(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.
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.
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.