Pittsburgh and Bikes (And Pedestrians)

Pittsburgh is getting a lot of positive press these days. Just last month, the Atlantic put out this video, this article on what millennials like about the city, and this article and video about Pittsburgh's political leadership on the issue.

So it must be awesome, right?

January 2008, same bike,
same tights.
Well.....I guess you could say we've come a long way. But we have a long way to go.

When we rode to Cumberland and back, the last few miles as we navigated downtown were by far the most nerve-wracking. The signage into Point State Park on the GAP, when coupled with road construction that closed some lanes, made it really difficult to figure out where we were even supposed to be riding. Most drivers of cars seemed to think we had no business being in the road, but obviously, you can't take two fully loaded bikes with trailers down the sidewalk in a business district. From the Point, we still had to get back to our home on the far eastern edge of the city. We chose to ride over to the North Shore and up the river trail to the 31st Street Bridge, so we could ride the bike lane on Liberty Avenue. It's a long hill, and I preferred to stay out of the car lane, since I was moving pretty slow with such a heavy load. Alas, construction shut down the entire shoulder, including the bike lane. Traffic was moving too quickly to easily merge in and the police officer on duty did not appear to notice us and made no effort to help us get around the construction. (So sorry to all of you who were stuck behind me on Liberty Avenue that day. I had to use the granny gear.)

October 2014, so much more stuff.
I went to a play group this morning where a woman asked me about biking in the city with kids. She has two little ones just a bit younger than my kids. We talked trailers and her fear of the hills. Here in the East End, I don't think there are any hills to really be concerned about other than maybe Negley, and it's more about going down them and being able to brake, rather than going up. We talked about weather, which frankly sucks about 6 months out of the year. And then finally, we talked about safety. Whether you are towing a trailer, or have a kid in a seat on your bike, your biggest fear is getting hit by a car. This is a valid fear because everyone is looking at their phones while they drive. And drivers, unless they spend some time on bicycles as well, tend not to be thinking about them and act as if they have just spotted an alien space craft. She's warming up to it, and I bet if we go out together a couple of times, she'll gain confidence and start doing it more.

I applaud the efforts of BikePGH and Bill Peduto and I definitely think we're moving in the right direction. But the fact is, it's still a relatively terrifying experience to get from point A to point B. There are simply too many gaps in the bike infrastructure. You ride down Forbes Avenue and boom, out of nowhere the bike lane ends AND there's no shoulder on that bridge. So much fun to merge into traffic that's often moving fast than the 35mph speed limit. Braddock Avenue has a bike lane on one side, but just sharrows on the other side. And while the sheltered bike lane downtown looks super sweet in those videos, they don't really show how weird and awkward it is to make a right turn out of that thing.

I've spent hundreds of hours advocating for better road safety (for bikes, pedestrians and automobiles) over the last few years. I 311 the heck out of any problems I see. I have put on a banana suit and marched up and down the street to raise awareness of our crosswalks. And I know the city is listening. No Parking signs and yellow paint recently appeared near my house (cars parking too close to intersections and crosswalks makes visibility really difficult for drivers. Pedestrians really do appear to "come out of nowhere" when they emerge from between two tall SUVs.) But at the end of the day PENNDOT and the city traffic engineers prioritize one thing, and that's flow of automobile traffic. This is a pretty typical response when we make any suggestions about putting in signals that stop traffic to allow people to cross.
"As per the Transportation and Engineering Department, Adding more phases on to the signal operation will reduce the overall capacity through the intersection."

Capacity trumps all. And that would be automobile capacity. 

Unfortunately, it's a bit of a catch 22 to move forward. Despite all the news stories and boosterism by the flood of millennials coming into our city, lots of people don't bike or walk anywhere. More of us have to, in order to make a better case for it. The more our streets are used in multi-modal ways, the more comfortable everyone gets with interacting with each other there. 

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