The Four "E"s

December 09, 2009

Chris Kingsley, Fels Research Associate

Philadelphia's conflict between drivers and cyclists made the New York Times last week.  The Times quoted the Inquirer's contribution to the debate, "Two Wheeled Hazards", and offered some good advice from Wiley Novell:

“The solution isn’t a million tickets,” he said. “The solution is ultimately a shift in behavior to more civic-minded cycling. We have a huge opportunity right now in New York city. There are tens of thousands of new bikers on the street and they’re malleable, they don’t have bad behavior ingrained.” The answer, he said, is better cyclist education.

But why force a false choice between education and enforcement?  These interventions are complimentary, and if City Council is serious about changing bicycling behavior in Philadelphia (as opposed to introducing a series of dubious penalties) it has plenty of room to support Mayor Nutter's initiatives in both areas, plus encourage the city's many responsible cyclists and continue to engineer streets that accomodate both two- and four-wheeled traffic. These "4Es" are kitchy, but they describe an approach that works.

Take Mayor Nutter's recycling agenda as an example.

Philadelphia landfilled all but 7% of its waste 2007, ranking among the worst U.S. cities.  One of Mayor Nutter's first actions in office was to re-engineer the city's collection system (single stream) and launch a high-profile education campaign (RecyclePhilly). A civic campaign grew around the effort, and by 2009 Philadelphia more than doubled its recycling rate from 7% to 15%.  Last week, the city announced that plans are underway to add the RecycleBank incentive scheme in 2010.  As recycling goes mainstream, it is becoming practical for the city's SWEEP officers to begin enforcing city laws that mandate recycling.  That's all four of the "E"s, and a remarkable success at changing the behavior of hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians.

How does the Nutter administration's approach to bicycling compare?  Well, it has pieces of egineering and education: the city recently completed cross-town bicycling lanes on Spruce and Pine Streets, adopted a "complete streets" policy, and partnered with the Bicycle Coalition to field a team of "bike ambassadors" to fan out across the city to give safety presentations.  The Bicycle Coalition even has a safety course it plans to offer through Philadelphia schools beginning in 2010.  Enforcement by PPD "blitzes" is unlikely to change bicyclists behavior in a lasting way, but consistent ticketing is clearly worth trying if it includes a commitment to ticket drivers who discourage positive cyclists by crowding them off the streets.

It's early days, yet, and there is MUCH more that can and ought to be done in this vein  in terms of signage, bike lanes, safety training and encouragement of responsible biking.   Let's encourage Council to get behind these programs rather than pursuing a menu of more expensive fines and  new regulations.  We know how to fix this proble -- but that's not it.

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