Bike lanes are a Philadelphia motorist’s best friend. They make life better for pedestrians, too.
You read that right. You don’t have to ride a bike to benefit from bike lanes.
Given the polarization and finger-pointing (usually involving the middle digit) that accompanies any discussion of cycling in Philadelphia, it’s not surprising that the advantages of the city’s bicycle infrastructure have been routinely underestimated. The antibike faction tends to view bike lanes as a special perk solely for the enjoyment of those who travel on two wheels, rather than a way to bring order to the streets.
My fellow columnist Stu Bykofsky even suggested recently that the continued existence of bike lanes should be put to a vote — and predicted that they would be roundly defeated. Imagine if someone made the same proposal for sidewalks. Or car lanes.
Of course, not all bicyclists follow the rules as well as they should. (What motorist or pedestrian does?) Some cyclists still treat the sidewalks as a de facto bike lane and fail to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks. But eliminating the bike lane network would only worsen the situation. In the interest of furthering tolerance, here are seven ways bike lanes make the streets safer for all travelers, along with a few suggestions for how bicyclists can win more people to their side of the debate.
1. Safety increases when everyone knows their place.
In the last few years, several City Council members have blocked new bike lanes, arguing that they would inconvenience neighbors and impede automobile traffic. Motorists often gripe that it’s unfair to give up the better part of a lane on Philadelphia’s narrow streets to bicyclists, who currently account for 2.2 percent of Philadelphia’s commuting population.
What opponents overlook is that bike lanes clarify where everyone should be and improve traffic flow. They’re like a demilitarized zone in the way they separate the factions: cars, bikes, and pedestrians. Before Philadelphia established its bike lane network, conflicts among those three groups were more extreme. Motorists would tell bicyclists to get on the sidewalk. While I was biking home from work recently, a driver reprimanded me for veering into the car lane. The bike lane happened to be blocked by parked cars, a common problem. Despite his blinkered vision, I took the sentiment as a kind of progress, evidence that bike lanes are considered an integral part of the road network.