Our thoughts and concerns about the execution of the Highland Park closure
Back in March, during the first few weeks of the Coronavirus lockdown, the parks and trails were getting packed with people looking for exercise and recreation. To address the need for more space to practice physically distancing BikePGH came out with a blog post promoting the concept of Social Distancing Fitness Zones – places within parks for people to get a breath of fresh air and exercise while being able to easily stay at least six feet apart from others doing the same.
Starting in early April, due to the dangers of spreading the virus, all playgrounds and shelters were closed so there was no reason to access them. The City was even considering closing the parks entirely if people couldn’t practice safe distancing. BikePGH wanted to make sure that didn’t happen. Social Distancing Fitness Zones seemed like a good way to keep parks open and Pittsburghers safe.
On April 4 and 5, the City piloted the Highland Park closure in partnership with Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. The pilot went well, but we didn’t hear anything further about next steps to pursue any more closures until May 15, when the Mayor’s Office issued a press release stating that at least three parks (Highland Park, West End Park, and Sheraden Park) this summer would go car-free temporarily as a response to Coronavirus concerns in order to keep people safer.
In late May, the City finally began working in earnest on this issue and decided that they would close the Highland Park Loop to cars. However, it has become clear to us now that there were conflicting plans being pursued concurrently at the City. At the same time people were working on the plans for making Reservoir Drive car-free, others were planning on a reopening of the City’s playgrounds of shelters. Those two opposing efforts coincided within days of one another resulting in confusion and improperly blocking off direct access to the now-open facilities. Our intention was never to prevent access to these facilities, believing they were going to be closed for the summer.
BikePGH firmly believes that ADA access must be provided and are doing what we can to make sure the City resolves this in a timely manner. We apologize for our part in the timing of this and are currently advocating for a redesign or reprogramming of the closure that does not prevent people from accessing these popular amenities.
BIke Pittsburgh continues to advocate for safe spaces for walking and biking – for ALL of our community members who ride, walk, and roll.