Street Life Task Force Makes Bold Recommendations

Oakland, California Slow Streets | @jwalshie Courtesy NACTO Library


At BikePGH we’ve always fought for street design that puts people first. As the pandemic unfolded, cities around the world immediately responded by creating space on the street for people to safely bike and walk for transportation and recreation, and we have shared those ideas here in Pittsburgh in hopes they would be implemented. 

In May, the director of the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure quickly formed a task force to create a report of recommendations that could be implemented for Pittsburgh to reopen while prioritizing safety and public health. Here are the key takeaways from the 64 page “Street Life” report. In a following post we will let you know how to get involved!

Why should we adapt our streets for this pandemic?

The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically changed the function of our public rights of way. Design that prioritizes cars has always been dangerous, and that danger is only magnified during this pandemic. We still need access to businesses and services, we need to exercise for our physical and mental health, and we need safe and equitable transportation options. The Street Life report lays out many of the challenges we face with mobility and the public right of way during the pandemic.

  • Lack of protected bicycle facilities for new and inexperienced riders previously taking transit;
  • Limited street and sidewalk space for queuing and curbside pickup at businesses;
  • Shops not set up to meet the safety recommendations for covid-19 due to space limitations,
  • Limited space for people to exercise and be outside while practicing social-distancing;
  • Reduced capacity on public transit, and rider concern for shared travel modes.

Five solutions that make space for people 

The recommendations put forth by the task force, if implemented with inclusive outreach that does not prioritize enforcement, will result in progress for our streets. Here are five recommendations we would like to highlight:

Berlin Pop Up Bike Lane | @bikeberlin courtesy NACTO Library

1. Expand Bike+ infrastructure

More and more commuters are switching from transit to socially distanced and low- to no-cost transportation options like biking and walking, but that means that new and inexperienced riders are forced to use dangerous car-centric streets. And though traffic volume is lower now, traffic fatalities have risen due to higher vehicle speeds (NPR). That’s why we need to make sure we have services and infrastructure in place to support biking and walking as essential modes of transportation.  

Repurposed street in Vancouver | @PaulKrueger courtesy NACTO Library

2. Repurposing curbside parking for expanded sidewalks, bike lanes, pickup zones, and parklets

Without parked cars, curbsides provide space for businesses to expand their operations. As curbside pickup and queuing have become common, businesses on dense urban streets need more space for these things to happen safely. This space can be made when we remove car parking. Curbside parking (also known to bike/ped advocates as private car storage on public property) can also be transformed into expanded sidewalks and bike lanes that allow us to get where we need to go whether or not we own a car.

Pilot Social Distancing Fitness Zone in Highland Park

3. Pedestrianized parks and business districts

Park trails and business district sidewalks can get crowded, making them risky spaces for virus transmission. By shutting down park roads and business district blocks to most vehicle traffic (allowing exceptions for delivery and people with disabilities), we have space to practice social-distancing while exercising and buying goods and accessing services from local businesses.

Seattle Slow Streets | @MayorJenny Courtesy NACTO Library

4. Shared slow streets

Slow Streets use barricades and signage to slow and limit traffic on streets so that residents can use the street as a shared space to exercise and be outside. Depending on the location and length of slow streets, these transformed spaces can also be used as safer networks for bike commuters.

Market Street, San Francisco | nickfalbo – Flickr

5. Car-free downtown

And the winner for the boldest idea in the Street Life report is…*drumroll*…removing cars from the central core of Downtown. While this may sound radical, it’s a strategy that cities around the world have used to speed up public transit, prioritize biking and walking, and improve air quality.

You can bring Neighborhood Slow Streets to your block here in Pittsburgh

If you feel inspired to make things better for people to walk and bike for transportation and exercise, you have the opportunity to take action and make it happen! The City has just outlined its Neighborhood Slow Streets program and has begun taking applications for residents to calm traffic on their streets.

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