Council District 4 Incumbent Candidate, Natalia Rudiak Responds to 2013 BikePGH Questionnaire
Council District 4 Incumbent: Natalia Rudiak
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1. Do you use a bicycle (or walk) in the city? If so, for what purposes (commuting, recreation, errands) and how often?
I live in Carrick, which is not an easy community for bike riders. However, I do walk all over the place in my neighborhood as I live along the main thoroughfare, and I enjoy being able to walk down to the shops and restaurants along Brownsville Road and to community meetings and events. I try to bike the trails at least once every season in my free time (and I just bought a bike rack for my car at West Liberty Cycles, which is located in my district.) I do drive into work every day, but it’s worth noting that during that commute I drive very near five of the famed “Dirty Dozen” streets!
2. What roles do you think city council can play in making cities safe, accessible and friendly for biking and walking?
City Council can play–and does play–an incredibly important role in making our communities accommodating for bike and pedestrian traffic. We play an important role in the planning process, where we have at times requested that street reconstruction projects be adjusted to include bike lanes and more pedestrian-friendly design features. We can also play a role by changing the city code to include requirements for bike and pedestrian friendly planning. City Council has also budgeted, and will likely continue to budget, special capital funds to assist in the creation of bike friendly traffic designs on our City’s streets.
3. In what ways can enhanced bicycling and walking facilities and opportunities benefit your district and the city as a whole? Are there any specific projects that you’d like to see accomplished?
One of my top priorities in office has been to bring public investments and economic development to the business districts in the neighborhoods that I represent, and that includes building infrastructure that encourages multi-modal transportation. Right now in Brookline we are undertaking a major reconstruction of the business district and a big part of that project is creating more pedestrian-friendly infrastructure: wider sidewalks, better crosswalks with pedestrian bump-outs, and traffic-calming design elements will enhance Brookline Boulevard. These changes will help to encourage more–and safer–walking in our community.
My district can be difficult for biking because of the preponderance of extreme inclines and hills. As I mentioned before, South Pittsburgh is home to five of the “Dirty Dozen” streets, far more than any other part of the city. But that doesn’t mean that bike infrastructure should be an afterthought. We need to find better opportunities to create bicycle connections among our neighborhoods and to expand those connections out to other parts of the city, especially to our existing trails and to Downtown, so we can encourage biking both recreationally and for work.
One of my goals is to make our ALL of main thoroughfares more bike/ped friendly. We are working on this with our Transit Revitalization Improvement District (TRID) Plan in Beechview and I am working with Economic Development South (EDS) to do the same along Brownsville Road and Route 51. It is also important to note that many residential streets in our neighborhoods are experiencing dangerous speeds. Though we always report these situations to the police for enforcement of speed limits, we are also hoping to work with the Department of Public Works to discuss design alterations that will slow traffic–from infrastructure changes to trees and beautification elements that studies show serve to calm traffic.
4. Pittsburgh was chosen to host the 2014 Pro Walk/Pro Bike Conference, which is expected to draw 1,000 biking and walking planners, engineers, government officials, and advocates from around the country, the largest gathering of it’s kind. Their focus is on biking and walking as means of getting around, with less focus on recreation. If you could put one project in place to “show off” your district, what would it be? Will you direct your staff to attend the conference to further their professional development?
We are starting to make real progress in our efforts to redevelop the Route 51 corridor that runs through my district. Part of our planning for this must involve making this important thoroughfare bicycle-friendly. My vision for Route 51 is to have a multi-modal transit oriented redevelopment where cars, the T, pedestrians, and bicyclists can all happily commute, shop, work, and recreate. Economic Development South is leading the effort to assemble a working group on this subject, and I think that if I had to choose a project to “show off” it would be the result of the planning work being done along this corridor.
I would be happy to send staff to the conference or to attend myself. When we receive more details about the cost and length of the conference, we will make plans for how we can participate.
5. In just about every neighborhood throughout the city, one of the top concerns is drivers driving too fast, aggressively, and not yielding to pedestrians. What ideas do you have to calm traffic and make our neighborhoods safer and more comfortable in which to walk and bike? Feel free to talk about particular problem spots in your district.
I have been a leading voice for a more comprehensive city-wide approach traffic calming on City Council, and I was happy to have Bike PGH speak at the post-agenda hearing I hosted on this very issue last fall of 2012. I have mentioned this in past answers, but I have focused quite a bit on redeveloping our main business districts and thoroughfares during my first term in office. One issue that kept coming up is that many of our larger roads in South Pittsburgh did not even have lanes painted on them. West Liberty Avenue, for instance, didn’t have demarcated lane lines painted on it until after it was rebuilt in 2011. Additionally, Brookline Boulevard in Brookline doesn’t have dedicated lanes either, but it will after the redevelopment is finished this fall. Both of these roads are technically one-lane roads in both directions. But because there were no lines painted on them, and because they are both so wide, two lanes of traffic could drive in both directions. Cars would weave in and out of traffic, with no signals, and would drive dangerously close to each other. Pedestrian crosswalks were also poorly marked and were much wider than they should have been on both roads. This situation was not amenable to bike riding, and with these redevelopments we have tried to untangle the traffic mess and make the roads safer for all types of transportation.
While bike infrastructure is very important for bike safety, the reality is that most roads in Pittsburgh aren’t large enough to add an additional bike lane. The answer must lie in public education for drivers and for bicyclists. My sense is that many drivers don’t know what to do when they are driving behind a bicyclists or get nervous having them on the road. Is it appropriate to pass a person on a bicycle? Should you just hang back and drive significantly under the speed limit? Many drivers don’t know. Overly aggressive drivers might not understand that following too closely, or cutting off a bicyclist puts that person in serious danger and could land the driver in serious legal trouble regardless of whether the person on the bicycle is injured or not. On the other hand, there are bicycle riders who disregard traffic lights, stop signs, and yield signs, or fail to signal when they are turning or changing lanes. This also contributes to public safety issues on our roadways.
The bottom line is that we have an infrastructure that is built for cars, zoning decisions that have exacerbated our car-centric culture, and driver training programs that don’t address multi-modal transportation safety issues effectively. A stronger emphasis on road safety education will help to alleviate this problem, and this is something for which I will continue to advocate.
6. Given Pittsburgh’s relatively low rate of car ownership and the recent transit cuts, what specific ideas do you have to make active transportation choices like biking and walking more appealing?
There is only one thing we can do to make biking and walking more appealing and that is to invest in infrastructure. Bike lanes are important, signage asking drivers to yield to pedestrians and bicyclists is also important. Having benches where pedestrians could sit, or bike racks where bicyclists can lock their bikes up when not in use is also important. We honestly cannot expect people to change their behaviors if we don’t consider the design of the environment around them. I have been a strong advocate for park-and-rides in the district, allowing folks to take advantage of the South Busway and light rail across the district, which will in turn encourage more folks walking to and from their final destinations. We need to invest in this infrastructure not only to create better transportation opportunities, but to send the message to people that it is safe and comfortable to use a bike on this road, or to walk on this sidewalk. Our infrastructure needs to invite its use.
7. What do you think is the number one risk to walkers and bicyclists both in your district and the city as a whole? What have you done/will you do as an elected official to remedy it?
The number one risk to bicyclists and walkers is automobile traffic. We can address these issues, and have addressed these issues, by doing many of the things mentioned above: creating multi-modal, transportation-friendly streetscapes; building bike and walking infrastructure or improving it where it already exists with shared bike markings/bike lanes, signage, benches, and bike racks; promoting a public education campaign for transportation safety; and making sure that our city invites this kind of transportation rather than just tolerating it.
8. What are your ideas for securing funding sources for biking and walking projects outside of the City’s Capital Budget?
It is always a good idea to look toward the state or federal government for funding opportunities, including directly budgeted funds and grant funds, or to seek outside grant funding. However, it is very difficult to put together the funding needed for transportation infrastructure projects outside of government because of the massive amount of money that is required. I have been working with local community development corporations to look into other sources of funding for certain projects such as Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) Program funding from the federal government and Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund (CITF) funding from the County. These are competitive sources of funding however, and so we would welcome Bike PGH and its membership as lobbying partners in these efforts.
9. In conclusion, why do you think people who care about bicycling and walking issues should vote for you?
People who care about bicycling and walking issues should vote for me because I have a record of promoting more bike and pedestrian-friendly development in my district and across the city, and I am a big supporter of multi-modal transportation planning. We must continue to support a transportation approach in the city that looks beyond automobiles, and we must expand biking and walking infrastructure out to the broader reaches of the city, including my district in South Pittsburgh.