As the city prepares for a 15-day gathering of bicyclists that kicks off Sunday, two fatal bicycle-involved accidents have brought pleas for increased caution on Pittsburgh's roadways and the controversial suggestion that cyclists consider avoiding Penn Avenue in Point Breeze.
In a joint statement Wednesday, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Scott Bricker, executive director of the advocacy group BikePGH, called for motorists and bicyclists to be "lawful, cautious and respectful of one another."
The state Department of Transportation, which owns Penn Avenue, echoed the call for vigilance.
"Motorists need to remember that bicyclists are extremely vulnerable," Steve Cowan, safety press officer for PennDOT District 11, said. "They have as much right to the road as you do in your car or in your truck or on your motorcycle."
Bicyclists should be aware of side streets, such as Meade Street in Point Breeze, that can be used instead of Penn Avenue, Mr. Ravenstahl and Mr. Bricker said in the statement.
In an interview, however, Mr. Bricker stressed that bicyclists still may use Penn if they want to do so. He said the focus should be not on bicyclists' need to find alternative routes but on motorists' need to slow down and share the pavement so cyclists aren't left "dead and dying by the side of the road."
A 47-year-old Wilkinsburg man, Anthony Green, died in the hospital Wednesday evening from injuries he sustained when he was hit by an SUV in the 7700 block of Penn, just across the Wilkinsburg border, about 10:05 p.m. Tuesday.
Allegheny County homicide Lt. Andrew Schurman said accident reconstructionists continue to comb through evidence to learn how the crash occurred.
When they complete their investigation, the Allegheny County district attorney's office will decide whether the driver, who stayed at the scene, should face criminal charges, the lieutenant said.
On July 25, James Price, 46, of Homewood was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver while cycling in the 7400 block of Penn, three blocks away, in Point Breeze.
In addition, Mark Schneider, 55, a Point Breeze resident, was killed last weekend after losing control of his bicycle and crashing during the Catoctin Challenge, a two-day charity ride in hardscrabble terrain north of Frederick, Md. He was a real estate developer and proponent of bike trail development.
Increased safety concerns come in the run-up to BikeFest, a BikePGH celebration that begins Sunday and runs through Aug. 19. "It's going to be a lot of people riding bikes," Mr. Bricker said.
BikeFest features about 75 events, including Sunday's PedalPGH ride of up to 63 miles through various neighborhoods and Tuesday's ride through Point Breeze and other East End communities. Tuesday's event was organized by city officials and consultants seeking bicyclists' input on transportation improvements well before the recent accidents.
The accidents are a blow for a city that achieved national bicycle-friendly status in 2010 and has seen increasing numbers of bicyclist-commuters. According to 2010 census data on the BikePGH website, Pittsburgh and Honolulu are ranked 13th among big cities in the percentage of commuters -- 1.6 -- who primarily travel by bike.
During Mr. Ravenstahl's tenure, officials said, the city hired its first bicycle-pedestrian coordinator; installed hundreds of bicycle racks, included an incentive for bicycle parking at new developments; and incorporated bicycling into a developing, comprehensive transportation plan.
By summer's end, the city will have 40 miles of bicycle-only lanes and lanes marked for shared use.
However, in a recent survey of about 500 BikePGH members, 60 percent said they feel only "fairly safe" riding city streets. The group's membership is concentrated in East End neighborhoods, such as Point Breeze.
In the short term, Mr. Bricker said, he'd like to see speed traps on Penn, signs advising bicyclists of alternate routes and the creation of bike lanes on some side streets.
He'd also like signs on Penn reminding motorists of the state law requiring them to keep four feet away from bicyclists while passing.
Mr. Bricker said his long-term goals for Penn include creation of bicycle lanes, preferably with a curb or other buffer against vehicular traffic. He'd also like PennDOT to reduce the number of vehicular travel lanes from four to two, while creating new lanes for left turns at intersections.
Mr. Cowan said he was unaware of any plans for changes in traffic patterns on Penn.
However, he said he would be happy to meet with Mr. Bricker's group.
Liz Navratil contributed. Joe Smydo: email@example.com or 412-263-1548.