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What are the Results Following Five Months of #unblockbikelanes?

Philadelphia Parking Authority Builds Goodwill Among Cycling Community Through Twitter

Since December 2013, the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) has been monitoring the Twitter keyword #unblockbikelanes to better understand the successes and challenges of the Philadelphia bike lane system.  PPA officials have asked cyclists to tweet the location of the blockage along with the above hashtag to the PPA’s twitter account:  @PhilaParking.  As the Philadelphia bike share program begins to take shape, many wonder just how effective the bike lane program itself has been.

Bike Lanes Make Cities Safer and Healthier for All

According to the Bicycling magazine, Philadelphia ranks as the seventeenth most bicycle-friendly city in the nation even without an active bike share program.  Most observers expect this ranking to increase once the bike sharing program has been implemented.  However, the availability of bike lanes and the widespread cycling in Philadelphia are already having positive effects.  Recent studies have shown that people who live in states with higher rates of bicycling or walking to work are healthier.  That is, as the percentage of those who walk or cycle to work increases, so does the percentage of residents who meet the daily and weekly guidelines for physical activity.  In Vermont, for example, between 6 and 7 percent of people walk or cycle to work with nearly 60 percent reaching their goals for physical activity.  In contrast in Tennessee where less than 2 percent bike or walk to work, only about 40 percent of the population reaches its physical activity guideline.  Similarly, in those states where biking and walking rates are higher, the incidence of diabetes among the population is lower.

When is a Bike Lane Considered Illegally Blocked?

Many cyclists, however, have complained to fellow cyclists or tweeted the PPA regarding blocked bike lanes.  Unfortunately, it has become clear that motorists and cyclists alike do not fully understand what it means to illegally block a bike lane.  However before we can understand what constitutes an illegal blockage, we must first define the typical parking terms as used by the PPA.  These terms include:

  • No parking zone – While one may not park a vehicle, it is permitted to load or unload a vehicle in a no parking zone provided that it is done in an expeditious fashion.  The driver is not required to remain with the vehicle.
  • No standing zone – In this zone, the driver must remain with the vehicle.  Loading and unloading of people and goods are permitted.
  • No stopping zone – This is the most restrictive zone.  Here drivers must continue moving unless they are ordered to stop by a police officer or traffic signal or if the travel lane is blocked by a hazard or pedestrian.

Further, in Philadelphia, there are two main configurations for the bike lanes:  adjacent to the curb and adjacent to the parked cars. For bike lanes adjacent to parked cars, parking in the bike lane is equivalent to double parking and therefore constitutes an illegal blocking of the lane.  However, for bike lanes adjacent to the curb, the inquiry is more nuanced and depends upon the posted signage in the area.

It is illegal to park in bike lanes adjacent to the curb if the lane is within a no parking, no standing or no stopping zone.  In a no parking zone, however, it is legal to temporarily block the bike lane provided that it is for the purposes of loading and unloading and it is done so expeditiously.  The PPA has stated that they allow cars in “No Parking Zones” approximately 20 minutes prior to issuing a ticket.  Additionally, drivers of commercial vehicles are granted an additional 20 minutes following the loading or unloading of their vehicle to handle any incidental business.  Further, vehicles may momentarily stop to pick-up or discharge passengers in “No Standing Zones”.  Thus while in most instances one may not park in a bike lane, it is often perfectly legal to temporarily block the lane for loading and unloading purposes.

What Can I Expect from the Bike Share Program?

First, the bad news:  Despite early reports, the bike share system will not be ready for the fall of 2014.  However, the good news is that the system is slated to be available the following spring in early 2015.

For the bicycles themselves, the city has contracted with B-Cycle, a Wisconsin-based company.   B-Cycle is known in many American cities with bike share programs for their extremely sturdy designs.  For the Philadelphia program, a rugged fixed gear bicycle with handbrakes and a basket will be used. To begin, roughly 600 of the bikes will be deployed to 60 stations throughout the Center City area.  Cyclists will have a variety of fare options including single-use, monthly and annual passes.

For cyclists, the most anticipated fringe benefit of the new bike share program is improved safety.  A report by the Alliance for Biking and Walking has found that as the rates of bicycling and walking in a city increase, the fatality rate for those walkers and cyclists decreases.  Essentially there is something of a herd immunity for bicyclists and walkers.  The study’s authors hypothesize that as bicycles and pedestrians become more common on city streets, motorists learn how to share the road more safely. Therefore hopefully the best news to come out of the bike share program will be more cyclists leading to fewer fatalities, broken bones, and traumatic brain injuries.

We Advocate for Those Hurt in Bicycle Accidents

For more than 34 years, the bike accident lawyers of The Reiff Law Firm has represented the victims of bicycle accidents in Pennsylvania. As the number of cyclists in Pennsylvania increases, we are dedicated to continuing our support and advocacy on their behalf.  To schedule a free no-obligation consultation today, call our firm at (215) 709-6940 or contact us online.

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