Stu Bykofsky: City bike report is a flat tire

Posted: January 14, 2010

SEVERAL WEEKS late, buried in the middle of the holiday shopping season, the city released its Crosstown Connector/Pilot Project Finding, bureaucratese for a report on bike-only lanes.

In September, the city surrendered one lane of Spruce and Pine streets to bicyclists as a "pilot project," saying that it would study it and report in November. Back then, I wrote that I hoped for an honest and impartial report. I should have added "scientifically sound" and "complete," which it was not.

Al Qaeda gets more warning of drone strikes than Philadelphians got of the report's release, at the University of the Arts.

Scheduling the hearing at the university - awash with pedal-pushing students - is like staging a vampire rally at the blood bank: Guaranteed friendly audience.

When Deputy Mayor Rina Cutler announced the (surprise!) pro-bike-lane findings, the 250 or so present cheered.

So, the deck was stacked and the cards were marked. But that was not the biggest hairball hacked up by the city. That was the report itself.

It gets an F, or at least an Incomplete.

As I noted before, the city's use of car and bike numbers provided by the partisan Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia is like letting a defense attorney buy the jury lunch. But the big botch took place in the portion done by the Streets Department.

Streets was charged with counting traffic and the number of cars able to get through intersections on a green light at peak times before and after the start of the pilot program. Counts were to be taken at six intersections on Pine and Spruce: at Broad Street, two intersections west of Broad, and two east of Broad.

Astonishingly, Streets failed to count cars during afternoon rush hour - when you would expect the worst problems - at Broad and Pine and Broad and Spruce, the two biggest and busiest intersections. (A plan to measure speed on Lombard Street also was not done.)

Nevertheless, without noticeable embarrassment, maybe figuring that no one would bother to read it, the city blithely released the flawed report, and Cutler, supremely pleased, said that she'll recommend more "bike-only" lanes. If you haven't been inconvenienced yet - just wait.

Despite efforts of the 1,600-member bicycle coalition to obfuscate, the issue isn't about cars and bikes "sharing" the road. They already do that. The issue is how much of a concession the city should make to a noisy minority - the tiny 1.2 percent of Philadelphians who commute by bike.

The 1.2 percent figure comes from the coalition, as does this: 83 percent of Philadelphians who commute by bike live within a four-mile radius of City Hall. In other words, walking distance.

Although fun and "green" (and dangerous), bikes are not suitable for longer commutes, they are garaged in bad weather and will never move masses of Philadelphians.

Mayor Nutter wants the city to be more "bike-friendly," which is laudable, but at the expense of the other 98.8 percent?

We ought to be encouraging more mass transit.

Despite the tiny number of bike commuters, and the short distances they travel, the coalition wants "bicycle boulevards," where "bicycle traffic is given priority." Yes, priority. That's from its own Web site, which also reports that most bikers are male, most don't wear helmets and 20 percent admit to (illegally) riding on sidewalks.

It didn't say how many ignore red lights. I'm sure they'd be embarrassed.

In an op-ed piece in the Daily News, Coalition executive director Alex Doty wrote that "the best way to get bicycles off the sidewalk is to engineer streets so they feel safer on roads." Is he telling us to rebuild the city or bikers will keep using the sidewalks? How about bikers being a bit more "Philly friendly?"

Before another lane is turned over to bicyclists' exclusive use, they need to clean up their act, obey traffic laws and stay the hell off the sidewalk. And if the city wants justification to cave in to bikeheads, it better come up with something more than a laughably Incomplete "Crosstown Connector" report.

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