Ahsan: Bike bill seeks to bring drivers and bikers together

Ahsan argues that a new bill concerning Philadelphia cyclists has good intentions, but questionable methods.

Naveed Ahsan

Naveed AhsanThe city of Philadelphia has seen a major increase in two-wheeled commuters lately, with U.S. Census data reporting a 151 percent increase from 2000 to 2009. As you might expect, this has prompted lawmakers to try and ease the transition from four wheels to two by imposing rules that will benefit those without a car.

According to a report from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, the city is aiming to increase bike commuting to 6.5 percent by 2020. Stephen Buckley, the director of policy and planning for the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities has said that the administration’s goal is to turn the 220 miles of bike lanes the city currently has into 300 miles. The Nutter administration is working hard to build a new reputation for Philadelphia as a proverbial bike-friendly city.

Among all these plans and statistics is a bill that is worth mentioning. The Complete Streets Bill is intended to alleviate the uneasy relationship between bikers and motorists as well as promote bicycle safety. While the bill does have good intentions, in some cases, it goes too far.

For example, the issue of bike safety that the bill addresses is a bit more complicated than one might expect. While cyclists have become a more common image on the city roads, the number of bike-related deaths have, in fact, decreased.

Philadelphia was ranked No. 17 on the annual feature, “America’s Best Bike-Friendly Cities,” on bicycling.com. When you look at how rapidly fatal bike accidents have happened, it’s not hard to see why.

According to the Philadelphia Traffic Data Management System, four cyclists died from accidents with motor vehicles in Philadelphia County in 2002. In 2011, there was not a single fatality in such accidents, according to the Office of Transportation and Utilities.

Although accidents have dropped, it does not mean that the two groups have gotten along famously. In fact, I would argue that there has been a developing distaste between drivers and cyclists.

But as far as establishing a healthy relationship between the two-wheelers and four-wheelers, the bill is far too extreme.

On the bicyclist’s end, this new law, if implemented, will impose a $100 fine for going through a red light. Currently, the fine for doing so is only $3. The city will also add a new-and-improved Complete Streets Handbook, which will lay out the rules and regulations of the road.

As for the drivers, the Complete Streets Bill will prohibit drivers from opening a car door into traffic, and prohibit parking in bike lanes.

On the driver’s side, why such actions have not already been deemed illegal is somewhat puzzling. But implementing large fines for cyclists who break rules creates almost as much confusion.

Regardless, drivers and cyclists must form some cohesiveness to be able to share the roads together.

This is what the city hopes to fix if the Complete Streets Bill is passed, to mitigate the unpleasant rifts. The main objective for the Complete Streets Bill is to provide a city in which drivers, cyclists and pedestrians all can travel without harm. The roads are meant to be shared; cyclists aren’t going anywhere.

Naveed Ahsan can be reached at naveed.ahsan@temple.edu.

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