Haverford’s Center for Peace and Global Citizenship (CPGC) hosted a discussion in Stokes Auditorium on April 16 regarding the current difficulties of biking between the campuses of Haverford and Bryn Mawr. Approximately thirty students—including several from Bryn Mawr—and fifteen other community members attended.
Julie Miller, the Program Coordinator for the CPGC, wrote in an email announcing the event: “Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges sit less than two miles from one another, are deeply interconnected, and are each within miles of extraordinary trail networks in the City of Philadelphia and in Lower Merion Township. Yet no trails exist between the institutions. Come to this presentation to consider how this could change.”
The first speaker was Eric Hartman, Executive Director of the CPGC, who set the theme for the meeting: creating a safer environment for biking in the area surrounding the Bi-Co. Noting that he had been a bike commuter for fifteen years all around the country, he said that this was “one of the scariest places to get on a bicycle” that he had experienced.
Chris Leswing, Director of Building and Planning for Lower Merion Township, gave a presentation to discussion attendees. Though the majority of Haverford’s campus lies outside of Lower Merion Township, Bryn Mawr’s campus is entirely within the township and any bike route between the two campuses would be mostly contained within it.
Leswing expressed his view that “bikes are the future” of transportation options, but cautioned the audience that building bike infrastructure is an incremental process. Improvements such as off-street trails and bike lanes often only materialize with commercial development; Leswing explained that the township will extract these concessions in the process of approving their proposals.
Turning specifically to the Bi-Co, Leswing said that the preferred option is signing and improving a “low-stress bike route” between the campuses. Leswing acknowledged that the western part of the township, which includes the Bi-Co, currently “doesn’t have good [bike] infrastructure” because of its suburban character.
Several audience members echoed Leswing’s concerns about safety. One attendee who identified herself as a local resident recalled the death of Russell Garrett in 2010. Garrett, a professor at Haverford, was killed in a collision with a driver while cycling along West Chester Pike.
Kayla Patton BMC ’18 added that the enthusiasm that many first-years have about biking disappears once they realize how difficult it is to ride between the Bi-Co. “Lots of students who try it out find it terrifying,” she said.
Others offered tentative support. Trevor Esilu ’21, brought up the bike share program created by the Committee for Environmental Responsibility. “We have a goal of establishing a strong community of bikers,” he said.
Presenting second was Leonard Bonarek, a regional planner with the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.
He showed a map of all planned trails in the Philadelphia metropolitan area, pointing out the Valley Forge – Heinz Refuge Trail. This path would border Haverford’s campus, running alongside the Norristown High Speed Line. “We have a lot of work with SEPTA to get this done,” said Bonarek.
According to Bonarek, off-street paths like the Valley Forge – Heinz Refuge Trail are the highways of the bicycling world, while low-stress routes are the feeder streets for the trails.
Bonarek displayed the specific backstreet route between Haverford and Bryn Mawr that the Bicycle Coalition and Lower Merion Township identified. “It’s a relatively low-stress route,” said Bonarek. “It just needs some wayfinding signage to get people to use it.”
The Clerk has reproduced this two-mile-long route in Google Maps. As presented at the meeting, the suggested cycling route includes cutting across two private parking lots—owned by the parish of Our Mother of Good Counsel and Harcum College. No representatives from either institution attended the discussion.
In the long term, Bonarek expressed hope that the Bicycle Coalition could work with the county to “tame” Montgomery Avenue, providing a safe alternative to Harcum’s parking lots. According to Leswing, this could include converting Montgomery Avenue from a four-lane road to a three-lane road, which would free up space space for middle turn lanes, medians, and bike lanes.
Both Bonarek and Leswing emphasized the importance of getting Bi-Co community members to push for the creation of the new cycling route. “Just build a demand,” said Leswing, “then it’s easier to solve it.” Bonarek even brought up the possibility of “guerrilla urbanism”, encouraging audience members to put up signage along the route themselves.
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