Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Review of Spruce Street Bike Lane, Philadelphia

This bike lane is much like the Pine Street lane that I reviewed earlier. Let's take a critical look at this supposedly 'safer' cycling option.

As the cyclist sets off, we can notice by the camera shake that the road surface is very bad. There seems to have been a trench dug here at one point and the patch covering it is very poor. Poor surfaces like this have caused cyclists to lose control and fall. Fortunately, PA does not require cyclists to use the bike lane, so a cyclist can legally choose to use the regular travel lane at this point. Motorists might not understand why (the road doesn't look bad from a 4-wheeled driver's perspective), but the reason is clear to anyone who cycles, and hopefully to most who watch this video.

At 0:42, the two cyclists in front of the traffic queue jump the red light. Not only is this dangerous, but it reinforces the popular conception of cyclists as scofflaws. And will it benefit them? We'll see.

At 0:50 the trench patch is gone and the road surface gets better.

At 1:03, we notice a car parked half in the bike lane with his hazard lights on. The cyclist does not change lanes and instead chooses to pass the parked car in the door zone as he is passed within 2 feet by a vehicle on the left (fortunately at very low speed, reducing the hazard, but the driver should have seen the danger and slowed - it's not as if doing so would affect him - a traffic jam is a few feet ahead). Cycling in the door zone kills cyclists every year, as an opening car door will throw cyclists into the traffic lane. Bike lanes like this are supposed to prevent sudden changes of lane. We have already seen two reasons for cyclists to switch lanes - and we'll see more. Clearly, one of the safety features of this protected bike lane is fatally compromised by illegal parking - one of the more annoying realities of the road.

At 1:19 we notice the same two cyclists who crashed the red light earlier. Running red lights has not got them any farther any faster than the law abiding (and quite slow moving) cyclist making the video. Clearly, all these cyclists have achieved in running the red light is to annoy law abiding road users and to cement the bad reputation of cyclists in motorists' minds.

At 1:38, we see bollards very close to the cycle lane. These are a minor hazard only as long as the road surface is smooth and free from debris. The tree beside the bollards ensure that this will not always be the case. These bollards need to be removed, or they need to be set farther back from the road, or the bike lane needs to be farther out into the road. Unfortunately, neither of the latter solutions is practical, as there is too little space.

At 1:44 we see the two cyclists ahead of us filtering on the right and a third cyclist filters on the right as cars are turning. An impatient or unobservant driver turning right here could easily cause an accident, as the cyclists all go straight as cars turn right. Cyclists here should be in the queue of traffic. Clearly, this bike lane does nothing to prevent right hooks.

At 2:45 a below grade level manhole cover forces the cyclist to move to the left as a taxi overtakes far too closely. The cyclist notices the manhole less than a second before he rides past it (you can tell it surprises him because he wobbles at that point). A standard traffic lane would give cyclists far more room to avoid such hazards. Yet another way in which a so-called 'protected' bike lane decreases safety for cyclists. Around this point the bike lane is once again strewn with road patches which adversely affect the surface - another reason to choose the regular traffic lane.

At 2:55, the bike lane has become a 'mixing zone' where right-turning traffic and cyclists who are proceeding straight must merge. The driver of the car in front of the cyclist realizes late (or is unsure) that he must merge into the right lane to turn right. This confusion is only to be expected, since the normal assumption is that the bike lane is continuous. Many drivers do not know that it is safest (and often legally required) to merge into a bike lane before turning right. Once again, this is a good reason for cyclists to choose to cycle in the general traffic lane, so as to avoid potential turning conflicts.

At 2:58, the cyclists ahead of us once more run the red light. Many cyclists seem to regard red lights in the same way motorists view speed limits - i.e. something to be cautiously but deliberately ignored.

At 3:00, the driver ahead has not fully merged into the bike lane - another clue that he’s confused as to what he must do to turn. Confusion on the road creates danger.

At 3:45, the right third of the lane is covered in a thick layer of leaves. Leaf debris is strewn throughout the bike lane. If this were a standard traffic lane, the leaves would tend to be swept away by car tires. As it is, the presence of the leaf carpet effectively narrows the bike path and the leaf debris presents a potential slip hazard.


Spruce Street is a road that could easily be shared by motorists and cyclists without any specialized cycling infrastructure. In my view, this is another case of a totally unnecessary bike lane. Some motorists here are confused by aspects of a new bike lane design that they have not seen before. Traffic speeds are low as this is a mostly residential area. As with Pine Street, Spruce Street has been turned from a quiet two-lane one-way street into a busier single lane street with a narrow segregated bike lane that 'looks' safer for cyclists, but is actually less safe.


  1. I have a long commute, and I drive part of it, but I keep a folding bike in my trunk, and ride once I'm about 10 miles from work, so I drive and ride every day, pretty much. I think it really depends on the road. Maybe this one doesn't need a bike lane, but there are definitely places, whether I'm driving or riding, that I'm glad of the separation.

  2. The bike lane slowed down traffic speeds on Spruce, slightly reduced minor accidents, and greatly reduced major accidents over its first year. It gives predictability as to where cars will be loading and is nice because it generally means you know when cars will be shifting into your lane.

    Also, your pronouncement that these are less safe for cyclists runs counter to the data provided by the police and streets department. You can dislike them all you want but you can't just pretend that your opinion is safety data.