Bicyclists power healthy growth in Philadelphia

Like many Temple students, I ride to school on my bike. I ride to get to work, to go shopping, to see my friends – anywhere I have to go. After riding in the city

Like many Temple students, I ride to school on my bike. I ride to get to work, to go shopping, to see my friends – anywhere I have to go.

After riding in the city a few years, my bike has become as necessary as a car or a TransPass.

Most people I know ride, battling with cars and all the dangers that go along with city riding. I still have scars on my face from one of several accidents, something that is almost a given after years of riding, but I’ve always brushed myself off because biking is a part of my life.

This is not unusual in a dense city, where biking to the various waypoints that make up our lives is not impractical. A recent survey of 1,230 Philadelphia-area cyclists conducted by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission showed that nearly two-thirds of cyclists use their bikes not only for fun, but also “utile purposes,” which is to say for commuting,
shopping, or just getting around. Six percent of respondents even worked on their bike as messengers, security guards or delivery. While the survey covered the entire Delaware Valley, the vast majority of “utile bikers” hailed from right here in Philadelphia.

“It really surprised us, to see so many utilitarian bicyclists,” said John Madera, senior transportation planner at the DVRPC’s Office of Transit, Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning, one of the key figures behind this survey.

It is certainly heartening to see so many Philadelphians taking up the 10-speed to get to work. On a personal level, there is camaraderie among cyclists – we share the same lifestyle. Unfortunately, the same survey showed that many cyclists also share the same scars as I do.

One out of every three cyclists interviewed had been involved in an accident in the previous year, with one out of six involving a car. In a city that is not always friendly or even conscious of bicyclists, all too often danger is accepted as a fact of life. This must change.

In Philadelphia, efforts are being made to accommodate to cyclists. We have installed more than 200 miles of bike lanes and are in the process of completing a major inner city bike trail, although both are only about two-thirds completed.

There is also a pilot program in the Philadelphia School District known as the Bicycle Education Enhancement Program, commonly known as BEEP, to educate students on bike riding and safety, but it is still small.

Madera says that expanding both facilities and education are key not only for keeping our existing cyclists safe, but for helping more citizens feel safe taking their bike on the road.

“I would strongly advocate educating public school students in road bike safety, while continuing to build more bike lanes and trails. The combination of education and facilities will also lead to more average people bicycling,” Madera said.

Creating a safe environment for bicyclists in the city also makes Philadelphia more attractive for those who seek to escape the car-centric suburbs.

Along with being environmentally friendly, the DVRPC survey notes as a final point that bikers are on average “less car dependent and better educated.”

While obviously riding a bike doesn’t mean you will become more educated (not that it can hurt), it does mean that well-educated people without cars like cities where they can bike in safety. These are exactly the kind of people to attract to a city with a shortage of college graduates and parking spaces, but it all starts with safety.

Ryan Briggs can be reached at

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