City Council Roundtable Discussion Round Up

Photo by flickr user rwoan

On Tuesday, August 31, Councilman Patrick Dowd called a Post-Agenda Meeting in Council Chambers to discuss Bicycle and Pedestrian initiatives.  Almost all of City Council attended the meeting, including, Theresa Kail-Smith, Council President Darlene Harris, Bill Peduto, Natalia Rudiak, and Bruce Kraus.

Also in attendance at the roundtable discussion were City of Pittsburgh Traffic Engineer Amanda Purcell, Sara Walfoort from Southwest Pennsylvania Commission, Stephen Patchan the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, Police Commander Scott Schubert, Patrick Hassett from Public Works, Scott Bricker from BikePGH, Dave Wohlwill from the Port Authority, Regina Del Vecchio project manager of Active Allegheny, and Lynn Heckman representing Allegheny County.

The goal of this meeting was to assess how much has been accomplished since Mayor Ravenstahl announced the Four E’s Initiatives, as well as communicate to the public about what is going on.

City Council members came prepared with questions to ask of the panel.  Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak started it off with a discussion about how she’s received requests from her constituents about bike lanes on West Liberty Ave.  The discussion turned into whether bike access could be added to the busways.  The conclusion was that bike lanes couldn’t be added to the busways as they currently exist, however, an engineering and feasibility study has never been completed to see how much it would cost to change the roads.  Darlene Harris remarked that “there are ways to move railroad tracks (Rt 28), we can find 10 feet.”  The conversation continued with the problems that would need to be overcome in order to open the Wabash Tunnel to bicycles, something that South Hills cyclists have been asking for for some time.  Lynn Heckman from the county said that this was a highly recommended in the Active Allegheny Plan.

Theresa Kail-Smith then took the floor to inquire about the idea of registering bicyclists to help pay for infrastructure improvements.  No major city has been able to implement a registering program, as the administration costs far outweigh the benefits.  BikePGH’s Scott Bricker then talked about how 68% of the 1,400 BikePGH members own their homes and 85% of them own cars, so cyclists are contributing plenty to infrastructure improvements that help everyone.

Bill Peduto then took the floor to discuss whether there is a solid plan, with funding, to make sure all of these improvements can happen.  He wanted to make sure that the MovePGH plan, which will contain the City’s master Bike/Ped Plan, will work together and fit with Allegheny County’s Active Allegheny Plan.  Both City Planning and the County concurred that they were working together on the two plans.  Mr Peduto then used the opportunity to present his frustration with how the City of Pittsburgh, a municipality in Allegheny County, often gets overlooked for funding by Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC).  He summed it up by talking about how we constantly create plans to do good things like accommodate for bikes and pedestrians, yet without an outside source of funding, we’ll “just do things the same and build highways.”  He talked about how outside funding always seems to be available to build the Mon-Fayette Expressway or 279, and not for crosswalk and intersection improvements and that “we need to decide that we don’t need a $4B highway.”  His frustration was based on his travels to other cities who have traffic calming, well lit intersections, and markings that “look modern and not done with spray paint.”   “This is a life or death issue in my district,” he concluded.  Scott Bricker followed up to critique how Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) monies are spent in the region.  He gave examples of how Chicago and D.C. won’t allow much if any CMAQ funds to be used for highway expansion projects, and instead use them for what they were intended, to get people out of their cars and using bicycles, transit, and sidewalks.  Lynn Heckman replied that the County has re-established how CMAQ funding is allocated.

Bruce Kraus then brought the discussion to our infrastructure and how bikes and pedestrians often have to deal with missing and unclear pathways, with cars often parked in them.  The conversation then turned toward how technology, like red light cameras, could go to help curb bad behavior, while freeing up police officers from having to spend so much time enforcing traffic scofflaws.  Another tool that we have is design, stated Scott Bricker, because “right design encourages right use.”

It was finally Councilman Patrick Dowd’s time to take the floor.  Mr. Dowd began by congratulating everyone’s hard work in applying for and receiving the League of American Bicyclists Bronze Bike Friendly status, an honor he did not expect us to achieve in two short years.  He then began his line of questioning by focusing on bike lanes, and the Mayor’s announcement that there will be 20 more miles in two years.  Stephen Patchan, the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator replied that there are approximately 5 miles that are waiting to be installed and another 7 miles that are in design for a total of 12 miles that he anticipates by the end of the painting season.  Mr. Dowd then wanted to understand how bike lanes are installed, and how can the City expedite even more.  Amanda Purcell, the city’s traffic engineer described some of the road blocks, mainly resource support.  The City’s personnel have a lot of things to accomplish with limited staff and money.  Mr. Dowd also asked for an update on the bike rack program.  Patchan explained that many of the 200 racks have been installed, and expects to complete the program by the end of the season.

Patrick Hassett says ten years ago the focus was on developing riverfront and other biking and hiking trails, but now it is all about bike lanes and better intersections.  All in attendance agreed that the fact that this meeting even happened is a testament to how far we’ve come in short amount of time, and the importance that bicycling and walking issues are to City residents.

Article about the Post Agenda Meeting on WDUQ News

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