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A $12M makeover of North Side's East Ohio Street will include bike lanes

| Monday, March 16, 2015, 10:54 p.m.
Nick Ross stands in the Penn Avenue bike lanes near 6th Avenue downtown Wednesday, March 11, 2015. Ross bikes from the North Side to work Downtown every day.
James Knox | Trib Total Media
Nick Ross stands in the Penn Avenue bike lanes near 6th Avenue downtown Wednesday, March 11, 2015. Ross bikes from the North Side to work Downtown every day.
East Ohio St between Chestnut and East Street on Monday March 16, 2015. PennDOT is reconstructing the roadway starting this year and will be adding new bike lane and sidewalk improvements to the area.
Sidney Davis | Trib Total Media
East Ohio St between Chestnut and East Street on Monday March 16, 2015. PennDOT is reconstructing the roadway starting this year and will be adding new bike lane and sidewalk improvements to the area.

As much as Nick Ross likes to zip from the North Side to Downtown while biking to work, he suggests cyclists avoid East Ohio Street near the Interstate 279 interchange in Pittsburgh.

“It's very busy. Traffic goes very quickly,” said Ross, 38, of the Mexican War Streets neighborhood. “It's really not a very safe place in general. We started hearing folks talking about their workaround, or they have to avoid the route altogether.”

By fall 2016, detours won't be necessary. A $12 million construction project along East Ohio Street will incorporate 5-foot-wide bike lanes from Chestnut to East streets, along with curb patterns and sidewalks designed to promote walking and slow traffic.

The plan would keep the parking lane between Madison and Chestnut streets.

Ross, who chairs the bicycle and pedestrian committee at Northside Leadership Conference, said the improvements will be worth two summers of construction.

“These improvements aren't just there to help people with bikes,” he said. “It's slowing traffic so it creates a better neighborhood feel for everybody.”

April Milliner, who has lived on the North Side since 2011, said she doesn't see many cyclists using that stretch of road. “The traffic is absurd,” she said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation estimates that 24,900 vehicles use that portion of East Ohio Street daily.

The bike lanes will connect to the “share the road” lanes in the business district. Lonnie Williford, who works on the North Side, said he hopes this will increase bike activity, but he's not encouraged based on the bike lanes Downtown along Penn Avenue.

“I never see anyone on them,” he said. “It seems like a waste of space. I thought they could find a better place for it.”

Construction will incorporate East Ohio, Madison and East streets, four nearby bridges and the Route 28 on and off ramps. Before finalizing plans, PennDOT officials reached out to the conference, the city and the nonprofit advocacy organization Bike Pittsburgh in November to get feedback.

Abe Stucky, community projects coordinator for the conference, ran a highlighter down the road to envision bike lanes. He showed the doodle to member John Buerkle, an architect, who drew plans. PennDOT expressed interest, conducted a traffic study and showed final plans at a community meeting.

PennDOT spent $112,000 on the initial design plans for East Ohio Street bike lanes. The lanes will cost about $255,000; pedestrian improvements at the seven signalized intersections will cost about $190,000.

Stucky said conversations centered on how to include bike lanes and sidewalk improvements without taking space from drivers.

“In the end, we're all in favor of a complete street that accommodates all modes of transportation,” Stucky said.

Eric Boerer, advocacy director at Bike Pittsburgh, said the East Ohio improvements will turn the street into a recommended route for cyclists. It provides cyclists a connection between the North Shore and Downtown, where bike lanes were put onto Penn Avenue last year.

“We try to figure out the best opportunity,” Boerer said. “Sometimes, the best opportunity to try to work bike lanes onto a street is when it's going to be repaved because you're already removing the markings anyway.”

Bike Pittsburgh is pushing for legislation at the city level that would require road projects to incorporate bike lanes and sidewalks in new developments. The organization has a map of bike routes connected through the city that is color-coded to indicate how safe it believes they are for riders. The map serves as a de facto master plan for improving city lanes.

Kristin Saunders, the city's bike coordinator, said plans for bike lane construction this year are being determined. The city's 2015 capital budget includes about $2 million for bike infrastructure and bike facilities.

Bike lane development can happen by adding lanes to pending projects, she said, or planning new ones.

“We're taking both approaches,” she said. “Every new construction or maintenance project should be asking those questions.”

Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or mdaniels@tribweb.com.

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