By Ryan Deto
on Fri, Oct 21, 2016 at 1:19 PM
CP photo by Theo Schwarz
Susan Hicks ghost bike on Forbes Avenue in Oakland
When Susan Hicks was bicycling in Oakland on Oct. 23, 2015, she was riding the exact way Pennsylvania law told her to: as if she were driving a car.
Unfortunately for the University of Pittsburgh educator, and for those who loved her, a car collided into a car behind her and caused a chain reaction that squeezed Hicks in between two vehicles and ultimately resulted in her death. Now, on the near anniversary of that tragic day, advocates and friends are organizing a group ride to honor Hicks and to bring awareness to bike-safety issues.
"Remembering Susan helps us remember her legacy of making the world a better place to live, which include the safety improvements that are so necessary in Oakland," Eric Boerer of Bike Pittsburgh wrote in an email to Pittsburgh City Paper. He is helping organize the event with Hicks' close friends.
Hicks' death, as well as the death of cyclist Dennis Flanagan in the West End, was the last straw for many bike advocates in Pittsburgh. On Aug. 31, hundreds of advocates packed a room at Carnegie Mellon University, demanding that PennDOT start to create more bike-friendly infrastructure, starting with Forbes Avenue in Oakland, were Hicks was killed.
Dawn Seckler, a close friend of Hicks, says that Hicks was a very passionate academic adviser to her students who helped them get grants and scholarships.
"Susan was really that kind of adviser that would get students really excited about getting opportunities," says Seckler. "And she would work hard to make those possibilities become realities."
To celebrate Hicks' life as a cyclist and educator, her close friends started a scholarship fund last year in her honor. Seckler says that Hicks had such a positive effect on people, that the fund raised more than $20,000 in less than a year, and a Pitt student has already received money from the scholarship.
"This was a really tangible way that we could create a legacy to Susan's energy," says Seckler.
Seckler adds that the cycling community has also been instrumental in advocating for Hicks.
"Susan was a multifaceted person," says Seckler. "She had more than one community, and these communities have been engaging with one another. The biking community has been able to mobilize her advocacy and get to know this really unique woman. We all have so many communities, and they don't always come together, and it has been wonderful seeing these communities come together."
For those wishing to participate, a memorial event starts at 4:30 p.m. today (Oct. 21) at the Hicks ghost bike, near the corner of Forbes and South Bellefield avenues, near the Carnegie Music Hall. A memorial group ride then starts at 5:30 p.m. from the ghost bike to Brillobox in Bloomfield, where a fundraiser happy hour will be held from 5 to 8 p.m.
By Ryan Deto
on Fri, Oct 14, 2016 at 3:06 PM
On Oct. 11, Pittsburgh government groups and nonprofits released a video aimed at reminding pedestrians in Downtown to stay off their phones when crossing the street. A grim reaper walks up to distracted pedestrians and shouts zingers like, “I love the cell phones, makes my job so much easier.”
The video is an advertisement for the campaign “Look Alive, Pittsburgh,” which will run throughout October with improv actors dressed as grim reapers confronting Downtown pedestrians who are on their phones while crossing the street.
Gabriel McMorland is a member of the Pittsburgh City-Allegheny County Task Force on Disabilities, and he advocates for people with disabilities and pedestrians. He has issues with the video because he says it puts too much of the onus on pedestrians to avoid being hit by cars, when drivers are often distracted at the wheel.
"The Look Alive campaign follows the same victim-blaming logic we see in far too many public discussions about people in vulnerable situations,” wrote McMorland in an email to Pittsburgh City Paper. “I'd much rather see a crew of these grim-reaper puppets pushing cars out of the crosswalks or calling out drivers for texting behind the wheel. We've got a culture that accepts life-threatening behavior from drivers as the norm, and I'd like to see more efforts to change that."
According to a study by Ohio State University, the percentage of pedestrians killed while using cell phones has risen from less than 1 percent in 2004 to more than 3.5 percent in 2010.
Some pedestrians in the video seem unaware of their surroundings, and the grim reaper scares a few who are staring at phones as they cross the street. However, each person that is walking while texting appears to be crossing the street on a walk signal and within the designated crosswalk.
McMorland believes there is a better strategy for pedestrian safety. He references an advocate in Mexico City, who dresses up as a wrestler and blocks cars as pedestrians cross the street, as a superior example of how to avoid pedestrian death by cars.
And it’s not just pedestrian advocates who are upset with the campaign. Adam Shuck, curator of the popular lunchtime newsletter Eat That, Read This, tweeted criticism of the video, saying this “grim reaper pedestrian victim-blaming stunt is some hot garbage.”
The video was produced by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and PDP spokesperson Leigh White says the intent was “to use humor to encourage pedestrians to be more self-aware.” She says PDP acknowledges the criticism, but believes the campaign is and will be successful.
“While we have heard some criticism of the campaign, and suggestions that there is an element of victim-blaming, we feel the campaign only encourages pedestrians to reduce behaviors that place themselves at increased risk and in no way absolves vehicles of their responsibility to make pedestrian safety a paramount concern,” wrote White in an email to CP. “We plan to address driver distraction in the next phase of the campaign, with the same goals of reducing behaviors that increase risk to pedestrians, bikers and other vehicles.”
The initiative plans to address distracted drivers by using Downtown bus shelters. The shelters will have white panel advertisements that read “We’re keeping this space blank. So you can keep your eyes on the road.”
Also, electronic “geo-fencing” perimeters will be placed at high-traffic intersections and will place pop-up advertisements on user’s cell phones reminding both pedestrians and drivers to monitor the intersection.
“We have all been guilty of being a distracted driver or pedestrian. We look forward to using the very technology that is distracting to promote our safety-awareness efforts and encourage people to keep their attention where it is needed” said PDP president Jeremy Waldrup in the campaign’s initial press release.
By Ryan Deto
on Mon, Jul 18, 2016 at 3:41 PM
Image courtesy of Pittsburgh Department of City Planning
An example of Complete Streets design
"Complete Streets" should be coming to Pittsburgh soon, and the city is asking for input. The idea, which brings equity to roadways by ensuring cars, pedestrians, cyclists and public transit riders have equal access to streets, will be the first of its kind in the region says Kristin Saunders, the city's bike and pedestrian coordinator.
“We want to build a city that accommodates people walking, taking public transit, biking, and people driving,” Saunders said to a crowd of 50 at the South Side Market House on July 7. “Our streets should be great public spaces.”
She presented a draft of the city’s Complete Streetspolicy during the public meeting, and laid out how the city plans to redesign streets to accommodate all users. She said roadways could receive complete streets designs in three ways: by creating new roadways, during street pavings and utility replacements, and through large-scale capital improvement projects. She says this helps to limit costs, since pavings and replacements were scheduled anyway and grants are a separate source of funding from the city’s capital budget.
In fact, one Pittsburgh road will be seeing some equitable road design in the near future. Broadway Avenue in Beechview will be redesigned with friendlier sidewalks, improved light-rail stations and, possibly, Pittsburgh’s first bike lanes shielded by parked cars thanks to a $600,000 state grant awarded to the neighborhood.
“This is such fantastic news for Beechview,” said Pittsburgh City Councilor Natalia Rudiak in a statement. “The neighborhood is poised for renewal with young families buying homes and developers taking on major renovations. Now, our public infrastructure can be more accessible and attractive.”
However, there will be some exceptions, and Eric Boerer of bike-advocacy group Bike Pittsburgh asked at the meeting who would decide what streets are excluded from complete streets design. Saunders said an advisory committee will make those choices and decisions on the committee’s size and makeup, which are not final. She did hint that they will involve members of city government and advocacy groups, however.
But for those who wish to ensure their voices are heard, comments can be given here. Respondents can also send letters to the Department of City Planning offices at 200 Ross St., Fourth Floor, Pittsburgh, PA 15222.The public comment period closes on July 25.
A meeting is also being held tonight (July 18) to receive public input for Pittsburgh's new citywide bike plan at the 1319 Allegheny Ave., North Side from 6-8 p.m. Two more bike-plan public meetings will be held in the next two weeks at various locations around Pittsburgh. Check the city planning department’s calendar for details.
By Ryan Deto
on Fri, Jun 24, 2016 at 1:42 PM
Photo by Ryan Deto
Rachel Filippini, of Group Against Smog and Pollution, speaks at Port Authority board meeting.
According to a 2016 report from the American Lung Association, the Pittsburgh region failed its criteria for healthy levels of ozone and particle pollution. The region improved on its air quality report from last year, but still has a way to go.
"While air quality in Pittsburgh has improved over the last several decades," says Rachel Filippini, of Group Against Smog and Pollution, or GASP. "We continue to have some of the worst air pollution in the country, especially in terms of fine-particulate matter. One source of these emissions is Port Authority buses."
It is for this reason that a group of environmental and transit advocates spoke at June's Port Authority of Allegheny County board meeting and are calling for the authority to “green their fleet” by 2030, specifically an all-electric fleet.
There are currently 426 diesel vehicles built after 2007, which some would consider “clean diesel,” and 310 diesel vehicles built before 2006, which are not considered clean. PAT board passed a resolution at the meeting that would replace 70 of the older vehicles with newer “clean diesel” options, making the fleet around 70 percent “clean diesel.”
While advocates applaud this effort, they are asking PAT to go even further. Filippini says she would like to see all pre-2006 buses eventually taken out of service and is asking the authority to transition to a fleet of electric buses that are fueled by renewable energy sources. “We must work to green the fleet.”
Kimmy Dihn, of transit-advocate group Pittsburghers for Public Transportation, says moving toward more environmentally friendly vehicles could help address public-health issues, too. “We are voicing the concern of how buses affect the public health of pedestrians, cyclists and public-transportation riders.”
She too is asking PAT to transition to an all-electric fleet. Warwick Powell, of environmental group 350 Pittsburgh, says greening the bus fleet could make Pittsburgh a climate-change leader. He also says this is a great time to do so, given all the local support, including the arrival of solar-energy giant, SolarCity, to the Pittsburgh market.
“Renewable energy has never had stronger support from the government and the public,” says Powell.
PAT spokesperson Jim Ritchie says including electric vehicles is “something we are interested in.” He says the authority is currently working on specifications that will consider including electric buses in the next contract of bus replacements, which could be presented this fall. Ritchie adds that PAT has already tested electric vehicles from companies like California-based Proterra and Canadian-based New Flyer, and plans to test electric buses from one more company. He also notes that the PAT fleet does include 32 hybrid vehicles.
By Ryan Deto
on Thu, Jun 9, 2016 at 3:36 PM
Port Authority is finally moving into the 21st century. For years, countless cities across the country have used technology to provide riders with more up-to-the-minute information about buses, subways and rail cars, but PAT has lagged behind.
“We were behind the times, but now with this new technology, we are leap-frogging most major cities,” says PAT spokesperson Adam Brandolph.
Photo by Ryan Deto
Digital information kiosk that will be installed at Downtown light-rail stations
PAT plans to build eight solar-powered bus stops that will provide digital readings of routes’ wait times on iPad-size screens, and two of those digital bus stops will also include maps. (Exclusive of PAT's plans, the super-stop at Smithfield Street and Sixth Avenue Downtown will also soon have a digital screen that shows up-to-the-minute wait times.)
The authority will also install five large touchscreen kiosks that will read out route overviews, provide up-to-the-minute wait times, and offer advice on trip planning (basically utilizing the interface that Google Maps uses). Users will be able to get directions for using public transit, walking, biking or driving, and will be able to email or text those directions.
The kiosks will be located at light-rail stations Downtown and on the North Side, and Brandolph says they should be installed by August. Pole bus stops are also getting revamped.
Many pole bus stops currently only list the route number and name on a small sign. Some of these signs also include routes that no longer exist or routes that have been altered so that bus no longer stops there.
PAT plans to build 85 low-tech pole bus stops Downtown that will include a small map with information on how often buses arrive, as well as routes printed in much larger font. Brandolph says these new pole stops will provide much of the information from the print bus schedules, but condensed into an easy-to-understand format.
“Downtown Pittsburgh has thousands of signs directed at motorists, but it’s equally important for pedestrians to know where they can hop on a bus or grab a light rail vehicle to get them to where they want to go,” said Allegheny County executive Rich Fitzgerald in a press release. “This new wayfinding will enhance visibility of our transit system and make riding on public transportation easier.”
By Ryan Deto
on Wed, Jun 1, 2016 at 11:31 AM
One year ago this week, Pittsburgh launched its first-ever bike-share system with 12 stations. Now the system, known as Healthy Ride, has 50 stations dotted across Pittsburgh and is looking to add more.
As part of this year’s first Open Streets festival, Healthy Ride director David White announced plans for Pittsburgh Bike Share to add more stations and reach outlying communities. An interactive map shows around 90 suggested locations, many in neighborhoods that do not currently have a bike-share station, such as Squirrel Hill, Homewood, Beechview and West End Village. The bike-share
Photo by Ryan Deto
Patron riding a Healthy Ride bike as part of Open Streets festival
system is also considering expanding outside of the city limits and has suggestions for stations in Millvale, Wilkinsburg, West Homestead and Bellevue.
“I certainly would not rule out creating connections in Millvale or Wilkinsburg,” says Healthy Ride spokesperson Erin Potts. “These are both areas we'd love to serve.”
Healthy Ride is seeking public input on where the next stations could go. Those interested can visit the map at healthyride.com, “like” spots and provide comments on suggested stations.
“There are, of course, areas where we see great connection potential, but we want to start with hearing from our riders and people who want to ride,” said Potts in an email to City Paper. “We view the interactive map and public-outreach strategy as a means of getting invaluable feedback from the people who live, work and play in Pittsburgh. Their insight will help inform the next 10 stations and beyond.”
Healthy Rides’ first year in operation has netted 80,000 rides, 30,000 registered users, and 2,250 monthly members, according to a press release. On Bike-to-Work Day, when Healthy Ride offered free rides all day, the bike-share system saw 575 rides, including more than 100 during commuting hours.
“We hope that by growing our system we will see even more people biking in Pittsburgh,” said White in a press release.
By Ryan Deto
on Fri, May 27, 2016 at 12:56 PM
Photo courtesy of Matthew DeSantis
Open Streets is back! Now in its third year of operation, the half-day street festival will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sun., May 29.
The festival, which closes down a specified route to car traffic, allows people to walk, ride bikes, skateboard, hula-hoop and do whatever their heart desires on asphalt normally choked with automobiles. Six program hubs will be set up along the route where participants can play pick-up basketball, participate in a human stag hunt, workout with friends in free classes, and even take in some yoga. There are many kid-friendly events too.
The route starts in Market Square, Downtown, then goes along Penn Avenue and Butler Street, all the way to Allegheny Cemetery.
The festival is put on to encourage people to think differently about city spaces, maintain a healthy lifestyle, patronize local businesses and consider the benefits that can come to the environment when people walk and bike to get around.
Pittsburgh bike-share system, Healthy Ride, will also be celebrating its one-year anniversary as part of Open Streets and is hosting a program hub outside of its offices on 33rd Street and Penn Avenue. Director David White will announce new Pittsburgh bike share plans at 10:30 a.m.
Also, look forward to a new route for Open Streets come July. Scott Bricker of cycling-advocacy group Bike Pittsburgh tells City Paper that on the festival’s third and final day, July 31, Open Streets will be debuting a new route that starts Downtown, travels through the North Side and finishes in the West End. Details on the exact route are still being finalized.
And if you want to get involved, Bike Pittsburgh has a laundry list of volunteer positions that still need to be filled. Visit bikepgh.org for details.
Here in the Pittsburgh area, there are many low-income housing projects that sit in isolated sections of the city, in blighted areas with limited bus access. (For example, Bedford Dwellings, in the Hill District, gets a bus only every 35 to 40 minutes, even during rush hour.)
Image courtesy of PCRG
Map showing the disparity between frequent bus service routes and the region's poorest neighborhoods
In response to this ominous trend, transit advocates posed some public-transportation questions to Pittsburgh’s Affordable Housing Task Force at a May 24 panel discussion hosted by the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania. The discussion was centered on funding issues involving the city’s proposed Affordable Housing Trust Fund and how it can raise its goal of $10 million annually.
Molly Nichols, of public-transportation advocacy group Pittsburghers for Public Transit, asked, “How can the trust fund insure that affordable housing will be built near good transit?”
Pittsburgh City Councilor and co-chair of the task force Daniel Lavelle said the yet-to-be-chosen affordable-housing advisory boards will be able to prioritize projects near transit. “We don't have this all figured out yet; all the nuances will have to be worked out down the line,” he said.
Lavelle confirmed that the tasks force’s recommendations don’t include specific language that requires new affordable housing to be near frequent public-transportation service. However, he did say that it might be possible to have a transit advocate on one of the city’s advisory boards.
Chris Sandvig, transit expert and policy director of the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group, asked whether other cities similar to Pittsburgh have had success creating affordable housing near current light rail and bus lines. (The new housing development above the East Liberty Busway stop has 360 units, but all are at market rate.) Members of the task force didn’t offer any specific examples to Sandvig, but said that it can be difficult to do because real estate near transit is usually in high demand.
Both Sandvig and Nichols said the exclusion of transit requirements from the task force’s recommendations was an oversight. But Sandvig said the oversight was most likely unintentional. He said that many housing and transit advocates have only recently understood that their issues are closely linked, but that they have started to push those combined agendas.
One member of the Affordable Housing Task Force did offer a possible answer to advocates' transit questions. Nikki Lu, the policy director for SEIU Western Pa., said Wisconsin-based think tank Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS) recently published a report on Pittsburgh that lays out policies to help working families in the region. According to the report, “affordable housing should take into account the combined costs of the energy use and transportation needs that come with housing.” It also offers a litany of policy recommendations.
Lu applauded the questions from audience members and said that to translate their concerns into results, advocates must continue “to hold [leaders'] feet to the fire.”
According to Lavelle, the task force’s recommendations should be presented to city council sometime next week.
By Ryan Deto
on Thu, May 19, 2016 at 10:49 AM
On last year’s national Bike to Work Day, bike-advocacy group Bike Pittsburgh performed an informal count of morning rush-hour traffic on Penn Avenue Downtown and found that 26 percent of all trips were on bicycles. (In fact, stats show bike-commuting is continuing to increase in Pittsburgh.)
This year, Bike to Work Day is Fri., May 20. Bike Pittsburgh and the city’s bike-share Healthy Ride are hoping those bike-ridership numbers increase and are offering riders a few extra incentives. Bike Pittsburgh will be providing free coffee, breakfast treats and copies of its new 2016 bike map at five pop-up cafes throughout the city. Cafes will be run from 7:30-9:30 a.m.
Photo by Ryan Deto
Healthy Ride bike-share station on Penn Avenue
Pop-up cafe locations are:
Downtown - Market Square
South Side - Hot Metal Street and Water Street
North Side - Roberto Clemente Statue (next to PNC Park at start of Roberto Clemente Bridge)
Oakland - Schenley Plaza
Bloomfield - Friendship Park (near the corner of Friendship Avenue and South Millvale Street)
“Bike to Work Day is the perfect day to try bike commuting to work,” says Bike Pittsburgh director Scott Bricker in a press release. “You’ll feel supported and welcome, and it’s a great time to meet many of the thousands of people who ride to work every day.”
And in conjunction with Bike Pittsburgh's free pop-up cafes, Healthy Ride, the city’s bike-share, will be offering free rides all day at each of its 50 stations.
“We want to see more riders on Bike to Work Day than ever before,” says Healthy Ride director David White in a press release. “Bike share offers those without a bike the ability to use active transit as a means of commuting.”
All Healthy Ride riders must register at healthyridepgh.com, or by calling 412-535-5189, before renting from bike-share stations. Registration is free, but requires an active credit card. Riders not already accustomed to using Healthy Ride bikes can watch the video tutorials on its website.
“Biking is both fun and terrific exercise. It builds strength and stamina, and improves cardiovascular fitness, mental health and sleep quality,” says Evan Frazier, senior vice president of Highmark Health, one of the prime sponsors of Healthy Ride. “It’s also environmentally friendly, so you’re not only improving your own health on your way to work, you’re improving the health of our great city.”
By Ryan Deto
on Fri, May 13, 2016 at 1:35 PM
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s Bike/Pedestrian Coordinator Roy Gothie knows the state’s bike and pedestrian policies need to change, and it starts with a change in culture.
At a meeting of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, Gothie told the forum of 25 representatives from planning departments, advocacy groups and community groups that there were a few obstacles to improving the bike and pedestrian infrastructure on state-owned roads, but one of the biggest is encouraging PennDOT employees to adopt a bike/ped-friendly mindset.
Photo courtesy PennDOT
PennDOT Bike/Pedestrian Coordinator Roy Gothie
“PennDOT doesn’t think that way,” Gothie said when responding to a question about why it could take two years to implement bike/ped changes. “They were trained to focus on cars, we need to change the culture.”
He said he plans to make sure that bike/ped projects are included in the start of the planning process for road design and fund seeking. Gothie said that bike lanes and sidewalks are normally attempted to be tacked on, after the process is already in full swing, which often leads them to be left out. “This is a need, this is not a nice extra,” said Gothie. A pilot-training program will begin next month to educate PennDOT staff at district offices across the state on the merits of bike/ped infrastructure.
He pointed out that the his office still receives very limited funding from the state but hopes to encourage legislators to carve out some additional bike/ped funding or update rules. PennDOT will also be starting a program that funds the maintenance of a limited number of priority bike lanes on state roads, something that was normally left up to municipalities.
Gothie also said the he and his team will be working to update the bike/ped policy in PennDOT’s master plan, which hasn't been updated since 2007. “We need to change our antiquated document into something a little more progressive.” Driver and cyclists education is also receiving added attention from Gothie. He says the Pa. driver’s test “maybe has two questions” related to bike/ped issues, and so he will be working with the state’s education and health departments to create a cooperative plan to improve education about bikes, cars and pedestrians on our roadways.
Scott Bricker of bike-advocacy group Bike Pittsburgh says the meeting was “enormously encouraging.”
“[Gothie] identified every hurdle that has been placed in front of people that causes them not to get bike lanes,” says Bricker.
Bricker agrees that the culture around bike lanes needs to change but points out a reason why PennDOT employees might not have priorities towards bike/ped infrastructure: most PennDOT district offices are located next to high-speed highways that rarely have bike lanes or even sidewalks.
Bricker is pleased with Gothie's plans because most of the main routes through Pittsburgh and around Allegheny County are owned and operated by the state. He says much of the best bike infrastructure in the city was done on routes operated by the city or county, like the Penn Avenue protected lane and the protected lanes on the Roberto Clemente Bridge.
Gothie said he hopes to have policy updates completed by the end of the year, but would not give any hard deadlines. He said once the drafts are released, the state will be looking to receive public input.