In just 6 hours, we logged 123 reports of drivers blocking bike lanes
On Wednesday, October 16, BikePGH, in collaboration with the How’s My Driving app, rallied nearly 70 volunteers to disperse along select Pittsburgh bike lanes to count the number of times vehicles were parking, standing, or loading in the bike-only lanes.
Dubbed the “Data Protected Bike Lane Project,” volunteers logged 123 violations, all captured during the morning, lunch and evening rush. Using the How’s My Driving app, a new tool that allows anyone to quickly report dangerous driving behavior, these volunteers covered Forbes Ave (between Bigelow and Morewood), Penn Ave (Stanwix to 11th), Allegheny Circle, and Third Ave (Stanwix to Smithfield).
These 123 violations offer a snapshot into the hot spots of illegal parking, in the hopes that the City can more efficiently implement proven solutions, as well as raising awareness of the dangers that these drivers pose to Pittsburghers.
When drivers illegally park in bike lanes with impunity, they effectively erase the infrastructure and force bicyclists to enter traffic. Additionally, these vehicles frequently damage bike lanes by running over and knocking down the bollards, further increasing hazardous conditions.
In the United States, despite an overall drop in traffic fatalities, 2018 was the most dangerous year for bicyclists and pedestrians since 1990, a “disturbing outlier” according to the New York Times. So far this year, we’ve lost three bicyclists in the Pittsburgh region, tying the record numbers from 2013.
Blocking a bike lane is not only illegal, it’s dangerous
We purposely chose these streets based off of a number of factors and a desire to dig deeper into this ongoing issue. First of all, each of these locations have received multiple reports of bike lane blockages since they were installed. Additionally, each one has some level of protection, or at least is supposed to.
For instance, the Third Ave contra-flow lane in Downtown was supposed to include a physical barrier, but they have yet to be installed. On Forbes Ave, there are sections that will get protection once the construction project is complete, while other sections the protection was scrapped. In some locations there may be flexible bollards, and drivers simply run them over and destroy them, or they are squeezing into the small vacant sections near driveways and loading docks. This is particularly problematic on Penn Ave and Allegheny Commons.
Location & Data Breakdown
Each segment of road we looked at was roughly the same length. However, we were not able to secure volunteers for the morning shift along the two-way bike lanes around Allegheny Commons, so the numbers there will appear a bit lower.
Overall, the Forbes Ave bike lanes in Oakland saw the largest number of violations followed by the 3rd Ave contra-flow bike lane in Downtown. Penn Ave’s largest number of reports occurred in a predictable location on the 900 block.
Violations by Block
3rd Ave., Downtown – Overall, a shocking 26% of all violations were reported on the 200 block of 3rd Ave. Many of these drivers were standing, while picking up or dropping off passengers or looking at their phone – a cringeworthy violation considering there were empty spaces directly across the street. More baffling were the drivers who actually parked and left their car for up to a half an hour, a mere block away from two parking garages. This all left riders with a bike lane that was blocked approximately 50% of the time of the study. Particularly troubling is that the bike lanes here are contra-flow, ie it is designed for bikes to ride in them against the flow of traffic. Therefore, a vehicle that is blocking the bike lane forces bicyclists into oncoming traffic. From the start, these bike lanes were supposed to have physical protection, but a year later, the City has yet to install.
Solution: Add physical protection or parking protection, especially in the 200 block. Also, the area across the street could be designated as a loading zone.
Forbes Ave., Oakland – On Forbes, the vast majority of the violations occurred on the 4700-4800 block, in an unprotected section directly in front of the Tepper School of Business and Hamburg Hall, two buildings with built-in loading zones that drivers appeared to ignore. Accordingly, the bike lanes on these blocks were essentially useless for about a quarter of the time that we were observing. However, there were plenty of other hot spots on Forbes, concentrated around the CMU Campus. The 4500 block was particularly noteworthy, as it was blocked for about 16% of the time. This section of bike lanes on Forbes Ave is brand new, so drivers may be readjusting to the new layout, but there was also a push to protect these bike lanes that PennDOT rebuffed. The time is now to correct this behavior before it becomes etched into practice.
Solution: Add physical protection or bollards, especially at key locations where frequent pick up/drop off occur. Monitor and educate drivers by issuing warnings.
Penn Ave., Downtown – Installed in 2014, Penn Ave was one of the first protected bike lanes in the City, and drivers quickly started parking in the newly freed up space, causing immediate conflict and complaints from the bicyclists who began flocking there (link to counter). We have received reports that building managers have even instructed delivery drivers to park in the bike lanes. Even before the bike lanes went in, Penn Ave was never available as a loading zone. To combat the illegal parking and loading, the City installed rubber curbs to further protect the bike lanes.
While some larger vehicles continue to ignore the rubber curbs, overall these seem to work fairly well, except for the completely unprotected section at the 900 block, a segment that we observed was blocked for about 17% of the time during the study. For the most part, the violators on this block seemed to be delivery vehicles, who for one reason or another, are not using the loading docks of the building, nor the curbside lane on the other side of the street (which is currently signed for no stopping or standing). The day after the Data Protected Bike Lanes action, according to one bike commuter, a Pittsburgh police officer told a delivery driver to not park in the bike lane to unload. The driver got back in their vehicle and parked on the other side of the street – Problem solved!
Solution: Designate the curb lane across the street as a loading zone.
Allegheny Commons, Northside – While we could not fill every time slot along the Allegheny Commons two-way protected bike lane, we were still able to glean some insight into the patterns of bike lane blockages. South and East Commons resulted in a similar number of reports, while North and West Commons saw very few reported violations. East and South were blocked for 27% and 25% of the time during observation, respectively, while West and North Commons were blocked for about 10% of the time. Drivers along the Commons were brazenly sneaking into the small sections that lack protection near driveways, or squeezing between bollards.
Solution: Add better protection and/or more bollards.
Conclusions from the Data Protected Bike Lane
Parking in a bike lane is dangerous for everyone – The roads were not designed for parking in the bike lane. We observed several near misses, not just between bikes, but also between cars and pedestrians, as people parked wherever they wanted. Parking in the bike lane effectively closes down the infrastructure and wastes the City’s investment in car-free transportation alternatives. This is particularly telling when you look at the percent of time that the bike lane blockages occurred – as high as 50% of the time in some locations. When the lane is blocked, it literally drives people away from using the infrastructure and using a bicycle, in general.
Not all protection is created equal – Sometimes a flexible bollard or rubber curb is enough to keep people from parking in a bike lane. However, sometimes bollards are not enough. It’s clear that people will ignore and even drive over the bollards and rubber curbs as they seem fit. Better solutions exist to fortify the most problematic areas, such as planters or concrete, and we now have data to figure out where best to invest tight resources. Putting in this extra effort in complex areas will pay dividends in safety.
Unprotected vs protected – It’s become obvious that protecting bike lanes does more than just keep moving cars out of the bike lane. It prevents illegally parking in them as well. There are some sections of bike lanes, that can hardly be called bike lanes due to the amount of time they are parked up. As drivers seem to disregard the rules with aplomb, putting up a physical barrier may be the only solution for keeping people safe.
Hopefully, this data will help the City better manage their resources and enhance bike lanes where it matters most.
We’re working with the City to adopt the app for regular use to help track the problem areas of not only bike lane parking, but sidewalk/crosswalk parking, near-miss incidents, bus lane blockages, etc. This demonstration showed how collectively we can tell a really important story and provide useful data to improve transportation for all.
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