Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Review of Pine Street Bike Lane, Philadelphia

The bike lane on Pine Street in Philadelphia has been described as 'pretty damned good'. I disagree. Let's run through the video and see what problems this bike lane has.

The Pine Street bike lane is in the gutter and segregated by a painted median that looks to be about 2-3ft wide. The road is a one way street.

As the cyclist starts off along the bike lane, we can see that cars and trucks are passing within about 3 feet of the cyclist's handlebars because he has to ride farther left because of all the crud that has accumulated between 1 and 2 feet out from the gutter. As the cyclist proceeds, we can see a white truck ahead whose right wheels are straddling the median - clearly this road is not really wide enough to fit parking, a travel lane and a bike lane. In practice, the passing distance on this road would not meet the requirements of the law that's in the Pennsylvania Senate right now (Senate Bill 156), which would make it illegal for motorists to pass a bicycle unless there is at least of 4 feet of space between the vehicle and cyclist.

At 0:48, the cyclist swerves into the main traffic lane because a truck has parked in a 'mixing zone' where cyclists and right-turning drivers merge. In practice these zones are often used for parking. As such, they become de-facto 'loading zones'. Their original purpose is completely invalidated by the demands of the real world, and these supposedly safe zones become yet another potential conflict zone by complicating an intersection and its approaches so that this area becomes more dangerous for cyclists.

At 1:00, we see another problem, in that the cyclist comes up on the right of a car. Can the driver easily notice him? What if the driver is assuming that he's still next to a bike lane? What if he's about to make an unsignaled right turn, as many drivers do? If this were a road with standard traffic lanes, there would be no problem here - drivers would recognize a standard right lane and both cyclists and right-turning cars would be in one line in the right lane. Separating cyclists and moving them to the right (even when the segregation is removed before an intersection) creates confusion.

At 1:10 we see a cyclist coming in the opposite direction. There simply is not room on a cycle path this wide for wrong-way cycling, but it happens on roads with bike paths and lanes - it happens far less frequently on roads where cyclists are integrated into the traffic lanes.

Between 1:42-1:45 we can see the dirt on the road is reaching out farther than the arrow mark in the bike path - more than half of the bike path is covered in gravel and junk which makes the surface less safe. To ensure good contact with the road surface, the cyclist has to ride farther left, placing the end of his left handlebar maybe 2ft from passing cars. This is dangerous, especially since in this case, there was a white car which was straddling the median marking as it passed! Then there's a sudden unexpected bump from a road patch which takes the cyclist by surprise. Seemingly minor problems like this, coming together at the same time, are the cause of many accidents. If this was a standard traffic lane, car tires would effectively sweep the lane clear of debris here, which would make it far safer for cyclists. Also, if there were two regular traffic lanes here, the lane to the left would not be so busy, so that if there were a problem, the chances are that drivers could see the cyclist fall and stop in time.

At 2:12 we see a below-grade-level manhole cover right in the bike path. The cyclist has to swerve to avoid it. Is this safe? Of course not. The fact is, manhole covers are often placed here in a traffic lane - drivers feel a little bump as they go over. That's not the case for cyclists, who must avoid such dangers or risk a fall. A bike lane, being narrower than a regular travel lane, does not allow the same amount of lateral movement within the lane. In this case, the cyclist is left maybe 12 inches between the manhole cover and either side of the bike lane - he swerves towards the curb to avoid the obstacle. A fall here caused by inattention or by swerving into loose gravel in the gutter could easily throw the cyclist into the travel lane.

At 2:45, a truck parked (illegally?) in the bike lane. Very unsafe and sadly not unusual. The cyclist stops far too close to the car in front and is not fully into the traffic lane, presumably because traffic behind was not allowing a full lane change. Another cyclist chooses to take the sidewalk at this point - he later filters between traffic and a parked trailer. Our cyclist, forced to start on the edge of the travel lane, wobbles slightly as he enters it at 3:15.

At 3:18, the trailer - roadwork? Most roadwork takes place in this rightmost lane, as can be seen by the various patches along the road throughout the video. Again, something that will impact and endanger cyclists.

At 3:55 and after, the poor surface makes the whole of the bike lane a mess, with potholes and standing water. The road camber quality is often regarded as unimportant at the edges of the road, so this is typical of the conditions that bike lanes impose on cyclists.


Pine Street is a road that could easily be shared by motorists and cyclists without any specialized cycling infrastructure. In my view, this is a case of a totally unnecessary bike lane. All the motorists are behaving well and traffic speeds are low as this is a mostly residential area. A quick look on Google Maps street view shows that this used to be a quiet two-lane one-way street with parking on the north side of the street. The right lane was marked with 'Share the Road' signs and perfectly safe for cycling. Now it has been turned into a busy single lane street with a narrow segregated bike lane that 'looks' safer for cyclists, but is actually less safe.

As I see it, the Pine Street bike lane is nowhere near 'pretty damned good'. It's better than most, but most are atrocious. This is merely bad.

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