The crash occurred on Sept. 2, and it led to the cyclist being hospitalized for more than a day. The incident has sparked the ire of bike advocates, who are calling for action, and the area’s city councilor is joining them in saying that it’s time for some changes to how Ellsworth is designed.
“My position right now after a public process that didn’t go well is I learned I need to listen to traffic engineers,” said Pittsburgh City Councilor Erika Strassburger (D-Shadyside). “There is always gonna be multiple sides and multiple positions, and people are going to be strongly opinionated. But let’s let traffic engineers make the decisions to benefit people biking, walking, and even the drivers.”
Eric Boerer of Bike Pittsburgh, a local bike- and pedestrian-advocacy group, said the crash signifies the need for better bike-infrastructure on Ellsworth. He notes that, anecdotally, it is a high-use path for cyclists and the city’s new Bike+Master Plan already designates the street a high-need corridor. It's one of the only routes for cyclists to travel relatively quickly between Shadyside and Oakland.
“I do think bike lanes would be an ideal fit. In the narrow sections, parking removal would happen. But we are reasonable people, we want to figure out a solution,” said Boerer, indicating that bike lanes are not the only solution to make the street safer. “There is no doubt that we want to see some bike infrastructure there.”
Courtney Ehrlichman works in the local tech industry on mobility issues, and the cyclist hit is her friend and former roommate. In a Facebook post that Ehrlichman shared with Pittsburgh City Paper, she discussed how some Shadyside neighbors and people representing a local church were opposed to bike instructure as a way to preserve any parking spots that might be removed.
A cyclist was struck by a driver on Ellsworth and Morewood. She was taken to the hospital with serious injuries. We'll update you all as we get details. https://t.co/1d6wOf32kx— BikePGH (@BikePGH) September 2, 2020
“I do not want my tax dollars to pay for church parking or for landscapers to park or for any private car storage on public streets. Do you?” wrote Ehrlichman on Facebook. “I want my tax dollars — that fund OUR public roads — to create safe passage FOR EVERYONE. I do not want my friends or yours to continue to be hit by cars.”
Strassburger agreed with the sentiment for action and said that “clearly, something needs to be done” when asked about the call for bike-infrastructure plans coming from advocates. She said there will still be a process to ensure any change on Ellsworth is equitable, but hinted no change to the street design is no longer an option.
“There has to be a solution that works for everyone,” said Strassburger. “Change is always gonna be hard, like changes to parking, greater density, or bus stops. Things that feel like a big deal right now, but in six months, they might not actually be a big deal.”
Boerer said that two years ago, when the city was proposing adding bike-infrastructure to Ellsworth Avenue, the initial public meeting did not go well. He said there was a lot of opposition to the proposals, and eventually a lot of misinformation spread about.
A poster from two years was placed in the neighborhood claiming that the city is studying a plan to eliminate all parking on Ellsworth from Craig Street to Highland Avenue. “Bikes are great, but that would eliminate 300 parking spots on Ellsworth,” read the letter, also claiming that no safety data was provided by the city.
Here's a poster, claiming parking would be too much of an issue pic.twitter.com/a2zIIrdffM— Ryan Deto (@RyanDeto) September 2, 2020
In reality, bike lanes would only eliminate parking on one side of the street, and Boerer says there were plans that wouldn’t include bike lanes on some sections of Ellsworth. He added that the cyclist hit seems to have recovered but spent more than a day in the hospital. Ehrlichman tweeted last week that the cyclist had “blood on the brain,” because of the crash.
Bike ridership in Pittsburgh has also increased during the coronavirus pandemic, even as driving has decreased.
The cyclist is also a contractor with Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, according to a tweet from the DOMI director Karina Ricks. DOMI is responsible for planning and presenting bike-infrastructure proposals, as well as other mobility fixes. Ricks also noted in her tweet that four DOMI staff have been hit by drivers in the last two years.
She is staff to @PghDOMI - the 4th staff to be struck in 2 years. Tho I am Director, protecting life on our city streets relies on a community that believes no person deserves to be killed or so injured just for traveling sustainably, affordably on our streets. Tragic+avoidable https://t.co/DN5pMaAECs— Karina Ricks (@walk_left) September 5, 2020