Will the Grays Ferry Ave. Bridge feature two protected bike lanes or not?

A photo of what the Grays Ferry Avenue Bridge currently looks like | Photo courtesy of PennDOT

When renderings were initially unveiled for the new Grays Ferry Avenue Bridge, which has been under construction since early December, bicyclists were less than enthused. PennDOT’s plans for the project showed that the bridge would have a protected bike lane, but only on the eastbound side of the bridge. To make matters worse, the protected eastbound bike lane would be both bidirectional and multi-use, which means that bicyclists traveling eastbound would have to share the lane with bicyclists traveling westbound and pedestrians walking both directions. Renderings show that the westbound side of the bridge has a protected walking path and a buffered, but unprotected bike path.

Earlier this month, PlanPhilly sought to get to the bottom of why the bridge was built without a protected westbound bike lane, despite the fact that renderings seem to show that there’s room for one. According to the original version of the article, which was later amended, PennDOT spokesman Brad Rudolph said PennDOT didn’t plan to install a protected bike lane on the bridge’s westbound side “because the city never asked.” But two days later, an editor’s note appeared below the article, which clarified that the original version contained incorrect information from PennDOT. The new version had the above quote from Rudolph removed, and replaced with, “Rudolph said the city requested a protected bicycle lane with a physical barrier on the westbound lane two years ago.”

But that begs the question: if the city did indeed ask for a protected bike lane with a physical barrier on the westbound lane, then what was the reason why PennDOT’s plans didn’t – and still don’t – reflect that request?

“It doesn’t make any sense to me,” Randy LoBasso, policy manager at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, told SPR. “[PennDOT] should give something that involves protection on both sides for bicyclists because they originally said they’d do it if the city asked for it, but they later said the city did ask for it.”

Further highlighting disapproval from the city’s biking community is a petition seeking support for a protected westbound bike lane on the bridge, which surfaced at urbanist political action committee 5th Square. The petition has 351 signatures at the current time of writing.

The South Philly Review reached out to Rudolph for further clarification regarding the planned bike lanes for the bridge.

A rendering of what the Grays Ferry Avenue Bridge is currently projected to look like upon its completion at the end of next year. | Photo courtesy of PennDOT

In an email, Rudolph told SPR that at the end of the design phase for the bridge, PennDOT, the City of Philadelphia and other stakeholders had agreed to construct only a buffered bike lane on the westbound side, not a protected one. However, during final design, the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability requested that PennDOT include a physical barrier to separate the westbound bicycle lane from the westbound travel lane, similar to the one being installed on the eastbound side of the bridge.

“At that time, the project was being prepared for advertisement and coincided with the end of a funding cycle, which, if missed, would have reallocated the project’s funds to another project and delayed the completion of the structural repairs that are the primary goal of this project,” Rudolph said. He added that installing another physical barrier for a bike lane to the bridge would alter the flow of stormwater runoff, which would necessitate having its drainage system be redesigned.

“Redesigning the bridge’s drainage system would be further complicated by the deck geometry and the fact that drainage outlets on the bridge empty near CSX and Amtrak rail lines,” he said. This, according to Rudolph, would have further exceeded the originally budgeted funding allocation, “which already had increased significantly due to the discovery during the design process that the bridge’s bearings needed to be replaced instead of rehabilitated as originally planned,” he said.

But hold on now; there’s a silver lining in this whole ordeal. Despite the complexity of the situation, Rudolph affirmed that, “PennDOT is reevaluating the request to install a physical barrier to separate the westbound bicycle lane from the westbound travel lane and is working with the City of Philadelphia to find a solution to meet the needs and safety concerns of the bicycling community.” So it’s possible the bridge may just get protected bike lanes in both directions after all.

Construction on the bridge is slated to be completed by the end of next year. The total cost of the rehabilitation project, which also includes improvements to the traffic signals on Grays Ferry Avenue from Paschall Avenue to 34th Street designed to safely accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists, is slated to cost more than $13 million. The Grays Ferry Avenue Bridge connects Grays Ferry in South Philly across the Schuylkill River to Kingsessing in West Philly.