Senate committee gives green light to sheltered bike lanes

    This protected bike lane in Boston is buffered by a lane of parked cars, which separates cyclists from traffic. (Photo by Adam Coppola taken under contract for PeopleForBikes, released into the public domain via WikiMedia Commons.)

    Pennsylvania state lawmakers came one step closer Wednesday to authorizing safer bike lanes on state-owned streets across the Commonwealth. 

    The Senate Transportation Committee unanimously approved a bill sponsored by Sen. Larry Farnese, D-Philadelphia, that changes state parking laws to permit protected bike and pedestrian lanes — lanes on public streets with barriers sheltering them from traffic.

    Protected bike lanes have lower injury rates than other bike paths and encourage bike travel by making cyclists feel more secure on the road, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials

    But a regulation in Pennsylvania’s vehicle code, which requires cars to park within 12 inches of a curb, technically prohibits one of the most common bike lane designs: a designated cycling lane shielded from traffic by a lane of parked cars. 

    That hasn’t stopped cities such as Philadelphia from moving ahead with protected bike lane projects. But the state Department of Transportation says the regulations prevent them from doing the same on its 120,000 miles of state-owned roads. 

    Farnese’s bill creates new, separate parking regulations in the state vehicles code for on-street pedestrian walkways and bike lanes. He said he developed the proposal with city officials in Philadelphia, which is home to more than 280 miles of cycling routes. 

    Lawmakers unanimously passed identical bills in the House last year and in the Senate during the 2017-2018 legislative session, Farnese said.

    Farnese, who represents densely populated neighborhoods in center city Philadelphia, is confident Republican leaders in the Senate will bring the legislation up for a floor vote once more. 

    “This is definitely an issue that cuts across party lines,” Farnese said Wednesday. 

    Farnese made small, technical amendments to the bill Wednesday before his colleagues on the Transportation committee gave it their approval. But more amendments may arise from the senate floor, since another Philadelphia Democrat said he wants to define a clearer process for communities deciding where to locate protected bike lanes. 

    Sen. John Sabatina, D-Philadelphia, offered an amendment to the bill requiring planning agencies to obtain letters of support from community members and elected officials before building protected bike lanes. 

    The proposal drew ardent opposition from cycling advocates in Philadelphia and beyond, who said the stringent requirements could obstruct projects. 

    Sabitina withdrew the amendment on Wednesday, but said he still wanted to see opportunities for community input in the final legislation. 

    “I’m not anti-bike lanes or bicycles,” Sabatina said. “I just want the community to be involved in the process.”