Connecting Pitt and CMU by bike: More than a decade in the making
Since 2005, when BikePGH was the new kid on the block, we have been actively pushing for bike lanes to connect Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh along Forbes Ave. Despite a mere mile of separation between the schools, a distance perfect for bicycling, Forbes Ave was a notoriously dangerous street that discouraged many students, faculty and staff from even attempting the trip by bicycle.
It’s been a long slog, but we are happy to announce that bike lanes on Forbes Ave are nearly complete. PennDOT has added the line striping, and is working daily to finish the job.
The benefits of a safe bike connection between the two largest universities in the city are obvious, but somehow still required years of persistence from community members, grassroots organizing by BikePGH, and the heartbreaking death of Susan Hicks to get these lanes prioritized.
We fought hard to get to this place
In 2011, Carnegie Mellon University held a packed public meeting that included a vision of bike lanes on public roads near their campus, connecting to the City-installed bike lanes on Forbes from Margaret Morrison St to Squirrel Hill.
We knew how important it was to make a stand at this meeting and get Pittsburghers to show up to demand bike safety improvements.
Although CMU wanted a bike lanes in front of their campus, PennDOT (owner of Forbes Ave) did not have a plan for adding them. It wasn’t even on their radar.
Eventually, PennDOT’s proposed project received funding, but there was little detail on when the project would actually happen, and whether or not it would even include bike lanes. Meanwhile, the Port Authority’s Bus Rapid Transit project started getting legs, reaffirming the necessity to plan for people on bikes in the neighborhood, before they were completely pushed out – or into the planned BRT lanes.
Around this same time, the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation (OPDC) published their Oakland2025 Master Plan, which called for better biking and walking alternatives in the neighborhood, as well as a reduction in auto use.
Pittsburgh bicyclist hit and killed in Oakland
Then, in 2015, a driver struck and killed Susan Hicks, a University of Pittsburgh employee, on Forbes Ave near Bellefield Ave, as she was bicycling home from work. Susan’s death swiftly raised awareness and highlighted the urgency of the need to fix the dangers of Forbes Ave and of riding a bike in Oakland.
Additionally, her death put a focus on PennDOT’s Forbes Ave projects as an opportunity to fix long standing safety issues and concerns. At this point, BikePGH launched our #SafeFifthForbesNow campaign in order to push for safe bike connections to and through Oakland.
At this point, BikePGH launched our #SafeFifthForbesNow campaign in order to push for safe bike connections to and through Oakland.
In no time, the City began installing bike lanes in and around University of Pittsburgh’s campus on the city-owned streets of Bigelow, Bayard, and O’Hara Streets.
A year later, another death of a bicyclist on a PennDOT road
The following year, in August of 2016, PennDOT and CMU were ready to unveil their revised plans for Forbes Ave at a public meeting. Tensions were high as the meeting occurred on the same day that a driver killed Dennis Flanagan on the PennDOT-owned West Carson St, only a week after they reopened the newly redesigned street that lacked any bike infrastructure after ignoring community calls for a “complete street.”
While the Forbes Ave design included bike lanes through CMU’s campus, they did not connect to the University of Pittsburgh, nor the City’s recent bike lane investments on Bigelow, Bayard, and O’Hara Streets. Even worse, they had no plans to fix the treacherous of section Forbes Ave where Susan was killed.
Promises of a bright future
The City responded to PennDOT’s lackluster plans two months later, where, at a memorial event, former Councilman Dan Gilman, now Chief of Staff to Mayor Peduto, announced that the City would be installing bike lanes between Bigelow Blvd and Craig St, featuring a design that included a protected contra-flow bike lane along with a bike signal in the one-way section of Forbes next to the Cathedral of Learning.
In July of 2017, PennDOT presented their revised plans and construction schedule for the project at another well attended public meeting. This revision included bike lanes from Bigelow Blvd to Margaret Morrison St, as well as several other features.
Now in 2019, eight years later, we’re finally seeing results
The Forbes Ave bike lane success story is one of offering an achievable alternative vision, organizing community involvement, and keeping the pressure on.
Additionally, this project shows how a Complete Streets approach to road design helps all road users, no matter the mode. With better (and new) crosswalks, cars slowing to the speed limit, reducing and shifting automobile lanes further from the sidewalk, pedestrians benefit. Drivers and buses benefit by not having people on bikes in front of them, and hopefully even fewer people driving and parking in the neighborhood.
But our work is not yet done
Of course, we are not yet finished with our vision for a Safe Fifth & Forbes. While bike lanes now connect CMU and Pitt, there is still the question of how people get to Uptown and Downtown along the Fifth and Forbes corridor.
We are asking you to please stay engaged, stay vocal by signing up to our #SafeFifthForbesNow list, as well as supporting the work of BikePGH to make sure our organization has the solid footing needed to keep leading this charge for positive change to our streets.
In another test of patience and persistence, it’s important that we stay engaged in the Port Authority’s Bus Rapid Transit Project. The initial designs of this Port Authority and City project, which is under consideration for federal funding, include protected bike lanes from Oakland all the way to Downtown Pittsburgh along Fifth and Forbes Aves.
While the current plans are looking very promising, nothing is certain until the paint is on the pavement.
We didn’t do this alone
Finally, we would like to thank many of the people and organizations who played a key role getting this project done right. First and foremost BikePGH’s members and advocates—thank you for making your voices heard, State Representative Dan Frankel, Mayor Bill Peduto and Chief of Staff Dan Gilman, Councilwoman Erika Strassburger, PennDOT, City of Pittsburgh Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, Pittsburgh Department of City Planning, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Oakland Planning and Development Corporation and their Bike-Ped Committee, Oakland Task Force, Oakland Transportation Management Association, Oakland Business Improvement District, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Staff Council, Port Authority of Allegheny County, Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition, CMU’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, and most importantly, Susan Hicks’s friends and family.
In memory of Susan Hicks and Dennis Flanagan.