As readers of this column know, summer 2017 has been a weird time for bicyclist-motorist relations in Philadelphia—especially in South Philadelphia, where a long-planned bikeway is slowly being rolled out by the city.
Some have reacted with internet complaints and arguments. But South Philadelphia mom Dena Driscoll has another idea: She’s planning a ride with her group of family cyclists, Kidical Mass PHL; and local police officers. The goal: to show police officers what it’s like biking the narrow streets of South Philadelphia. I caught up with Dena to talk to her about the South Philly Families and Police Community Bike Ride, happening on October 14 at 10am.
What gave you the idea to create the South Philly Families and Police Community Bike Ride?
I have planned many rides over the years in Philadelphia for families through Kidical Mass PHL (KMPHL). KMPHL group rides give caregivers/parents both confidence about biking with kids and a sense of community among caregivers who use bicycling for transportation and recreation. Much like that, I want to give caregivers the opportunity to share our community of families who bike with our local police districts who may not think of us when they think “bicyclists.” I know our local police do all kinds of community partnerships and since South Philly has one of the highest rates of bike commuters in the country I thought they too would want to work with our community.
What do you hope the police officers on the ride experience, riding through South Philadelphia?
My biggest hope is that this will build a new relationship between the family biking community and officers. I hope officers gain a better understanding of the hardship of riding in South Philadelphia without any dedicated bicycle infrastructure. Without bike lanes, the safest place for families to bike on our narrow streets is in the middle of the traffic lane in queue with cars. This often causes confusion for car drivers and even police officers who do not think this is legal. It is actually illegal in PA to pass a bicyclist without 4 full feet of space between the bike and a car.
There was a lot of online debate—which was often negative—this summer between cyclists and non-cycling South Philly residents. Why do you think that was?
The biggest issue seemed to be this summer that those who do not cycle seem to forget that the people who do cycle are still their neighbors. They are neighbors who just happen to use a bicycle to get to work, to pick up children, to shop and yes to go home safely each night to their loved ones.
So, would you say this ride at all is a reaction to that?
Sadly, this attitude of “Get out of the way you don’t belong here” has existed much longer than this summer. So the ride is more of a reaction to the continued escalation of drivers who feel “safe” inside their car to harass bicyclists and particularly mothers and their children on bikes. I do not want to see this attitude end in the murder of person biking by a car driver in South Philadelphia.
For more information, check out Kidical Mass PHL on Facebook.