Bike and pedestrian improvements coming to Forbes Ave in Oakland

Segment of bike lanes to be installed this summer, with a 2018 completion

On Monday, July 17, a partnership between PennDOT (who owns and controls Forbes Ave), the City of Pittsburgh, OTMA, CMU, and Pitt, unveiled their plans for a complete streets approach to Forbes Ave, between Bigelow Blvd and Margaret Morrison St, an approximately one-mile stretch of road connecting Pitt and CMU. The plans are now available online, and we wanted to provide a breakdown of these exciting changes, including bike lanes and better crosswalks, that are set to happen over the next year.

History

Fifth/Forbes in Oakland has long been a target for safe streets advocates, who have been pushing for traffic calming and bike lanes in this University District for years. The traffic and speeds on the Fifth/Forbes corridor are notoriously dangerous, which is complicated by the large numbers of university students and workers who need to get around without a car.

These conditions led to a terrible tragedy in 2015, when University of Pittsburgh employee, Susan Hicks, was killed on Forbes Avenue while riding her bicycle home from work, culminating in the Action for a Safe Fifth/Forbes campaign.

While a redesign of Forbes near CMU had been in the works since at least 2011, nothing moved forward until last August, when a proposal including bike lanes from Craig St to Margaret Morrison, was introduced to the public. After a period of significant public feedback, Councilman Gilman then followed up during October’s Susan Hicks memorial and announced that the City will extend the bike lane project to Bigelow Blvd.

What to expect

The project can be broken down into three main sections: 1) Bigelow Blvd to Bellefield Ave, 2) Bellefield Ave to Margaret Morrison St., and 3) Forbes Ave Betterment Project – Bigelow to Birmingham Bridge.

All images can be clicked to view details.

Download the full Powerpoint Presentation from the meeting. The presentation has additional images and information.

Timeline

PennDOT is set to complete the full project by the end of 2018. This includes new pavement, new street alignment, and some new traffic signals. By the end of summer 2017, the City will install interim bike lanes between Bigelow Blvd and Craig St as well as bike lanes on Bigelow itself (between Fifth and Forbes). This is mostly to add the contra-flow bike lane on the one-way section of Forbes, to connect people to the existing bike lanes on Bigelow Blvd. Over the next year, the team will evaluate how these are functioning, with the goal of PennDOT reinstalling them during the 2018 repaving.

1) Bigelow Blvd to Bellefield Ave

That Forbes Ave changes from a two-way street to a one-way street at Bellefield Ave is not only confusing, it’s every bicyclist’s pet peeve when trying to go from CMU/Craig St to Schenley Plaza, the Schenley bike lanes, and the Carnegie Library. The alternatives include going far out of your way onto dangerous streets, or risk riding a block on the Forbes Ave sidewalk, to the consternation of the large number of pedestrians in the area.  It’s been a problem for such a long time that you can still find faded “no bikes on sidewalk” signs from the 90’s that attempted to curb this behavior.

The City will install Bigelow/Forbes Interim Design by the end of the summer, from Bigelow to Craig

The interim design, that the City intends to install by the end of summer 2017, will attempt to mitigate this issue. Their westbound design includes the City’s first contra-flow bike lane, or a bike lane where people on bikes travel toward the flow of traffic. The lane will be located on the northern curb of Forbes Ave, in front of the Cathedral of Learning, and will connect westbound bicyclists to Bigelow Blvd and the William Pitt Union. As this is considered a temporary installation since the street will be repaved in 2018, the interim design will have a painted buffer, but no physical separation. The City will also be installing bike lanes on Bigelow Blvd, between Fifth and Forbes, connecting to existing bike lanes on either side.

One other new feature is that at the intersection where Forbes goes from one-way traffic to two-way traffic, there will be a bike-specific signal indicating when people on bikes heading west can cross the double turn lanes into the contra-flow lane. Additionally, at the intersection of Bigelow and Forbes, there will be a “two-stage left,” or left turn boxes to provide guidance on how a bicyclist should turn left to access the southbound Bigelow Blvd bike lanes. Bicyclists simply go through the intersection at a green light, stop in the left turn box, and then continue when the opposing light turns green.

The City will be evaluating the design over the course of the next year, while PennDOT will be working to finalize the permanent design, which will most likely be physically separated.

Eastbound, there will be a standard buffered bike lane. The automobile travel lanes will remain the same. They City plans to install left-turn boxes to aid bicycle movements onto Bellefield Ave and Craig St, which PennDOT will rebuild more permanently in 2018.

2) Bellefield Ave to Margaret Morrison St

Between Bellefield Ave and Margaret Morrison St, Forbes Ave road users will see the most dramatic change. Currently, this stretch of Forbes Ave is mostly a wide four-lane road, with an occasional turning lane. Additionally, the traffic lights are not timed efficiently. Not surprisingly, this setup encourages speeding, unsafe passing, and a general lack of respect for the large numbers of pedestrians and bicyclists also trying to use the road.

The new plan calls for a road diet, narrower lanes, bike lanes, better crosswalks, and improved traffic signalization. As design often dictates behavior, the goal is to slow drivers to the speed limit, as well as offer a safe place for people on bicycles, which will help reduce the rampant sidewalk riding in the area as well.

Most of the bike lanes will be between five and seven feet wide and include a two-foot painted buffer. There is a section across the Forbes Ave bridge where all lanes narrow down for a short segment. Along the corridor, any conflict area will be highlighted, whether it’s with continuing the bike lane through the intersection with chevrons, or painting the road surface green to call out the driveway entrances/exits. The bike lanes will connect to the existing climbing lane on Forbes Ave, east of Margaret Morrison St into Squirrel Hill.

Additional features of the new design include left turn boxes, to make it easier for bikes to make left turns from the bike lanes, especially during times of heavy auto traffic.

Other new features intend to help auto traffic move more efficiently, but at the speed limit. This includes new traffic lights, which will be timed better, as well as a dedicated turning lane at Craig St. Both Craig St and Morewood Ave will keep the “all walk” signal for pedestrians, while all other signals will have a pedestrian lead.

3) Forbes Ave Betterment Project – Bigelow to Birmingham Bridge

As PennDOT is paving the length of Forbes Ave, they will be installing many upgrades in the process. Most of these upgrades include better crosswalks, audible signals, upgraded ADA curb ramps, upgraded bike-friendly drainage grates, and signal timing. Most significantly, they will be adding a light at the pedestrian overpass just east of Bouquet St. This is a popular crossing for University of Pittsburgh students, as it lies in the middle of their campus, near several dormitories.

The Future

The rest of the Fifth/Forbes corridor, west of Bigelow Blvd will be redesigned during the upcoming Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project. The latest design calls for turning the outbound bus lane on Fifth Ave into a two-way protected bike lane, between Bigelow Blvd and Uptown. But, as these projects develop, anything can change, which is where we’ll need you to stay involved and stay active. The best way to stay connected is to join our Action for a Safe Fifth/Forbes list. You’ll receive updates on any construction projects, action alerts and public meetings related to the Fifth/Forbes Corridor.


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