Why can't we ride in the bus lanes?

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mattre
Participant
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I know the answer is that it’s illegal, but my question is why? Philadelphia allows it, with sharrows painted in their bus lanes downtown and signs explicitly allowing bicycles to use it.

I understand the logic of disallowing it on the busway and in the transit tunnel, but I do not see a reason why bikes should not be allowed in the bus lanes on Smithfield or 5th Ave. It would be no more effort for the buses to pass a cyclist that it is on any other city street. With a gallon of paint and a day of DPW effort, we could completely solve the problem of no safe routes into Oakland from downtown.

Does anyone know what is stopping us from doing it on this side of the state?


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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Good question. Same with the Wabash Tunnel. Now that I’m ACTC president, I may have more sway on this than I used to.


byogman
Member
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I ride in the Smithfield street bus lane but not the 5th avenue bus lane because it’s a bit of PITA to use the Smithfield street bridge without it the former, but the latter, going up the hill particularly, to my mind, functions a lot like a bus-way. That is, it’s a public good for the buses to be less held up by having routes to themselves and my speed there, unlike Smithfield street downtown, is not comparable to the ambient speed the buses would be going without me there.

The buses are infrequent enough that you can often manage all or at least most of the climb, but then the pass itself can be an unpleasant affair for all involved if there’s enough traffic coming down 5th and you didn’t see the bus in your mirror in time to bail to the too infrequent cuts to the sidewalk. Not that that situation is really higher stress than the Forbes avenue interchange or couldn’t be modified with wide angle mirrors and more curb cuts to work out pretty well. But just putting the paint down, no, I don’t think that’s enough. If I’m going to annoy someone I’d rather it be a solo car driver than a bus full of transit riders.

I doubt anything is happening before the BRT but it would be nice.


chrishent
Member
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@byogman agreed. The Smithfield St bus lane, and for that matter the one on Wood St, should be available to cyclists There are enough traffic lights on these lanes to keep traffic slow and prevent absurd passes from buses (though they do happen). It’s rare that I go through the entire length of Smithfield without encountering a red light.

The 5th Ave lane to and through Oakland is not one I’d take, even if it was allowed. The hill climb and the amount of oncoming traffic makes you vulnerable to close passes. No thanks. I’d rather ride on Forbes.


Vannevar
Participant
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So there are some bus lanes that could be made available to cyclists. That would be a great thing. Especially Smithfield.

I could certainly be happy with excluding the ones that don’t make sense (such as Fifth in Oakland)


Marko82
Participant
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I think allowing bikes in the bus-lanes is a tricky subject. Downtown it is probably ok due to buses making frequent stops & all the traffic lights. But other places it’s more problematic. The whole point of having dedicated bus-lanes is to allow the buses to move at speed without traffic slowing them down. Even without hills, most cyclists will tend to move much slower than 20mph and thus will defeat the goal of moving buses without interruption. It’s hard enough to convince people to use the bus, I’d hate to slow them down and create one more excuse for a bus rider to get back into their car.

The real solution is to create more bike infrastructure that allows cyclists to get from point A to point B safely, without us having to share our space with 20 ton buses. For example, if there was a ten foot wide shared-use-sidewalk going up Fifth Ave from the Birmingham Bridge into Oakland that was in good repair without any cars parked on it – it would get a lot of use.


edmonds59
Participant
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ditto ditto ditto on Smithfield to the bridge. I can’t even guess as to what the “official” route from the Point east is, I don’t know how non-locals are supposed to do it.


Mick
Participant
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If riding in the bus lanes were legal, you can bet there would be some guy with 3 elementary-aged kids riding up 5th from the Birmingham Bridge to Oakland at rush hour with 10 buses behind him.


Vannevar
Participant
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Mick, we’d expect him to do what he’s supposed to do – which is pull over and let the bus’ go. that’s what slow vehicles (bulldozers, amish buggies) do.

And i’d love to see more people riding with their kids, and it’s OK with me if they ride in some of the the bus lanes instead of in the “normal” lanes.

Imagine if people were biking the streets as families,
that’s not a bug it’s a feature. :)


buffalo buffalo
Participant
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> Even without hills, most cyclists will tend to move much slower than 20mph and thus will defeat the goal of moving buses without interruption.

For the record–not that they’re enforced any more than speed limits anywhere else–the speed limit in all of Pittsburgh’s contraflow bus-lanes is 15mph…


buffalo buffalo
Participant
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At any rate, the sidewalk on Fifth Avenue is, or at least at one point was, designated a shared-use path between Birmingham Bridge and Craft Avenue. (Also, business density there is low enough riding the sidewalk would be legal anyway.) On the rare occasion I need to get to Oakland from Uptown, I typically take the sidewalks between Jumonville and Craft, then cut back down to Forbes.

However, the sidewalk between Robinson & Craft needs rebuilt, and someone needs to get the car dealership down near the bridge, and the daycare next door, to stop parking cars on it.


Benzo
Participant
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Minimally, cyclists should be able to legally use the bus lane on smithfield street between blvd of the allies to the smithfield street bridge. That one block section would allow bikes to access the bridge without going up a highway on ramp that is the legal path from wood street.

It’s just idiotic that this hasn’t been done yet. There is little justification for it to be banned for that single one block stretch. It’s cheap to implement, and really improves the usability for cyclists.

I would probably support sharing the bus lanes elsewhere, but I feel like the city is planning to redesign Smitfield and Wood street layouts at some point in the future (maybe as part of BRT or other initiatives) and don’t want to give cyclists something briefly that would get taken away and likely cause a lot of discord with the cycling community and the city administration.


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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The Smithfield bus lane seems essential. One objection would be bikes legally waiting out red lights, thus pushing the buses back a few feet. The solution to that is an Idaho stop.


chrishent
Member
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Regarding the redesign of Smithfield, some changes are coming soon, though they’re not bike-related:

http://www.envisiondowntown.com/strawberry/

The original plans for this were a little more ambitious, but store owners on Smithfield complained about, you guessed it, losing parking spots.


mattre
Participant
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I have to disagree with some of the sentiment on 5th Ave. Yeah, it’s uphill and a bike is going much slower than a bus, but it’s no different than riding uphill on any other street in the city. The bus either has to tool along behind the cyclist or cross the yellow line to pass.

How is that any different than riding uphill on Penn Ave, aside from the fact that Penn, with its narrower lanes, shorter sight lines, and cars parked on both sides is probably much more dangerous? Buses manage to pass cyclists there every day without issue, so what makes the bus lanes special?


chrishent
Member
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As @mick mentioned above, this is one of the busiest bus corridors in the city, with 8 bus routes going through one after the other. Not to mention that some of these routes are running 60ft arctic buses most of the time. Compare this to 1 bus every 10 mins or so on most of the other uphill roads. With all the traffic coming the other way on Fifth, it doesn’t give them a lot of space and time to pass safely. If you want to deal with that, best of luck.


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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When considering a question like this, you cannot go on just that subset of strong, experienced riders who make up most of the participants of this message board. Instead, you have to ask, Will this scale?
* Will the 68-year-old guy on his single speed, who putters along at 10 mph with a tailwind, do as well in the same space?
* What trouble are we inviting with 10x as many cyclists as there are now?
* Do we also want to include inline skaters in the mix?

I think it would work on Smithfield. I think it would work in Wabash. It absolutely will not work on Fifth up hill from the Birmingham Bridge. It probably would work on the level part of Fifth in Oakland.

Be careful what you ask for.


Steven
Participant
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At some times of day, inbound Fifth in Oakland is packed with cars. An outbound bus couldn’t easily go around a cyclist then.

That would be easier if the bus lane weren’t contraflow. A bus could then merge left into traffic going the same way, instead of looking for a space in the traffic heading straight at it.

Are Philadelphia’s bus lanes that are shared with bikes contraflow? If so, are they wide enough to permit a bus to pass without leaving the contraflow lane (per NACTO)?


MaryShaw
Member
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An alternative to using the Smithfield St bike lanes would be to convert the 12-foot wide sidewalk for the one block between Smithfield and Wood to a shared-use path.

If you believe change is coming (for example that the ramp down to the Wharf will make a difference), make this an interim change.

It would only take a bucket of paint and a few share-the-space signs like the ones on the Smithfiled St bridge.

One bus shelter would have to be moved around the corner. I’m told that this is used by only one route and that it’s almost exclusively a discharge stop. Besides, they relocate bus stops for road construction all the time.


Steven
Participant
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You mean Fort Pitt Blvd between Smithfield and Wood? The bus stop there is used by 13 routes, including very frequent ones like the #51, and all South Busway routes. They all come over the Smithfield Street bridge and use that block of Fort Pitt Blvd to get to the Wood Street bus lane.

The stop could be moved half a block around the corner onto Wood Street if necessary, but one problem is that buses wait at that stop when they’re ahead of schedule arriving in the city, after discharging passengers. It’s a good place to wait since there are 3 lanes, so buses that aren’t ahead of schedule can go around. They can’t easily wait on Wood Street since there’s only one lane for them.

So moving the bus stop could mean passengers arriving downtown would have to sit on the bus, sometimes for several minutes, until it reached the first stop downtown, now around the corner, or else you’d have buses discharging passengers at a non-bus-stop, and no doubt people would try to get on there too.

Does the stop need a shelter? Lots of people get off the bus there. I don’t know how many board there during evening rush, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s popular among commuters in the south end of downtown, since it ensures you get a seat, being the first stop downtown. Wait until the bus loops around downtown and returns back to Fort Pitt Blvd on its way outbound, and you might be left standing.

But maybe a narrower style of shelter would work there?


chrishent
Member
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Slightly off-topic, I recall a mention of bike lanes on Ft Pitt Blvd, Boulevard of the Allies and Stanwix from the city capital plan. Considering the amount of people that ride on the sidewalk between Smithfield St and the Point, I can see a bike lane working there. Though it may be moot once the Mon-Wharf switchback and Point Connector projects are completed (sometime next year?)

Anyway, I think a good trial would be to allow bike traffic on Smithfield and Wood bus lanes to start out. Depending on how that goes, the City and Port Authority could look at bikes on other bus-only lanes. I see cyclists on the Smithfield bus lane somewhat frequently. Do PAT drivers complain about them?


chrishent
Member
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This post from Envision Downtown is a good resource for showing that allowing cyclists on Smithfield and Wood bus lanes might not be as disruptive as people might think:

http://www.envisiondowntown.com/new-blog/2015/6/19/weekday-bus-ridership-by-stop

Other than the stop at Smithfield and Sixth Ave, which sees 6,500 riders on weekdays, the rest are lightly used by comparison.


fultonco
Member
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With regard to Smithfield, between BoA and Fort Pitt, how about allowing a right turn for, bicycles only, onto Cherry Way from BoA?

I saw signs to this effect at the Delaware Sea Shore. There are bus lanes (going with the flow and on the far right) on Hwy 1. There are signs specifically stating that only bikes and busses can turn right at certain intersections. Busses would have a hard time at that intersection but bikes could easily do so. Perhaps there are other such places with which people are familiar. Making Cherry Way a bit smoother might be too much to ask.

Stu is right on target with his comments. Too often, opinions cited in the forum are the views of the “elite” cyclist and often seem to indicate that things are OK as they currently stand. I think the goal of the movement is to make cycling safe and accessible for “the masses”.


Ahlir
Participant
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I don’t think of the people on this board as being “elite”. We’re just regular folks, who happen to spend a lot of time riding bikes and who end up wanting to talk about it. I use a bike for most of my daily transportation needs and consequently have an interest in making our streets work for me (ones that, after all, I pay good taxes for).

These days, wanting to post on the internet is hardly elite; if anything one could argue it’s the opposite…

Parents who might take their neophyte cyclist offspring on a trek up 5th Ave fall into the same category as those fathers who might take their sons on to the Parkway(s) for a driving lesson. It’ll happen, but that’s a separate (serious) issue.

Re shared bike/bus lanes. These make sense, but not everywhere. Smithfield from Allies to the bridge makes sense (and I use it, albeit somewhat guiltily). Forbes in Oakland makes a lot of sense. Maybe those pony-tail sharrow people still have their stencils lying around…


I first posted this pic some time ago. But now, in looking at it more carefully, I see that earlier this used to be two separate lanes. One for buses, one for bikes. You can see the ghost of a line, and part of a bike symbol on the right (ghost “bus” on the left). So here’s a case where they tried it both ways, and then a merged lane turned out to make more sense. Can we learn from this? Please?
[Paris, Montparnasse to the south]


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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I am wearing both my transit hat and my bike hat when thinking about this.

I have to tread a little more carefully than I used to, now that as ACTC president I have more direct access to high management and the Board of Port Authority. I really do want to get Wabash opened up, and do wish they’d give cyclists a pass on using the Smithfield and level Oakland lanes, but I want them to be separate discussions. There are a lot more variables to the lanes discussion, while Wabash is more straightforward. But to them, it’s the same discussion. One person has control over the decision on both.

The last person at a high level to clearly oppose it, Wendy Stern, is gone, but her oppositional policies are still in place. Let’s pick our battles carefully.


fultonco
Member
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To clarify, by the term “elite cyclist”, I’m referring to the people who “say” something to the effect that things are OK as they currently are. Because some are fearless or have become de-sensitized to the dangers does not mean that things are alright as they currently exist. The general public would call these cyclists “elite.”

We saw some of this with the recent Route 51 situation where some were saying that they rode it regularly for several years w/o incident. As we have seen, getting away unscathed does not translate into a pass for tomorrow.

This particular thread and others refer to situations where some constructive change could be beneficial toward getting more cyclists on the roads because there would be a greater degree of safety.

With regard to Smithfield Street, I found this online –

http://cdn.citylab.com/media/img/citylab/legacy/2012/12/06/smithfield-2.jpg


edmonds59
Participant
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I rode down the short section of Smithfield St bus lane to get from Allies to the bridge yesterday, pretty much guilt-free, as I have done numerous times before. At this point I have tried the other options, none are adequate, and I have pretty much settled on this as the best connection.
For any who may likewise feel like using this method, the problem is not so much ending up in front of a bus in the lane in your direction, as it is what action to take toward approaching traffic coming from the bridge at Fort Pitt Blvd. You need to stay in the lane across Fort Pitt Blvd until the beginning of the bridge, then do a box turn to get to the shared use sidewalk side. If you’re on a bike, please use the shared use sidewalk side.


Ahlir
Participant
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Continuing on the bridge, in the lane, is also reasonable. It’s two lanes outbound and given the signal timings bikes are mostly over the bridge before traffic can pile up.

And speaking of the Bridge, they restriped the inbound side and widened the lane, eliminating the bike-friendly space that used to be there. I can’t decide whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. But it should would have made sense to add some sharrows.

(Yes, there’s the “bicycle” sidewalk. But as @edmonds59 points out it’s not exactly easily reached from the town side.)


byogman
Member
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When there’s a second lane taking the right one is almost always pretty reasonable. It’s not comfortable for everyone, but this bridge isn’t bad. A little peeved they re-striped eliminating the de-facto bike lane coming back to downtown. Three lane configurations on bridges strike me as a weird and pointless thing. At endpoints, for left turns, I get it, but along the main span why not have one lane in each direction and a nice bike lane each way?


Benzo
Participant
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How, as a cyclist, do you identify which sidewalks are designated ‘shared use’ sidewalks, and which ones are not? Are there signs, markings, etc?


chrishent
Member
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The ones on the Smithfield bridge have such signs, as does the one between the Jail Trail and that bridge. I can’t recall if other obvious ones, such as those on Ft Pitt and Duquesne bridges have them. The sister bridges and 16th bridge definitely don’t have them.

Regarding riding on the road or on the sidewalk through the Smithfield bridge, to me it depends on the time of the day and what bike I’m riding. If I’m on my road bike, most of the time I’ll be on the road. On my single speed commuter and on a Healthy Ride bike, I always use the sidewalk.


MaryShaw
Member
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The walk/bike way from Grant St to the north end of the Smithfield St Bridge and the upstream sidewalk of the Smithfield St bridge have signs. The one at the north end of Smithfield St Bridge has icons for bike and ped at the top, then the wording “Shared Sidewalk”. If this URL works like it should, it will give you street view showing the sign:
https://www.google.com/maps/@40.4362691,-80.0010677,3a,75y,241.22h,90.94t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sG54ZCckbzyBYS_lT1ewwYg!2e0!7i13312!8i6656 Not sure whether the downstream sidewalk is signed or not.

Signs are needed here because it’s in the Central Business District. Bikes on sidewalks are prohibited in business districts unless indicated otherwise; outside business districts they’re generally ok.

This brings us to “how do you tell if you’re in a business district?” There is an ongoing vigorous and animated discussion about the Oakland sidewalks. I have asked for the definition of the boundaries of the Oakland Business District, but apparently that isn’t explicitly defined. At least one of the partisans, associated with Pitt, says that any place there’s any business or institution (school, hospital, …) is a business district. I’m pretty sure he’s wrong, but I can’t cite authoritative sources.


Benzo
Participant
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Cool. I guess I never even noticed the signs.


buffalo buffalo
Participant
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“Business district.” The territory contiguous to and including a highway when within any 600 feet along the highway there are buildings in use for business or industrial purposes, including but not limited to hotels, banks, or office buildings, railroad stations and public buildings which occupy at least 300 feet of frontage on one side or 300 feet collectively on both sides of the highway.

75 PA Cons Stat 102

Essentially, anywhere that you’ve got at least half the buildings on a block that aren’t residential, it’s a business district. Pretty much the whole of Fifth and Forbes from Craft to Craig would count, as far as I can tell.

Highway of course is defined elsewhere in the statute to mean essentially any public road. “Office building” is not defined in the vehicle code, but might be defined elsewhere in statute. I’d have to assume it includes educational buildings with offices in them, which would be most of them…

(IANAL, TINLA, &c.)


Ahlir
Participant
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I don’t feel it makes sense to talk about bikes on sidewalks in Pittsburgh. The reality is that, except for a few locations, our sidewalks are too narrow to accommodate both walking and biking. Pedestrians should not have to put up with dodging fast(er)-moving bikes. It’s stupid, and mean.

Cities that mix pedestrians and bikes (personally, places like Kyoto and Seville come to mind) have wide boulevards with sidewalks that easily accommodate marked bike paths and with plenty of room for walking. All streams of traffic move along with little interaction, as it should be. And in principle car traffic is sufficiently well behaved so that bikers fell safe on the street; Paris is an example. But enough with the foreign-city name-dropping.

Pittsburgh is not a city of boulevards. It just won’t work. There’s no room to work with.

Bike space should not be at the expense of ambulating humans. It should be be at the expense of other mechanical systems, i.e. cars. Most other places in the world seem to have figured this out. How hard can that be?


scott
Keymaster
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I don’t have time to read through the entire thread, sorry if this has been stated, but the reason for not being allowed in Pittsburgh’s bus lanes are that they are contraflow and aren’t wide enough to allow leap frogging w/o crossing the double yellow. That at least was the reasoning years ago.

This definitely should be revisited especially since the safe passing law allows for crossing the double yellow to pass a bicycle rider.


scott
Keymaster
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I should add, Philly’s bus lanes run in the same direction as the rest of traffic. At least all of the ones I’ve seen there.


sixfist
Member
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Why do bus lanes in Pittsburgh effectively create one way streets for all other traffic? One way streets are good for no one, especially us cyclists.


Ahlir
Participant
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One way streets are good for no one, especially us cyclists.

In Oakland I always go up the Forbes bus lane. Haven’t been honked/yelled at yet. Bus drivers are cool about it on that stretch (their speeds are low and they keep having to do stops).

But it’d be nice to have markings that legitimate it.

On 5th I simply take the far left or right lane; drivers seem to deal, or at least I don’t get honking and yelling. Just be sensible and respect what drivers need, within reason. They shouldn’t be automatic enemies.


Steven
Participant
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I don’t remember a bus lane on Forbes in Oakland, just on Fifth.

One way streets are good for no one, especially us cyclists.

I’m not sure about that. Say you have two parallel streets, each wide enough for two narrow lanes. You can make each street bidirectional, or make both two-lane one-way streets.

The one-way option makes it easier for cars to pass bikes, since they don’t have to maneuver into a lane going the opposite direction, then quickly get back into the one shared lane. And one-way makes it possible to time the lights, in both directions, so as to regulate speed, as is done on inbound Fifth (and maybe outbound Forbes?) through Uptown.

What are the disadvantages of one-way streets for cyclists?

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