City Councilwoman trying to turn West Philly 'buffered bike lanes' temporary

The first parking-protected bike lane in Philadelphia has been dedicated, but a City Councilwoman is stirring up controversy. 

The protected bike lane re-organizes Chestnut Street between 45th and 33rd streets. Instead of only paint, flexible plastic posts delineate a row of parking that now separates bike traffic from cars and trucks. 

The new arrangement is supposed to be permanent. But City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell made this pronouncement at the dedication: "I'd like to make it a trial basis for three months to see how it works. I have people, councilpeople, people in the area as recently as yesterday on Sansom, 47th and Sansom, and we want to be fair. My first obligation is to the people who put me here."

Blackwell backed the project earlier this year, saying "This will make a great difference in safety, this can affect lives. It’s a big deal. I didn't realize it was this important."

Blackwell herself introduced the ordinance to authorize the parking-protected bike lane's construction.

Mike Carroll, deputy managing director of the office of transportation and infrastructure systems, said there's nothing temporary about it. "It's an infrastructure project, not a trial or a pilot," he insisted. "We've been in communication with the councilwoman's office from the very beginning. I think what she's getting is sort of the anxiety that people have when it's new, and we understood that it's going to take some getting used to."

Neighborhood resident Maurice Jones favors the new lane but understands it has caused some issues. "I know there is some concerns and anxiety in the neighborhood concerning it, but as you grow, and the city is important, and change can be contentious. But change can be good for the city," Jones said.

However, Blackwell, who represents parts of West Philly, says she wants to make sure neighbors have a say in this and future bike lanes.

"What I want to do is put in legislation, when [City Council goes] back September 14th, calling for an ordinance to be passed to do this around the city. Because right now, if the Streets Department wants to do it, they do it, and they get support, and that's fine," she said. "The other side has to have its say, as well. We want to be fair."

Mayor Jim Kenney says some people don't adapt well to new approaches. "This kind of change is difficult for people. This is an older city with things being done the way they have been done for a long, long time," he said. "We are still a car-centric society in Philadelphia, and other cities have come along further than we have, and everyone needs to share the space safely. I think that is the main goal."

Councilwoman Blackwell still considers the issue temporary. When asked if she would try to end the Chestnut Street lane, she said she will make a decision after 90 days.

According to Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia spokesman Randy LoBasso, the Chestnut Street protected bike lane was completed after six years of community outreach, including the community meeting held this spring where Blackwell expressed her support for the project.

About the author

Tom MacDonald, Reporter

WHYY reporter Tom MacDonald is a lifelong Philadelphia area resident who has worked in the region since the mid-1980s. Tom started in commercial radio covering the MOVE standoff with police for WFIL-AM. He was also City Hall Bureau Chief covering government and politics for more than a decade for WWDB-FM. Tom has been heard on numerous stations in the region during the decade he worked for Metro Traffic, doing news, traffic and weather. Tom has also been heard nationally, doing reports for NPR, ABC News Radio, NBC Radio, and CBS Radio. He has won the Associated Press award for his coverage of the protests of the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia and a Religious Communicators award for a post-9/11 documentary he did with the late Peter Jennings.

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