In the past few years, the City of Philadelphia has done an admirable job adding more bicycle lanes throughout Center City. These lanes, in theory, promote the safe coexistence of bicycles, motorists and pedestrians. In streets with bicycle lanes, bikers have to stay in the lane and off the sidewalk and traffic lanes. Vehicles have to also stay out of the bicycle lanes. And pedestrians are free from bikers riding on the sidewalk.
In reality, of course, it’s not that simple. As city bicyclists know, bicycle lanes are often occupied or blocked by construction, delivery trucks or parked cars. The Complete Streets Bill, passed by City Council last year, explicitly prohibits parking in bicycle lanes and increases fines for bicycle violations to $75 (from $3). Of course, the City also has a long-standing tradition of allowing cars near religious institutions to park in the bike lanes on weekends, particularly if they have pamphlets from those institutions on their dashboards.
As a runner in Center City, I find myself on streets with bicycle lanes, such as Spruce, Pine, 13th and 22nd. And admittedly, I often run in those lanes instead of on the sidewalk. The primary reasons have to do with the perils of the sidewalk: the surface is often uneven due to root growth and lack of maintenance (leading to a risk of injury), and there are lots of pedestrians who walk slowly and take up the entire width of the sidewalk. Meanwhile, the bicycle lane is flat and too tempting to pass up.
I’ve learned, of course, that running in the bike lane is somewhat hazardous for bikers, who would have to avoid runners by potentially veering into the vehicle lane. Still, I’d rather not increase the chance of a turned ankle if I can avoid it. And truthfully, bikers face greater hazards from parked cars and vehicles veering into the lane.
As an experienced cyclist and runner explained, there is a solution if you have to run in the bike lanes through Center City. Instead of running with traffic, run in the bicycle lane only against traffic (e.g., running eastbound on Spruce and westbound on PIne) and be ready to immediately jump onto the sidewalk upon sighting any bikes heading your way.
The roads of Philadelphia are meant to be shared by vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians/runners. And if the roads/sidewalks were always well-maintained and pedestrians chose not to take up the entire width of the sidewalk, there would be no need for runners to venture off into bicycle lanes. So if we, as runners, choose to do so, let’s at least minimize the risk to all involved.