Should you bike on 16th Street or 18th Street? What about Fairmount versus Spring Garden? Picking the best route for biking in and around Center City can be a challenge.

As a starting point, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia recommends taking streets with bike lanes whenever possible. That would be Pine, Spruce and Spring Garden to name a few. It also recommends avoiding streets with trolley tracks, such as 11th Street.

But there’s a few other tips hiding in the city’s crash data. A couple years ago, Azavea compiled crash statistics in Philadelphia using data from the Department of Transportation. It essentially illustrated which roads and intersections are the most dangerous for cyclists.

So what about the safest? Billy Penn looked at bike count data compiled by the DVRPC and those crash statistics and came away with a few recommendations about the safest and least safest places to bike in Philadelphia.

As a reminder, these crashes are only reported crashes, and PennDOT generally only records a reported crash if there was damage or an injury.

Never ever take Broad Street

Just don’t do it. Five of the 10 intersections with the most crashes, according to Azavea, involved Broad Street. Avoiding Broad Street may seem like common sense to hardcore cyclists, but not everyone has gotten the memo yet. According to the DVRPC, the annual average daily bicycle count for between Race and Vine streets going north on Broad, for instance, was 251, a similar amount to many of the neighboring streets that had fewer crashes.

Walnut Street Bridge > South Street Bridge

Going west into University City? Both South Street and Walnut Street bridges have bike lanes but Walnut Street Bridge might be the better option. Both bridges see about the same amount of westbound bicycle traffic, according to the DVRPC, but from 2007 to 2012 there was only one crash on and around the Walnut Street Bridge. The South Street Bridge saw six in the same timeframe.

Then, once you get over the bridge on South Street, you have to deal with one of the more confusing intersections in the city around 33rd and 34th streets as South turns into Spruce. The 34th and Spruce intersection featured the fourth-most crashes of any in Philadelphia from 2007 to 2012. A little farther west, the 38th and Spruce intersection featured the eighth-most crashes.

Washington Avenue east of Broad is hell

Washington Avenue isn’t bad on the west side of Broad Street, but once you pass Broad things get grim, even though it has a bike lane. There were more than 25 crashes on this street between Broad and Columbus Boulevard from 2007 to 2012. Problem is, the nearby streets aren’t much better. Christian had more than 15 crashes, and Ellsworth doesn’t go all the way through to Columbus Boulevard. If you’re biking east in this part of South Philly your best bet might be going down to Wharton, which had fewer crashes and has a more manageable speed limit than Washington Avenue.

9th instead of 11th and 18th instead of 16th

The DVRPC’s annual average daily bicycle count in Center City areas for both 9th and 11th streets is in the low 200s. Yet the number of crashes on 11th Street has been much higher (it also has the trolley tracks).

The same can be said for 16th and 18th streets. Crashes have been more common on 16th Street than 18th Street, largely in part because of the confusing intersection by LOVE Park, where 16th, Arch and Benjamin Franklin Parkway meet. So 18th Street is likely the better road to take. 

Fairmount versus Spring Garden

Fairmount could be the safer option in this lower North Philly area, especially east of Broad Street. It had no reported crashes from 2007 to 2012 in this stretch. Though Spring Garden will likely always have more crashes than Fairmount because of its heavy bicycle traffic, the zero crash rate is worth considering.

Mark Dent is a reporter/curator at BillyPenn. He previously worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where he covered the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Penn State football and the Penn State administration. His...