City to double its marked bike lanes

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City to double its marked bike lanes

A toad hops across the path; I actually see, swerve, and miss it. A canopy of fragrant white flowers touches my head; I pause and inhale deeply.

My commute must be the best in Philadelphia: 50 minutes from Mount Airy to Center City, nearly all of it through the woods and by the river via Fairmount Park trails.

Yours almost certainly does not compare, with or without a bicycle. But it will be getting better.
The city's proposed new bicycle network, now undergoing final revisions, will roughly double the miles of marked bike lanes to about 400, not counting 40 or so miles of separate trails on parklands. The bike lanes will come over the next decade as streets are repaved.

The regular street additions will be a mix of the familiar, narrow bicycle lanes; full-size lanes that will be clearly marked as shared territory; physical changes to streets that are intended to make them more bicycle-friendly by slowing traffic; and other changes that have succeeded elsewhere.

Not too long ago, bicycling was simply a form of recreation. Then concerns about climate change nudged it into the transportation arena. Obesity put it on the public-health radar screen. Now bicycle-friendliness is a factor in the "sustainability" of big cities.

Commuting plays a key role. Acknowledging this, Mayor Nutter will lead a two-wheeled procession from the Art Museum to City Hall at 7:50 a.m. Friday to mark National Bike to Work Day.
"When people get home from work, they have so many competing responsibilities," said Giridhar Mallya, director of policy and planning for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. "If we can incorporate it into their daily routine, that is a straightforward way to get people active," he said, and the low-impact, aerobic nature of bicycling makes it ideal "for people who are in great shape or not in great shape."

When Mallya worked at the University of Pennsylvania, he biked in from his home at 20th and Kater. With his office now at 15th Street and JFK Boulevard, he must traverse much of Center City, "not the most peaceful bike ride." So he walks (a healthy alternative).

Surveys show that the vast majority of people who commute by bicycle live within a few miles of their workplace. "The irony is that Center City has the least amount of bike lanes" compared with other neighborhoods, said Sarah Clark Stuart, the point person for bicycle routes at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

That lack of infrastructure is why the new network, while covering just 40 percent of the city, runs in a wide swath from South Philadelphia, up through Center City and up to the Northwest sections.

The Northeast and Southwest - areas developed later, with wider streets that more easily accommodated bike lanes - have somewhat more, although they were added over the years without benefit of a comprehensive plan. Engineering and design of bike lanes in those parts of the city will be done over the next two years using federal funds for an anti-obesity initiative.

Gradual changes will make a difference.

"A lot of people are afraid to use their bikes because they are not used to riding in street traffic, and it is scary," said Clark Stuart. They may start on trails. "The more comfortable they are with that, the more likely they are to venture out and try street biking," she said, and the incremental shift is "how the city can increase people being more active."

An average of two to four bicyclists are killed every year in Philadelphia and several hundred are reported injured (though most accidents do not involve cars), according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Two weeks ago, Penn junior James Heaney was riding on the right shoulder of Chamounix Drive in West Fairmount Park when a truck made a right turn. The rear wheels rolled over him, crushing his chest and causing multiple injuries; it was five days before doctors could say he would survive, his father, Jim Heaney, said last night.

The younger Heaney, who grew up in Buffalo and interned as a photographer last year at the Daily News, is an experienced rider, a member of the Penn cycling team, and "very safety conscious," his father said.

As he spoke by cell phone near the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, more than 250 cyclists were gathering near the Art Museum for an annual "Ride of Silence" to mourn the deaths of bicyclists in cities across the country and to raise public awareness of bicycle safety.

The city's new route network is just one part of a larger focus on bicycle and pedestrian issues. Part of the health grant, for example, will fund bicycle and pedestrian safety sessions in the second and fifth grades at every city elementary school over the next two years. Some of the infrastructure changes are aimed at "calming" automobile traffic to make bicycling safer.

Notable parts of the new network are more north-south routes, including longer stretches that will make for easier riding from South Philadelphia all the way to Temple University along 13th and 15th Streets - although a long section of South Broad Street that was part of the original plan is being removed as unworkable, said Deborah Schaaf, project manager for the city Planning Department.

Separate funding for trail systems will close gaps, particularly along the Schuylkill, making seamless, long-distance routes.

"It will be possible to go from Cobbs Creek bikeway all the way to the Montgomery County line and then you are clear all the way to Valley Forge," said Clark Stuart of the Bicycle Coalition, an advocacy group.

That sounds nifty but, frankly, I will have a better commute along Forbidden Drive to the paved bike path along Wissahickon Creek and then the paved trail by Kelly Drive.

It's about 9.5 miles, with just one dicey intersection (near the Art Museum) and only five minutes of street riding on either end.

I've been riding regularly for the last few weeks. I've lost nearly 10 pounds. While eating as much ice cream as I want.

Source: Philly.com Health News

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