I’ve complained a few times about PennDOT’s overly auto-centric planning perspective getting in the way of pro-pedestrian and pro-bike transportation and land use reforms at the local level. In the case of Bethlehem’s Fahy Bridge we are seeing the opposite problem.
PennDOT introduced a very progressive design that restores the pedestrian walkway, creates dedicated bike lanes in both directions and gets rid of the central median. It would still preserve two lanes of car traffic in each direction.
Bethlehem officials tonight debated the merits of whether to maintain the bridge’s center concrete median. State officials proposed an alternate design that did away with the median in favor of establishing a designated bike lane.
Bethlehem police Sgt. John Karb told the state officials that area bicyclists prefer shared bike lanes over designated bike lanes and that taking away the concrete median would increase head-on collisions. The concrete median also allows police to keep one side of the bridge open during running events and firework shows, he said.
“I don’t see what we gain by eliminating it,” Karb said.
A few points about this. First, the vehicular cyclists are wrong wrong wrong. If the aim is to increase bicycling, sharrows don’t do anything. Only dedicated bike lanes will get people to bicycle more. And that’s really the point of doing this. To answer Sgt. Karb’s question, what Bethlehem gains from eliminating the center median is progress toward the city’s stated goal of increasing pedestrian traffic between the Northside and Southside downtowns – a goal John Callahan has mentioned many times the past few years.
If you want to increase connectivity between the two downtowns, then you need to give people more non-driving options. The pedestrian walkway needs to get repaired and widened, and bicyclists need their own lanes. Not just because you’re aiming to increase bicycling, but also because narrowing the auto lanes is going to slow down car traffic on the bridge and make people feel safer walking and biking. Contra Sgt. Karb, I think you’ll see fewer head-on collisions if you redesign the bridge so people aren’t driving at highway speeds. One sure-fire way to do this would be to install dedicated bus lanes in the center lanes so that cars going opposite directions don’t pass directly next to each other.
If people want bike lanes back on the bridge, they should email PennDOT and register their opinions on this now while it’s in the planning stage. The Fahy bridge design could do a lot more to increase connectivity and pedestrian usage, but it’s going to be a heavy political lift.
(via Lynn Olanoff)