Bike safety advocates take spin in Pittsburgh


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"It's cheap, it's easy and it works," said the sign in consultant Jeff Olson's office -- a reference to making public streets and roads safer for bicycling.

Mr. Olson, who has designed bike improvements all over the world for Portland, Ore.-based Alta Planning + Design, pedaled through Pittsburgh's East End on Tuesday as part of the city's effort to gather input for the next generation of improvements aimed at increasing its transportation options and helping two-wheelers and four-wheelers to better coexist.

The timing was apropos but totally coincidental, coming in the aftermath of a spate of bike-vehicle crashes that included two fatalities. The city already had planned a series of community rides, before the crashes, to hear comments and suggestions that might be incorporated into its long-range transportation plan.

"What does Pittsburgh want its transportation infrastructure to look like 25 years from now?" asked Stephen Patchan, the city's bike-pedestrian coordinator, who led a sweaty midday ride with Mr. Olson through East Liberty, Shadyside, Oakland, Squirrel Hill and Homewood. Several dozen riders participated in the series of five tours over three days.

Tuesday's excursion demonstrated that although Pittsburgh was laid out in the horse-and-buggy era and evolved through decades of nearly singular devotion to the internal-combustion engine, there is plenty of room for bicycles in many of its corridors. The city has about 40 miles of streets that either have dedicated bike lanes or signage and pavement markings designating them as "shared ride" thoroughfares.

On Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside, wide and largely residential, the parking could be moved to one side and a bike lane added, Mr. Patchan said, noting that idea is in the early stages of discussion. Currently the street has white pavement markings, bike logos with twin white chevrons, to remind drivers that not everyone has a gas pedal.

Schenley Drive at the entrance to Schenley Park might be a good site for an innovation that is in use elsewhere -- putting the parallel parking lane between the vehicle travel lane and the bike lane to create a buffer.

The tour also rode on dedicated bike lanes on Beechwood Boulevard and North Dallas Avenue and observed the city's first use of what is called a "road diet" -- narrowing traffic to one lane to accommodate a bike lane on East Liberty Boulevard.

"If you look at a map you start to see our network maturing into a more connected, comprehensive system," Mr. Patchan said, noting that shared-lane markings are being added to Butler Street in Lawrenceville, East Carson Street on the South Side, Smallman Street in the Strip District and Western Avenue on the North Side.

He acknowledged that just putting down pavement markings was an interim step, less desirable than having a dedicated lane for bicyclists.

Bike racks are another low-cost way to promote riding, and businesses are starting to ask for them, he said during a breather on Forbes Avenue in the Squirrel Hill business district.

"People understand it's an economic generator. Racks bring business to their stores. Our message to them is that bike lanes will bring more bikes and more racks and more business."

In Homewood, riders passed signs that were recently placed on Dallas and Hamilton avenues to direct bicyclists toward East Liberty without their having to use Penn Avenue, site of the two recent fatalities.

Mr. Olson said bike-safety improvements not only increase ridership but make it more diverse, attracting women, children and older riders. Asked where Pittsburgh stands in its evolution toward bicycle-friendliness, he said "you're really moving forward fast." And he said the off-road trail system in and around Pittsburgh "is one of the best in the country, in the world."

On the tour was Larry Sachs, who said he missed last weekend's PedalPGH event and wanted to get out for a ride. "I wanted to come out and support biking in Pittsburgh, try to make it a little safer," he said.

A regular rider in traffic, Mr. Sachs said most motorists "are OK, but there's a group of people who don't think bicyclists should be on the roads." He said he noticed improvement in driver behavior earlier this year when a new state law took effect requiring vehicles to give at least four feet of buffer space when passing a bicycle. "But then when I was out of town for a week and a half they started [mowing down] people left and right," he said.

Since city officials were asking, Mr. Sachs had this suggestion: He commutes from the suburbs to his job Downtown by bus but said he would cycle in during good weather if there was a place to shower and change clothes. "I think you could get a lot of people to commute if there was a secure place to shower and change," he said.

neigh_city - Transportation

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


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