Cyclists are taking advantage of the new left-hand bike lane on Walnut Street. Walnut from 22nd to 63rd streets has been resurfaced and painted as part of a $12.3 million project to restore state highways by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Credit: Justin Cohen / The Daily Pennsylvanian

Cyclists on Walnut Street must now shift their gears to ride on the left side of the road.

A new, buffered left-hand bike lane is available for use on Walnut Street from 33rd to 63rd streets. The old lane had been on the right side.

The new bike lane is part of a $12.3 million project to restore state highways. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has been working to resurface and paint more than 40 blocks of Walnut Street, stretching from 22nd to 63rd streets since August.

Repaving of Walnut between Front Street and 45th Street was completed between Aug. 20 to 24 before most students arrived back on campus.

Charles Metzger, PennDOT’s community relations director, said the project is routine, since “we can expect an eight to 10 year life expectancy on asphalt.”

The section between 22nd and 33rd streets will have to wait about five weeks before it is repainted due to a delay in the Schuylkill River Development Corporation’s renovation of Walnut Street Bridge, according to Sarah Clark Stuart, campaign director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

Over the past few years, the Bicycle Coalition — a group that advocates connecting Philadelphia by safe, efficient bicycle routes — has spoken with the Philadelphia Streets Department about which streets would soon need resurfacing.

When they spoke in January of this year, the two groups looked at Walnut as a favorable candidate for having an improved bike lane.

“Walnut is a heavily, heavily used street for cyclists,” Stuart said, adding that major resurfacing projects of this kind can be “the best opportunity to put down new lines of paint.”

Citing the coalition’s “Mode Shift 2011” study — a collection of data reflecting the area’s trends in bicycle usage — Stuart explained that more than 240 cyclists cross the Walnut Street Bridge every hour, which adds up to a 653 percent increase from 1990.

To make way for a buffered bike lane, PennDOT had to narrow traveling and parking lanes. Narrower lanes will cause drivers to slow down, making a safer riding environment for cyclists, Stuart said.

For this reason, she believes the lane will be “a very effective traffic-calming technique.”

Moving the bike lane to the left will also make the road safer for cyclists.

“Bus drivers have often complained about the challenge bicyclists pose for them,” Charlie Carmalt from the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities said in an email.

When a bike lane is on the right, “the driver must try to cross the bike lane to reach the curb, but bicyclists sometimes will start passing the bus on the right where the bicyclist is hard to be seen.”

Improvements or not, Christian Adams, a bicyclist and employee at Keswick Cycle at 40th and Locust streets, is happy to ride on Walnut again.

When the road was completely uprooted, “you would have to jump right into traffic, which can sometimes be a pain,” he said.

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