Council District 6 Challenging Candidate, Franco Dok Harris Responds to 2013 BikePGH Questionnaire
Council District 6 Challenger: Franco Dok Harris
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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’ll be honest – I do not own a bike. As our office is in the North Hills, commuting by bike would be an ordeal best reserved for a serious athlete (as an aside, my first job out of college was at Capital One in Northern Virginia. My boss, David Glover, was an Ironman triathlete who did his 25 mile commute every day on his bike. He was a very impressive man). I do walk downtown and in the Strip for recreation and errands, and very much enjoyed doing that as well when I lived in Shadyside, Regent Square, and Lawrenceville previously.
2. What roles do you think city council can play in making cities safe, accessible and friendly for biking and walking?
The City Council is the main body tasked with overall design and decision making for Pittsburgh’s infrastructure. Designation of bike lanes, creation of car free zones etc. While that’s good on a high level, the truth is that this city is poorly designed for bikes and walking – our streets are the narrow legacy of an old pre-Industrial past, our sidewalks are crumbling or non-existent in many neighbohoods making walking a dangerous pursuit, and the poor state of our roads create a legitimate and constant danger to bicyclists.On Council I will push for the repair of our infrastructure, making sure it is top-notch work at affordable prices – too many times we have seen the same pothole patched year after year. We need to have a cohesive plan of how to make sure our roads are safe for both cars and bikes. I also support designation of more bike lanes where they fit (it’s going to be tough downtown with the narrow streets) and creation of bike / foot only pathways through the city (perhaps using old rail or buslines).
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?
I look at my District as having two distinctive opportunities – creating a livable Downtown, and creating a thriving business corridor in the Hill District. Both require viable walking and biking options – and in fact encouraging those options will be a boon for the small businesses located within. I think we could have a lot of success with a bicycle valet system in major shopping districts and as possible small business opportunities near our universities – a small monthly or annual fee for safe and efficient bike storage. Programs repairing old bikes for underprivileged kids while also teaching them how to repair bikes is a program I would like to institute, especially as a way of promoting exercise among kids who have high rates of obesity in my district.
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?
An idealized version of what I’d like to see downtown would be a centralized parking area (garages, light rail, small businesses providing necessities to commuting workers) that then offers bike storage / monthly rental. A hub and spoke system of commuting in downtown Pittsburgh that would greatly reduce traffic from workers commuting from the suburbs. Allow the parking area to have direct highway access (the former Mellon Arena location would be ideal) and go from there. I am sure that I wouldn’t need to order my staff to attend – I will hire motivated young individuals with a passion for city service and urban planning. Efficient use of non-automobile commuting is crucial to the future of this city.
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.
Pittsburgh drivers are a strange hybrid – we are often selected as the most courteous drivers in the country, and we are also some of the most aggressive. We are all quite familiar with the “STOP-tional” signs in certain areas as well as the extended yellow-into-red-that-I’m-going-to-run-anyway intersections that are deadly to pedestrians. It’s hard to legislate common sense, but enforcing the laws on the books, staking out problem intersections, and prosecuting drivers who continually break the rules are all important tools.
That said, we do need to work on educating pedestrians and bicyclists as well – not because they are as often at fault, but because even when following the rules, an encounter with a speeding automobile is going to do a lot less injury to the automobile. It’s an unfortunate fact that pedestrians and cyclists have to be more aware of their surroundings as a matter of personal safety. We also need to enforce laws to that effect – whether it’s the repeated number of pedestrians who cross against the light Downtown (something I’ve personally witnessed dozens of times recently) or cyclists who run stop signs or red lights (especially when an automobile is making a right – in full disclosure I almost hit someone – I was stopped at a red light, about to make a right turn, looked to my left and right to see if cars were coming, started my turn only to hit the brakes as a cyclist flew past my right side into the intersection through a red light, having passed two or three cars behind me between the cars on the road and the ones parked on the side. Incredibly dangerous situation).
To sum it up – drivers need to be educated and laws enforced. Pedestrians and cyclists unfortunately have the burden of having to be more self aware, out of self preservation. It’s not fair, but it’s the reality until we can increase the safety of those methods of travel in our problem areas. It’s what I learned in law school – the law will try to make you whole again financially after an accident, but most people would rather not be injured in the first place.
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?
The number one thing we have to do in this region is fix public transportation. It is holding us back from being a contender for businesses interested in moving. PAT has been an embarrassment for years and we have to come together to put pressure on the Mayor (who appoints a number of board members) and the County Executive (who appoints a number as well) to put effective people on the board who work to create an efficient service rather than business as usual. We have to get people managing public transportation to look at it like they were running their own business rather than spending other people’s money – the “hey It’s just tax dollars not money out of my pocket” mentality leads to most of the inefficiency we see.
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?
We addressed this above in question #5 – but to briefly reprise, it’s a combination of lack of sidewalks / cross walks, broken curbs, lack of street lights, pot holes, and aggressive / distracted drivers and walkers. We need to focus on repairing our infrastructure, lighting our neighborhoods, and creating viable bike passageways through our city.
8. What are your ideas for securing funding sources for biking and walking projects outside of the City’s Capital Budget?
I think that we can work with our corporate community to encourage bike / walking commuting through perks for employees who choose those methods. Corporate matches for non-profit organizations who work on creating a city that is easier to travel on foot or bike is another strong method.
9. In conclusion, why do you think people who care about bicycling and walking issues should vote for you?
They should vote for the candidate with the education, background, and skill set to create strong policies that encourage small business growth in our communities as well as focus on building sustainable neighborhoods. Non-automobile commuting is a crucial method of regenerating our Main Street communities. I will be a vocal ally of projects that encourage a walkable city. If you have any further questions please feel free to contact me.