Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Juniper Street Bike Bouevard has some European-esque ideas for transforming some of Philadelphia's narrow Center City streets (many cities would call them alleys) into designated bike-mostly streets. It's an interesting proposal. After all, Philadelphia is fast becoming America's most bike-accommodating town. I refuse to say "bike-friendly." If you're in your invincible twenties or simply a hipster without a care, you probably ride your bike around Center City. Someone is using the hundreds of miles of new bike lanes.

However it's anything but friendly. Every time I ponder taking my bike to the street I hear some Yellow Tag honking his horn from five blocks away. It's like they smell me. Drivers barrel through bike lanes, perturbed that someone dare bike to the 7-11. Cyclists can be just as ruthless. I have a car and when I drive (rarely), I carefully traverse these slow moving obstacles, only to be met with a glare or a choice finger for daring to shift into second. Some places can't be reached by bike, and sometimes I like going there.

It's understandable. The relationship between cyclists and motorists in Philadelphia is old and dysfunctional. Despite efforts to make the city a destination for cyclists, the shared hatred is already established. I bike, and in the summer I bike a lot...for recreation. Therefore I walk by bike to the Art Museum and bike the Schuylkill River Trail. I wouldn't dare take on a surface street in South Philadelphia where cars seem to outnumber houses three to one and "land yacht" isn't an antiquated term, or worse, to West Philadelphia where the tolerated speed limit in a 25MPH zone is about 60.

So what if Center City had cross streets designated for biking? Could Juniper be closed to traffic, perhaps excusing delivery trucks and parking garage access? It probably could. As thisoldcity points out, these streets are devoid of street parking. They're too narrow and burdened with stop signs to use to quickly motor uptown. Restricting these streets to limited traffic in lieu of cyclists would have a minimal impact on drivers.

But then why aren't they already bastions of bikers? Instead of choosing the bike lanes on the 12th and 13th speedways where harried commuters treat bikers like points in a video game, why don't cyclists use easy, breezy Juniper? It's certainly safer to traverse Center City through our enumerable, tiny side streets, conveniently available to bike throughout Center City. If Juniper and other small streets were closed to motor vehicles, would cyclists choose to use them if they don't already?

Of course this isn't the first proposed closure of Center City's quaint side streets. Drury Street is already lined with narrow sidewalk tables, and Camac Street is lined with taverns. Closing these streets to traffic and improving the lighting would allow for expanded outdoor seating that could be integrated in tandem with slow moving bike lanes. With cafes, restaurants, and bars already cornered up to Juniper Street at numerous intersections, and the potential redevelopment of the Hale Building at Chestnut, businesses could be encouraged to open facing a pedestrian and bike promenade on a newly lit and lushly landscaped Juniper.

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