The story behind the Science Center's ill-fated 'No bike parking' sign - Technical.ly Philly

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Dec. 4, 2015 12:34 pm

The story behind the Science Center’s ill-fated ‘No bike parking’ sign

The lesson here? Don't mess with Women Bike PHL, the 2,000-cyclist strong Facebook group.

The sign in question at 3737 Market St. RIP.

(Photo by Carolyn Auwaerter)

The signs appeared one day but Carolyn Auwaerter didn’t notice them.

“ATTENTION NO BIKE PARKING,” they read, candy-cane striping lining the edges. “USE BIKE RACKS IN DESIGNATED AREAS.”

Auwaerter, 30, of West Philly, had been riding to and from the University City Science Center’s sleek new 3737 Market Street building for the past few weeks for doctor’s appointments, usually locking her bike, a beige Bianchi, to a pole right outside the building. That Monday morning was no different. Except that when she left the building’s glass atrium and went to unlock her bike, a security guard from the Science Center came out to tell her she wasn’t allowed to lock her bike there. He pointed to the signs.

But Auwaerter had heard of these signs before, thanks to the private, 2,000-member Women Bike PHL Facebook group of which she’s a part, and she seemed to remember that they were illegal. She told the guard as much. He seemed exasperated but didn’t argue, returning to his post inside the building.

After that, naturally, she took to the Women Bike PHL group. And Women Bike PHL took action.

Spark Therapeutics works out of the University City Science Center's 3737 Market Street building.

The Science Center’s 3737 Market Street building. (Photo by Juliana Reyes)

The Bicycle Coalition’s Katie Monroe, who moderates the group, said the Coalition would make some calls about it. City transportation staffer Jeannette Brugger said she’d make a request to the Streets Department for them to take it down — the signs are illegal, after all, she later confirmed to us, adding that the city has taken down “no bike parking” signs in at least 10 instances in Center City. Another woman said she would call Penn Police to see if they authorized the sign. And, sensing a story, we said we’d write to the Science Center.

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The poor sign didn’t stand a chance.

Science Center spokeswoman Jeanne Mell confirmed to us that the Science Center put up the signs.

“The Science Center has worked hard to create a safe and bike-friendly campus,” she wrote, later adding that the Science Center’s campus has bike racks that accommodate more than 150 bikes. Most recently, it added racks to its 3711 Market Street garage and the new Innovation Plaza popup park at 37th and Market.

But: “When cyclists lock their bikes to poles and trees instead of using the bike racks located across our campus, not only does it damage the landscaped plantings we’ve installed, but it can also present a tripping hazard,” Mell wrote. “While we understand that sometimes cyclists may be in a hurry; we want to protect our investment in our efforts to beautify the Science Center campus so all visitors can safely enjoy the landscaped plantings.”

The Science Center has indeed heavily invested in the Market Street corridor (and is kicking off a billion-dollar project further north), especially over the last few years, erecting eateries, shiny new office buildings and a residential tower.

A few hours later, Mell told us that the Science Center would take the signs down, as per the city’s request. (Streets Department spokeswoman June Cantor said the Science Center would have one week to take the signs down or else the city would do it and send them a bill.)

“Nonetheless,” Mell wrote, “we do encourage cyclists to use the bike racks throughout our campus, as I noted in my earlier email.”

She said the Science Center would continue to add more racks as demand increases. (Auwaerter told us that the bike rack around the corner from 3737 Market St. is often full.)

When we alerted Women Bike PHL, members rejoiced.

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Juliana Reyes

Juliana Reyes became Technical.ly's editorial product lead after reporting on the Philadelphia tech scene for four years. She's co-president of the Asian American Journalists Association Philadelphia chapter and a two-time Philadelphia News Award winner for "Community Reporting of the Year." The Bryn Mawr College grad lives in West Philly, likes her food spicy and wears jumpsuits often.

  • Mike S

    I’ve had a year long fight with the science center over installing more bike racks at 3401 Market St. They finally capitulated after I emailed the CEO directly. They are really in the stone age with regards to their regressive policy towards bike parking.

  • ThatGuyOverThere

    Not sure I understand the outrage here. Wasn’t the Science Center trying to protect trees? Who here advocates locking bikes up to trees rather than designated, metal racks? Perhaps the signs should have been more polite and simply requested “Please don’t lock bikes to our trees”

    • lunastrixae

      Well, that sign was on a streetpost, not a tree. The cyclist in question was not parked on a tree.

      The few metal racks in front of buildings on that section of market are filled to the gills with bikes. There are other, new racks in the area but they are tucked away out of sight behind parking garages and not easy to find. Which is the REAL deal with the Science Center. They find bikes unsightly near the front of the buildings. This fall they were taping letters on bikes threatening to cut locks, even when the bikes were legally parked on metal poles and not impeding right-of-way of pedestrians or harming plants. Several years ago they used to put damaging stickers on bikes not on racks. I’m happy someone else finally spoke to them- I’ve complained many times over the years and they tend to ‘forget’ as time goes on.

      • ThatGuyOverThere

        Thanks for your reply and I do see your point (and largely agree with it). I just hope they don’t start posting signs on trees. That would damage them as well.

  • Tim Allen

    I guess the problem is the same as if I were to start putting up “Tim Parking Only” signs. I’m not authorized to, it’s illegal. It is also ridiculous there aren’t racks on market street. If you want to save the plants, there is plenty of room for bike racks on Market in an easy installation space on the grates over the MFL. Pointing to an out of the way bike rack in a dark, out of the way alley on Filbert St is not a solution.

  • Mike McGettigan

    These are the same people who have gutted the are to create enormous lots to store cars in and enormous building to stack cars up in, etc. They can’t stand that city dwellers use simple, non-polluting machines to get around. Their architects are scarcely better–sticking gigantic clusters of bike racks on the back streets and in the dark corners of parking garages, which sets the stage for bike them. The Science Center should have space for 20 bikes right in front of their entrance and be around. Instead they tell their guards to harass cyclists. Weak, obsolete and unscientific thinking.

  • John Hall

    The bike racks on the new Innovation Walk are one block past the no biking sign on at the Market Street entrance saying no bike riding permitted. Are these polices bicycle amnesia or a bicycle conspiracy? How about making Innovation Walk an Indego bike station?

  • Would the city pick a similar fight with Comcast, who uses Allied Barton bots to hassle cyclists locking up on government-owned poles?

  • Diplodiasaur Rex

    The Science Center just wants the front of the building to look presentable so that when investors come (the people who cut the paychecks for you hood rats) to look at the incubator start ups the setting looks professional.

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