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Sharing the Road: Why Bike Lanes Matter

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Untitled2As a regular Philadelphia bicyclist, I enjoy the special connection with our streets that bicycling facilitates. The staccato hum of city life, the nuanced topography of street pavement, and the thousand moving parts that make up every city block – bicycling in Philadelphia means being able to quickly parse all that stimulus and identify obstacles before they become dangers.

One obstacle every Philly bicyclist must negotiate is cars parked in a bike lane. These cars bother me more on principle than in practice. I am comfortable riding in line with cars, and merging in and out of bike lanes when needed. No, the real frustration of these interloping steel squatters is one I feel on behalf of bicycling as a whole and inexperienced bicyclists in particular.

Bicyclists are some of Philadelphia’s most vulnerable street users. The benefits and joys of bicycling, to both individuals and a city, are so massive and indisputable that the City of Philadelphia is wisely encouraging bicycling. But Philly’s bike lanes are (sadly) mostly just paint, an arbitrary section of street designated for the exclusive use of bicycles. We have exerted tremendous effort to get that measly territory. And yet we remain vulnerable to injury by distracted, ignorant, or contemptuous drivers who ignore that paint.

So a car parked in a bike lane feels like an invasion by a bully, a threat to our fragile claim as legitimate street users. When the bike lane is blocked by a parked car, all we can do is holler and swerve. And that car embodies nearly every negative bicycling experience we’ve ever had. After all, every bicyclist can relate stories of being honked at, yelled at, intimidated, or physically run off the road by a driver who told us we did not belong in the street.

A bike lane filled with parked cars is no longer a bike lane. And bike lanes are a training ground for less experienced bicyclists. Bike lanes are how new bicyclists get comfortable in the street. It can be scary to be forced to merge into a lane of moving cars because you need to get around a parked car. Disrupt bike lanes and you push inexperienced bicyclists onto sidewalks, or back into their cars.

This is why bicyclists’ anger over cars parked in bike lanes can seem so fervent, and why resentment grows so quickly when there are no perceived repercussions for these transgressions. Bicyclists cannot defend our right to the street by ourselves. It is crucial for the PPA and the Police Department to respect and protect bicyclists by proactively enforcing the laws concerning bike lanes.




About the author: Nicholas Mirra is the Communications Coordinator for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. He has been biking around Philly since, oh, 2009 or so. He has also written for PlanPhilly, Fangraphs, and The Onion.



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