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Why Do Cyclists Keep Dying On Philadelphia Streets?

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- If you travel the streets of Philadelphia on four wheels or two, you have probably seen close calls. Helmet cam videos provided by anonymous bicyclists on the Philabikes YouTube channel document close calls on Philadelphia streets.

Fellow cyclists like Mike McGowan say these dangerous encounters are all too common.

"I've had people run up on me. I've been hit before," he said.

Since January 2017, at least four bicyclists have died while riding on Philly roads, including an 11-year-old boy Friday.

Bike lanes are supposed to keep people safe. So what's going wrong?

These two men have seen everything: cyclist Randy LoBasso of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, and Ron Blount, a taxi driver for more than three decades.

We decked out a van with cameras to catch every angle. Eyewitness News reporter Greg Argos drove, and the three of them kept their eyes peeled.

Over and over again, they found confusion on the roads.

"So is he driving in the bike lane?" Greg asked.

"That guy is driving in the bike lane," Randy said.

Ron commented, "It can be really dangerous."

Sometimes bike lane markings had faded and were almost invisible.

"That is, you can barely see that, and you can't really fault some drivers who don't know it's there," Randy said.

"So the city needs to do something about that," Greg said.

"Yeah," Randy said.

Sometimes the markings were clear, but the meaning wasn't. Greg learned just because a bike lane is painted on the road doesn't mean bikes are restricted to that path.

"And are bicyclists allowed to share lanes like this?" Greg asked as they watched.

"Yep," Randy said.

"I think that's where motorists get confused," Ron said. "I will see bicycles in this lane on the right and I'm going to see bicyclists on the left. They're all over the place."

There were some bright spots, like the South Street Bridge near University City.

"What's different about this?" Greg asked.

"This bike lane has been maintained well," Randy said. "It's painted green, you see the stripe, it's very clear."

The three got out on the corner to take a look. Ron said, "I don't see cars being clogged up on the street, and the bicyclists are getting by, pedestrians are getting by. This is the plan I think we need throughout Philadelphia."

So is there a plan in place?

"Things like that can really improve safety," said Kelley Yemen, who runs the director of Philly's Complete Streets program.

That office is in charge of developing newer and safer traffic layouts. "Kinda lets everybody know, 'Where should I be on the street?'" Kelley said.

new biking plans
Credit: CBS3

The Bicycle Coalition advocates for protected bike lanes: a physical barrier between bicycles and moving traffic, like on a section of Chestnut Street in West Philly.

"This street here, I feel totally safe driving on, even picking up my customers," Ron said. "You pull into the path, the customer makes sure there's no bike coming across their path."

The statistics on protected bike lanes are so promising, the city will try them on two other major Philadelphia streets – JFK Boulevard and Market Street – for the next nine months.

"We see reduced crashes and reduced injuries for all modes – driving, biking, walking – by upwards of 20 percent," Kelley said.

zero traffic deaths goal
Credit: CBS3

The goal is zero traffic deaths by 2030. Kelley thinks it can be achieved. Randy and Ron say it cannot come soon enough.

"I think we're headed in the right direction," Ron said.

"And everyone will hopefully be safer when it's all done," Randy said.

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