Pittsburgh prepares master plan to boost bicycling on city streets
A master plan for bicycling in Pittsburgh is about to be released by city officials, who say its contents will quell bikers’ frustrations.
The most prevalent qualm for those in the saddle?
“There are really great bike lanes around and then they end … it’s sorta piecemeal at the moment,” said Eric Boerer at BikePGH, a bike advocacy group. The disconnectedness often makes riders and potential riders feel unsafe – and sometimes that leads to crashes that are becoming increasingly more deadly.
There were 66 crashes involving bicyclists in 2018 in Allegheny County, according raw data from to the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center. Of those, one died and 11 received major injuries.
The numbers align closely with a 2016 BikePGH Report on Pedestrian and Bicycling Safety in Pittsburgh 2011-15, which found there were around 62 reported crashes involving bicyclists between 2011 and 2015.
One of those crashes involved Katie Blackburn, 28, of Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield neighborhood. She recounted the crash while on her daily 25-minute commute to North Point Breeze on a recent, brisk October day.
“I had a broken bike, stitches and a concussion,” Blackburn said, adding the incident struck fear in her that kept her off her bike for seven months following the run-in. She was making her way through an intersection when a driver, attempting to make a left turn, hit her square on. The driver didn’t see her.
Blackburn is president at Free Ride Pittsburgh, a bicycle collective that offers used bikes and parts to the community. An urban rider for around 15 years, she said she’s never been so scared to resume pedaling. She now makes sure she takes up an entire lane, uses hand signals, wears bright colors and flashing lights – all to be more visible while on the road.
Rob Almond, 25, lives in Verona. He rides his bike everywhere – he doesn’t own a car or even hold a driver’s license.
Almond works at Home Depot and McDonald’s, but he also works for different delivery services such as Uber Eats and Postmates. The apps that map his routes, however, do not pick designated bike lanes or other bike-related infrastructure.
“Sometimes it takes me on a cobblestone road, or other rinky-dinky routes,” Almond said. It’s on routes like those where accidents are bound to happen, he said.
One day on a delivery, Almond got “doored” — he ran into an open car door as the driver was getting out, making a collision impossible to avoid.
“I was nicked up pretty bad. My bike was pretty much totaled,” he said. Almond eventually was able to secure a settlement through litigation to buy a new bike and pay for a hospital visit.
The crash reinforces for Almond the need for more bike lanes. At the same time, he seeks more communication among city officials, bikers and drivers when those lanes are constructed.
Bikers like Almond and Blackburn are aware of the dangers associated with how they travel. Fatalities in the region remind them all too often.
Austin Fike, 22, died when last month he was struck by a vehicle in Pittsburgh’s Brookline neighborhood. Others from the region who were killed this year include Jason Zollinger, 38, of Hempfield and Thomas Haykin, 57, of O’Hara.
Nationally, cycling is projected to get deadlier as more cyclists take to the streets.
A June National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report found that fatal crashes involving cyclists are expected to increase by 10% in 2018 when compared to 2017. The statistic comes when the NHTSA predicts a 1% decrease in fatal vehicle crashes in the same time period.
Karina Ricks, director of Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, hopes the city’s master bike plan addresses bikers’ concerns and, ultimately, makes biking in the city safer.
Ricks said it will show the public how the city intends to address concerns over the next 10 years. For starters, the plan will add 120 miles to the city’s “dedicated bike facilities,” for a total of 160 miles out of roughly 1,000 miles of city streets. She said facilities include protected and unprotected bike lanes.
They don’t include “sharrows,” painted icons that indicate to drivers the roadway is to be shared with cyclists.
“It is a road map,” Ricks said. “As we go about modernizing and maintaining our streets, and when we do future projects, it gives us information to know what else is needed.”
The plan will also address the use of smart signals, which are designed to ease traffic congestion and allow for a smoother commute along key city corridors for drivers and bikers.
Currently, 2% of Pittsburghers commute on bike lanes regularly, Ricks said. But, she said, over half of the city’s population enjoy bicycling, whether for commuting or for fun. She hopes the bike plan ultimately leads to a wider variety of people who feel safe enough to ride their bikes on the streets.
“Our goal is that we can provide all ages and all abilities a safe and connected network,” Ricks said. “So the network would allow children to get to school safely. Or older adults, who are more cautious, or feel a little more intimidated, we want to make sure the bike plan is providing for them.”
One example of how that will look in the bike plan is the creation of “neighborways.” Ricks said these will be small, residential streets where the city will implement methods to keep vehicle volumes low.
Heading into 2020, Pittsburghers can expect the city to add at least 15 more miles of bicycle infrastructure. The department also plans to improve existing bike lanes, she said.
The city’s capital budget for 2020-25 includes $42.5 million for projects, 2% of which will be allocated to bike infrastructure, Ricks said.
Ricks could not give a definitive date as to when the master bike plan will be finished. However, she said a draft should be complete in the coming weeks and that the final version will be available before the new year.
Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, [email protected] or via Twitter .