A New Era of Advocacy

Philly Bike Action! is a group of everyday cyclists organizing for safer streets for all. Their first demonstration is this week.

A New Era of Advocacy
"Tow Away Zone | No Parking | Any Time"

This upcoming Sunday, July 9, will be a major milestone in a new era of cycling advocacy in Philadelphia. Philly Bike Action! (PBA) is hosting its inaugural Sunday Slow Ride - a monthly demonstration protesting the frequent total blockage of the Circuit Trail-designated bike lanes on Spruce and Pine Streets.

Sunday Slow Ride

The ride will start at Schuylkill River Park at 10am and follow a continuous loop on the Spruce & Pine Street bike lanes where available. Where the bike lanes are blocked, as anyone who has ridden in Center City knows is as inevitable as tourists at the Liberty Bell, participants will legally occupy the primary travel lane while protesting the chronically unsafe conditions. Participants will carry decorated signs and are instructed to obey all traffic laws, engaging bystanders with nothing but kindness and courtesy. Sunday Slow Ride is ultimately about being good neighbors and sharing public space for the greatest benefit.

Spruce and Pine Street Bike Lanes

Essentially connecting the Delaware and Schuylkill River waterfronts in both directions across Center City, the Spruce & Pine bike lanes are some of the most heavily trafficked "trails" in the regional network. At the same time, they are separated from traffic only by a narrow painted buffer, and there is nothing preventing a collision between a cyclist and a motor vehicle. Since there is no physical barrier, the bike lanes are nearly always obstructed by parked and standing cars and commercial vehicles, forcing cyclists into traffic where they are threatened with physical harm or harassment by impatient motorists.

"The argument that bike lanes are for hobby cyclists is false, they are for all types of people moving across the city for all reasons." - Caleb Holtmeyer

One of the organization's long term goals is a physical barrier on Spruce and Pine Streets that would make the bike lane safe enough for children to ride alone in (there is nothing unusual about kids on bikes). Philly Bike Action! is aware of recently increased bike lane parking enforcement but posits that conflict is built into the design of roadways and that sound roadway design can eliminate conflict and the need for enforcement.

On Organizational Origins

In preparation for this article, I had the opportunity to interview one of the founders of Philly Bike Action!, Caleb Holtmeyer, who recently moved to Philly to work as a resident pathologist. As a health professional, Caleb has an intimate understanding of the relationship between transportation justice and public health. He is motivated by humanistic concerns and promptly delivers some striking examples: 40,000 people die per year in motor vehicle crashes in the U.S., motor vehicle crashes were historically the leading cause of death for children (recently surpassed by gun violence), enduring trauma, disability, and PTSD related to collisions, social isolation from physical distance and private vehicles, and auto-dependent lifestyles' contribution to both reduced physical activity levels and increased tailpipe emissions. Lessons from popular YouTube channels Not Just Bikes and Strong Towns reinforced the need to act.

Settled into Philly, Caleb joined 5th Square, a local urbanist political action committee focusing on transportation, land use, housing, and public space and began attending Wednesday Night Rides. Commiserating with others seeking more opportunities to advocate specifically for bikes, he drew on his experience organizing in St. Louis by handing out stickers and encouraging the masses to join the conversation.

Philly Bike Action!

Over the past few months, Philly Bike Action! has emerged from mere concept to a network of civic-minded cyclists over 200 strong. While wholly supportive of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and its advocacy efforts across the region, PBA is empowering everyday citizens who recognize their ability to effect change and are eager to contribute to make a meaningful impact.

One of Philly Bike Action!'s biggest goals is to overturn and repeal Chapter 12-701 of the Philadelphia code, which mandates City Council approval for converting vehicle parking or travel lanes into bike lanes. They acknowledge that this is a lofty goal that would require widespread support and for City Council to give up power. However, part of PBA's mission is to emphasize that a sizeable community has a profound interest in bike lanes and firmly believes that converting public space from a storage place for private vehicles to a safe and convenient space for efficient transportation makes the city a better place.

Philly Bike Action! is organizing through Discord, a network preferred for its ability to share media across different channels. The all-volunteer force has been purchasing and distributing stickers to get the word out about the channel, where they administer other initiatives such as Mass E-mail Monday and outreach with Registered Community Organizations (RCOs). These initiatives aim to facilitate direct engagement, make people more comfortable communicating with local representatives, and demystify the mechanisms for effecting change. Direct engagement with City Council and RCOs provides PBA with valuable insights into their positions and informs future strategic initiatives.

"Organizing as a group is important. Not enough young people or people interested in bikes are going to RCO meetings. One person can get the conversation started, and more momentum from organized groups leads to big impacts." - Caleb Holtmeyer
Schuylkill River Park, starting site for Sunday Slow Ride.

Get Involved

Subscribe to bi-weekly newsletter: bikeaction.org
Join the Conversation: Discord
Attend the Sunday Slow Ride:
Sunday, July 9, 10am at Schuylkill River Park
Spread the Word: Get stickers, buy a t-shirt, tell friends, share this article