Bike Smarter: How Left-Side Bike Lanes Protect Philadelphia Bicyclists

Bike Smarter: How Left-Side Bike Lanes Protect Philadelphia BicyclistsIn the past, bicycling was viewed as a purely recreational activity. In recent years, however, more people bike than ever before — as a way of exercising, getting to work, or simply to reduce their burden on the environment.

The increased number of bicycles on the road has led to more collisions between vehicles and bikes, often with deadly results. Cities, including Philadelphia, have become more sensitive to the need for bike lanes to protect cyclists.

However, one aspect that often is not considered is the location of these bike lanes. In the opinion of Philadelphia bike accident attorneys, left-side bike lanes are a better choice for local bicyclists and may be instrumental in reducing the number of accidents in our city.

Why the Location of Bike Lanes Matters

The benefits of installing bike lanes on the left side of the road are numerous. From the perspective of a Philadelphia bike accident attorney, the increased safety for bicyclists is the most important. Left-side lanes achieve this goal in two ways.

First, having bike lanes on the left side increases the visibility of bicyclists to motorists. Drivers have larger blind spots on the right side of their vehicles than on their left side. These right side blind spots are even more prominent for large trucks and buses.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has termed them the “No-Zones,” and recommends that vehicles pass trucks and buses on the left, as the blind spot on the right side of a large vehicle can run its length and extend out three lanes. Given these realities, it only makes sense that bike lanes would be placed on the left side of the street, where drivers are better able to see bicyclists.

Second, locating bike lanes on the left side of the street reduces the number of dangerous intersections for bicyclists. Philadelphia has experienced a number of unfortunate accidents where a vehicle hit a bicyclist while making a turn in an intersection, including one in November 2017 where a young woman was killed by a garbage truck at 11th and Spruce Street. Bike lanes on the left side of the street decrease the likelihood of collisions between bicyclists and motorists taking right-hand turns.

The concept of placing bicycle lanes on the left side is backed by transportation engineers.  According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, bike lanes “may be placed on the left if there are a significant number of left-turning bicyclists or if a left-side bike lane decreases conflicts, for example, those caused by heavy bus traffic, heavy right-turn movements, deliveries, or on-street parking.” As described below, Philadelphia meets these criteria and is an ideal city for the installation of left side bike lanes.

benefits to left-side bike lanes

In addition to increasing safety for bicyclists, left-sided bike lanes are simply more practical than bike lanes on the right side of the street. Buses load and unload passengers on the right side of the street, so locating bike lanes on the left side reduces the possibility of conflict between buses and bikes. It also lessens the chances of a crash between bicyclists and delivery drivers, as truck loading zones are frequently on the right side of the street.

The concept of left-side bike lanes is not new; they have been successfully implemented in cities across the country, from San Francisco to Boston to Washington, DC. Doing the same in Philadelphia will help to reduce the incidence of bike accidents and keep both drivers and bicyclists safer.

The Need for Left-Side Bike Lanes in Philadelphia

In Philadelphia, there are currently 11 left-side bike lanes, with plans to build even more. The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia (BCGP) has been a driving force behind the move to install more left-side bike lanes in the city. Its strong advocacy has helped to push the issue of left-side bike lanes to the forefront of city safety issues.

11 left-side bike lanes in PhiladelphiaAccording to the BCGP, Spruce and Pine Streets are among the most heavily-biked streets in Philadelphia. The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission has counted nearly 1,000 bikes a day on each street through its automatic counters.  The BCGP’s numbers back up this data, finding in its counts that 6 of the 12 most heavily biked streets in Philadelphia are along Spruce and Pine Streets. On these streets, there were 60 reported collisions between bicycles and vehicles. These crashes occurred between 2009 and 2016 and happened between Front Street and 23rd Street.

The majority of these crashes — 37 out of 60, or 61% — were angle accidents, which are collisions that occur at intersections.

Based on the layout of Spruce and Pine Streets, the BCGP believes that the likely cause of these accidents is the failure of the vehicle to see or yield to a bicyclist in their lane when turning right.

Given the prevalence of these types of crashes, the need for left-side bike lanes in Philadelphia is clear. While 11 bike lanes is a start, more are needed to help reduce the number of Philadelphia bike accidents and to keep all bicyclists safe.

How Bicyclists Can Stay Safe on Roads without Bike Lanes

Unfortunately, not every town or street in the greater Philadelphia area has bike lanes — let alone left-side bike lanes. If you are an avid bicyclist, follow these tips from a Philadelphia bike accident attorney to stay safe without a bike lane:

  • Follow the rules of the road: Stop at red lights and stop signs, and obey all other traffic signals, just as you would in a car.
  • Always wear safety gear: This should include the basics, such as a helmet, plus any extras, such as pant clips, that you may need.
  • Make yourself visible: Purchase and wear reflective clothing, and install lights and reflectors on your bike, particularly if you ride in low light conditions.
  • Stay out of drivers’ blind spots: This is especially important at traffic lights and stop signs, or wherever a driver might be making a turn.
  • Pay attention to the road: Drive in a straight line, avoid distractions such as your phone, and watch the traffic around you.
  • Signal well: Learn bike signals, and be sure to use them.

Advocating for Bike Lanes in Your Community

Bike lanes can help make us all safer, and they can even ease congestion as more people may opt to bike to work instead of driving if bike lanes were available. If you live outside of Philadelphia, it may be challenging to know how to get your town to install bike lanes. Fortunately, there is a straightforward way for anyone in the greater Philadelphia area to advocate for pro-bicycle legislation: working with the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

Bike lanes make us saferThe BCGP works in the eight Pennsylvania and New Jersey counties surrounding Philadelphia to help bring awareness of the need for more bike-friendly laws and regulations. It is currently working to advocate for trails throughout the Greater Philadelphia area; these trails form part of the Circuit. You can join the Circuit Trails Commitment Campaign to advocate for trails in your area to link up to the Circuit, which has an ultimate goal of 750 miles of interconnecting trails.

The BCGP also works with local municipalities to request that they build new roads with multiple uses, known as a Complete Streets policy. You can join the Complete Streets movement here. Finally, the BCGP advocates for bike lanes on PennDOT and County roads that are suitable for bike lanes.  You can get involved by joining the BCGP group, and by being active in its work.

Work with a Philadelphia Bike Accident Attorney

we're here for you after a bike accidentThe experienced Philadelphia bike accident attorneys of Solnick & Associates have partnered with the Bike Coalition of Greater Philadelphia because we have seen the impact of devastating bike accidents on our clients, and understand the importance of reducing the number of these crashes in our city. If you have been hurt in a bike accident, we are here for you. We are dedicated to helping our clients recover from their injuries. To schedule a free initial consultation, contact us today.