Thursday, July 14, 2011

South Street Bike Lane's New Double Life

A church parking problem has now become a bike lane parking problem.

Greater St. Mathew Baptist Church, located at Grays Ferry Avenue and Fitzwater, had created a parking problem in the South of South Street neighborhood for some time.  Congregants parked illegally on Grays Ferry Avenue in the northbound travel lane blocking motor vehicle traffic, or on the sidewalk.  This dangerous situation resulted in a cyclist being hit by a Trolley Works bus recently, which prompted the need for a quick resolution to find alternative parking to make Gray's Ferry safe for all users.

Unfortunately, the resolution reached was to allow church congregants to park on Sundays from 10am to 6pm on the South Street buffered bike lane between 23rd Street and 27th Street and on one block of 24th Street between South to Bainbridge St. 

This resolution, which was declared "final" in an email that went out to the community, was reached between Council President Anna Verna's office and the 17th Police District after one public meeting, held on June 16th.  According to one resident who contacted us, no survey was conducted of the community prior to or after the June 16th meeting, and no other general public meetings were held.  Some small group meetings were held after the June 16th meeting between the Police District, Council President's office, Parking Authority and the Streets Department.  The South of South Neighborhood Association (SOSNA) has an update on this situation here.

While allowing parking on South Street on Sundays seems similar to the situation on Spruce and Pine and 22nd Streets, where churches use the bike lanes on Sunday, it's not the same.  The churches on Spruce, Pine, Chestnut Streets were using travel lanes on Spruce, Pine and 22nd for Sunday parking before the bike lanes were installed, therefore, those parking privileges were effectively grandfathered in.  By permitting the South Street bike lane to be used for parking that had never before occurred there sets a bad precedent for future buffered bike lanes (or any curbed bike lane that is not physically protected).

It's worth noting the following facts:  
  • The South Street bike lane is in a neighborhood with some of the City's highest bike commute rates.  The neighborhood's census tract has an 8.6% bike mode share (percentage of commuters who use a bike three days a week), which is the 15th highest mode share among all 381 of the City's census tracts.  
  • South Street has few stop signs or lights, so motor vehicle speeds are high, which makes moving into the travel lane more dangerous for cyclists.  
  • South Street is a major bike route for employees/students traveling across the South Street Bridge from CHOP, HUP and Penn once the Boardwalk is built from Locust St. to the South St. bridge, more cyclists will be connected to the street from the Schuylkill River Trail.  
  • South Street also has less frequent bus service on Sundays, making using a bicycle more likely for regular commuters.
  • Toll Brothers owns a large former parking garage at 24th and Bainbridge Streets that has been sitting empty for a decade.
  • Gray's Ferry Pathmark, 0.8 miles away from the St. Mathews Church, has a largely empty parking lot that could be used in conjunction with the Church's shuttle bus and van.
Toll Brother's empty and unused parking garage
Lastly, this entire issue is emblematic of the City's problem with car parking generally.  Parking on city streets is highly undervalued ($20-$30 a year for a neighborhood permit) and parking occurs on many streets where parking doesn't make sense (middle of Broad Street, Oregon, Snyder, for example).  Meanwhile there are vacant lots or large parking lots that are underutilized.  Bike lanes generally are not well respected and are used for temporary parking by all sorts of personal, commercial and government vehicles with few repercussions, even though its technically against the law to park in a no stopping zone.  Enforcement of street parking is inconsistent (aggressive in some places, non-existent in others).  And, the church Sunday street parking system is not well enforced and easily abused.  Church parking placards are easy to obtain; anyone can download a pdf of a church parking placard from ChurchParkingforAtheists  In sum, the City's parking policies are due for a thorough review and reform.

This is certainly a difficult situation; illegal parking by church congregants on Gray's Ferry Avenue had to stop to make the neighborhood streets safe.  At the same time, churches need parking to attract and keep congregants, who are their lifeblood.   But, shifting the problem over to a new bike lane creates its own problems and sets a bad precedent for other buffered bike lanes.

If you are a local resident of this neighborhood and wish to express an opinion on this decision, contact Captain Anthony Washington in the 17th Police District at  or Angela Mortellliti in Anna Verna’s office: Angela.Mortelliti@Phila.Gov We encourage anyone contacting these public officials to be civil and courteous to them.

(Editor's Disclosure: I attend a church on Spruce who has a permit to allow parking on the 22nd Street bike lanes on Sundays during services.)


andrewlevitt said...

Excellent post, thanks for the news. Also important to note that this is the route from a bridge, and that it's arguably the safest route across the Schuylkill, so it's particularly important for users outside the neighborhood.

Chrissy said...

I think I might die of shock the day I ride up and down spruce / pine when there isn't a car with flashers parked in the bike lane. On Saturdays and Sundays this is especially bad for religious services. Why are people driving to church??

Andrew J. Besold said...

What would Jesus drive?

Aaron said...

Especially given the recent kerfuffle raised by Council over the Mayor's office "unilaterally" implementing bike lanes, I find it appalling that Verna has turned around to unilaterally implement this policy without any community input.

Church goers and anyone else parked in the bike lane shouldn't be surprised to find their mirrors missing when they return to their cars.