Benefits Abound for Bicyclists and Pedestrians with BRT
But the Devil is in the Details
The City of Pittsburgh, Port Authority, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, and Allegheny County are looking to dramatically change the transportation system between the East End and Downtown. There is a proposal on the table to turn many of the existing bus lines that currently go through Oakland and Uptown into Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). In short, BRT is an enhanced bus line often including such amenities as dedicated bus lanes (getting the buses out of traffic), signal prioritization, raised platforms for easier boarding, and a branded look and feel. BRT aims to mimic the subway experience as much as possible, while keeping it on a paved street, within the street grid.
The team proposed four incrementally extensive route options, each with two different alignment choices. The plan could change transportation as we know it in the central part of the City by bringing efficient bus service, that is not stuck in traffic, directly to Pittsburgh’s densest neighborhoods and connecting these residents to the city’s largest job and entertainment centers. Additionally, the BRT will directly connect to the light rail system to the South of the City as well as to the East Busway and points east.
BikePGH has been advocating for bike lanes in Oakland since our founding in 2002. We see several major benefits to bicycling and walking in Pittsburgh with the proposed Bust Rapid Transit (BRT) project. We would also like to recognize that there still some concerns regarding the plan as it stands. In general, we are pleased with the proposal and do not feel that any of the issues are insurmountable.
Safe bicycling in Oakland should be a no-brainer. While the neighborhood is home to people of all ages, it’s noteworthy that for the majority of the year its demographics skew young with low car ownership. This population needs to travel primarily within distances that are suited for bicycling and walking. The Oakland 2025 Plan, produced by the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation, calls for bike lanes throughout the neighborhood. However, due to the dangerous nature of the Fifth and Forbes, both lacking bike lanes, many students choose not to bike for fear of their safety. The ones who do ride will often ride in the places that they feel safest, which is often the packed sidewalks or illegally in the Fifth Avenue bus-only lane.
Riding between Oakland, Uptown, and Downtown is a challenge and most would-be riders opt out of sharing the road with aggressive drivers. Needless to say, due to the existing conditions, Pittsburgh is losing out on an opportunity to help reduce single-occupancy vehicles, curb congestion, improve air quality and public health.
We believe that bike lanes through Oakland to Uptown and Downtown are a critical solution for Pittsburgh’s current and future transportation needs. The Bus Rapid Transit proposal seeks to rethink how people transport themselves in and around these neighborhoods, and we are excited to see that bikeways and pedestrian enhancements are part of this design mix. We also know that giving bicyclists a safe place to travel is integral in making sure that the BRT actually functions as intended, and is not hampered by people who may otherwise choose to ride in the bus lanes for lack of safe bicycle facilities.
- The major streets in Oakland are dangerous, and if they were designed today, it would not look the way it does. This is an excellent opportunity to remake the corridor using a complete streets model. This allows for the greatest amount of options for people to get to their job, to class, and to access all that Oakland has to offer.
- BikePGH supports the “split” alignment, with BRT on Fifth and Forbes, with the 2-way bike lanes on Fifth Ave, replacing the existing contra-flow bus lane.
- We support the alternative which extends the BRT to Wilkinsburg, Squirrel Hill, Greenfield, Highland Park, East Liberty, and Shadyside because it will attract the most riders and make the biggest impact to our transportation system.
- We believe the complete streets approach to this design is not only necessary, but will improve transportation alternatives, and safety for the largest number of people.
- We are supportive of the Fifth and Forbes Ave bike lane alignments in Uptown.
- It’s imperative to figure out where ACCESS vehicles will be able to park and access the curb.
- Crossing distances should be shorter and design should encourage drivers to travel the speed limit.
Why bike lanes are necessary:
- Fifth and Forbes are dangerous from beginning to end. This will provide people on bicycles the basic safety so that they can enjoy the opportunities and great neighborhoods along the corridor.
- Uptown is currently treated as a pass-through for drivers. Uptown residents are looking to create a bikeable, walkable community.
- Bicyclists will choose the safest place to ride, and if not provided with bike lanes, they will end up in the BRT lanes, making the system less efficient.
- If a safe place to ride is not provided, more tragedies will result like the one that claimed Susan Hicks’s life in October 2015 on Forbes Avenue.
- Better “sense” can be made out of Oakland’s streets by redesigning them for everyone who uses them.
Our concerns with the preferred “split alignment:”
The lack of bike facilities on Forbes Avenue, Oakland
- Forbes Ave is where most of the businesses destinations are located and home to institutional buildings and even a park. People on bikes need to feel welcome here, or the design may encourage conflict.
- People will continue to ride bicycles on Forbes Ave, but where they will ride and how they are accommodated is unclear. There needs to be some enhancements to Forbes’ bikeability, even if it is not the street that gets protected bike facilities.
- Forbes Ave needs to be designed to have the impression of the neighborhood main street that it is.
- Bicyclists will need better access to Forbes Avenue via cross streets. This may include such improvements as bike lanes, contra-flow bike lanes, intersection enhancements, and better bike parking.
Intersections and Turning Movements on Fifth Avenue, Oakland
- We have concerns about cars turning left across the bike lanes. The City must explore automobile left turn and bicycle signalization.
- Intersections must be designed with high visibility crossings.
- Bicyclists making northbound turning movements must be addressed, possibly with bike boxes or “two-stage” turning areas.
Bike Ped Concerns, West of Craft Avenue on Fifth Avenue
- West of Craft, we have concerns over the shared facility with pedestrians, as well as the potential danger of two-way bike traffic on a hill – The facility must be sufficiently wide.
- Currently, cars at the used car lot and daycare park on the sidewalk, and must be addressed.
- The Boulevard of the Allies access ramp is dangerous to cross on foot and on bike.
- Connections to the Birmingham Bridge bike lanes need to be solved.
- We would like to see bike lanes extended to Market Square.
- Two-way cycletracks need special attention to where cars cross the bike lanes.