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City installs first raised crosswalk in Squirrel Hill as part of ongoing efforts to slow drivers

Susan Scott Peterson
90.5 WESA

The city of Pittsburgh installed a new kind of raised crosswalk in Squirrel Hill as part of the mayor’s Neighborhood Traffic Calming Program Wednesday. The crosswalk connects two Jewish Community Center buildings on the north and south sides of Darlington Road near the intersection at Murray Avenue, where children and seniors often cross the street.

“It’s the first raised crosswalk we are building under our traffic calming program,” said Nick Ross, municipal traffic engineer for the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure. “What we were finding is that some drivers tended to speed up as they approached the intersection to try to catch the green lights.”

A raised crosswalk, Ross explained, combines the traffic-slowing effects of a speed table with the safety features of a high-visibility mid-block crosswalk. A speed table is basically an extra-wide speed bump that raises the wheelbase of a vehicle to slow it down.

Ross says he hopes the new raised crosswalk will result in more drivers yielding for pedestrians—and prove the investment is worthwhile and effective in other locations. He said there has been an unmeetable demand for traffic-calming installations around the city.

Susan Scott Peterson
90.5 WESA

“Driving behavior has gotten worse, especially coming out of the pandemic,” Ross said. “It’s been very, very, very, very bad.”

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the state saw a 20% reduction in vehicle miles traveled in 2020, but traffic deaths increased by 6%. That’s because with less traffic congestion, people have been able to drive faster, at speeds more likely to kill.

Ross says Neighborhood Traffic Calming Program staff have observed people driving faster over the last year. The program collects before-and-after data in locations in the city where they are planning or have installed traffic-calming devices. He says on the streets they monitor, drivers are traveling a few miles per hour higher on average than in the past.

Raised crosswalks are among the more expensive strategies used by the Neighborhood Traffic Calming Program, an initiative of Mayor Peduto’s administration. While the most popular of these are speed humps and speed tables, DOMI has used a number of other strategies, including splitter islands, pedestrian refuge islands, curb bump-outs, painted medians and “road diet” projects, which involve narrowing lower-traffic four-lane roads to two lanes to reduce conflicts in speeds.

The pilot crosswalk on Darlington costs around $25,000, and it’s the program’s second attempt at slowing drivers in that location.

In the spring, the city painted zig zag lines on each side of the street in an attempt to use a less expensive approach to calming traffic on Darlington. It was the first time the city tried zig zag road striping, a proven way to catch drivers’ attention and encourage them to slow down. DOMI found drivers slowed down a little in response to the zig zag lines, but not enough.

The Neighborhood Traffic Calming Program’s budget in 2021 was around $300,000 and they were about to do around a dozen projects, out of more than 200 projects requested. Ross said the program anticipates—and needs—a significant increase in the 2022 capital budget.

“It is an enormous, enormous amount of work that we pretty much run from the beginning of construction season to the end of it,” Ross said.

Residents with requests for traffic-calming can complete a Google form to have their project considered.

Susan Scott Peterson is an audio producer and writer whose journalism, radio and literary work have appeared with Vox Media, New Hampshire Public Radio, Allegheny Front, The Texas Observer and The Rumpus.