Bicycle advocates lined up in the middle of a Center City Philadelphia street twice in the last month, forming a human-protected bike lane in the wake of high-profile collisions.
At the end of November, a 24-year-old pastry chef named Emily Fredricks was riding in a painted bike lane when she was struck by a turning garbage truck and killed. Three weeks later, a web designer named Becca Refford, also 24, was hit by a
nother truck just a few blocks from where Fredricks was killed. Refford, who is recovering, has shattered hips and a fractured pelvis, according to news reports.
Both collisions occurred in long-established bike lanes in the heart of the city. According to the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, Fredricks was the third bicyclist to die in a traffic incident in the city in 2017. But the city is resisting calls to reorient its bike lane plans in reaction to those specific incidents.
Shortly after Fredricks’ death, the Coalition sent Mayor Jim Kenney a list of seven steps to speed up the pace of progress on Vision Zero, the city’s commitment to achieving zero traffic-related deaths by 2030. Among the demands was that the city present a plan to protect or buffer bike lanes on two streets in the next two months (Spruce and Pine, two east-west arterials that traverse all of Center City), redesign some intersections, and repaint 23 miles of faded bike lanes.
Kenney said in response that his administration is committed to Vision Zero, and to establishing more protected bike lanes throughout the city, but that it was going to keep its focus on the high-injury network, which the two streets are not a part of, despite the recent crashes.
“While Pine and Spruce streets will continue to receive our focus, arbitrary timeframes applied to these locations hold the risk of taking important attention away from other places in the city where the data indicates the safety concerns may be more acute,” Kenney wrote.
Protected bike lanes have been shown to increase ridership and safety in cities, but Ken McLeod, policy director for the League of American Bicyclists, says that while many cities have shown interest in developing better bike infrastructure, only a few are leading the way. Approaches vary, but some are relying on data — and the numbers and voices heard during community engagement may require considerate reckoning.
“If a city has an appropriate long-term data-driven plan, it’s really hard to say no to that,” McLeod says. “But it’s also hard to ignore the emotional appeal of reacting to incidents. I know some cities have had issues where their safety responses have been based on community feedback, and sometimes that’s meant that they’ve steered more resources to louder communities, which means that they’re ignoring lower-income communities or communities that don’t have political capital.”
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