There is no direct or really straightforward route, but taking 21st Street (and then 20th) through Point Breeze allows you to pass through FDR Park, where skateboarders hit the vast ramps under I-95, tennis players play and one old solitary and shirtless man in a beach chair takes in the sun over his leathery and tattooed skin.
5) Spruce and Pine streets Center City bike lanes and the new South Street Bridge revolutionized cross-town travel. “If I hit those green lights, I can get up my speed and move from Rittenhouse to Washington Square in a matter of minutes,” writes the Bicycle Coalition’s Megan Rosenbach. “A traffic buffer on my left and no car doors to worry about on my right create a very enjoyable ride!” West Philly to Old City was dangerous and exhaust-filled when you had to take Chestnut, but it’s better now.
1) Benjamin Franklin Parkway: Descending eastbound over the Spring Garden Bridge, I always get a lump in the back of my throat staring out into Eakins Oval, the hellish multi-pronged traffic circle at the western edge of Benjamin Franklin Parkway. This is a horrible place to bike, whether you plan to continue up the Parkway toward City Hall or to cut north onto Spring Garden. To accomplish the latter, you have to cut left into the bike lane, hoping that cars speeding at more than 50 miles per hour from two different directions don’t hit you and then cut right again, to cross onto Spring Garden.
“Too many lanes filled with impatient, oblivious cars,” says Mirra. “Even with the bike lane, I feel like I’m playing Frogger with cars.”
Unfortunately, this is a major and indispensable route for many bicycling Philadelphians. May the Rocky statue grant you the necessary courage.
2) Girard Avenue. The great east-west throughway, named after the famous uber-wealthy Philly financier Stephen Girard, stretches from Fishtown, past the Zoo and into West Philly. But the road has (generally) just one lane of traffic each way, trolley tracks, no bike lane and parking on both sides. It’s a biking nightmare.
“Trolley tracks plus narrow lanes plus inconsistent shoulder equals unpleasant biking,” says Mirra.
Cecil B. Moore Avenue may be your best bet for parts of this route.
“Girard is a complicated street,” says Stober. “It has a lot of different types of traffic moving on it with the trolley and a high volume of vehicle traffic.”
3) Though the South Street Bridge is now open, Grays Ferry Bridge is still your best bet from much of Southwest and West Philly to South Philly.
“Biking that bridge feels like I’m playing Mario Kart, and not in a joyful way,” says Mirra. “Unseen cars ahead of me have tossed rocks, glass and nails on the shoulder to pop my tires. Cars behind me are roaring past at 45 mph. I half expect to get hit by a red turtle shell and tossed into the Schuylkill, but there’s no floating referee in a white cloud waiting to fish me out.”
Unfortunately, the bridge is covered with glass and other novel debris, which cyclists dodge as volleys of traffic shoot by.
“It is really convenient,” Stober acknowledges. “It makes it onto your worst list because people know it because they use it so much.”
A separated bike lane, a few speed bumps and an occasional cleanup would make a world of difference.
4) Baltimore Avenue, West Spruce, Powelton, Kensington Avenue and all of those bike lanes next to parked cars: Baltimore Avenue, the main drag of queer, anarchist, vegan, crusty West Philly? It couldn’t be—but it is! I know two people who have had car doors opened into them, one of whom broke her collarbone. A sleepy side street where you can bike down the middle of the road may be slower than a big street bike lane, but it is always safer to bike without parked cars immediately to your right.
5) Along the Delaware River, Columbus and Delaware avenues are both horrible places to bike, along a generally nightmarish waterfront populated by big-box stores, the debacle of Penn’s Landing and a casino, sandwiched between highway-like thoroughfares and I-95, an actual highway. One day, this could get a whole lot better, as plans to remake the waterfront into something walkable, livable and truly-cool-to-be-at advance. A multi-use trail is in the proposed master plan.
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PW's Summer Guide 2015