The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, a full service bicycle advocacy group, and a Philly Bike Expo sponsor, is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year. From its humble, grass-roots beginning in 1972, the BCGP has effectively lobbied the highest levels of city and regional governments to provide more and better accommodations for cyclists. And it appears to be working: for many years, Philadelphia has consistently ranked in the top three large cities for bike-friendliness.
"We've gone from bike-ins (bike protests) to a downtown office building." says Ashley Vogel, Development Associate with the BCGP.
What the ramping-up of influence has accomplished is impressive. Philadelphia has an extensive and ever-expanding trail network that effectively connects the suburbs to downtown. In the city itself, there is existing and planned bike infrastructure. There are adult education programs to empower current and future bicycle commuters, and a yearly increase in the numbers of people using the city's bikeshare program. And finally, there is a legacy plan: the BCGP runs a youth cycling program that travels and competes in regional races, and which is run by local cyclocross standout Taylor Kuyk-White.
What Philadelphia had naturally going for it in terms of bike accessibility was its long history as a major city. The city was planned and roads were built long before cars came onto the scene in the early 1900s. But according to Vogel, these narrow streets are a "double-edged sword."
"While the old, narrow streets do their part to discourage speed and multiple lanes of traffic, they can also become dangerous when parked cars are added to the mix."
Increasing bike infrastructure is a big goal for the organization. They are working hard to expand the city's network of protected bike lanes. Vogel claims that there are a lot of "interested but concerned" potential adult bike commuters who would make the commitment when more protected lanes are developed.
Another laudable program that the BCGP is working on is "Vision Zero", which is a bike safety initiative that aims to eliminate bicycle fatalities in the city. Vogel quoted a concerning statistic that four children are hit by cars while riding their bikes in Philadelphia each day.
But given the enormous strides made by the BCGP in its 45-year history, and the development of a dedicated paid and volunteer staff, the future for safe routes and extensive cycling infrastructure in the city of Philadelphia looks bright indeed.