Pittsburgh’s business community will (probably) get its say on bike lanes

Meanwhile, the city says it is “continuing to evaluate and explore options” for bike lanes on Fort Pitt Boulevard.

A cyclist uses the Penn Avenue bike lane, Downtown.

A cyclist uses the Penn Avenue bike lane, Downtown.

Jasmine Goldband / The Incline
Sarah Anne Hughes

After weeks of delays, Pittsburgh City Council gave initial approval Wednesday to a bill that would create an advisory board of business owners, city employees and advocates to review plans for future bike lanes.

Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith reiterated this week that the idea for the bike infrastructure advisory committee arose after business owners on Fort Pitt Boulevard claimed they were not involved in the planning process to install lanes on a stretch of that road.

The board will represent a “diverse group of opinions … regarding the bike lanes,” she said, “so we’re really addressing all the needs of the community.”

“I just want to talk about how when we’re addressing these bike lanes, one, I think there needs to be somebody with a degree in planning involved in this. It’s my understanding that people involved have architecture degrees. They have various degrees, but nothing involving planning,” Kail-Smith said Wednesday, apparently referring to city employees involved in planning bike infrastructure. Her chief of staff did not respond to an email seeking clarification.

“I think that is probably where some of the confusion came in, where some of the problems have come in,” she continued. “It’s been brought to our attention in big numbers from the businesses in Fort Pitt Boulevard and across Pittsburgh.”

A plan to install bike lanes on Downtown streets to connect the Great Allegheny Passage to Point State Park has been met with fierce criticism from a group of business owners who oppose the removal of parking spaces on Fort Pitt.

At a December meeting on the project, Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Kristin Saunders said the city had considered installing the lanes on other streets including Boulevard of the Allies, which was projected to have a significant impact on traffic. Saunders said the goal was to begin installation in the summer.

When asked about that target, mayoral spokeswoman Katie O’Malley said by email, “We are continuing to evaluate and explore options and do not have a start date identified.” Saunders declined to elaborate further.

Attorney Joseph J. Pass, who wrote a letter to the Post-Gazette opposing the lanes, told The Incline by email that Kail-Smith and Councilman Daniel Lavelle have met with a group of business owners in the area. Lavelle’s office did not return a request for comment.

The future of Complete Streets

The version of the advisory board bill introduced by Kail-Smith in January and the one passed during this week’s standing committee meeting Wednesday had some substantial differences. It goes before council next week for final approval.

For one, what was originally billed as a bike lane advisory board became the more inclusive advisory board on bicycle infrastructure. The legislation also no longer requires a representative from the private nonprofit Bike Pittsburgh to serve on the board, instead setting aside seats for two representatives from “bicycle advocacy organizations.”

The frequency of meetings was reduced from monthly to bi-monthly or “as needed.” A requirement that the board coordinate a meeting with members of council at least 120 days before bike infrastructure is installed was slashed to 45 days.

The legislation now also states that Council will “re-evaluate the responsibilities of the Advisory Board and take any appropriate actions if necessary, three months after the first meeting of the Complete Streets Commission.”

The possible redundancy between the bike infrastructure advisory board and an advisory group whose creation is required as part of city’s Complete Streets legislation was of particular concern to Bike Pittsburgh, according to Advocacy Director Eric Boerer.

Boerer said it’s possible that the Complete Streets group could take the place of the bike infrastructure advisory board or that the board could become a sub-committee of the Complete Streets group.

Pittsburgh’s adopted Complete Streets policy, which requires the city to take into account all road users during the planning process, states that the group should “be consulted on an as needed basis for large planning projects related to Complete Streets, such as the creation of street design standards for Pittsburgh.”

“The group’s going to be tasked with reading and reviewing policy that the city is creating,” Saunders told The Incline on Thursday of Complete Streets. “They’re going to be tasked with identifying policies that they would like us to focus on. … They’re going to collectively decide on our street priorities.”

City Planning is accepting applications from residents who want to join the Complete Streets advisory group until Feb. 28. Those four members will represent different regions of the city, roughly north, south, east and west, Saunders said. Saunders said they hope to have a kickoff meeting with the whole group in March.