Sure, make more bike lanes, but Pittsburgh has bigger transportation issues to deal with
September 14, 2014 12:00 AM
An artist's rendering of the new bike lanes on Penn Avenue Downtown. (Not shown: opinion of driver of car.)
By Joe Wos
In case you missed it, on Sept. 3 our Mayor Bill Peduto and representatives of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust held a press conference for a bike rack. This will come as little surprise in a city that launches fireworks for the opening of an envelope. But this press conference for the illustrious inanimate rack was just the beginning. That same day the city installed five bike racks — allowing for the parking of literally tens of bicycles in the Golden Triangle. The mayor has made it one of his prime initiatives to make this a bike-friendly city. The bike rack itself had no comment.
Pittsburgh is now the 35th best city to bike in, according to Bicycling.com. The press conference was a harbinger of things to come as Pittsburgh ramps up its ongoing efforts to gather as many “best of” list rankings as possible. Throughout Lawrenceville, hipsters rejoiced when Pittsburgh added bike lanes heading into Downtown, enabling white men with bushy beards and black-rim plastic glasses a quicker way to get Downtown to play their banjos on street corners.
This past week bike enthusiasts from around the country gathered at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center for the Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place conference to explore such exciting topics as “sidewalk roughness standards,” “The tires are getting pumped and so are we” and my favorite, “Making a career as a freelance active transportation consultant.”
Bike advocates point to the success of bike lanes in cities such as New York — cities with many four-lane roads in each direction and more than 200,000 bicyclists daily. Pittsburgh’s bike lanes, however, have taken two-direction roads and cut them down to one-way, one-lane streets!
They also point to other cities throughout the United States and Europe as shining examples of what Pittsburgh could be — ignoring practical issues such as Pittsburgh’s climate and a realistic assessment of how many Pittsburghers really want to bike to work every day.
This completely ignores and denigrates our existing nonbiking culture and forces us to become “better people” by their standards. They neglect to mention a study in Helsinki showed bike paths to be more dangerous than sharing roads, and a study in Vancouver that reported a decrease in business along bike paths.
Safety concerns are pointed to as the main issue driving the introduction of bike lanes, yet Pittsburgh requires neither helmets for bicyclists over 12 nor bicycle licensing or registration.
Now that city officials have squeezed the motor vehicle lanes heading into the city, the next step is to cut the “ittsburgh” from Pittsburgh and replace it with “ortland” — thus fulfilling Pittsburgh’s desire to be the next “any city but Pittsburgh.”
One reason Pittsburgh has taken to promoting bicycling is shame. Shame of who we are as a city and of our roots. Bicyclists have taken to fat-shaming our city, claiming health and environmental benefits as well as the moral high ground. While cars produce smog, bicycles seem to produce smug. Criticize the bike lanes, and angry bicyclists head off in a Huffy. Rather than making this city “bike friendly,” they are making it “automobile unfriendly.”
Drivers are not unwilling to share the road, but they do expect bicyclists to abide by traffic laws, too. How many times have you seen bicyclists run red lights or drive on city sidewalks — flying above the law like some sort of magical Pegasus-Unicorn combination of bike and pedestrian?
Safety is a real concern, and we need to educate not just automobile drivers, but also bicyclists. Drivers are willing and able to share the road responsibly. But saying that will just further pump up the ire of bicyclists who argue that automobiles are the problem, period.
Bicyclists have become religious zealots in the first church of the perpetual Schwinn. They are firm believers that the path to salvation is via a bike lane leading through Downtown. They hail bikes as solving issues as diverse as traffic congestion, pollution and obesity. They make bold claims of bicycling cities having lower rates of diabetes and heart disease and a greater love of kittens. Rather than attempt to solve Downtown’s parking issues, narrow lanes, traffic and public transportation issues, they point to bikes as the great solution to Pittsburgh’s ills.
This kind of blind self-righteousness is overcompensation for a city that suffered through decades of low self-esteem. All this, thanks to a tiny percentage of Pittsburgh’s population — a whopping 1.4 percent of people in Pittsburgh ride bikes to work, according to the Census Bureau — illustrating the old adage, “the squeaky bicycle wheel gets the grease.”
As a lifelong Pittsburgher, I recognize that bike-lane improvements are needed to make Pittsburgh safer, cleaner, more pretentious and white. It is an appeasement to a miniscule percentage of the population to create the illusion of a progressive city at the expense of real issues and needs.
The bike movement is a convenient distraction from issues such as race. Make no mistake; this is partly about race. It is about white privilege and entitlement.
According to Bike Pgh’s annual report, 1 percent of its members identify as African-American. This suggests that only a tiny, tiny percentage of African-Americans ride bikes to work in Pittsburgh — whereas one in three say they rely on public transportation. As bus service and routes have been cut in neighborhoods with the greatest needs, bike lanes have been provided to serve a minority that is, by its own admission, unable to attract real minorities.
Perhaps now is the time for other minority groups to make bold requests. As a member of a minority group myself, I’d like to make a few demands on behalf of left-handers. Lefties have a natural inclination to walk on the left side of the sidewalk, unlike most Pittsburghers who walk to the right. I would like to see a left-hander lane installed on all city sidewalks. Also, I would like to see the city schools address the dire shortage of green-handled scissors in the classrooms.
This city has a great opportunity to become one of the top cities for left-handers in the nation! Isn’t that what this is ultimately all about? Getting a craft-beer blogger in Seattle to list us as one of the Top 10 cities he would visit with his bike … if he ever got out of his parents’ basement to travel?
I love and adore this city. But, every now and then, you have to say: “Get over yourself, Pittsburgh.” Address the real issues that would be a tangible improvement to this city and make us the best Pittsburgh we can be.
Or have you gotten too big for your bridges?
Joe Wos, a writer and cartoonist, is stepping down as executive director of the ToonSeum at the end of this month.
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