Wheels are turning toward Downtown bike lanes

The city is considering creation of bicycles-only lanes on Penn Avenue through Downtown Pittsburgh, including the Cultural District.

The lanes would occupy the eastbound side of Penn Avenue, replacing the existing traffic lane from Stanwix Street to 11th Street. Eastbound vehicles would be rerouted to Fort Duquesne Boulevard and Liberty Avenue, which run parallel to Penn. Westbound traffic and on-street parking would not change.

The plan was outlined at a meeting Tuesday with business interests, bicyclists and others, hosted by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

“This is still very much conceptual, very much in the information gathering stage,” said Jeremy Waldrup, the partnership’s president and CEO.

“It’s by no stretch of the imagination a perfect concept,” said Stephen Patchan, the city’s bicycle-pedestrian coordinator.

But the city intends to move quickly, hoping to have the lanes in place before Sept. 8, when it will host the 18th Pro Bike/​Pro Walk/​Pro Place conference, bringing an estimated 1,000 city planners, transportation engineers and bicycling and pedestrian advocates here. Mayor Bill Peduto announced in April that he wanted bikes-only lanes in Downtown in time for the conference.

The city studied the Fort Duquesne Boulevard and Liberty Avenue corridors for bikes-only lanes, but concluded that Penn Avenue was the superior choice, Mr. Patchan said. Fort Duquesne Boulevard closely parallels a trail on the Allegheny riverfront and does not provide a connection to Point State Park. Liberty Avenue is the “transit epicenter” of Downtown, with more than 20 routes operating on it, he said.

Far fewer routes use eastbound Penn Avenue, and the city is working with Port Authority on how those buses would be rerouted, he said.

“We’re aware of the proposal and currently analyzing our service in that area to determine what routing and stop changes would be required to make that accommodation,” authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said.

The bike lanes would be separated from traffic by a row of delineators, collapsible posts that would have reflectors on them. Places where vehicular traffic crosses the bike lanes would be painted bright green.

The city is studying options for linking the bike lanes from Stanwix Street to Point State Park, with one option being a shared lane along the westbound side of Penn Avenue Extension and Liberty Avenue, said Patrick Hassett, assistant public works director for transportation and engineering.

Mr. Patchan said cities that build bike infrastructure have an advantage in attracting the brightest young professionals, and they do so by creating facilities in the most crowded sections rather than in isolated, remote places. Dedicated bike lanes also can boost retail sales because they accommodate more people, moving more slowly, than vehicle lanes, he said.

Some of those attending the meeting voiced concerns about the proposal, fearing that traffic congestion after cultural events would worsen with drivers no longer able to use eastbound Penn Avenue.

Mr. Patchan acknowledged that was an issue but said “there may be a way to improve that situation” with public education and deployment of traffic officers.

Lucy Spruill, director of public policy and community relations for Community Living and Support Services, said she was worried about the plan’s impact on disabled people who attend cultural events, possibly reducing the places where ACCESS vans can drop them off and moving bus stops farther away.

Mr. Patchan said the city would address those concerns. “We do not want to cut people off,” he said.

Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at www.post-gazette.com/news. Twitter: @pgtraffic.

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