Thursday, November 08, 2012

A Q&A For Common Questions About The Complete Streets Bill

The Complete Streets bill being discussed in City Council next week will have many positive long-term effects upon Philadelphia streets. You can read more about the bill in our post from this morning, but some of the language is a bit Planning-Speaky (different from a Planning Speakeasy, which is a bar where the drink list is GIS-compatible. Eh! Eh? Anybody?).

So got a question about the bill? See if we address it below. If not, leave a comment and we'll answer it.
Hooray for Mark Squilla!

Q: Will the bill stop cars from parking in bike lanes?
A: Yes, in the sense that it will make such parking illegal (no law will keep all street users from following all laws all the time). Currently, there's no law prohibiting vehicles from stopping, standing, or parking in bike lanes.

This bill will make it clear that bicycle lanes are vehicular travel lanes. That distinction opens the door for equal application of existing laws. So if the street signs say "No Stopping" or "No Standing," you can't stop or stand there, whether it's a vehicular or bicycle lane. The bill then goes farther, explicitly prohibiting cars from parking in any bike lane no matter whether there's a "No Parking" sign or not.

The fines for violating these provisions will be $50, and $75 in both Center City and University City. However... (see below)

Q: Hooray! I will never see a car in a bike lane again!
A: Slow down, big guy. There remains a different part of the traffic code which allows vehicles to load/unload passengers in places where parking is otherwise prohibited. It also allows commercial vehicles a 20-minute load/unload window. So bike lanes can still be used for these purposes. Also, this bill will not affect the City's policy of allowing Sunday parking in Pine and Spruce Streets for religions institutions.

Q: Seriously? Pine and Spruce weekend lane parking is, like, literally the worst thing in the world.
A: Chill, Winston. This bill, while a huge win for bicyclists and pedestrians, is not solving every problem. The City allowed religious institution parking on Pine and Spruce before those bike lanes existed, and continuing that allowance was a big part of getting the lanes in the first place. We don't like it, no, but that issue is not really an enforcement issue.

Q: So what meaningful effect will this have on the prevalence of stopped cars in the bike lanes?
A: This bill cleans up and consolidates the rules. Ultimately, its effect will be a question of enforcement. But this bill will take confusion about the laws off the list of excuses for lack of enforcement. Now the laws are in one place, explicitly stating what is and isn't allowed, and showing the fines for infringement. That didn't exist before. When talking to the Police and the PPA about enforcement, it will be much easier to point to this legislation and say, "Okay, how will this be enforced?"

Q: What about fines? I hear if I blow through a red light the fine is going up.
A: Actually, it is not going up. Currently non-parking violations for bicycles in Philly are $3. But state law trumps city law for the same violation. So any bicyclist receiving a ticket would have received the state fine. This bill merely aligns Philly code with state code. Incidentally, the fine for running a red light in a car or on a bike is $119.50.

One exception: the bill increases the fine for sidewalk riding from $50 to $75. Which nobody over age 12 should be doing anyway.

Q: So maybe we could have passed the bill and not done that alignment?
A: The alignment is also a modernization which takes some bad laws off Philly's books. Among them: the mandatory sidepath law, and the single-file law. Currently, you cannot ride a bicycle on a street if there is a nearby sidepath (example: MLK Drive in Fairmount Park). It's also currently illegal in Philly to ride bicycles two abreast. Bringing Philly's traffic code up to state standards removes these two rules, which is unquestionably a good thing.

Q: Why is this "Complete Streets" thing a thing? Don't we already have sidewalks and stuff?
A: Look at the two photos of Allegheny Ave in this blog post.  Requiring all private and public transit and development projects to consider all street users will result in much safer and more enjoyable streets. Things like bike lanes, sufficiently wide sidewalks, bike corrals, curb bump outs, covered bus stops, and other design treatments (aka "stuff on or near the street") will help people get around Philly by whatever means they choose.

The bill also holds developers, both public and private, accountable for considering everybody's needs when building something. There will be a checklist they'll have to use, and that checklist and their compliance with it, will be made public online (no walking into the Municipal Service Building to ask to see a file). The Complete Streets Handbook on which this is all based will combine the recommendations of many different reports and initiatives that have friendly, green streets in mind: the City's Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, Philadelphia 2035, the Zoning Code Commission Report, Greenworks Philadelphia, and the Green City, Clean Waters Plan. It'll all be in one place, making it easier for developers to adhere to the standards, and will give these good intentions for Philly's future the weight of law.

For more information about the Complete Streets movement, visit its website.


andrewlevitt said...

Very good news!

I'm still a little stuck on the whole stopping thing: if a zone is "No Stopping", anyone can still stop for loading/unloading passengers and commercial goods? Clever! They should invent a special kind of super no-stopping zone that means that you can't stop your car.

Anyways, this is clearly a big accomplishment and step forward and kudos to Councilman Squilla and the Bike Coalition for their hard work! Here's to an easy passage of the bill and hearty enforcement effort from PPA and our police.