Downtown Pittsburgh property owners worried over bike lane plans
December 15, 2016 12:04 AM
Bicyclists ride along the new bike lanes on Penn Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh.
Bicyclists ride along new bike lanes on Penn Ave. Downtown.
A bicyclist rides down a bike lane on Penn Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh.
By Adam Smeltz / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh’s plans to run bike lanes down Fort Pitt Boulevard next year would badly hamper access to businesses and residences there, obstructing critical deliveries and likely ruining street parking, several Downtown business people warned Wednesday night.
In a testy community meeting, city bicycling coordinator Kristin Saunders pledged to work with property owners but said the route already topped nearby options that planners considered. The city has yet to finalize design approvals for the plans, including from the state Department of Transportation, said Patrick Hassett, an assistant public works director.
“You’re crushing businesses on Fort Pitt Boulevard,” said Wayne Gregg, a building owner on the street. He cast the plans as “a foregone conclusion.”
Another property owner there, attorney Fred Goldsmith, wondered how visiting vendors and contractors might cope.
“I’m not sure how marketable the building is when someone says, ‘Where do I park? Where do I unload?’” Mr. Goldsmith said.
Critics urged the city to look into First Avenue as an alternative for linking bicyclists on the Great Allegheny Passage, which terminates at Grant Street near the Monongahela River, with Point State Park. Ms. Saunders said First Avenue would be “very narrow” for the effort and not offer as direct a connection.
“We look for the best alignment that can accommodate the safety of the cyclists and mitigate” inconveniences to businesses, she said, addressing a divided crowd at Point Park University. More than 70 people turned out, many praising the plans as a needed addition.
“I think it’s wonderful. We’ve got some bike lanes in Pittsburgh, but they really aren’t connected yet,” said Paul Heckbert, 58, of Edgewood. “This will really help connect things.”
The gathering was the latest public meeting about the $772,000 project, for which Pittsburgh City Council approved spending in October. Federal grant money is expected to cover about 80 percent of the cost.
Two bike lanes — one in each direction — would replace a parking lane on the north side of Fort Pitt Boulevard from Grant to Stanwix streets. From there, the lanes would turn north on Stanwix, with one lane planted on each side of the street.
They would reunite on the north side of Penn Avenue, where they would continue west toward the state park, effectively extending bike lanes already in place farther east on Penn.
Planners hope to complete the work by fall 2017. Ms. Saunders said planners spent at least nine months reviewing several possible routes. She said adding the lanes on the Boulevard of the Allies, which runs parallel to Fort Pitt Boulevard, could create worse traffic complications and eliminate more street parking.
Mr. Hassett said a traffic study is still assessing the chosen plan’s overall convenience, safety and logistical feasibility.
“If it’s not convenient, you start getting aggressiveness,” he said.
Some observers asked whether bicyclists could just use a planned connection that will link the Smithfield Street Bridge with the state park via the Monongahela Wharf. That route will lack a direct tie-in to streets Downtown, where many cyclists work or visit from out of town, Ms. Saunders said. The GAP trail runs to Cumberland, Md.
“We want a connected and convenient grid,” Ms. Saunders said, presenting the Fort Pitt plans as part of a Downtown network to promote more — and safer — cycling. The city wants eventually to introduce more bike lanes as a north-south artery across the Golden Triangle.
Last month, City Council passed a Complete Streets Policy that requires planners to consider “all users,” from pedestrians to motorists, when they design roadways. Ms. Saunders said the 2017 project also should discourage cyclists from riding on sidewalks.
In the meantime, project supporters agreed that the city should help Downtown businesses that would lose nearby street parking. Yale Cohen, 60, of Squirrel Hill said people would adjust to the new infrastructure.
But “there’s no way those buildings should be an island” on Fort Pitt Boulevard, he said. “I certainly hope they can take care of that.”
Adam Smeltz: 412-263-2625, firstname.lastname@example.org, @asmeltz.
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