Overview of 6th and Market Streets in Old City, with the Independence Visitors Center and U.S. Courthouse. (Mark Henninger/Imagic Digital)

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New bike lanes slated for Market Street in Old City will be Philly’s first with a curb-protected design common in cities around the country.

The lanes will be installed on both sides of East Market from 6th to 2nd streets as part of a larger streetscape transformation designed with both bikers and walkers in mind. It will remove a car lane on each side, add sidewalk bumpouts and “bulb outs” for bus riders, and raise the asphalt within the intersection at 2nd Street.

That stretch of Market is “kind of the gateway in a lot of ways to Old City, and right now it is overbuilt from a vehicle perspective,” said Jeannette Brugger, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. “We want it to be a world-class walking neighborhood and encourage car-free travel as a choice.”

The project is part of a long-term plan by the Old City District, the entity charged with bettering the area, to improve public space in the neighborhood. 

It’s also one of several bike lane projects around the city that are about to launch or are in advanced planning stages, including long stretches of new protected lanes on 13th Street and on Walnut Street in West Philly. 

An unusual design for Philly (if not elsewhere)

Philadelphia has hundreds of miles of bike lanes marked by nothing more than a line of paint. An additional 25 miles are separated bike lanes

As the name implies, those lanes are separated from traffic — by at least a wide painted buffer. Many are fully or partially protected by flexible plastic posts, and in several stretches, by a row of parked cars as well.

Mayor Jim Kenney had vowed the city would have 40 miles of separated lanes by 2025. In recent comments, he set 2026 as the target completion date.

Cyclists can also access protected routes like the multimodal Schuylkill River Trail and the raised bikeway on the Delaware River Trail, which resembles a sidewalk for bikes. On North American Street, there’s a unique bike lane with a concrete buffer down the middle of the road, next to the median strip.

A 2017 rendering of how the new East Market Street bike lanes might work. (JVM Studio/Old City District)

But the planned, 4-block-long East Market Street lanes will be the first on-street bikeways that run next to the sidewalk with raised concrete protection on the other side, physically keeping cars from entering the lanes. 

For Philly, that’s “unusual, and it’s exciting,” said Brugger, a planner with the Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability or OTIS. 

“In many, many other cities across the nation — in New York and Boston and DC, in Portland, Chicago, Seattle — they’ve all gone towards concrete separation, and we’re excited to do it as well,” she said.

Projects aim to close network gaps

The Market Street project requires moving curbs, pouring concrete, and other construction work that make it a bigger lift than most bike lane installations. Brugger said it could be a year or more before the work begins.

However, she said that after years of planning by the Old City District and OTIS, City Council appears to be moving toward giving required legislative approval. A committee hearing on several bike lane bills is tentatively scheduled for June 1.

A more typical bike lane will be installed around the corner on 2nd Street over the next couple months, per Brugger of OTIS. 

Starting this month, the city will repave nearly a mile of 2nd Street from Callowhill to Dock Street. Crews will reinstall the existing separated bike lane between Callowhill to Race, and extend that lane down to Market Street

Cyclists heading south from North Liberties already use that route to enter Old City and turn right on Market to head into Center City. Soon they’ll be able to do so while remaining in a separated bike lane for more of the trip.

“It’s not as though folks stop biking when a bike lane stops. It’s a network, and you have to get somewhere, and you don’t just bike along on bike lanes,” Brugger said. “We’re working on expanding and connecting our bike networks, and this is a part of that.”

More miles of protected lanes are coming

OTIS’ Complete Streets program envisions many other separated bike lanes around the city. One major project starting this month is the repaving and installation of a new separated lane on 1.3 miles of 13th Street between Spring Garden and South streets

“That’s one of our major northbound thoroughfares. Having that as a separated bike lane is a big safety improvement for folks,” Brugger said.

The existing painted bike lane will be moved to the west, or left, side of the street. That way cyclists won’t be in drivers’ blind spots and are less likely to have a “serious conflict” with a vehicle, according to OTIS. The department will also put in flexible delineator posts and new signage.

Milling of 2nd and 13th streets to remove the top layer of asphalt started last week and will be finished in about a month, with repaving, painting, and the new bike lanes to follow, Brugger said.

An even bigger project is the planned conversion of the painted bike lane along 30 blocks of Walnut Street, between 33rd and 63rd streets, into a separated lane with flexible posts. It’s the second part of an initiative that brought a separated bike lane to a stretch of Chestnut Street last year. 

The 3-mile-long Walnut Street project will be done by the state Department of Transportation and is scheduled to begin later this year, Brugger said.

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Meir Rinde is an investigative reporter at Billy Penn covering topics ranging from politics and government to history and pop culture. He’s previously written for PlanPhilly, Shelterforce, NJ Spotlight,...