Pittsburgh council delays plan to help naysayers like bike lanes more

Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith said the proposal she introduced was not meant to be “adversarial.”

The protected bike lanes on Penn Avenue.

The protected bike lanes on Penn Avenue.

Paul Sableman / Flickr
Sarah Anne Hughes

Updated 1:20 p.m.

Take two.

On Wednesday, Pittsburgh City Council tabled a bill that would create an advisory board on bike lane infrastructure with plans to take it up again next week after it’s reworked.

Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith said the proposal she introduced was not meant to be “adversarial.”

“We are getting a lot of complaints regarding bike infrastructure,” she said. “If we were doing such a fantastic job, we wouldn’t have the volume of complaints that we are receiving across the city of Pittsburgh.”

She added that many council members support bike lanes but that concerns from residents, motorists, business owners and cyclists can’t be ignored.

As currently drafted, the committee’s duties would include creating “clear guidelines for both the process of developing bike lanes and design guidelines;” holding a public meeting 90 days before bike lanes are installed in the affected community; and meeting with council members at least 120 days before the lanes are installed.

Its members would include the director of the new Mobility and Infrastructure department, the city’s bike-pedestrian coordinator, a rep from the City-County Task Force on Disabilities, a rep from Bike Pittsburgh, the director of the Parking Authority or a designee and a “representative of the business community.”

Eric Boerer, advocacy director for Bike Pittsburgh, said the group supports the formation of bike advisory committees, but not as presented in the original bill.

“We think that there’s a real opportunity to come together with council on basing this committee on national best practices,” he said.

The best committees, Boerer said, work toward a goal and serve as a guiding force rather than “review every single detail of every project.”

In a paper on best practices, the League of American Bicyclists writes that cyclist and pedestrian advisory committees should ideally:

  • “Act as a check for elected officials and agency staff  
  • Expect presentations and chances to give input to agency staff on major projects (e.g. bridges, street repaving, comprehensive plan)  
  • Provide constructive guidance on bicycle and pedestrian issues  
  • Ensure residents have an opportunity to give input and receive a response”

And should avoid:

  • “Endorsing candidates or any political involvement (members can act as individuals, but cannot represent the BPAC)  
  • Narrowly focusing on members’ pet causes  
  • Losing sight of the big picture — adding bicycle and pedestrian facilities to a bridge is more important than a bicycle map update”

The members of the committee should “represent different geographic areas, organizations and agencies, and types of bicyclists and pedestrians,” the league wrote.

Bike Pittsburgh also expressed concerns about redundancy between a bike lane advisory committee and the Complete Streets advisory committee City Planning is in the midst of forming. The latter committee is tasked with working on design standards, for example, which the bike lane advisory committee would also do, as drafted.

Beyond local issues, Kail-Smith said the committee could also work on an impending change to the state’s code. Through her chief of staff, the councilwoman later clarified that she was speaking about the bicycle chapter in PennDOT’s design manual.

“If Pittsburgh wants a voice in this, we should have our committee in place,” she said, adding that Philadelphia is already working “on their program and their policy.”

She continued that the state said it is “likely … to implement Pittsburgh and Philadelphia’s suggestions” and that “essentially the city of Pittsburgh and Philly would write the code.”

Rich Kirkpatrick, a spokesperson for PennDOT, wrote in an email that the agency “is working to update the bicycle chapter in its design manual with the goal of giving PennDOT designers better options to accommodate bicyclists. This could include pavement markings.”

When asked if Pittsburgh would have an opportunity to weigh in, he responded, “We are working on details of outreach.”

The City of Pittsburgh is also working on a citywide bike plan, and its final draft is due for release. The last plan was written in 1999, Boerer said, and there’s “very little we haven’t accomplished.”

Kristin Saunders, the city’s bike and pedestrian coordinator, said the department expects movement on the plan in the first quarter of 2017 “with a plan for public outreach [and] feedback before publication [and] adoption in the spring.”

Ideally, a bike advisory committee would work to make sure that the plan is implemented, Boerer said.

“We really need [the plan] to move the whole bike program forward,” he said.