Center City Cycling - The Culture is Strong in this One

To the naked eye, it sure looks like Center City Philly is undergoing a real bicyclization... and no matter what Stu Bykofsky @ the Daily News will tell you, that's a good thing.  I'll get further into why that's a good thing in more detail at some other time, but today, I'd like to just share some observations about the indisputable bicycle culture the city now has.

Rittenhouse Square, with its high rent and fancy shops, is totally welcoming to a cyclist taking a break.  That's the nature of good public spaces, and this is what a healthy bicycle culture looks like.

Here's Chestnut Street, the City's second most successful retail street, and a very busy transit corridor.  Curb to curb, it's an astonishing 26 feet wide (narrower at the intersection bumpouts) - that allows for a parking lane (more on that below) a travel lane, and a bus/bike lane, which doubles as a right-turn lane when need be.  Allowing bicycles in the bus lane works very well, since the buses, while frequent, aren't frequent or erratic as cars... not to mention that the limited access improves the transit service (though that still leaves a little to be desired)

I'm impressed with how many bicycles are parked on 18th Street, right next to DiBruno's posh market.  Not only are there lots of bicycles, but there are more of them parked than there are cars... which would suggest that by having bicycle parking you can accomodate more customers than when you have vehicular parking (though, clearly, the two need not be mutually exclusive).  Next time you're walking around, notice just how many bicycles are chained to everything that's bolted down... then imagine what would happen if the people on those bikes couldn't be there.

Speaking of which, replacing a single car parking space with bicycle parking gives you room for 6-12 more customers at minimal (given the simple materials used) cost. Stop by 18th and Chestnut some time... you'll see just how much use this is getting.

And it looks like office buildings are getting into the act too.  Here's a shot of the 1700 block of Ludlow Street (between Market and Chestnut). If there are 25 bicycles there, that's 25 fewer parking spaces being used, and those spaces aren't free, which means a company can pay its employees more or return more to its stockholders.  As a developer, tell me what makes more sense, building a garage at 20K/space or creating bicycle parking (and if your'e really good you'll cover it and include shower space in the building).

(Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia)
The City made big moves a couple years ago by created dedicated bike lanes on Spruce and Pine Streets.  Though they occasionally get blocked by a deliver truck, they generally remain clear... providing comfort to less adventurous riders, and from the best I can tell, not reducing the streets to gridlock for cars. Thumbs up.

Why has bicycling gained such traction in the City of Brotherly Love?  I'd say it starts with the natural and built environment the City has long had - incredibly flat terrain and wonderfully narrow streets (and an lack of demolition to allow for their widening), the latter of which limits the preference of driving.  The next reason is one of simple economics - bicycles take up little space when parked and in motion (which makes infrastructure for them easier to provide).  When supply of land is limited, but demand for access is high, you get worsened traffic conditions, we seek alternatives to driving (walk, bike, bus, roller skate!), or the demand isn't met and a city stagnates.

So the city has taken some strategic, albeit limited, steps (shared lanes, bike lanes, and increased parking options) to to balance out priorities in the street and make bicycling more attractive than it used to be.  No, Stu, it's not a massive conspiracy by the Nutter administration; the city is just finally unlocking the potential it has nearly always had... and demonstrably reaping the benefits.  Sit back and enjoy the ride.

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