How Pittsburgh Builds Bike Lanes Fast Without Sacrificing Public Consultation

pfb logo 100x22 Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Four months — that’s how long it took Pittsburgh to announce, plan, and build its first three protected bike lanes.

One of the country’s most beautiful (and probably still underrated) cities has proven this year that it’s possible for governments to move fast without neglecting public outreach. Instead of asking people to judge the unknown, the city’s leaders built something new and have proceded to let the public vet the idea once it’s already on the ground.

That’s part of the magic of the simplest protected bike lanes: unlike most road projects, they’re flexible. The construction phase can come at the middle or the beginning of the public process rather than the end of it.

For a city full of hills, narrow streets and short blocks, building a great bike network isn’t easy, a point acknowledged by Mayor Bill Peduto in the above video.

“We have all of the detriments to building a bike system that people could argue,” Mayor Bill Peduto says in the video above. “But we’re still doing it. And we’re going to beat every other city.”

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  • I dig. I think Puttsburgh might have to end up on my “next city to visit” list.

  • singlespeed demon

    If Pittsburgh can do it in 4 months, Philly can certainly pull it’s head out of its own backside and build one in a year.

  • thielges

    Hopefully this will spread to the greater Pittsburgh metro. There are many streets/roads in the South Hills that are very hostile to bicycling. Since there are no viable alternative routes they’re only available to bicyclists with nerves of steel.

    (Yeah, I just got the irony of that last statement 🙂

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Hmmm… One tool in the tool box or what? That’s my biggest gripe with the GLP. I’m now seeing people wanting cycletracks on roads where one could argue sharrows would do just fine.

    I’m also not too keen on two-way cycle tracks in hilly cities where downhill bike traffic can got more that 30mph. Put that fast bicyclists in a contraflow direction and I think you’re gonna have problems.

    That said, PGH looks like a great city and it was a shame I couldn’t make it to PWPBPP again.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Also, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco are all arguably leading bike cities and all are as hilly if not more so than PGH. The idea that hills kill a towns potential for bikability seems to be a non-issue. Just saying. 🙂

  • Well, Seattle, SF and Pittsburgh are what I’d describe as unavoidably hilly. The parts of Portland where biking is more than 2% or so are pretty flat.

  • kclo3

    That’s putting far too much confidence in our elected officials to do the right thing. The public pressure for protected lanes could also be stronger.

  • Alex

    Why build inferior infrastructure when you can have something better? Sharrows are just paint on a car lane. You might as well paint a horseshoe and 4-leaf clover for good luck on that lane while you’re at it. Separated lanes are where it’s at.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Wow. Prove my point perfectly!

    Because for the price of one protected bike lane you could sharrow 100 quite residential streets as Portland has to great effect. Not every street is a nail that requires a hammer. Some only require a paintbrush. Does a road with little to no motor traffic NEED a protected bike lane?!?! Unfortunately more an more people think so and I really believe the GLP push for protected infra is the cause of some really poor and expensive infra choices.

    Protected bike lanes have there place. It’s simply not ever place.

  • Neighborhood greenways are a lot more than sharrows. 20 mph speed limits, speed bumps that engineer a 20 mph speed, traffic diverters that reduce volume to 1,500 cars a day, and most importantly (and expensively) signalized crossings of every major street.

    I agree that they’re often more appropriate on smaller streets than physical separation, but they’re not a substitute for making big streets accessible.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Michael, I know you and I agree more on this than disagree. It’s just that your job to push protected bike lanes has gotten a lot of people thinking that every street needs protected infra which I think is not helpful. Maybe you could do an article about when and where they are appropriate.

    I was only in Portland for 24 hours this Summer but did ride 40 miles. The neighborhood greenways I rode on didn’t have much noticeable traffic calming but they did have sharrows and it worked wonderfully.

    Again, protected bike lanes are just one tool in an ever growing tool box of design solutions. Lets not forget the others tools.

  • Justin

    If only the city and county of San Francisco and SFMTA and other city departments could roll out PROTECTED bike lanes the way this video shows and the pace shown in the headline, just imagine the outcome and results the city would have

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