PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Mayor Bill Peduto likes to talk about creating a “superhighway.”
Not another parkway.
Not a new busway.
A superhighway … for bicycles.
Some of you are groaning already, wondering, “What is it with this mayor and the bikes?”
The groaning began over the summer. Pavement that had always been the automobile’s exclusive domain was suddenly being cordoned off for bicycles.
Protected bike lanes were installed in Oakland, on Downtown’s Penn Avenue and on the Warhol Bridge. While bicyclists and biking advocates applauded, others were less enthusiastic.
“This has totally snarled traffic up,” said Penn Avenue business owner Greg Eide.
Some called the bike lanes – little trafficked, at least at first – “ridiculous,” or “pointless.”
Mayor Peduto – a big bike lane backer – was not shocked by the backlash – or – as calls it, “bikelash.” He says he knew there’d be bikelash in Pittsburgh because it seems to happen everywhere cities take steps to accommodate bicyclists.
Peduto says it’s fueled by, among other things, talk radio. But he says it’s not permanent.
“It goes away once people understand that the roads are there for everyone, not just the automobile. And if you make it safer for the cyclist, you’re also gonna make it safer for the motorist,” he said.
KDKA’s Ken Rice invited the mayor to take a bike ride recently on Penn Avenue. Throughout the brief ride on a Saturday afternoon, they were the only bicyclists using the lane. Peduto said he was not troubled.
“No, it would distress me, if on a Monday morning on the way to work, that it wasn’t being utilized,” said Peduto.
(On a subsequent Monday morning, KDKA observed bike traffic on Penn and found the lane was being used.)
But Peduto says for now, the city is not counting bicyclists.
“Not until we get more infrastructure in place,” says Peduto. “Having one lane isn’t going to all of a sudden make people say, this is the way that I can be able to do it. Having a lane that connects to another that connects to another that allows you to be able to get safely around Downtown with only limited access to roads that you have to share with an automobile, that’s when you build the capacity.”
That’s that bike “superhighway” the mayor envisions – a network of bike lanes on certain roads, connecting to our riverfront trails.
And far more than an amenity – the mayor insists – it’s actually economic development.
He points to Google as an example.
Says Peduto, “They won’t tell me that they need lower taxes. They won’t tell me they need more parking. They’ll say I need to improve public transit and make biking safer. There’s a different economy that’s emerging in Pittsburgh and there’s a different set of requests coming from the people that are leading it. And what we’re trying to do right now is not just play a game of catch up with other cities around the country, but actually to become a leader.”
Fast-growing Google says of its several hundred employees in East Liberty, 15 to 20 percent currently bike or walk to work. It offered no comment on whether additional bike lanes might make it more likely to continue expanding its Pittsburgh presence.
The region’s largest employer, UPMC, estimates that of its more than 10,000 employees at its Shadyside, Presbyterian and Magee hospitals, about one percent bike to work, seasonally.
The question remains: Is the mayor getting way out ahead of his city, annoying drivers to accommodate relatively few bikers? Or, has the city been way behind in giving people – and companies – what they want?
Bikelash be damned – Mayor Peduto’s betting on the latter.
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