Thank you for signing our petition demanding PennDOT make West Carson more bike-friendly. With so much at stake, we can’t thank you enough for making your voice heard. Creating an inclusive design requires including people in the design process. We are all taxpayers and deserve safe designs for the streets through our neighborhoods.
Here’s the letter we sent along with your signatures.
September 23, 2016
Secretary Leslie Richards
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation
400 North Street
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Dear Secretary Richards:
I am writing you today to deliver over 1,200 electronic signatures calling for PennDOT to redesign and restripe West Carson Street so that it is safer for people riding bikes. A dangerous stretch of state road within the City of Pittsburgh, West Carson Street provides the most convenient connection between the City of Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood and the City’s western neighborhoods and County boroughs. West Carson functions as a bridge for these communities to access downtown Pittsburgh. A majority of households in these communities survive on below-average median incomes, with correspondingly low car ownership rates. McKees Rocks serves as the western terminus of West Carson where 37 percent of households have no access to a vehicle according to the 2014 US Census American Community Survey.
Leading up to this particular PennDOT District-11 project, West Carson Street was notoriously dangerous and dilapidated. It was so bad that there were holes in the cantilevered sidewalk. The only thing keeping people from falling into the rail bed below were sheets of plywood. Naturally, when in 2010 PennDOT District-11 announced that they were rebuilding the road with a mandate to improve safety, residents were hopeful. This would be an opportunity to address notorious speeding issues and create new connections in the form of safe, comfortable walking and biking infrastructure. However, when PennDOT went public with their new designs for the roadway, they showed that non-motorized transportation once again would take a back seat to the need to move cars quickly through this corridor. As a result, PennDOT received numerous comments, including ours, regarding their unsafe designs.
West Carson was closed for approximately two years, and while inconvenient for many, it did not create the predicted traffic nightmare associated with a typical blocked arterial. In the lead up to the closure and during construction, Mayor Bill Peduto, Councilwoman Kail-Smith, Senator Wayne Fontana, Representative Dan Deasy, community leaders, residents, City of Pittsburgh Departments of City Planning and Public Works, and Bike Pittsburgh unsuccessfully lobbied PennDOT District-11 to create a more inclusive design that would connect these communities via bike to other bicycle facilities only a stone’s throw away, namely the Station Square Trail and the Montour Trail to the Pittsburgh International Airport. In fact, the City of Pittsburgh pitched PennDOT District-11 a conceptual design eliminating the needless turning lane for most of the distance and using the remaining width for bike lanes, only to be silently rebuffed. Instead, PennDOT’s engineers decided to go against these wishes and charge ahead with a design that only exacerbates the speeding problem, and which gave no dedicated safe space for people who ride bikes to get around.
Within nine days of West Carson reopening, McKees Rocks resident Dennis Flanagan was killed while riding his bike, a tragedy that confirms the new design had failed. Had he just had a safe space to ride on West Carson Street, the deadly crash would have been avoided. While it may be tempting to blame the victim, we believe Dennis was doing the best he could with what he was given which was poor road design without a safe space to ride on the street itself.
To justify eliminating safe bicycling infrastructure, the engineers decided that a turning lane the entire length of the corridor was more important than bicyclist safety despite the fact that there are only two major left turning movements along the entire two-mile stretch of West Carson Street. The justification PennDOT used for this turning lane was to minimize the chances of high speed rear-end collisions; speeding that also could have been addressed utilizing bike friendly design. As predicted, this lengthy turning lane now acts as a defacto passing lane, only empowering the most aggressive drivers. Instead of designing the road to function at a lower speed, West Carson Street became a superhighway with 14’ lanes and a nearly useless turning lane that solved no safety or transportation access issues. A telling observation we made on our community bike ride with Dennis’s family was that on the return trip to Pittsburgh from McKees Rocks, not a single car was seen using the turning lane during the entire 20 minute ride back, proving that the majority of this extraneous car lane width could have easily been allocated to bicycles.
Attached you will find over 1,200 signatures that we collected from residents over the past two weeks calling on PennDOT to go back to the drawing board and provide a safe road for all residents, not just the fortunate ones who own a car. Also attached is our letter of record from 2011.
Our communities and our lives depend on this.
Cc: Governor Tom Wolf, Senator Wayne Fontana, Representative Dan Deasy, Mayor William Peduto, Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, District Executive Daniel Cessna, Director of City Planning Ray Gastil, Assistant Director of Pittsburgh Department of Public Works/Bureau for Transportation and Engineering Patrick Hassett
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