Path to safety

MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO

All that glitters is not gold. In the same vein, all public works projects that glitter don’t necessarily cost a fortune.

For example, a bright new protected bicycle lane in Mayfair cost taxpayers only about $6,500 to install. Yet, Mayor Jim Kenney, city officials and bicycling advocates think the new infrastructure will become a highly valued asset in a community and a city that seek ways to improve connectivity for residents and public resources.

On Friday, the mayor and project collaborators ceremonially opened the two-way bike lane, which runs for about a mile along Ryan Avenue between Rowland and Lexington avenues. It passes Abraham Lincoln High School and Austin Meehan Middle School, leading to Pennypack Park.

“Now we have a two-way parking protected bike lane that better connects Philadelphians to this beautiful park,” Kenney said. “Connection along Ryan Avenue also makes up a large part of a recreation and exercise loop around (the schools). What we’ve done is to better organize travel lanes to allow for all modes of transportation to operate safely. It’s important that we all share our space — joggers, walkers, bikers and automobiles — and we have to do that safely.”

It’s the city’s first protected bike lane, but likely not the last. Another much shorter one has also been installed on Frankford Avenue just south of Ashburner Street. But it continues for less than a city block.

The Ryan Avenue installation “is a true connector for the community and our natural resources, our jewel, Pennypack Park,” said City Councilman Bobby Henon, whose district includes both protected bike lane sites. “It’s a little different, but we’re going to get used to it. We’re not taking anything away here and we are protecting people. … We should be doing this throughout our city.”

Detailed descriptions and diagrams of the Ryan Avenue project are available on the Streets Department website, philadelphiastreets.com. The project coincided with a resurfacing and repainting of Ryan Avenue earlier this year. The new configuration maintains one lane of motor vehicle travel in each direction. Pre-existing curbs were not moved or replaced.

The street is still 52 feet wide from curb to curb and has parallel parking in both directions. But motorists can no longer park their cars directly against the curb on the northbound side. Instead, there is a two-way bike lane there closest to the curb. Inside of that, there’s a four-foot buffer lane with vertical delineator posts installed. The posts are white plastic with reflective bands. They flex or collapse when struck by a moving car or bike.

The buffer zone and posts separate the bicycle lane from an eight-foot lane of parallel parking. On the southbound side of the avenue, cars can continue to park directly against the curb.

“It’s important to note this was done without making changes to the locations of curbs, without a loss of parking at all. There are the same amount of spaces that were there prior,” Kenney said. “And the thermoplastic paint, flexible posts and signage used here will help calm traffic and encourage people to walk and cycle around the neighborhood. It goes to show that innovative traffic design can have a high impact without a high price tag.”

About a dozen cyclists from the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia rode 10 miles from Spruce Street Harbor Park to Friday’s ceremony, which included a ribbon cutting.

“It was such a thrill to ride on this new car-protected bike lane when we came up here (this morning),” BCGP Executive Director Sarah Clark Stuart said. “(We) believe along with a vast number of Philadelphians that safe, separated bicycle infrastructure for all people is important for our future as a 21st-century city. Bicycles and greater bicycle usage are going to create a calmer and less congested city making traffic safer for all road users, including drivers and pedestrians.”

Similar bicycle lane projects have been welcomed in other cities and have drawn criticism in some. In Newark, New Jersey, for example, pressure from business owners along one avenue shopping district prompted the city to remove that state’s first protected bike lane in December 2014, months after its installation. Merchants complained that the bike lane hindered motorists’ access to the stores.

Other online commentators and bloggers have questioned whether parking protected bike lanes escalate danger for cyclists while crossing traffic intersections or mid-block. Cyclists may be less visible to motorists, critics have said.

The Bicycle Coalition opposes those opinions.

“This won’t just be enjoyed by bicyclists accessing Pennypack Park,” Clark Stuart said. “It will also provide a safe route for students and faculty attending (Lincoln and Meehan) and will provide Mayfair residents easier access to the exercise loop. … This is the first of what we hope will be 30 miles of protected bike lanes that Philadelphia will come to enjoy in the coming years.”

Information about the city’s existing bicycle infrastructure and proposals for future development are documented in its Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan, which it published in 2012. The plan is accessible on the City Planning Commission website, phila.gov/cityplanning. ••

MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO

Wheel good time: A two-way bike lane on Ryan Avenue, between Rowland and Lexington avenues, was unveiled Friday during a ceremony. MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO