Pittsburgh planner: We need a grid of bike lanes

But what about parking? Downtown business owners asked during a meeting Wednesday.

The protected bike lanes on Penn Avenue.

The protected bike lanes on Penn Avenue.

Paul Sableman / Flickr
Sarah Anne Hughes

A Pittsburgh planner made the case for continuing to create a network of bike lanes Downtown in the face of a handful of objections from business owners and residents concerned about parking and loading.

“We don’t need bike lanes on every street,” city Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Kristin Saunders said to dozens of people at a packed meeting Wednesday night. “We do need a grid.”

The proposed lanes on three Downtown streets would connect the Great Allegheny Passage to Point State Park. A two-way protected cycle track would run on Fort Pitt Boulevard from Smithfield to Stanwix Street. The path would continue on Stanwix, where there would be traditional or buffered bike lanes. The Penn Avenue two-way protected lanes, which currently run from 16th Street to Stanwix, would be extended to the park.

“People are coming into Downtown, and we don’t really know where they’re going,” Saunders said of Great Allegheny Passage riders.

But the project is not just about connecting the trail to the park.

It’s also about continuing to connect Downtown’s existing bike lanes to create a network. Another goal is to reduce sidewalk riding, which is illegal Downtown, she said.

“We have all of these dead ends,” Saunders said. “We’d like to see more people cycling, but we’re not accommodating them because we don’t have protected bike lanes.”

A recent paper in the American Journal of Public Health on protected bike infrastructure found that, “It is crucial to provide physical separation from fast-moving, high-volume motor vehicle traffic and better intersection design to avoid conflicts between cyclists and motor vehicles.” More people will ride bikes if there’s “more and better bicycle infrastructure,” the paper concluded.

“It was never intended that we’d have a standalone protected bike lane, but a network of bike lanes, like a highway system to get you from one place to another,” Mayor Bill Peduto told The Incline on Wednesday night after announcing his reelection bid.

“Change is difficult for any issue and in particular with transportation changes that are happening not just in Pittsburgh but around the country,” he said. “If you talk to the merchants along Penn Avenue where the first dedicated bike lane was installed, this was their best year.”

At the meeting Wednesday, which was held in a Point Park University building auditorium, Saudners said the city considered other alignment options including using Boulevard of the Allies, but putting lanes on that street was projected to have a significant impact on traffic. Taking a parking lane on Fort Pitt Boulevard for a two-way cycle track wouldn’t, she said.

Of course, putting in the protected lanes — ones where riders are separated from vehicles by plastic bollards — would eliminate parking on that part of the street.

“People feel very strongly about street parking,” Saunders said.

Yes. They do.

“I’ve invested $10 million in the area!” exclaimed a man at the meeting, one of a handful of people who identified themselves as property owners or residents. “You’re crushing businesses on Fort Pitt Boulevard,” building owner Wayne Gregg said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, while a woman who said she lived in a condo on the street was concerned about exiting the parking garage safely.

A man who introduced himself as a non-cyclist asked, “Is it an absolute forbidden thing that you can’t get off your bike and walk your bike two blocks to get on the next trail?” A woman in the audience pointed out that cyclists have “different physical abilities,” including those who may be unable to walk and use handcycles.

The man later said the bike lane project “seems like eminent domain to me.” (Eminent domain allows governments to take private land for the public good.)

Saunders said the goal is to begin installation in summer 2017. The city is still waiting on assessments before finalizing designs, which have not been posted online.

The preliminary designs Saunders presented Wednesday also included a marking for a future goal: a bike lane that runs north and south Downtown.

“We need to get that fully connected.”