Friday, July 24, 2015

Two bikers harassed by driver on Butler Street, biking advocates seek improvements

Posted By on Fri, Jul 24, 2015 at 3:37 PM

Example of a sharrow sign clearly marked on the road - BIKEPGH.ORG
  • Example of a sharrow sign clearly marked on the road
If you happened to be outside yesterday afternoon, you might have thought, “This is a perfect day to ride a bike.”

Around 4 p.m., Thu., July 23, two Pittsburghers had that same idea and decided to ride together down Butler Street, a popular destination for cyclists and pedestrians. But when they rode away from the curb and into the center of the lane to go around a parked car, a man driving a blue Dodge Charger screamed obscenities at them.

The man then blasted his horn, exited his car and approached the cyclists on foot. He pushed the female cyclist to the ground. Police were able to identify the man, a Wilkinsburg resident, and charges of harassment against him are pending. Sonya Toler, public safety spokesperson for the city, says the man's name has not been released.

Butler Street has seen its share of bicycle-related contention lately. Last week, City Paper reported how PennDOT wanted to install a center-line rumble strip on Lawrenceville's main thoroughfare. The state agency later rescinded those plans thanks in large part to community outcry from the Lawrenceville Bike and Pedestrian Committee.

Butler Street runs through the commercial district, and through there, much of the street is marked with sharrows, or painted signs on the road, which remind drivers that it is an oft-used bike route.

However, according to Bike PGH Executive Director Scott Bricker, the sharrows (and the pedestrian crosswalks) have been temporarily removed during a three-month-plus repaving of Butler Street.

According to Bricker, the incident occurred near the Allegheny Cemetery, a stretch of Butler that used to have a bike lane, and now, thanks to the repaving, has no sharrow signs either.

Bricker points out that during this prolonged paving process, a temporary yellow center line has been painted on the street for cars, even though pedestrian and bike-friendly signage has been ignored.

Bricker, who rides through Butler Street and all around the city every day, says that sometimes bikers will be harassed or threatened on roadways, but these kind of incidents are “outliers.” He also says he is very pleased with the police response to the incident.

What he doesn’t understand is why drivers take out so much aggression on cyclists. “It is really other cars that cause traffic,” says Bricker. “Why don’t drivers get out of their cars and chop down the traffic light, when they hit a red light?”

Bricker believes that incidents like this will happen less often with increased bike and pedestrian infrastructure. PennDOT is planning to paint highly visible piano-style pedestrian crosswalks on Butler in the near future, according to Bricker.

But there is so much more that could be done. Bricker believes that a contiguous biking network should be completed from Downtown to Highland Park, like the one outlined in the Allegheny Riverfront Green Boulevard Project. That project proposes a trail along the river, running uninterrupted from Downtown to 51st Street in Lawrenceville, as well as parks and green spaces alongside Penn Avenue, in the upper Strip District, and Butler Street.

The current bike lane, that starts on Penn Avenue Downtown, abruptly ends at 16th Street in the Strip. Bricker says there are no simple connections for riders using this route. (Most riders will usually find a way to get onto Smallman Street, but no road signs along the bike path suggest this.)

“Interactions like this would happen way less often if you connected bike infrastructure from neighborhood to neighborhood,” says Bricker.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Lawrenceville community perplexed over proposed ‘rumble strip’ for Butler Street

Posted By on Tue, Jul 21, 2015 at 12:37 PM

Example of the potential future centerline rumble strip proposed for Butler Street in Lawrenceville - WWW.TRANSPORTATION.GOV
  • Example of the potential future centerline rumble strip proposed for Butler Street in Lawrenceville
Update (12:40 p.m.): We hope you'll keep reading anyway, but in the 10 minutes between this blogh's posting and this update, we got word from state Sen. Wayne Fontana that PennDOT will not be installing the rumble strip on Butler street after community dissatisfaction with the plan.

PennDOT is considering installing a centerline rumble strip on Butler Street that could potentially run from 31st to 57th streets, basically the entire crowded portion of the very popular commercial district.

A rumble strip is better known as a sleeper line and is designed to alert inattentive drivers that they are drifting into another lane. Rumble strips make a loud audible noise when driven over that is easily heard both inside and outside the car.

“It will drive residents and businesses crazy,” says Will Bernstein, president of Lawrenceville Bike and Pedestrian Committee (LBPC).

The members of LBPC just happened to stumble upon the plan for a rumble strip while perusing PennDOT’s weekly schedule and have since created a petition to stop the rumble strip from being installed. They have received around 560 signatures, including 30 local businesses.

On top of the potential noise created, Bernstein says a rumble strip could also make biking on Butler Street more dangerous. He adds it will make it “extremely unlikely” that drivers will give the required four feet of space while passing bikers.

And while the strips will not be installed at intersections, Bernstein points out that they will still cause problems for bikers who want to cross Butler to get onto driveways or to park at bike racks.

The news of a potential rumble strip comes at an awkward time considering that Mayor Bill Peduto issued an executive order in April, requiring the city to develop a ‘complete streets’ policy plan. The complete-streets model is a transit design that gives equal rights to pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.

Bernstein says that a rumble strip on Butler does not fit into the complete-streets model. He adds that having a rumble strip on the same stretch of road with sharrows (bike signs painted on the road to signify the road is a common bike route) is not normal.

However, the city might not have much say because that part of Butler Street falls under state control. Even though PennDOT has final say on the outcome, mayoral spokesman Tim McNulty says that city is in preliminary discussions about the rumble strip with PennDOT.

Helen Ewing, community-engagement rep for Lawrenceville United, says the community group has reached out to state and city officials, but at this point, the organization can only be an advocate.

Initially, the rumble strip was set to be installed on July 27 to coincide with the final round of repaving Butler Street (and ironically the day after the last car-free Open Streets festival of the summer). But, state Sen. Wayne Fontana, who represents Lawrenceville, says he has reached out to PennDOT and asked them to delay the project; he has yet to hear back.

“It makes no sense [to] me,” says Fontana. “I don't see a need for the strips, especially without the community input.”

Fontana says he has received emails from residents and business owners with concerns about the rumble strip. He adds that PennDOT failed to solicit community input before approving the project.

“They need to realize that the community isn't for this and [PennDOT] is going to have to prove that it is necessary, which I don't think [they] can do,” says Fontana.

PennDOT District Safety Engineer Kathryn Power says that they will be reconsidering the rumble strip and should make a decision by the end of the week.

Power explains that the rationale behind the centerline rumble strip is to make the street safer for drivers, by helping drivers avoid collisions that often occur on the busy street.

“It is a safety improvement — it does reduce head-on and side-swiped crashers,” says Power, “and there is enough data to support this.”

However, when asked if she knew of any other examples of centerline rumble strips in urban, commercial areas, she could not think of any, but said rumble strips can be applied to urban settings.

Bernstein points out that centerline rumble strips are almost never seen on urban roads, especially ones in commercial areas. In fact, the location criteria for centerline rumble strips are only listed as rural roads, according to PennDOT’s “District Highway Safety Guidance Manual.”

“We have received a lot of public opinions on this,” says Power. “We are aware of the public’s feelings and we are taking it into consideration.”

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

School kids learn to ride through the city streets thanks to Bike PGH’s Positive Spin

Posted By on Tue, Jul 7, 2015 at 1:40 PM

Middle school students ride bikes along Chartiers Avenue in Sheraden. - PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • Photo by Ryan Deto
  • Middle school students ride bikes along Chartiers Avenue in Sheraden.
Last week, a group of 15 eager middle school students pedaled around the neighborhood streets of Sheraden in the West End, even along the busy Chartiers Avenue thoroughfare. They rode to a small park, and squealed in delight as they sped through the grass and circled the basketball court. For some of the kids, it was one of their first times on a bike.

By summer’s end, the students of Bike PGH’s Positive Spin program will ride from Sheraden to PNC Park, the South Side, and Point State Park. Those rides are about five miles and more than 400 feet in elevation change from the hilltop neighborhood; not an easy tour by anyone’s standard.

Positive Spin is a program designed to teach elementary and middle school students how to navigate safely through the streets, trails, and paths of Pittsburgh, so that they can reach parks, schools, and their homes without incident.

“You would think that our young students can't bike to the Point,” says Positive Spin Program Director Julie Mallis. “But we have had fourth and fifth graders biking to the Point from Homewood.”

Mallis shares the program’s success in the stories of its students: One middle-schooler who moved farther from his school on the North Side decided to bike to school every day rather than take the bus.

“One student did not know how to ride a bike at first,” Mallis says. “Now, I see him riding around everywhere: Bloomfield, Garfield, Lawrenceville. He rides everywhere for fun and for commuting, it is great.”

The program was originally run by MGR Youth Empowerment, a Chicago based non-profit, for the previous four years. But with MGR discontinuing its Pittsburgh programs, Bike PGH stepped in this summer to take over Positive Spin. Mallis, who has been working with the program since its inception, says the program was originally dreamed up by former staffer as a way to give kids a chance for independence, responsibility, and self-sufficiency by teaching them to use bikes as their primary mode of transportation.

More than 150 bikes were donated by Pittsburgh Public Schools Summer Dreamers Academy initially, and Positive Spin was born. Now, Mallis runs the program with five staffers a handful of interns, and volunteering public school teachers at Faison Elementary School in Homewood and Langley K-8 in Sheraden, serving around 100 participants.

The students are taught the gamut of bike-related skills, such as braking in a square, shifting, slow racing, and bike signals.

“This is a great opportunity for us,” says Bike PGH Education Program Coordinator Dan Yablonsky. “It will be the first road education that [these students] will have.”

Yablonsky says he’s excited about the prospect of students first learning about road laws from a bike seat instead of from behind the wheel of car. He added that the program encourages civic engagement and teaches the children how to write letters to public officials, requesting bike lanes or whatever their community might need.

Langley instructor Marcin Jaroszewicz believes teaching kids to bike through Pittsburgh is increasingly important because of cuts to many suburban bus routes.

"Many people are being pushed out to suburbs and public transportation is being cut,” Jaroszewicz says. “So biking is filling in the gaps that are happening in Pittsburgh."

Bike PGH staff say they hope to expand Positive Spin throughout the school and hopefully add more long rides. 

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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Transit advocates critical of public BRT meeting

Posted By on Wed, May 6, 2015 at 11:07 AM

An audience member checks out one possible BRT schematic. - PHOTO BY ALEX ZIMMERMAN
  • Photo by Alex Zimmerman
  • An audience member checks out one possible BRT schematic.
Tuesday afternoon, city and Port Authority officials hosted the first of two meetings this week on the status of Bus Rapid Transit — an initiative that could modernize bus service between Downtown and Oakland.

The event's main purpose, according to materials that were circulated, was to give the public a chance to "review and provide input on the project purpose and need as well as on the impacts on the social/economic environment, the physical environment and the transportation system." Such input is required to qualify for federal funding, which the transit agency hopes will pay for a significant portion of the project.

But the presentation itself did not make explicit exactly what kind of input was being solicited. That led to a discussion that mostly reiterated the broad fault lines between the project's supporters and detractors, which disappointed transit advocates who were hoping for a conversation that would engage the public on the different models for BRT construction that were presented.

"This is a hard process to figure out what's going on," noted Paul O'Hanlon, a transit and disability advocate. "I don't think there was anything today that facilitated brainstorming."

The city and Port Authority laid out five plans for BRT, which were presented via maps throughout a ballroom at Duquesne University: Three of the plans involve various combinations of bus-only lanes on Fifth and Forbes avenues. One of the plans would improve the bus system that exists "without implementing full Bus Rapid Transit," while the fifth would keep the system as it is now. 

The event began with a presentation from City Planning Director Ray Gastil, who said that BRT is "critical" so that "Uptown is not just a place to drive through, but is a destination in itself." His presentation was framed largely through the lens of neighborhood development — and talked about the possibility that as part of an "EcoInnovation" district, the city could help attract development in Uptown.

"It really is an economic development argument [for BRT]," he told me after his talk. He added that BRT would target people who aren't already regular transit riders.

That line of thinking sparked responses that ranged from the argument that Uptown is already a well-served transit corridor that doesn't need hundreds of millions in transit infrastructure, to concerns about whether the city and Port Authority have already made up their minds about BRT. Other Uptown residents voiced their support, saying added transit infrastructure could revitalize the neighborhood.

Breen Masciotra, a Port Authority spokesperson, reassured the audience of roughly 100 people that BRT "is not a done deal ... there are no forgone conclusions."

The agency has said there will be more opportunities for public input in the coming months, including a second version of the same presentation tonight from 6-8 p.m. at the William Pitt Student Union, 3959 Fifth Ave., in Oakland.

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bloomfield residents up in arms over bike share stations

Posted By on Thu, Apr 23, 2015 at 5:07 PM

  • #KeepBloomfieldBikeShare Facebook Page
A group of Bloomfield residents, who say bike share stations will disrupt businesses, have sparked the furor of cycling advocates.

In a meeting earlier this week with city officials, Bloomfield Citizens Council head Janet Cercone Scullion, along with Gloria LeDonne of the Bloomfield Business Network, said the three bike share stations along Liberty Avenue "would cause disruption on the sidewalks and disrupt the businesses there," according to mayoral spokesman Tim McNulty.

The city, along with non-profit Pittsburgh Bike Share, are set to launch a program called Healthy Ride in May that will for the first time allow residents to rent bikes and return them at any of the proposed 50 docking stations around the city. Three stations are planned for the Bloomfield area on Liberty Avenue.

News of Scullion's meeting made its way to local bike supporters who expressed concern that the city might re-think the placement of bike share stations in Bloomfield. 

"Liberty Avenue is a very Pittsburgh street," says Bruce Chan, a Bloomfield resident and chairman of neighborhood group Bloomfield Livable Streets. "It runs through so many neighborhoods; it’s very crucial to the network of the city and cultural aspects of the community. We have a bike lane on Liberty Avenue – what better place to put a bike-share station?”

Scullion, who apparently objects to the placement of bike stations in Bloomfield, would not explain precisely what those objections are. Reached by phone, a woman who identified as Janet Cercone said “I don’t have any information on that for you,” before hanging up. She did not return messages.

"We’re trying to show the mayor and city administration that this small group doesn't speak for the entire community,” Chan adds.

For its part, city spokesman McNulty says placement of bike share stations have "always been in flux.”

City Planning Director Ray Gastil wrote in a statement that the meeting with Scullion and LeDonne "was a meeting that, frankly, should have happened earlier in the process of designing the network of station locations. Given the serious concerns we heard, we are now reviewing station locations and will be looking at options with the Bloomfield community.

"We have also heard your strong support for the Bikeshare program, and its importance to you," the statement continues. "We will be working with everyone to create the best opportunity for residents, businesses, and cyclists."

Bike Pittsburgh Executive Director Scott Bricker says “it’s a very hot button issue,” but did not immediately want to comment further.

A Facebook page in support of the bike share stations in Bloomfield had 231 members at press time and Chan is organizing a meeting to discuss the issue 6 p.m., Tues. April 28 at the East End Book Exchange.

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Friday, April 10, 2015

You'll be able to load your ConnectCard online starting next week

Posted By on Fri, Apr 10, 2015 at 11:47 AM

Starting April 16, Port Authority customers who use the ConnectCard will be able to load cash or passes onto their cards using a new website, instead of visiting vending machines or retailers.

The new web portal will allow users to use a credit or debit card to add cash; buy passes; set up recurring passes that will automatically bill the relevant card; and let riders to manage multiple ConnectCards from a single account (such as parents who want to add virtual cash to a child's card). 

But as I've noted before — and Port Authority acknowledged in the press release it issued today — none of this will happen in real time.

"Purchases made online will not instantly be available on the ConnectCard and may take 2-3 days to process, especially if a purchase is made on a Friday or over a weekend," according to a press release.

That's because the buses aren't equipped with technology that allows them to wirelessly communicate with the servers that house ConnectCard balances. The physical  fare boxes on each vehicle will only sync when they pass through a garage.

Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie has previously said that the transit agency is considering other methods to make the ConnectCard more attractive since many passengers still use cash. One option, he said, might be to target fare increases at cash users.

In the meantime, here's hoping this encourages some riders to abandon the agonizingly slow pockets-full-of-quarters fare payment system.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Pittsburgh Bike Share will (finally!) start in May

Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2015 at 1:30 PM

David White, executive director of Pittsburgh Bike Share, warns locations on this map may not be exact. - COURTESY OF PITTSBURGH BIKE SHARE
  • Courtesy of Pittsburgh Bike Share
  • David White, executive director of Pittsburgh Bike Share, warns locations on this map may not be exact.
Nearly a year after its scheduled launch, Pittsburgh's bike share program is expected to drop 500 new bikes on the street within the next two months.

“Things are marching forward,” says David White, executive director of Pittsburgh Bike Share, the nonprofit that manages the program. “We hope to have users with the ability to take out a bike starting in May.”

The program was initially announced in 2013, when then-Mayor Luke Ravenstahl told the Post-Gazette, "To have that cool, young, vibrant, hip city that young investors want requires projects like this."

The program has been beset by delays, something Bike Pittsburgh Executive Director Scott Bricker chalks up to a bidding process that took longer than expected and the overall complexity of the project.

“To be fair, I really don’t think that a single bike share program has launched exactly when people intended it to," Bricker says. "It’s a very complicated program to get off the ground. It’s essentially starting a whole new public transportation system.”

Bike sharing works essentially as a rental system that doesn't force you to return your bike to the spot you rented it. Pittsburgh will start out with 50 docking stations across the city, and there are already plans to expand the system in its first two years of operation.

The pricing hasn't been finalized yet, says White, but "we have a sincere vision of creating a system that does not require a fee to register." Bike sharing programs have often struggled to attract lower-income users, but White says, “The goal is to make the system competitive with other methods of transportation ... affordable to all users across all demographic groups." 

Payment can be made online, via a smartphone app or at the docking stations themselves; there will also be a membership option for more regular users.

The bikes themselves are manufactured by a German company called nextbike, and will be outfitted with a gear system designed to "help flatten some of the hills for people," Bricker says. 

“It’s just going to get a lot more people riding bikes,” he adds. "I really hope it gets more people engaged in the conversation about our streets, how they’re designed and who they’re for.” 

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Port Authority changes will make funding your ConnectCard a whole lot easier

Posted By on Thu, Mar 19, 2015 at 11:09 AM

As early as April, Port Authority riders will be able to load virtual cash and passes on their ConnectCards through a web portal instead of at vending machines or retailers, the agency announced this morning.

But there's a catch: The website won't update ConnectCards in real-time; the process will likely take several hours — or up to a day in some cases.

The move is part of the transit agency's attempt to modernize and give riders more flexibility, says Thomas Noll, PAT's director of technical support and capital programs.
  • CP File Photo by Heather Mull

The new web portal will allow users to use a credit or debit card to add cash; buy passes; set up recurring passes that will automatically bill the relevant card; and let riders to manage multiple ConnectCards from a single account (such as parents who want to add virtual cash to a child's card).

The website will also allow users to load passes up to a month in advance of their use and add fare products "anonymously" to their ConnectCard without the agency storing personal information, Noll says.

So why won't the cards get information from the web portal in real-time?

Noll explains that the authority's busses and trains aren't equipped with cell technology that lets them connect with the internet.

Fare information taken from the web portal "is relayed to our central computer system," Noll says, but "that information needs to get on a bus."

The only way a bus will get updated information is when it visits a garage, which happens at least twice a day: when it leaves at the beginning of a run and returns at the end.

"When you add a cellular device" to every bus in the system, "it adds cost," Noll says.

Still, the web portal will likely represent a significant improvement from the current system, in which a rider must visit one of 61 vending machines or roughly 69 retailers to load their cards.

For now, the authority doesn't have plans for a mobile app; the only web interface will be the agency's website.

The new portal is in a pilot phase with 60 riders — and barring any hiccups, Noll says, "We should be ready to go next month."

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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Pittsburgh's inaugural 'Winter Bike to Work Day' tomorrow

Posted By on Thu, Mar 5, 2015 at 12:56 PM

Tomorrow is Bike Pittsburgh's first ever Winter Bike to Work Day, and yep, the event will continue despite the snow.

"We definitely won’t be rescheduling it again,” says Bike Pittsburgh's Ngani Ndimbie, who notes the original Feb. 27 date was cancelled on account of subzero temperatures. "We’re trying to promote biking as a thing that can be done year-round.”

To encourage people to brave the salt, snow and potholes, anyone who bikes to one of these eight coffee shops around the city from 7-9:30 a.m. will get a hot drink on the house. About 2.2 percent of Pittsburghers commute to work by bike, a number the local non-profit is trying to increase.

If you're nervous about biking in the snow, here are some handy blog posts about how to adjust your riding style and what gear you might want. 

But if the thought of getting mowed down by a snow plow freaks you out, either check which routes have already been plowed, or hang tight for a few months until the spring version of Bike to Work Day — this year, on May 5.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

PennDOT wants your input on North Side bike lanes

Posted By on Tue, Mar 3, 2015 at 4:06 PM

East Ohio Street corridor - GOOGLE MAPS
  • Google Maps
  • East Ohio Street corridor
If you're a fan of bike lanes or just really turned on by urban planning and infrastructure projects, you might want to drop by a public meeting hosted by PennDOT on the East Ohio Street Improvement Project on Wednesday afternoon, March 4.

The project includes work on streets, traffic signals, bridges and overpasses around East Ohio Street near the 16th Street Bridge, but PennDOT also has plans in the works to run a bike lane on part of East Ohio. The plan to build bike lanes, PennDOT says, will in part be determined by whether there is public support for it.
  • Google Maps

"It’s that weird no-man’s land where people get off the 16th Street Bridge or [are] getting off of [Route] 28 and they’re going to enter 579 North – or getting off into the neighborhood,” says Bike Pittsburgh Advocacy Director Eric Boerer, who is encouraging people to show support for more bike/pedestrian friendly infrastructure. "It’s currently designed for the highway users."

The meeting will be held on March 4 from 5-6:30 p.m. at Pittsburgh's Grand Hall at the Priory, 614 Pressley St, on the North Side. More information about the meeting here.

And if you still need inspiration to go to a public meeting about a local infrastructure project, look no further than John Oliver's latest riff on our crumbling infrastructure. 

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