Broad Street Only Has Crazy Traffic Because Philadelphia City Government Wants It To

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Randy LoBasso followed up with Andrew Stober of the Mayor’s Office on Transportation and Utilities about the idea to put dedicated bike lanes on Broad Street.

Andrew’s a great guy, and MOTU is one of the lonely bulwarks of progressive policymaking in Philadelphia city government, so this shouldn’t be interpreted as a slam on them (obviously he is speaking for many more people than just himself here..) but I thought this was a decidedly unhelpful framing of the issue:

He told me they’ve looked at putting lanes on Broad, but between the speeding drivers, the buses, and the general fuckery (my word, not his) of traffic, “it’s not a place we want to encourage cyclists. It’s one of the reasons we put the bike lane on 13th street.”

He adds: “Putting in the infrastructure [lanes on 13th] has really helped, among other things, increase the number of cyclists on the road. We’ve had a decrease in the actual number of actual cycling accidents in the last 10 years despite the fact that the number of cyclists has increased significantly.”

Still, Broad Street has a lot of bikes riding on it, too—especially across it. So there’s a lot of potential for getting into crashes.

The current configuration of Broad Street didn’t just get zapped down to Earth in its current form. Obviously Philadelphia’s street grid was created long before the invention of the automobile. What happened is that over time, city officials intentionally configured the street into its current traffic sewer formation.

There are three wide car travel lanes (when people don’t park in the third one) and a big median down the middle:

The width of the travel lanes, and the width of the stroad in general, is the thing that makes folks drive like crazy people on Broad Street. All the problematic motorist behaviors Andrew lists would go away if we painted narrower car travel lanes, separated bike traffic from car traffic with medians, and possibly added a dedicated bus lane next to those medians. It could look like this instead:

This would make Broad Street safer for cyclists and pedestrians, and it would better align with where city transportation mode share is headed. The conception of Broad Street as primarily a fast way for commuters to drive in and out of the city is badly outdated.

The dominant view still seems to be that it needs to be that wide, because even though it is pretty empty of traffic most of the day, it needs to accommodate the traffic sewer of suburban commuters flooding out of the city at rush hour. City residents are not the drivers packing Broad at rush hour, and we should not be designing our city streets for the people trying to hightail it out of here at the end of the day.

Broad Street should be a grand avenue geared toward the people who actually live in the city, and it needs to accommodate all modes of transportation safely. A road diet that reduces the level of service for private cars will make the street that much more friendly to pedestrian foot traffic, which will help revive Broad Street’s commercial and residential fortunes – particularly on North Broad which currently is quite treacherous in the blocks closest to City Hall.

This entry was posted in Economy, Environment, Land Use, Philadelphia 2015, Transportation.

9 Responses to Broad Street Only Has Crazy Traffic Because Philadelphia City Government Wants It To

  1. Tim says:

    One challenger to remember: Broad Street is US 611, a route under state control for maintenance. It was likely easier to repaint 13th (a City street) than fight PennDOT for a reconfiguration of Broad.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Yeah I was gonna put that in, but wanted to keep it short. Basically the answer I was looking for is “A road diet would calm Broad Street, but the politics of that would be difficult because we’d need Darrell Clarke and PennDOT to get on board.”

  2. Michael Noda says:

    The argument about putting the bike lanes on 13th and 15th would have a lot of merit if it weren’t for the fact that most of the length of those bike lanes are sharrows, which are approximately the most useless traffic control markings ever devised. (OK, at least on 15th around Locust, they get to do their one job of directing bikers into the left lane. This is not common.)

    If MOTU/Streets wanted to upgrade the 13th/15th bike lanes into something awesome, preferably with physical protection, that would be one thing. (And they have a full choice as to which side of the street they want to do that on, because there are no bus routes on 13th and 15th.) But sharrows are basically a government’s way of telling you which segment of pavement they’d prefer to scrape your corpse off of.

  3. Nice. I’m all for making is a complete stroad (is that a thing?)

  4. Rob S says:

    Umm….last I checked, Broad Street is comprised of about 60% raised medians, which is necessary to accommodate Orange Line subway ventilation/maintenance grates. Not to mention the occasional columnar supports for viaducts, such as Broad Street at I-76, at I-95, and at Glenwood Ave. So, the pie-in-the-sky “let’s use the median” is fatally flawed. Also, the majority of motorists i know who utilize Broad Street are reverse commuters from South and North Philly and everywhere in between trying to get to the inner northern suburbs for work. The current highway and roadway and train network simply makes Broad Street the only logical choice of route to get to places like Elkins Park, Melrose Park, Cheltenham, and Jenkintown, Glenside, etc.
    As a part-time bicyclist and a non-car-owner, I am not inconvenienced by no bike infrastructure on Broad Street. What I think the City and other bicyclists should focus energies on instead of poor old Broad Street, is extending the 10th/13th Streets lanes/sharrows northward through the City as well as making several other complementary north-south pairs west of Broad.
    It seems to me that sometimes overenthusiastic bicyclists have much in common with the highway lobbyists of decades ago. If they had their way, Girard Avenue, Cobbs Creek, South Street and many others would have been obliterated for expressways.
    I fear that the definition of “Complete Streets” is being twisted. Complete Streets are intended to act as a network, not necessarily stand-alone complete entities. And this should be especially obvious when living/moving around a City such as ours that simply cannot physically accommodate every single use/user at all times.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      I’ll let you tangle with the transportation geek commenters on the technical issues, but on the politics I don’t take offense to the idea that Complete Streets fans are like the highway lobbyists of yesteryear. More of us should be so radical. I completely agree with your point that Philadelphia’s narrow streets cannot physically accommodate every single mode. But I take the point to imply the opposite conclusion – that when streets are too narrow to accommodate all uses, then cars should be the first mode to go. Cyclists, pedestrians and transit move many more people through the city more efficiently, and require much less in the way of physical space per capita. On the broadest streets (get it?) we can certainly accommodate all modes, and retrofitting Broad, Spring Garden, Girard, Washington, and Market, among others, with dedicated separated bike and transit lanes is hardly an impractical fantasy.

  5. Rob S says:

    Jon: I am not at all saying that when streets are too narrow, they should be given over to motorized vehicles – not by a long shot. However, the ONLY street referred to in the article I was responding to is Broad Street. So, my comments highlighted some physical issues that seem to make Broad Street (name notwithstanding) a rather illogical choice when discussing options for median-running, etc.
    Incidentally, the name “Broad Street” was given at a time when the dimensions were, indeed, broad. But putting our Broad Street in a 21st Century context, NYC Avenues are wider, and most every other American city has more than one commercial thoroughfare in their cities that are at least as wide and oftentimes much much wider. And those thoroughfares may or may not have to also contend with subway stations (which disgorge large amounts of people), designated 18-wheeler routes, main evacuation routes, designated snow emergency routes, wholly or partially raised medians that accommodate subway ventilation, medians and sidewalks partially obstructed by support columns for overhead structures, and be a designated state highway subject to state regs and requirements with regards to traffic flow, design, and maintenance.
    I am confused by your “opposite conclusion” that when streets are too narrow, then cars should “go”. If by “go” you mean, not use the narrowest of streets, then yes, I agree!
    And of course transit vehicles move people more efficiently and require much less space. I never said that is not the case. But I disagree that “On the broadest streets (get it?) we can certainly accommodate all modes”. Again, the article focused exclusively on Broad Street. And I maintain that Broad Street is far from an ideal candidate for bicycle infrastructure.
    I think there’s a larger issue at play: All broad streets are not created equal.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      I mean that when streets are too narrow to accommodate all modes, then we should start talking about removing priority status for automobiles on those streets by downgrading the level of service to a woonerf – a road where the sidewalk is level with the street and no mode has priority.

      I just continue to think it’s ridiculous that only cars are accommodated on Broad Street, and will keep pushing the issue. Broad Street doesn’t have to have the current level of service for car commuters. It can be a nice walkable pedestrian space for the people who live and work in the city.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Bottom line is that none of these complications are fatal flaws with the idea. If we can’t rip out the median we can still paint different traffic lanes for other modes in the remaining space. That parts just politics.