East Torresdale residents mobilize against bike lane

Neighbors packed a civic meeting to oppose a protected bike lane planned for State Road between Grant and Linden avenues.

East Torresdale resident Bill Kennedy makes known his opposition to a protected bike lane on State Road during the March 9 civic meeting. JACK TOMCZUK / TIMES PHOTO

The message was clear at the East Torresdale Civic Association’s March meeting.

Residents don’t want a protected bike lane installed on State Road between Linden and Grant avenues. Civic members voted 106 to 12 against the proposal.

However, the Department of Streets will make the final call on whether the project moves forward, according to Jeannette Brugger, of the city’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability.

No City Council action is required, so there’s no direct leverage for residents hoping to stop the redesign. 

At least one elected official, state Rep. Mike Driscoll, who lives in East Torresdale, came out against the proposal. 

“Some roads are meant for bike lanes, and some aren’t,” said Driscoll, who has told his kids State Road is the most dangerous street in Pennsylvania. “I don’t need a secret ballot. I’m voting ‘no’ tonight.”

City officials believe the changes, which involve shuffling the lanes to put a two-way protected bike path on the east side of State, will make the road safer. No major adjustments are planned for the traffic lanes.

“National studies have shown that this is safer for drivers,” Brugger said. “This is safer for pedestrians, and this is safer for people using transit, and this is safer for bikers as well. Because, again, the key point here is that it brings speeds down.” 

A similar project was completed several years ago on Ryan Avenue by Abraham Lincoln High School.

State Road is being looked at because it is scheduled to be repaved this year and has been identified by the city as a road with a high number of accidents.

From 2014 to 2018, there were 48 crashes on that stretch of State Road, according to Brugger’s presentation. Thirty-two people were injured and one person was killed.

Brugger returned to ETCA March 9 for the third time, with a plan updated to include a 9-foot parking lane — an attempt to ease the concerns of neighbors who worried about getting out of their cars into traffic.

Jeannette Brugger, of the city’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability, speaks March 9 during the East Torresdale Civic Association meeting. JACK TOMCZUK / TIMES PHOTO

The average width of a car is 6 feet, and the parking lanes are generally 7 feet, Brugger said. She added that the 9-foot State Road lane would be among the widest in the city.

“We heard your concerns, and we know that this is a big change,” Brugger told residents.

Her assurances did little to satisfy neighbors, many of whom said they see no reason for the changes. Others worried about parking loss. The plan would eliminate about 37 spots on State Road’s east side.

Brugger said residents could push to create a residential permit parking zone or implement two-hour parking restrictions to make sure commuters using the nearby Torresdale Station don’t fill up the spots.

Another idea involves using Glen Foerd on the Delaware to handle overflow parking. The historic estate recently received a $99,000 grant, part of which will be used to design a paved lot, Glen Foerd executive director Ross Mitchell said.

Mitchell hopes to have visitors exit and enter through an opening at Grant and State and seemed open to the idea of allowing commuters access during the day.

Brugger said city officials envision a protected bike lane on State Road as a key connector to a regional trail network.

Within the next year, cyclists would be able to ride down to Pennypack on the Delaware and, a year later, reach the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge, she said. Eventually, the path would run to Port Richmond and even Penn’s Landing. 

Bike signals, which are similar to pedestrians signals, are also proposed at intersections with traffic lights along State. Only two bike signals have been installed thus far in the city, Brugger said. 

Mayor Jim Kenney, in his budget address earlier this month, said the city’s goal is to have 40 miles of protected bike lanes by 2025.

ETCA President Joe Carson appeared receptive to the protected bike lane, saying it’s safer for bikers and could raise home values.

“No one likes change,” he said. “The next generation of people who will potentially be buying your houses are not as car-centric as we are.”

He didn’t convince skeptical neighbors, who passed a motion at the end of the meeting for ETCA to send letters of opposition to the Department of Streets, state Department of Transportation and Kenney’s Office.

The changes would occur along with repaving, which State Road is scheduled for this year. Brugger said a combination of state and city money will fund the project, which is expected to take about three weeks. ••