Council District 8 Candidate: Sam Hens-Greco
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1. Do you use a bicycle (or walk) in the city? If so, for what purposes (commuting, recreation, errands) and how often?
I have been biking from our home in Squirrel Hill to my law practice downtown since 2005. In 2012, I rode a total of 163 workdays for over 1700 miles. As of May 1, 2013, I have biked a total of 32 days. I also ride my bike for shopping errands to Squirrel Hill or East Liberty and to church and on longer recreational rides. I started commuting by bike in college and have continued for most of my working life. Now my wife and I commute together. We have a collie and we walk him to visit my mother-in-law and the other seniors at Weinberg Terrace in Squirrel Hill.
2. What roles do you think city council can play in making cities safe, accessible and friendly for biking and walking?
First, I believe that you should live your values as best you can and lead by example. One of the most important and less emphasized functions of an elected official is to model good behavior. Being on City Council and continuing to actively commute by bicycle will reinforce the message that biking is a safe and feasible method of commuting in the city. Second, Council can work with the planning department and other interested organizations to design, install and maintain safer bike paths and lanes.
Third, a public relations campaign to promote the 4 feet safety distance and safe riding and biking habits will promote respect between drivers and riders. I hold up 4 fingers whenever I sense someone is close behind me and every once in a while some understands the message.
Fourth, supporting and promoting bike-sharing as a viable and economical option to encourage short commuting by bicycle.
3. In what ways can enhanced bicycling and walking facilities and opportunities benefit your district and the city as a whole? Are there any specific projects that you’d like to see accomplished?
I bike for many reasons but one of the most important reasons for me is energy conservation. As a City, we need to change our energy usage and biking is an easy first step. When I bike and traffic is congested in the opposite direction, I often count how many single occupant cars are on the road. The number is rarely less than 80%.
People will change their habits if the costs become prohibitive and there are safe and feasible alternatives.
Specifically for District 8, I believe we should explore making the busway bike friendly. This would transform the biking experience for residents of District 8. I would study the feasibility of closing Wabash Tunnel (which is poorly designed, seldom used and a frequent Saturday night DUI car accident site) and converting the tunnel into a bike-only tunnel, thereby making biking from the South Hills into downtown more feasible.
4. Pittsburgh was chosen to host the 2014 Pro Walk/Pro Bike Conference, which is expected to draw 1,000 biking and walking planners, engineers, government officials, and advocates from around the country, the largest gathering of it’s kind. Their focus is on biking and walking as means of getting around, with less focus on recreation. If you could put one project in place to “show off” your district, what would it be? Will you direct your staff to attend the conference to further their professional development?
My staff and I would certainly attend to learn from the experiences of other communities. I will be especially interested in strategies that improve overall quality-of-life in a congested urban setting where competition for pavement is high. I would find a way to explore closing the roads in Schenley Park and the Bob O’Connor Golf Course to cars on Sunday during the conference to gauge support for creating a regular closure on Sundays.
I believe this expansion of recreational space for walking; strolling, biking, roller blading and skateboards would be embraced by residents of the East End. This initiative has been successful in NYC Central Park and Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. I would be happy to work with Port Authority to shut down the Busway for a ride during the Conference. This could demonstrate the advantages of sharing a roadway designed for public transportation.
If the Busway was converted to an alternating direction roadway (inbound during the morning commute, and outbound during the evening commute) similar to Rock Creek Parkway in DC; it may be possible to have bicycles on the other side of Jersey barriers commuting in and out of the East End safely.
5. In just about every neighborhood throughout the city, one of the top concerns is drivers driving too fast, aggressively, and not yielding to pedestrians. What ideas do you have to calm traffic and make our neighborhoods safer and more comfortable in which to walk and bike? Feel free to talk about particular problem spots in your district.
Drivers use Fair Oaks and Malvern Streets in Squirrel Hill as a short cut to go from Wilkins to Forbes. These are residential streets with a large number of children. Making it illegal to make a turn onto these streets during rush hours and placing speed bumps were two ideas that I have discussed with residents. A public relations campaign that explains that the difference between 25 mph and 15 mph is less than a minute on a congested Pittsburgh street but the increase in reaction time to see a child or a bike is worth the slight delay. We must work to make Penn Avenue more bike friendly or make alternative routes more accessible.
6. Given Pittsburgh’s relatively low rate of car ownership and the recent transit cuts, what specific ideas do you have to make active transportation choices like biking and walking more appealing?
I think having a city council representative who rides a bike to work will have a significant impact. People respond to leaders who lead by example. For example, when we installed rain barrels on our property, all of my neighbors started to talk about installing barrels and wanted to know the costs.
7. What do you think is the number one risk to walkers and bicyclists both in your district and the city as a whole? What have you done/will you do as an elected official to remedy it?
The greatest risks for walkers and bicyclists are cars. More designated bike lanes and four-way timed crosswalks are two major steps that would reduce the danger and stress on walkers and bicyclists.
8. What are your ideas for securing funding sources for biking and walking projects outside of the City’s Capital Budget?
We need taxation reform at the state level so that the City can have more independence and flexibility. The commuter tax of $52 a year is outrageous. I believe that a portion of the taxes assessed on certain activities that have unfavorable consequences should be directed to addressing the unfavorable consequences. For instance, alcohol taxes should be used in part to fund domestic abuse prevention programs and recovery programs. Likewise, I believe a gas tax or a commuter tax should be used to promote ride sharing programs, bike trails and mass transit programs.
9. In conclusion, why do you think people who care about bicycling and walking issues should vote for you?
First, I am a dedicated bicycle commuter who understands first-hand both the benefits and challenges of urban commuting.
Second, it is a matter of leadership. The best way the City can promote bike ridership is for City officials to get on bikes and start riding.
Third, I bike for my health, for the economy, and for the environment. I will actively work to use innovative design, and community consensus to enhance safety and accessibility and promote active transportation.