open at 5:30pm, meeting at 6:15pm
2nd Pilgrim Baptist Church, 15th & Ogden Street
Spring Garden Civic Association
Wednesday, Feb. 20, 6:30pm
Lithuanian Church Hall, 19th & Wallace Street