After several accidents between bikers, drivers and pedestrians, the need for designated bike lanes on Main Campus becomes apparent.
The Office of Transportation and Mobility is working on extending bike lines east of the Berks Street train station and south from Cecil B. Moore Avenue on 11th, 12th and 13th streets. Cecil B. Moore Avenue and Oxford and Diamond streets may also see bike lanes soon.
The proposed lanes are geared to connecting an alternative route around Main Campus, connecting it to other parts of the city while at the same time discouraging city bikers from crossing through campus on their paths around town.
Charles Carmalt, coordinator of Mayor Michael Nutter’s Office of Transportation and Mobility, said the university’s official stance to not implement on-campus bike lanes stems from a lack of perceived danger of the still relatively low number of biking students, and therefore does not officially prohibit biking on Main Campus as much as they want to encourage using alternative routes to traverse the city to keep congestion at a minimum.
“We talked to the campus planners about designating Polett Walk,” Carmalt said. “But the campus planners didn’t want us to designate it. They don’t prohibit people from riding bikes [on campus], but they didn’t want to encourage people who are just trying to get across the city instead of using other routes around campus.”
This extension is one response the city is taking to the increasing number of bikers in the past 10 years. From 2000 to 2010, the number of bicycles in Philadelphia has increased two-fold, said Carmalt.
While the health and economic effects of biking are evident, with government officials like Carmalt promoting the practice, tensions rise between bikers, drivers and pedestrians as the number of bikes in the city grows.
“[The university’s] top priority is really the safety of the walkers, but as of right now there isn’t enough traffic on [Main Campus] to warrant any implementation of bike lanes,” Carmalt said.
Carmalt said the streets straddling Main Campus’ borders can be potential breeding grounds for bike-related accidents if the number of bikers continues to rise. In his years with the office, he said he’s heard horror stories of people in parked cars opening their car door for passing bikers to run into. Incidences of crashes with open doors or collisions with cars in intersections are all too common.
“I feel like as an experienced biker, it’s not a big deal anymore,” junior film and criminal justice major Stephanie Irwin said. “I mean, it is a big deal, but I’ve been hit [by a car] before. The first couple of times it wasn’t really a shocker. It was like, ‘Why is this my fault?’”
Irwin is the co-founder of Bike Party!, a soiree of ‘road rules’ adherent bikers in Rittenhouse Square, has been a facilitator of the Philadelphia Naked Bike Ride and has volunteered for the Philadelphia Bike Expo.
As a Lancaster, Pa. native, Irwin stressed the importance of learning urban road rules for bikers of similar backgrounds. The consequences of not doing so, Irwin said, can result in often-violent accidents.
“Temple’s campus isn’t really built for bikers,” Irwin said. “It’s built for people to walk around and not really bike through.”
In recent years, the number of bikers on Main Campus has increased dramatically. As students commute to school from the surrounding areas, they are choosing to ride bikes as a cheaper, more efficient alternative to driving a car or public transportation.
“The main thing about bikes on campus, and about those who commute, is that in 2008-09 commuters made up about 8 [percent] to 9 percent of the student body,” said Izzat Rahman, co-owner of Kayuh Bicycles, an upstart vintage bike shop that caters to the cycling needs of college students in and around Philadelphia.
“That’s not a lot of students, but when students rode to campus I saw it as a drawback the lack of bike lanes, bike knowledge and the overall lack of protection and gear bikers used,” Rahman said.
Rahman, who graduated from Temple last year with a degree in entrepreneurship, said that his plan to alleviate thoroughfare congestion would be to utilize Main Campus roads, such as Montgomery Street, to create street lanes “designated specifically just for bikes.”
The lanes, per his description, should be as distinguishable as possible so that they do not become lanes only in theory as they are on Broad and Susquehanna streets.
New and improved bike lanes, Rahman said, would give riders “more of an opportunity to see the campus,” and the ability to bike around without worrying about cars or oblivious pedestrians.
Rahman added that the issue is not as simple as dragging chalk on a slab of pavement.
“Bike lanes are a huge investment and it takes a lot of initiative to figure out where they would fit,” Rahman said. “[Bikers] should be taught or advised how to ride safely and not…zoom really fast around campus.
Aaron Kraus, a senior history major, said that when it comes to biking on Main Campus, “it’s like an accident waiting to happen.”
“Some get off their bikes and walk with the crowd – that’s how it’s supposed to be done,” Kraus added. “Others just don’t care.”
Lindsey Graham, coordinator of Bike Temple in the Office of Sustainability, is a key component in educating on-campus bikers. Her duties, and the paramount goal of Bike Temple, involve taking the lead in organizing and implementing courses that stress proper street etiquette in urban settings.
“The biggest thing we have going right now is our Urban Rider Basics program, which teaches students who are new to an urban setting different aspects, like bike safety check, hand signals, protection habits and things of that nature,” Graham said.
Graham asserted that the sheer magnitude of bikers in the city and on Main Campus – with a large number of those riders coming from suburban or rural areas – was part of the reason why the classes were made.
“In Philadelphia, because there are so many people that bike, I think it’s definitely important to offer [classes] to students who don’t come from the city,” Graham said. “It’s all about giving them another resource to learn. Plus, it keeps them healthy, and it’s good for the environment, so it’s a win-win situation.”
But according to Rahman, whose business prides itself on affordability and convenience to the surrounding community, awareness is only half the battle.
“More strides and initiatives should be [made] to expand the current programs being offered,” Rahman said. “If there are an increasing number of commuters, the city and school should cater to those growing number of people cycling to campus and should follow through with those steps.”
Among the programs Rahman is referring to is the recent initiative of the Bike Coalition of Greater Philadelphia to install more than 400 new bike signs throughout the city. The initiative aims to encourage bicycling and to improve the overall infrastructure of city streets with regards to cyclists.
“Signs are cool, but what are they really going to do?” Irwin said. “A sign isn’t going to do it for you. People need to take on their own responsibility to be a safer biker.”
Carmalt agrees with this, citing his own condemnation of bikers who run red lights, don’t dismount in crowds, and are obtusely neglectful to common driving formalities. He lauds bike education programs, such as Bike Temple, as key components in ensuring that these new bikers, including some that hail from more rural areas, can ride in congruence with the already established rules of the urban road.
Junior film major Joey Corpora said that bikers on campus, although sometimes a nuisance, don’t really raise that much of a concern.
“Bikes can be pretty aggressive, but they don’t bother me,” Corpora said. “I never got hit by anyone. They should just try to be courteous of people walking around, and that’s all you can really ask.”
Biases aside, Irwin said that responsibility of street safety ultimately must come from mutual effort and understanding from those on wheels, including cars, and those on the ground.
Khoury Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.