Thursday, August 09, 2007

Public Bike Meeting

On tuesday night I attended a public meeting concerning bicycling improvements in Pittsburgh, specifically in Oakland. And I want to start off by saying that I despise Powerpoint. I believe it makes people morons in that they end up reading the screen instead of using the so-called multi-media as a supplement. At the meeting, an intern with the City of Pittsburgh Planning Department did just that, reading what was on the screen.

At one point, the presentation involved a listing of Oakland streets that the Cornell student team determined to be "bicycle friendly." The chuckles from the audience, people who actually ride these streets on a daily basis, made it clear that they didn't agree with the designation. When the obvious question of how it was determined that these streets are bicycle friendly, the intern had absolutely no information.

I asked, "If we don't know what criteria was used to declare these streets "bicycle friendly," then how are we to make an informed decision or actively debate the conclusions?"

Even though we were told that this was not going to be a meeting where we are told what's going to happen, I don't feel we had any real substance to make informed debates. And the guy running the show regularly indicated that we didn't have time and needed to move on.

There was talk of bike lanes through Oakland on Fifth Avenue. Since there is no room or political will to sacrifice an rntire lane of traffic to bicycles, it looks like it would be one of those "sharrows" that have been put up along Liberty in Bloomfield.

I think that's a death trap. All the information online that I have see for these shared use markings is that the bicycle icon on the street is supposed to be at least three feet away from parked cars to show that bicycles should be riding well outside to opening door zone. The lanes in Bloomfield do not have this sort of clearance and cyclists in these lanes are at significant risk of being doored. I've heard of two incidents already and they've only been out for a few months.

Through Oakland, these would be deadly. There are promises of taking bicycle traffic up onto repaired sidewalks or even across an abandoned road throughway but that road is up a steep hill and this does nothing to make the road themselves safer. I think Pittsburgh is trying to do this on the cheap.

The other item on the agenda was a new bicycle parking initiative that was being developed. The plan is that any new development in the city that would involve parking, either new parking or the identification of parking availability, will be required to include bicycle parking. Build a 100 car parking lot and you will have to give up one of those parking places for bike racks. Or rather, this meeting was to find out what the ratio of cars to bikes should be.

Again, this is the City operating on the cheap. Instead of making infrastructure improvements for bicycle safety, they are passing the requirements for bicycle amenities onto local businesses and developers.

The flyer handed out at the meeting indicated that 1,635 people use transportation other than a motor vehicle or walking to commute to work. They boasted that this was a 14% increase over the previous decade but I really doesn't mean much without all the other numbers.

So, I looked it up. According to the 2000 census, 141,844 people commute to work on a daily basis. 93,918 drive (66%), 29,062 take the bus (20%), 13,870 walk (10%) and 1,635 user "other means" (1%) which one might assume means at least some bicycles. And that only accounts for City residents. Nearly as many commute from outside the city, and all of them are coming by either car or bus. (The total commuters is 270,000)

Total the numbers and vehicles make up 95% of the traffic, leaving only 5% for cyclists and pedestrians and "others". The vehicle is king of the road and it shows.

The film "Contested Streets" presents several cities around the world that have drastically changed that ratio. Copenhagen has has changes the ratios to an even division between cars, buses and bicycles. Every time I bring this up I hear the same opposition by automobilists that what works in Copenhagen or Paris or London, or even Seattle, Denver or San Francisco won't work here. They blame the rivers, the hills, the 250 year old street plan, any number of things as to why streets can't be made pedestrian only or lanes can't be dedicated to bicycles.

But the lessons that should come from "Contested Streets" are not the specifics of how lanes are divided up. It's a matter of political will. At some point, the leadership of all those cities decided that they were going to rebuild their city into something that accommodates all traffic, automobiles, buses, bicycles and pedestrians, equally. Political will. . . and money.

Richard Meritzer, a senior city planner and the host of the Tuesday meeting, said in a Trib article "The city has no money for bicycling projects." And yet, the Port Authority is building a subway under the Allegheny River. That tels me that there is money somewhere but not the political will to put it where it needs to go to accommodate everyone equally. So, again we're bback to political will. And I don't believe the leadership of this City has what it takes to go up against the automobile commuters, businesses or Port Authority.

The city's plans will not work because they are half-hearted attempts.

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