April 5, 2018
We are pleased to provide you with additional information about SHCA’s position on the City’s proposal for Spruce and Pine. We wanted to share this information with you at the General Membership meeting, but, as you know, this meeting had to be canceled due to the snowstorm.
For some time, SHCA has been concerned about enhancing the safety for the many users of Spruce and Pine Streets and sidewalks. Our concern led us to embark on a safety study in our neighborhood. Our first step was to hire Howard Stein Hudson (HSH), a nationally recognized transportation planning firm, to help us. HSH has expertise in the area of Complete Streets – an approach that seeks to advance safety, comfort, and convenience on our streets and sidewalks, for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and users of public transit. In short, Complete Streets aims to improve safety for all. For the five months ending in February 2018, HSH studied Spruce and Pine from Front to 8th, culminating in a 63-page report containing 13 recommendations to improve safety for all users – the study is posted on our website. We note in advance that none of HSH’s recommendations included either delineator posts or flipping lanes.
As soon as HSH report was completed, we reached out to the City’s Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems (OTIS) to present our study and recommendations. At the same time, we set up meetings with other civic associations on the two corridors, from 8th Street to the Schuylkill. We also contacted the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. Our goal in meeting with OTIS and with other parties, was to review the results of our study and find common ground wherever possible. We wanted to share what we had learned and to hear and learn from others.
While we were conducting our study, unbeknownst to us, OTIS had developed a plan to flip bicycle and parking lanes on Spruce and Pine, embedding it in a roadway repair and design project targeted for the fall of this year. Surprised and concerned that OTIS had developed its plan without any input from the affected communities, or apparently, from other parties, we set up two meetings with OTIS to present findings from our study and to hear more about their plan to flip bicycle and parking lanes from Front to 22ndStreet.
OTIS’ plan flips the lanes on Spruce and Pine -placing bike lanes on the left side and parking lanes on the right. The travel lane would remain in the middle. The proposal does not include a full line of delineator posts, but it might include between 3 and 6 delineators at the end of various blocks. The striping on the bike lanes would be much improved, including continuing the painting through the intersection – a recommendation contained in our study.
OTIS asserts that left side bicycle lanes increase the ability of drivers of trucks and other large vehicles to see bicyclists turning left because they have smaller blind spots on the left-hand side. There’s also a benefit, generally, to putting the bike lane on the opposite side of the street from bus stops, although on Spruce and Pine, the buses run only below 8thand 7th, and, at least historically, this hasn’t been a problem. This is likely because, as we learned in our study, vehicular speeds are relatively modest in Society Hill.
What’s our concern?
The proposal to flip the lanes has pros and cons. One of the cons is the danger posed to cyclists on the left-side when making right hand turns. To do so, they have to traverse a travel lane and possibly a turning lane or a bus. But isn’t that a mirror image of the danger of right-side bicyclists turning left? The answer isn’t clear without collecting “turning movement counts” and other types of data. For example, if more cyclists on Spruce are taking right turns (to go to the business district, Rittenhouse Square, or other popular destinations, etc.) then putting the bike lane on the left means that more bicyclists (than present) would be traversing lanes to make turns. (The same is true for Pine: more cyclists would be traversing lanes to make right turns on Pine if there are more cyclists making right turns — for e.g. to return home to the neighborhoods in South Philadelphia.) What does the data tell us? The truth is OTIS hasn’t been able to provide these data (presumably because they haven’t collected or analyzed this information). Similar counts need to be taken of motor vehicles turns, along with an analysis of how many of the vehicles are cars, medium sized trucks and large trucks. Also, the speed of the turns is needed, etc.
This information is important because left side bicycle lanes are only deemed appropriate in certain situations, and after careful study. Consider what the Federal Highway Administration has to say about this:
“On one-way streets, bicycle lanes should be installed on the right-hand side, unless conflicts can be greatly reduced by installing the lane on the left-hand side. Left-side bicycle lanes on one-way streets may also be considered where there are frequent bus or trolley stops, unusually high numbers of right-turning motor vehicles, or if there is a significant number of left-turning bicyclists.”
Further consider what the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials say:
On one-way streets, bike lanes should normally be on the right-hand side of the roadway. A bike lane may be placed on the left if there are a significant number of left turning bicyclists or if a left-side bike lane decreases conflicts, for example those caused by heavy bus traffic, heavy right-turn movements (including double right-turn lanes), deliveries or on-street parking.
The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission points out that “established guidelines approach left-side lanes with some trepidation.”
Another concern is that motorists would be getting in and out of their cars by having to step into the travel lane. This situation is viewed by many as posing a risk that needs to be seriously considered. In Society Hill we have heard from our residents who are understandably concerned about the risk of being hit by a passing vehicle when opening or closing their car doors on Spruce and Pine’s very narrow streets. When we raised this issue with OTIS, we were told that OTIS believes that is there is no increased risk to drivers exiting their cars.
In sum, there are pros and cons to switching bicycle lanes to the left side. To determine the merits of such a plan, all relevant data must be collected and evaluated. Regrettably, as mentioned, OTIS has not provided the information required to complete an objective analysis. In truth, without these missing data, there’s no way to know whether flipping lanes on Spruce and Pine would make these streets safer, or less safe, even for cyclists.
Where do things stand today?
Public debate on this issue seems to be moving in the wrong direction – Interested parties with different views – bicycle advocates, OTIS, Spruce and Pine civic associations, and individual citizens – are lining up on opposite sides of this issue with missing or incomplete information.
OTIS is pressing ahead with their plan, touting the benefits but not the risks of switching lanes to the left. In the meantime, SHCA is focused on trying to evaluate the pros and cons of OTIS’ plan seeking the information required to make a fair determination and communicating our concerns to interested parties. In the end, our goal is to improve the safety, comfort, and convenience of all users of Spruce and Pines Streets.
There are several important things you can do:
For more information, go to OTIS’ Open House this Thursday, April 5 from 6 PM to 7:30 PM at the Levitt Auditorium in Gershman Hall, University of the Arts, 401 S. Broad Street. Look at their poster boards, ask questions, and express your opinions.
The Civic Association is circulating a petition to oppose OTIS’ current proposal, but our opposition is not absolute. The petition reads, “This unstudied plan has the potential to put all users at greater risk — pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. I encourage the City to work with all stakeholders to develop a plan to improve safety for all.”
Please know that the Civic Association is working hard to analyze the proposal based on data, not on anecdotal evidence, or emotion, or a “vote” of our community. We want to elevate the public debate and encourage the City to make decisions based on data and objective analyses. We seek safety for all, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and users of public transit.
We encourage you to email our Councilman, Mark Squilla, at email@example.com.
We will keep you posted as this matter progresses. We hope you can make the Open House this Thursday on Broad Street. Finally, thank you all helping to make Society Hill a wonderful place to be, not just for the residents, but for visitors and all who use our streets and sidewalks.
SHCA Complete Streets Committee