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New Pittsburgh legislation says designated bike lanes are not potential parking spaces

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Sarah Kovash
/
90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh has more than 60 miles of designated bike lanes, a number that officials hope to increase substantially within the next few years, as helping more people find non-car ways to get where they need to go is a long-stated goal of city officials. However, it is not uncommon to find a car or truck — or several — parked in lanes intended for people on bikes and other low-speed modes of travel like stand-on scooters.

Parked or idling vehicles in bike lanes is “a clear problem and a clear safety issue,” said Eric Boerer, advocacy director for Bike Pittsburgh.

But fixing the problem proved murkier.

“I’m thinking like, ‘OK, well, we’ll just reach out to people that do the enforcement and this will go easy, and no big deal,’” said Councilor Bobby Wilson. “Turns out it’s a bigger lift than we think.”

Pennsylvania law prohibits blocking a travel lane, which includes bike lanes, but the rule simply isn’t in Pittsburgh’s municipal code.

“Right now, if the police are going to cite [someone parked in a bike lane] they’d like to see a no-parking sign right beside the bike lane,” Wilson said.

Instead of spending taxpayer dollars to install hundreds of new no-parking signs, Wilson decided to simply add “in a bicycle lane” to the list of places drivers may not stop, stand, or park under current city regulations.

Road safety depends on predictability; bike lanes are designed so that drivers and cyclists can reliably anticipate the others’ movements, Boerer said. But when someone blocks a bike lane, “it requires people on bikes to swerve out of the bike lane into moving traffic, and people aren’t expecting that,” he said. “It kind of mucks up the whole system.”

That’s especially true in recently-installed bike lanes that flow against traffic, such as on Forbes Avenue in Oakland, Boerer said. If cyclists have to move out of a bike lane there to avoid a vehicle, they face oncoming traffic.

Boerer added that when people park vehicles in bike lanes, it leads to negative feelings and confrontations, “and we just want to get away from that.” He is hopeful that, if adopted, the legislation will clear up confusion about where people may and may not park. The organization has done assessments of bike lanes and found that some lanes are blocked 25 to 50 percent of the time.

“It doesn’t make sense to go and spend taxpayer money to invest in bike lanes if we’re not going to ensure that the people who are using them have access to them,” Wilson said.

The legislation, which council unanimously passed on Tuesday, would not apply to paratransit vehicles picking up or dropping off passengers. If there is a section of the street where parking in a bike lane some of the time is critical, people can apply to the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure for an exception and signage.

Wilson said typically the city relies heavily on police to enforce traffic regulations, but parking violations should really be the responsibility of the Pittsburgh Parking Authority. Wilson said he’s had conversations with the agency’s leadership who agree that if agents are out ticketing for expired meters, then “we want you to follow through and do it all,” and cite for other violations, such as parking in crosswalks or in bike lanes.

“It’s dangerous to park in a bike lane, don’t do it, cut it out,” Wilson said. “Do better. And everything will be fine.”

Updated: December 7, 2021 at 3:05 PM EST
This story was updated to reflect the proposal's passage in city council on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021.
Margaret J. Krauss is WESA’s senior reporter. She covers development and transportation, and has produced award-winning podcasts on housing, work, and Pittsburgh’s lesser-known history. Before joining the newsroom full time, she covered the challenges facing Pennsylvania cities as a statewide reporter, and spent another life as an assistant editor for National Geographic Kids Magazine in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at mkrauss@wesa.fm.
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