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The Philadelphia Bike Story

Of U.S. cities with more than a million residents, the one where people bike the most is Philadelphia. In 2012, the U.S. Census estimated Philadelphia’s bicycle commute rate at 2.3 percent [PDF], higher than Chicago (1.6 percent) and New York (1.0 percent).

It's just about always been that way. That comes as a surprise to many people, since Philadelphia doesn't have a lot of bike infrastructure. But there are other street design and urban design factors at work, many due to the fact that Philadelphia is an old city.

For one, the city has a lot of narrow streets. That makes it tougher to add bike lanes, but it also means motorists tend to travel at speeds that don't intimidate people on bikes. On average, people also live closer to their jobs than in most other places, making bike commuting a better option. Stop signs are more prevalent than signals, and where there are traffic lights, the sequencing is short, so people on bikes don't have to wait long at intersections. In the end, most people bike because it is the fastest, most convenient option.

Thanks to Alex Doty, executive director of the Bike Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, and all the other bicyclists I got to speak with. They'll tell you plenty more reasons why biking is good there, and how it could be better.

Clarence Eckerson Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • tbatts666

    Beautiful. Lots of people with slow bikes! And cargo bikes!!

    Really challenges the idea that good infrastructure = more bikes. Def not that simple. Zoning, land use, and street standards might be more important.

    Love the shot of the tricycle rider at the end.

  • Maurice Carter

    For me, it challenges the notion our streets are not wide enough to support all would-be users (cars, transit, bike, ped). Watching this, I realize most of the streets/roads (Chuck Marohn would call them stroads) are too wide -- especially here in Atlanta where I live. This film gives a great visceral contrast to what it's like to bike here amidst six lanes and 45-55 mph traffic.

  • Bobberooni

    In Philadelphia, "the median household income in 2013 was
    $36,836, down 7.9 percent from 2008 when the median household income was
    $40,008 (in 2013 dollars)" [Wikipedia]. It is second only to Detroit in the race to the bottom. I'll bet more people are biking in Philly because they have no choice.

    Not exactly a reason to bike others should be seeking to emulate...

    Philadelphia also sprawls quite a bit in the neighborhoods (albeit higher-density sprawl), and the lack of street sweeping poses a serious hazard to any bicycles that seeks to "ride as far to the right as is praticable."

  • vnm

    Looks great! I'm ready for a Streetsblog Philly!!

  • Globus

    This just might be the worst comment I have read on Streetsblog in quite a while. Obviously this person didn't watch the film, I didnt hear one person say they biked because of the money. To assume that is the reason why everyone is biking in Philadelphia is asinine.

  • Philly native

    Philadelphia would do well to implement more low-traffic streets on those narrow streets. Speeds are low, but traffic volumes are high, and while that does leave Philly ahead of many U.S. cities, it's not where it could be. @Philambulator has a great proposal to cut down on that problem by cutting off through-traffic on those streets, which would leave the same amount of resident parking. I suggest people check it out.

  • http://walkbikejersey.blogspot.com/ Andy B from Jersey

    At 4:49 you almost got it into frame. The "Walk Bikes on Ramp" sign. Are we serious?!?! Is it 1978 all over again?!?! I was VERY disappointed to see these on the Schuylkill Banks and EVERY OTHER bike bridge in the city. The new "bike" bridge over the train tracks was also not designed with cyclist in mind. So many sharp turns with metal handrails ready clip your bars and landings with steps. WHAT THE HELL!

    I love riding in Philly but all this new "bike infrastructure" on the river was not even designed with cyclists in mind. The fact that the BCGP just rolled over and didn't say anything about this leaves me very disappointed.

  • Laiba Abro