Pennsylvania’s outdated parking rule threatens the safest kind of bike lanes
Bike lanes separated from traffic by parked vehicles on several busy state highways in Philadelphia have attracted herds of cyclists, slowed cars and reduced collisions, a study of the lanes found.
They could also be among the last of their kind in the city unless the state Senate acts to clarify the definition of a sidewalk.
Separate bike lanes for parking have historically been prohibited on state-owned roads because Pennsylvania law requires parked vehicles to be within 12 inches of the curb or edge of the roadway.
Lanes, also known as “parking-protected”, are dedicated lanes for cyclists with a row of parked vehicles to protect them from collisions with cars and trucks. A 5-foot-wide marked lane abuts the sidewalk, and drivers park on the far side of a safety buffer zone — placing them up to 8 feet from the sidewalk, a violation of Pennsylvania law.
This arrangement is considered one of the safest arrangements for bicycles and is widely used in the United States and Europe.
Legislation allowing cars to park within a foot of the buffer zone of a parking-protected bike lane didn’t budge in the state Senate, though the House passed it in the unanimity in March of last year. The measure has the support of PennDot, safety advocates and local state governments who want the option as part of a strategy to make the streets safer for all users.
“We hope the Senate will carry the HB140 to the finish line,” said Sarah Clark Stuart, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. “The entire Commonwealth will benefit from adding this kind of security measure to the traffic engineering toolkit.”
Philadelphia has separate bike lanes for parking on sections of 10 state roads, including Market Street, JFK Boulevard, and Chestnut Street Bridge. They have been operating since 2018 as pilot projects under agreements with PennDot.
If the legislature doesn’t change the law, existing riders would continue, but it could be difficult to add more without permission for bike lanes separated by permanent parking, PennDot spokeswoman Alexis Campbell said.
“The data collected in these pilot projects is incredibly useful and will help us shape projects in the future,” Campbell said. “We will continue to work with the city on a case-by-case basis if there are other pilot locations that can inform future use of parking-protected bike lanes.”
PennDot supports the legislation to “provide more flexibility in how we can accommodate all road users,” she said.
Parking-protected bike lanes have a row of on-street parking between vehicular traffic and the bike lane, rather than at the curb.
A traffic study conducted by a transportation consultant last year found lane benefits on Market Street and JFK Boulevard.
Kittleson & Associates found crashes were down nearly 20%, although fewer people were driving during the pandemic, which may have been a factor. Average car speed decreased by 6%, but the city did not see an increase in congestion. The number of bikes using the routes jumped 96%, a possible result of a perception that they were safer for cyclists.
So far there has been no concerted opposition to the cycle lanes bill. The Senate Transportation Committee held a hearing on the House bill in April, but committee chairman Sen. Wayne Langerholc Jr. (R., Cambria) did not schedule a vote to send it to the prosecutor’s office for examination.
The Senate meets again on Monday and has 14 voting sessions scheduled before June 30, followed by more than two months of summer recess. Three voting days are scheduled in September, six in October and one in November.
The two-year session of the legislature ends on December 31; all laws not passed by then must be reintroduced.
While the city can build parking-protected bike lanes on its own streets, many of the most dangerous roads are trunk roads with high traffic volumes and average speeds. About 360 miles of Philadelphia’s 2,575 miles of roads are owned by PennDot.
Changes to parking or traffic lanes on local streets must be approved by City Council.
In Philadelphia, adapting bike travel has at times been politically strained, as critics of bike lanes point to a tightening of space for vehicle parking and business loading areas, or a slowdown in traffic.
At the April hearing, two senators said parking-protected bike lanes could cause problems in some cases.
Sen. Mario Scavello (R., Monroe) said many Main Street businesses in small towns are accepting front door deliveries. He was worried about trucks encroaching on a bike path or piling up in traffic lanes to unload.
“I’m for the concept… [but] I think smaller businesses will have issues,” Scavello said.
And Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R., Beaver) raised issues of e-bikes and e-scooters using bike lanes, possibly endangering people with disabilities who will have to cross them after leaving parked vehicles.
“They’re not used to looking for an oncoming e-scooter that’s going 25 mph, it might mow them down when they get to the curb,” she said, although the e-scooter scooters may not be legal in the state.
Proponents say loading zones can be incorporated into street design with separate cycle lanes for parking and would not be appropriate in all areas. PennDot would publish engineering standards, and local planners would decide if and where to build the tracks.
“I think it’s important to recognize that why they’re currently illegal has nothing to do with them and their function in the public right-of-way,” said Nicholas Ross, chief traffic engineer at the department. of Pittsburgh Transportation. It’s a matter of “outdated” legal language that has an unintended consequence, he said.