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Sharing road with cyclists can be a challenge

| Monday, Jan. 9, 2017, 12:26 a.m.

When a Springdale woman's car plowed into a group of five cyclists on the borough's Pittsburgh Street in early December, two riders were struck and expensive bikes were damaged.

More cyclist and automobile collisions are a potential danger as more bikes will be making their way onto the main streets of small towns that dot the banks of the Allegheny River.

New on-road and off-road bike trails are in the works for a number of communities in the Alle-Kiski Valley.

They'll add to the existing bicycle training routes that have existed for years on a mostly two-lane road that takes several names — Freeport Road, Pittsburgh Street, West Seventh Avenue — through business districts from Fox Chapel to Tarentum.

Springdale Police said the December accident was caused by an 82-year-old woman driving on Pittsburgh Street who hit the cyclists when she tried to turn onto Colfax Street in front of them, according to police. She didn't make it and collided with two of the cyclists, who bumped into a third rider.

In small towns, bicyclists face the challenges of parked cars or vehicles turning in front of them, said Yasmeen Manyisha of PennDOT. Motorists face narrow lanes made even narrower by the passing bicyclists.

The bicyclists who were hit in Springdale suffered severe facial and neck injuries, according to Springdale Acting Chief Derek Dayoub. The third cyclist that was caught up in the initial crash had neck and back pain. All recovered, he said.

Police have not released the total damages, but Dayoub said each bike is worth between $8,000 to $10,000.

The woman was cited for illegally making a left turn and paid a fine and court costs of $128.

Small town cycling

Mark Bedel, 59, of Richland Township, who works at Probike+Run in Pittsburgh, is a category III amateur racer and rides with several cycling clubs through the Alle-Kiski Valley twice a year on what he refers to as the “Freeport Road circuit” stretching from Fox Chapel to Tarentum.

On the plus side, the traffic volume is lower in the small towns and as is the speed limit, according to Bedel.

“The perception is that it is safe to ride there,” he said.

But the parked cars with occupants opening up their doors and hitting an unsuspecting biker are a huge risk and cyclists can easily get “doored.”

“If you see someone sitting in a car, give them a wide berth,” he advised.

Cyclists have to make themselves as visible as possible, Bedel said.

“Try to be predictable and hold a steady line,” he said.

Safety in numbers works especially for larger groups of 15 to 20 cyclists.

“When group gets smaller, so does the ability for motorists to see them,” Bedel said.

When he goes on solo training rides, he avoids small towns with congested traffic, opting for the lesser traveled roads in Pittsburgh's northern suburbs.

More bikes are coming

More bicycle riders are expected to cruise through the Alle-Kiski Valley as the Allegheny River Heritage walking/bike trail extends north along the river from Millvale to the Schenley section of Gilpin.

The nonprofit Friends of the Riverfront has been working with local officials to plan their segment of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail — a 29-mile recreational path through 17 communities from Millvale to Schenley.

It will connect to the Pittsburgh section of the trail, which winds along 24 miles of the river banks of the Allegheny, Ohio and Monongahela.

But because of private land ownership and railroad properties, the trail will have to go into some of the Alle-Kiski river towns.

The prospect of bikes and cars sharing the same corridor is determined by what each community wants to do, said Tom Baxter, executive director of Friends of the Riverfront. “In the end, it's their product.”

The group credits the trails for bringing in visitors and dollars to revitalize some of the old towns, especially when it goes through a main or secondary street.

“Using a main street can be challenging but there are design solutions that should be considered,” he said.

Springdale Council is looking at removing parking on one side of Pittsburgh Street between Orchard and James streets where the narrowness of the street that has been a factor in numerous accidents and clipped side mirrors involving passing cars hitting parked cars.

Council Vice President Eileen Miller recently suggested that some of the space now used for parking on one side of the street could be used for a bike lane.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or mthomas@tribweb.com.

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