Pittsburgh City Council District 8 Candidates Respond to Biking and Walking Survey

Save the Date: Tuesday, March 6 is the District 8 special election

Biking and walking are political issues. When you choose to get around by foot or by bike, you are addressing critically important issues: personal health, air quality, oil dependence, economics, infrastructure, and safety.

Each election cycle, we want to make sure that voters understand issues that are important to them. In the case of street safety, where 25% of traffic fatalities and major injuries are pedestrians, improvements to our built environment may literally save their lives.

Residents of Pittsburgh City Council District 8 will get to choose a new person to represent them in City Hall. Former Councilman Dan Gilman recently left his position to serve as Mayor Peduto’s Chief of Staff, leaving a vacancy for the District 8 Council seat.

A special election was called for Tuesday, March 6 to fill the seat.

Four candidates are on the ballot:

District 8 has some of the highest concentrations of BikePGH members in the City. We wanted to be sure to give these candidates an opportunity to talk directly to their potential constituents on issues surrounding biking and walking, so that you can make an informed decision for who to cast your vote.

BikePGH is not allowed to endorse candidates. Candidates presented in alphabetical order. Answers have been lightly edited for formatting, otherwise these are their words.


Find out where the D8 City Council Candidates stand on biking and walking issues

 

1. What roles do you think city council can play in making cities safe, accessible and friendly for residents to walk and bike?


Sonja Finn

Pedestrian and bike accessibility and safety should be part of our planning for all public projects and private developments requiring public infrastructure improvements. I will be an advocate for improving areas in my district where pedestrian crossings, sidewalk access/egress, and grading must be improved so that the roads and sidewalks are accessible for vehicles, bikers, and walkers.


Marty Healey

There is no more important role of a member of city council than to make sure their district is safe and accessible. I’m running on a “clean, safe streets” platform. Sometimes national issues might be too lofty for city council to do much more than to advocate for, but safe, accessible and friendly streets is right in our wheelhouse. It is our purpose. As for the heart of your question and your organization, City Council also has a huge role in severing the dependence on cars for transportation to employment. If our city plans on expanding, especially in my district, than more and more residents need to get downtown for work. It then becomes my job to bring in responsible and action focused stakeholders to find creative ways to mitigate and eliminate the frustration and pollution that is caused by congestion.


Rennick Remley

We need to be committed to a safe accessible and friendly city. What we can do as Council members is continue to make sure money is properly sent to make those objectives a reality. We must always be our constituents voice on council and an advocate and representative for them.


Erika Strassburger

City council plays an enormous role in making our city safe, friendly and accessible for those who walk, bike and travel by wheelchair. We need city council members who appreciate the multimodal nature of transportation and advocate for smart design and funding to make it easier to walk and bike rather than drive. Too often, others have used bike lanes as an example of perceived government waste, or attacked cyclists for using the streets. The reality is, every cyclist is one less parking spot needed and one less vehicle causing wear and tear on the roads, cyclists have just as much right to use the roads as cars, and complete streets that include bike lanes are safest for everyone. As Councilwoman, I will be a proponent for complete streets. I will convene meetings with residents, community bike ped committee members, and representatives from the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) about corridors of concern to discuss traffic calming options and redesign of streets. I will advocate for the rights of pedestrians and those who cycle, be a promoter of cyclist safety, and I will challenge other council members and members of the public who attack these solutions.

 

2.We’d like to hear your thoughts on the expanding bike lane network over the past decade. What’s working? Where can the City improve?

Since 2007, the City has added about 40 miles of bike lanes and 33 miles of shared lane markings.


Sonja Finn

I feel the bike lanes have largely been successful. I think we can improve public input as to the placement of future bike lanes in our neighborhoods, and public education as to how traffic flow and public transit stops should interact with bicycles. In higher traffic areas I believe that we can do more to increase and expand pedestrian and bike lanes to ensure safety for all.


Marty Healey

I love the bike lanes in my neighborhood, and the idea of them (especially the clearly marked green bike lanes) is something that makes our city stand out. The partnership with Healthy Ride seems to be a positive one where many residents can take a bike to work or for leisure on the lanes of the city. However, I do think that the implementation of the bike lanes could have been improved. I hear from many of my residents that they don’t feel they were able to have input in the bike lanes, specifically outside of my district and downtown. Some of them feel that the lanes are not placed well, and wished they had a seat at the table when we were putting the lanes in. That said, the lanes that we have currently aren’t going anywhere. I just hope moving forward that we can have more community input in the lanes.


Rennick Remley

Bike lanes and implementing certain aspects of complete streets programs and other types of bike-centric transportation is a necessary component of a thriving modern city, it is also a key aspect in what has happened in the past 10 years to make Pittsburgh attractive to a new, younger work force. What’s working is the commitment to making Pittsburgh bike friendly. Where the city must improve is in the implementation of these programs that make us bike friendly. Traffic patterns and timing need to be taken into consideration before implementation. I would like to see a commitment to better more common sense planning.


Erika Strassburger

Expanding bike lanes, including shared lanes, has been a good thing and has likely played a role in the huge increase in the number of people who commute to work by bike. Bike lanes have led to safer, more beautiful, and more accessible neighborhoods. I truly believe that a sizeable group of city residents would consider travelling by bike if they felt safer doing so. Data from other cities tells us this is true. We need more bike infrastructure in more neighborhoods in order to truly create a connected network throughout the city. I like the approach of identifying best locations for bike infrastructure based on existing use, establishing corridors for different modes a travel. One example of this is Ellsworth Avenue, which is already very highly used by bicyclists and should be established as a corridor that prioritizes that. In some cases, the city could do a better job of working creatively to add bike infrastructure that is great for bicyclists while doing so through a process that is inclusive and allows everyone to have their say. I’ve seen the city shift to this approach more and more, and I believes it allows for more people to get behind bike infrastructure – a wise thing to for the long term.

3. In your district, are there any specific road safety or transportation projects that you would like to see accomplished (or that are in the works) that you’re excited about?


Sonja Finn

I would like to see improved bike access and pedestrian crossings in Fifth/Penn, Mellon Park, Bakery Square corridor.


Marty Healey

While not directly in my district, BRT will greatly affect the lives of people that live in my district. I certainly hope that it is implemented with the concerns of the entire community in mind, and not just the professional class that needs to get from Golden Triangle to Oakland. I met with a constituent who had great concerns about how difficult it could be for wheeelchair riders to get on multiple busses. We need to not make their lives any harder.


Rennick Remley

Overall, we must perform better maintenance of our roads, particularly throughout the winter and spring. If it isn’t safe to drive our vehicles it certainly isn’t going to be safe for pedestrians or bikes.


Erika Strassburger

The largest project I am looking forward to seeing completed is the Forbes Betterment Project. Although the entire project technically stretches from the Birmingham Bridge to Margaret Morrison, I’m most interested in the portion stretching from Craig to Margaret Morrison that will include infrastructure for bicyclists safer pedestrian crossings. This is a key bike connector from Oakland to Squirrel HIll and I’m glad it’s being prioritized. I’m also looking forward to changes along Ellsworth Avenue that prioritize bikers and pedestrians over drivers. A co-benefit of this is traffic calming, something that residents who live on or right off of Ellsworth are asking for. I’m interested in how we can work together to make S. Dallas Avenue, Shady Avenue, and Beeechwood Blvd. (all between Wilkins and Fifth Aves.) safer for everyone. Through better design and a grassroots effort, I believe we can work together to calm vehicle traffic, improve the experience of cyclists and pedestrians, and beautify the corridors. Lastly, while it’s not technically in District 8, I’d like to see a solution developed to allow those (like me) who commute downtown through Schenley Park past Panther Hollow Lake to access Four Mile Run to be able to do so efficiently without crossing railroad tracks.

4. What do you think is the number one risk to walkers and bicyclists in your district and/or the city as a whole? What can you do as an elected official to help remedy it?


Sonja Finn

“Pittsburgh Left” and Right on Red turns against pedestrian crossings are a huge risk. I would work toward more clearly marked pedestrian crossings and dedicated “Walk” cycles at traffic lights.


Marty Healey

I am not certain what the solution is, and would need to bring others in to solve it, but I (as I’m sure many of you do) worry about car doors opening into a bike coming up on the side. I’ve researched the dutch reach, and I would love to see an ad campaign focused around that in Pittsburgh. The nature of my district lends itself to many narrow streets, sometimes due to cars parked on both sides, that can be dangerous to riders. While I do not think we should limit the cars that are currently parked, I do think we need to make sure that there aren’t more parking spaces being implemented into the city without a voice of the biking and walking community.


Rennick Remley

We must make sure any paths in public parks or off of main roads are safe. Safety has to be the number one priority when walkers and bicyclists are using lanes, trails and paths. As an elected official I would want to see the most used lanes and the most used times of day and advocate to the administration that proper precautions are in place, then I would work to secure the funding to take care of those precautions.


Erika Strassburger

I think the number one risk to walkers and bicyclists is a lack of education. Too many people treat cyclists in the street like they are breaking a law, or else they are unsure about how to interact with a cyclist on the road, and that creates a dangerous situation. As an elected official, I will work to provide more education to new audiences and work to inform all residents about the law. Additionally, we must make sure our bike lanes and sidewalks stay walkable and useable. Potholes, snow, and ice in a bike lane are arguably a bigger problem than those in the streets and we should make sure both are being addressed side by side.

5. Your district consistently sees some of the highest bike and walk counts in the City. What particular problem spots for pedestrians and/or people on bikes that you’d like to see addressed?


Sonja Finn

I would address issues in the following heavily trafficked areas: Fifth/Penn, Mellon Park, Bakery Square corridor; Pedestrian crossings along heavy-traffic Fifth Ave., S. Aiken Ave., S. Negley Ave.


Marty Healey

One problem that I’ve seen, not just in my district but in the entire city, is how to handle bikers in high traffic commercial areas. One that comes to mind is the shopping along Highland. While bikers aren’t safe on the sidewalks, they also aren’t really safe on the streets, specifically with all the parked cars. A way this is solved elsewhere (the corner of East Liberty Blvd and Negley comes to mind) is to have a bike line on the inside of the parking lane. Unfortunately, I would imagine that street is too narrow to do this on. In addition, bikers need to use this road to get over the east liberty busway so telling bikers to ride up to Shady might be an unnecessary inconvenience. Like all things, I would love to hear what stakeholders of all modes of transportation would like to see implemented here.


Rennick Remley

Personally, I have not experienced any particular problem areas while walking or cycling, and would need to study any reports to make an informed proposal to address problems.


Erika Strassburger

As mentioned above, I hear frustration both from people who bike and people who primarily drive about Ellsworth Avenue. On this corridor it’s not just about infrastructure, but also about changing behavior through design. I know pedestrians who live along S. Dallas Avenue, Shady Avenue (both from Wilkins to Fifth), Wilkins from S. Dallas to Fifth, and Beechwood Blvd. are concerned about drivers who speed, and I’d like to take this on. The intersections I’m most concerned about for pedestrian safety include Penn Avenue and East Liberty Blvd., Wilkins and Murray Aves., Forbes Ave. and Beeler Street, Fifth and Morewood, Fifth and Bellefield, and Centre and N. Neville.

6. In conclusion, why do you think people who care about bicycling and walking issues should vote for you?


Sonja Finn

I’m committed to keeping our neighborhoods livable and accessible. Bike and pedestrian options are great benefits of living in the urban core. When residents are pushed out of urban core communities due to unaffordability, these options are likely to be foreclosed to them and commuting by vehicle becomes a necessity that is not accessible to all. Maintaining safe bike and pedestrian options throughout our City is an essential element to the smart, sustainable growth practices to which I am committed.


Marty Healey

While I certainly want the biking community to embrace me for my ideas, what I think is most important is that they understand my campaign is about diversity. I do not represent any constituency more than another, and I want everyone to feel that they have a “bicycle-seat” at the table. I value input from people that have different experiences than me. I have an open mind, and want to make sure that I’m hearing opinions and needs from all sides.


Rennick Remley

I’m committed to making Pittsburgh a Bicycle and walking friendly city and advocate for the benefits to our public community, health and environment. Having said that I also will be an advocate for proper and thoughtful implementation which will be key in increasing who uses these lanes throughout the entire city and how everyone feels about them going forward.


Erika Strassburger

I have a track record of working to make our streets safer. As Councilwoman, I won’t back down from this challenge, regardless of an often contentious public process. I helped facilitate the installation of the Forbes Avenue bike lane and signal after the needless and tragic crash that took Prof. Susan Hicks’ life. I’ve started the process of meeting with the community about Ellsworth Avenue bike infrastructure. I’ve helped to improve safety and accessibility throughout the district, whether it’s getting crosswalks installed or repainted, applying to the state to seek ARLE funding for new pedestrian countdown signals, or even installing stop signs. Many candidates will talk about improving bike lanes or pedestrian safety, but I have been working on these projects and more for the past four years. I know what needs done and more importantly, I know how to work with others to get it accomplished.


 

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