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Neighborhood shows widespread support for Fairmount bike lanes

Fairmount and Corinthian

Travel on Fairmount Avenue might be getting a bit easier for bikers. The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia has targeted a stretch of the thoroughfare from the Schuylkill River to Broad Street as a prime location for new integrated bike lanes. Over the next few weeks, the organization will be attending civic association meetings in the area, discussing the findings of local polling and laying out plans for the lanes.

In yet another example of the City of Philadelphia leading on transportation and infrastructure, this idea came from on high. "We were told by the Streets Department and the Mayor's Office of Transportation that they were interested in putting bike lanes on Fairmount," says the Bicycle Coalition's Sarah Stuart. "But that they wanted to make sure that the community was supportive."

The Bicycle Coalition started with the Fairmount Civic Association, using their mailing list to conduct an online survey. They also canvassed every business along the avenue, from Pennsylvania Avenue to Broad Street. Outreach is ongoing to the Francisville Neighborhood Civic Association and the Spring Garden Civic Association. The Bicycle Coalition will report their findings at the upcoming meetings. 

Response to the plan -- a standard five-foot bike lane in both directions in between the parking lane and the traffic lane -- has been very positive from both residents and businesses. (Fairmount actually has a particularly high number of bicycle commuters relative to the rest of the city.) That's not to say there weren't naysayers. 

"The main concern is that somehow the bike lane will create more conflicts on the street between double parked cars and cyclists," says Stuart. "People also wondered, 'Why Fairmount? Why not just go to [the bike lane on nearby] Spring Garden?'"

The answer to that question should be clear to any rider who has used the Spring Garden Street bike lane: that major artery has two lanes of traffic in both directions, serves as a bus route and boasts motor vehicles traveling at a much faster speed than on Fairmount. It's useful for cyclists, but not necessarily comfortable.

Fairmount, on the other hand, is an ideal candidate for two-wheel travel. The lanes are extra wide: 48 feet across, providing 24 feet in each direction for a travel lane and a parking lane (a parking lane is usually about seven or eight feet wide). 

"When you have lanes that are oversized, there is a tendency to go faster, to feel like there's enough room to double-park, and to do a lot of weaving in and out of cars," says Stuart. "We think that by putting the lanes in, it will help calm traffic and improve pedestrian sight lines when they cross the street. We think it will also reduce speeds -- when you reduce speeds of motor vehicles, crashes go down."

Add to that the wonderful aesthetics of Fairmount Avenue -- bustling businesses and the hulking splendor of Eastern State Penitentiary -- and you have the makings of a low-stress, enjoyable ride across the city. 

Bike lanes also help mitigate those urban cycling scourges: sidewalk riders and bike salmon (folks riding the wrong direction on a street). Several businesses polled by the Bicycle Coalition mentioned sidewalk riding as a major irritant. "We know bike lanes help reduce that kind of bad behavior," says Stuart. "We've done counts over a ten year period: streets with bike lanes have a lower rate of sidewalk riding and wrong-way riding."

Upcoming civic association meetings to discuss the Fairmount Avenue bike lane:

Francisville Neighborhood Development Corp
6:15 p.m. (doors open at 5:30 p.m.) January 28
*Update: This meeting has been postponed until Feburary 4. Click here for details.
2nd Pilgrim Baptist Church, 15th & Ogden Streets
Refreshments will be served
You must live within the highlighted portion of this map to vote.

Fairmount Civic Association
7 p.m. January 31
Philadelphia Mennonite High School, 860 N. 24th Street
You must live in the highlighted portion of this map to vote (see page 2 of linked brochure)

Spring Garden Civic Association
6:30 p.m. February 20
Lithuanian Church Hall, 19th & Wallace Streets
You must live within the highlighted portion of this map to vote.

LEE STABERT is managing editor of Flying Kite.
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