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April 03, 2014

A Tale of Two Bike Lanes: Quick & Dirty, Slow & Wise

It was the quickest of choices,
   it was the wisest of choices.
It was the most short-lived of lanes,
   it was the most successful of lanes.
People say, and newspapers report, that the Mayor has announced plans to build a protected bike lane on a downtown street by Sept. 8th. Actually, the Mayor told a private meeting of downtown business folks about his plans, but there's been no public disclosure, so: Gosh I wish I was a downtown business folk; Access n'at.

If you accept the public story at face value, there's going to be a lot of public discussion, all input will be valued, and in five months a lane will be blocked off. No mention of: bus stops, or bus lanes. You can't have a good process or a good result in the time available, unless you really want to achieve a pre-ordained result.

But in the spirit of making lemonade, here's a way to meet an actual public need, meet the deadline, and get a great long-term result, because this is not the type of blog that whines; this is a solution providing type of blog. We're value-adding™.

Last year, there was a great Huzzah as the Great Allegheny Passage, a non-motorized connection between Cumberland MD and Point State Park was completed with the Sandcastle Trail. Just one problem: you still can't get to Point State Park without riding in traffic along the GAP route, because the Smithfield Street Bridge switchback connector to the Mon Whorf Trail won't be open until 2015.

So, a malformed syllogism:

  • In 2013 the public announcement was that the GAP was complete, and people can plan on a car-free trip from Cumberland to Point State Park.
  • The 2014 GAP puts itinerant cyclists out in traffic from the Smithfield Bridge to Point State Park.
  • Hashtag-Nobody-Wins when our Pittsburgh drivers meet an out of town cyclist and we unlock our first GAP cyclist fatalities dahntahn. #YODO.

Solution Step One: Quick & Dirty in 2014. Install a concrete Jersey-Barrier protected bike lane along Ft. Pitt Blvd from Smithfield Street to Commonwealth Avenue, close the turn from Ft.Pitt to Commonwealth for the bike lane, and continue the bike lane along Commonwealth to Point State Park.

  • All the bus stops along Ft. Pitt Blvd remain. Passengers will queue on the sidewalk for their bus. The bus will stop in the car lane (just like they do now, just one lane over). Passengers will cross the bike lane, using a marked crosswalk. Signs will tell cyclists to give way to pedestrians (a national standard). Benefit: No impact to transit.
  • This is a short-term bike lane. When the Smithfield Street switchback ramp opens in 2015, Ft.Pitt Blvd, the turn to Commonwealth, and Commonwealth Ave return to previous conditions. No Damage.

Solution Step Two: Slow & Wise for 2015 Conduct a comprehensive, integrated process to determine where to place the (real, finalized) crosstown bike lane. If there is any impact to transit (as seems very likely), expand the process to include the transit plan.

  • You can't build NextPgh by pitting Cyclists and NewUrbanists against Transit Users.
  • The process has to be transparent, or else there's the appearance that this is a predetermined process to improve the value of developer's real estate.

(apologies to Dickens).


Sara Walfoort said...

You could put one northbound on Smithfield with.little impact on transit. Same with Ft. Duquesne Blvd. Closing that gap in the GAP may not be the City's top priority under the Green Lanes program.

Unknown said...

I definitely think smithfield is a key lane for bikes to get across the downtown area.. I use this heavily for getting to oakland south side and anything east from the north side..

infinitebuffalo said...

Especially given that they're still planning to hollow out the Saks and turn it into a parking garage, it doesn't seem unreasonable to ask that they keep the bus lane on Smithfield and turn the right-hand curb lane, currently parking, into a two-way cycletrack.

Anonymous said...

Have you seen this post on "US cycling from a Dutch perspective" -- especially the 5-minute video at the bottom of the page? Some really smart, practical ideas from people who know a thing or two about everyday cycling. If we're going to be serious about these bike lanes, we might want to learn from a culture that's been doing it for years.

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