New bike lanes coming to Fairmount Park and West Philly

Just in time for spring: new bike lanes in Fairmount Park and the Parkside neighborhood of West Philadelphia.

The City Council is now considering the long-awaited extension of an existing lane on Parkside Avenue and new lanes in Fairmount Park to allow an easier connection for riders headed downtown via Martin Luther King Drive.

The proposed bike routes were introduced at Council meeting last Thursday by City Councilman Curtis Jones. Jones said the lanes are essential if people are going to feel safe enough to commute by bike.

“I actually ride my bike in from time to time, and when you go down [parts of] Parkside it’s very dangerous,” said Jones.  “You take your life in your own hand.”

If given the green light by the Council at a vote expected to happen in April, Jones’ bills would extend a lane that currently runs from Bryn Mawr Avenue to North 53rd Street down to Girard Avenue, and within Fairmount Park install bike lanes on parts of Lansdowne Drive and South Concourse Drive. It’s unlikely that the new lanes won’t approved by the council, given Jones’ support.

But while the painted lanes will mark a victory for bike advocates, some like Dena Driscoll of the urbanist group 5th Square, say the city should be doing more to protect two-wheelers. A  physical buffer between the bike lane and traffic is needed too, Driscoll says. 

“I think if we are looking to give cyclists a safe place to cycle we should be adding protection to every new bike lane that is coming out right now,” Driscoll said.

Bike lanes that are protected from traffic by bollards or separated from traffic by parked cars are safer than the more common paint-designated lanes. In U.S. cities, however, they are far less common because of concerns that they will slow traffic or occupy space otherwise used for parking.

Jones is hoping the proposed lanes prevent accidents without slowing traffic. 

“We are evolving about where bike lanes should be and how to conduct traffic,”  Jones said. “[The key is to] Not slow down traffic but keep us safe on a bike. This is part of an overall strategy that makes us a safer city both for pedestrians, bikers, and people who use cars recognizing and respecting those individuals who don’t.”

The city’s Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems (OTIS) spearheaded the project, working with Jones and Parkside residents, represented by the Parkside Association, on the bike lane legislation. Randy LoBasso of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia talked with Jones and other stakeholders about the bills as well, and praised the Councilman for introducing bike network additions. He said that drivers have nothing to fear from the new infrastructure.

“I understand where [Jones] is coming from; people are worried that a bike lane will go in and it will ruin their commute,” LoBasso said. “I don’t think that’s true here and it hasn’t been true anywhere else bike lanes have been put in in the city.”

Of the 200 miles of bike lanes in Philadelphia, only 2.5 miles are protected from traffic. Mayor Jim Kenney announced last week that he hopes to add more protected lanes downtown.

*This story has been updated to properly reflect OTIS’s role in the process. 

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