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City Of Pittsburgh Gears Up For Implementation Of Its Bike(+) Plan

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Nearly 200 people met virtually Thursday night to hear how the city of Pittsburgh plans to roll out its Bike(+) Master Plan, which aims to add 150 miles of bike infrastructure over the next 10 years.The city’s last bike plan debuted in 1999, when making cycling a broadly-used mode of transportation was regarded as something of a long shot.

More than 20 years later, the number of bicycle commuters has quadrupled, while the general appetite for cycling — even before the pandemic reignited public interest in bikes — has jumped. The Bike(+) Plan notes that roughly one-third of Pittsburghers ride a bike occasionally, and that more say they would if they felt safe doing so. In a survey that preceded release of the plan, 73 percent of drivers said they would be “more likely to bicycle” if there were more protected bike lanes and streets with lower speed limits or less aggressive drivers.

The Department of Mobility and Infrastructure handles how people and goods move through the city, and its No. 1 goal is that no one dies while traveling on the streets.

When it comes to the bike plan, Angie Martinez, who works in the department, said the aim is to create a bike system that people of all ages and abilities can use for all kinds of trips. But that has ripple effects.

“We’re creating safer places for people to bike,” she said. “But we’re also creating safer streets for people to drive and people to walk, as well.”

Efforts to make navigation clear and simple, and to slow traffic to posted speed limits means drivers of cars are less likely to crash, and if they do crash, that crash is less likely to be fatal.

The “+” in the Bike(+) Plan leaves room for the rapidly changing world of how people get around. Beyond traditional bicycles, there are electric-assist bikes, electric scooters and kick scooters. The idea is that accommodating more low-speed travel modes will allow more people to safely, conveniently and “joyfully” navigate the city. Nearly one-quarter of city residents do not have access to a car; the city says making non-vehicular travel safer and more doable is a matter of equity.

Thursday night’s meeting was the first of many community meetings to begin implementation of the plan, which breaks the city into six clusters. The projects discussed on Zoom were those in the Shadyside and Squirrel Hill neighborhoods.

“All of these projects are still firmly in the planning phase,” said Paige Anderson, a project engineer in the traffic division.

That’s intentional. While the city has identified gaps in the bike network, and in some cases proposed new facilities, officials want to work with communities to determine how best to create new connections.

For instance, Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside is the second most-traveled route in Pittsburgh — the most-traveled is the protected bike lane on Penn Avenue downtown — but there is no bike infrastructure on the street. It’s a busy road, with parking along most of its length, and a bus route. During Thursday night’s virtual meeting, officials said creating a bike connection through Shadyside may travel along Ellsworth, or there may be an alternate route. Many people wanted to know how the city would negotiate all the competing demands.

“All of these projects we know involve a lot of tradeoffs,” said Anderson. “Those are certainly things that we’re trying to collect data on and understand better so we can make the best decisions around those tradeoffs.”

Accessibility advocate Alisa Grishman asked the city to be vigilant about how projects impact all communities.

“Because a number of the things that have been talked about tonight are incredibly harmful or dangerous for disabled people,” she said, noting that the meeting lacked a sign language interpreter or subtitles.

Grishman said paratransit vehicles need to be able to pull directly up to a curb which a bike lane could impede, and that many people with mobility challenges rely on parking. City officials said they will continue to engage with the city’s ADA coordinator.

The city has partnered with nonprofit cyclist and pedestrian group Bike Pittsburgh, as well as with the city’s bikeshare agency, HealthyRide. The public education and awareness campaign is called MoveForwardPGH. The website lists all of the public meetings, as well as resources.

People’s appetite to engage with the city on the bike plan may best be described as ravenous: there was a flurry of messages in Zoom’s chat function during the entire meeting. People shared experiences of being hit by cars, of trying to navigate dicey intersections safely, and crash data from PennDOT. There were extremely specific analyses of how a particular section of a road could be improved and a bit of camaraderie around how hard it is to use existing bike facilities in winter.

“Can we add ‘All Year Round’ to [the city’s goal of making the network accessible to] All Ages & Abilities?”

The bike plan notes that the city will need to create new regulations to ensure facilities are maintained in all weathers. There also needs to be action at the state level to allow for parking-protected bike lanes, which are not currently allowed by state law. The construction places a bike lane between a sidewalk and a line of parked cars, which provides a buffer from traffic.

Advocates have worked to change the law for years with no success. However, a new law was introduced in February, House Bill 140, and has since passed the transportation committee.