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Turning a Suburban Retail Bus Stop Into a Place People Want to Go

Pittsburgh's new super-stop on opening day. Photo courtesy of Lynn Manion, ACTA

Pittsburgh’s new “super-stop” on opening day. Photo courtesy of Lynn Manion, ACTA

This post is part of a series featuring stories and research that will be presented at the Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike/Pro-Place conference September 8-11 in Pittsburgh.

Last week, Pittsburgh got its first suburban bus stop makeover. And the results were beautiful.

The new IKEA “super-stop” lies in a shopping center along an interstate highway, surrounded by surface parking, between a TGI Fridays and an Office Max. It has a Walk Score of 37: “car-dependent.”

This is what the IKEA bus stop used to look like:

The "before" picture. Photo: ACTA

The “before” picture. Photo: ACTA

But then the Airport Corridor Transportation Association set out to rethink the stop. “We wanted to make the stop inviting enough that people who weren’t riding a bus would still want to come and use the bus stop,” said Lynn Manion of ACTA. They wanted tables and benches, shelter from the elements, and a big enough setback from the curb to make people feel that they weren’t right in the middle of the roadway.

ACTA and its partner, the architecture firm Maynes Associates, realized that in order to encourage ridership, they’d have to change perceptions about the bus stop. They needed to focus on placemaking in order to make that bus stop more appealing — and to make riders feel less isolated.

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Bikes, Cars, and People Co-Exist on Pittsburgh’s Shared Streets

Pittsburgh's Market Square keeps the cobblestone street on the same plane as the sidewalk cafés on the perimeter and the plaza in the middle, indicating to drivers, "you're not on a highway anymore." Photo: Strada, LLC

Pittsburgh’s Market Square keeps the cobblestone street on the same plane as the sidewalk cafés on the perimeter and the plaza in the middle, indicating to drivers, “you’re not on a highway anymore.” Photo: Strada, LLC

Summer is finally here, but livable streets advocates already can’t wait for September to come. The biennial Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place conference is taking place in Pittsburgh, a city that’s shedding its “Rust Belt” image and emerging as a leader in progressive street design with the help of a new mayor who’s committed to biking, walking, and public space.

Over the course of the summer, we’ll be previewing some of the great research and success stories that will be told at the conference. This is our first post in that series. Today, we’re spotlighting one type of innovative design that Pittsburgh is increasingly becoming known for: “shared space.”

As Payton and John have described on Streetsblog this week, shared space is a way of designing streets for cars, bikes, and pedestrians without segregating them. By removing curbs and traffic signals, planners allow everyone to navigate the street using their own common sense and by communicating verbally or non-verbally with others.

Three recent projects in Pittsburgh have utilized the shared space concept. “It’s a change in thinking about how that space is used that elevates the status of pedestrians and cyclists — more pedestrians than anyone — over the car,” said Michael Stern, an architect at Strada, the firm that designed the three new shared spaces. “So that’s a big change.”

In Market Square, where drug deals used to be conducted in plain view, a major redesign has attracted nearly a billion dollars in new development. In addition to offices surrounding the square, there are almost 500 new residential units and 32 restaurants within a block and a half. Many of the 20 dining establishments that encircle the plaza have patio seating on brick sidewalks that blend into the cobblestone street, with no curb separating them. On the other side of the street, the plaza’s terrazzo floor is also at the same grade.

That cobblestone street is known as Forbes Avenue, and it used to cut straight through the square. Now it goes around it. “It has become a really great pedestrian space with slow moving traffic, and limited traffic because everyone knows you’re not going through there quickly,” said Jeremy Waldrup, president of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. Buses that used to go right through were re-routed to neighboring streets too, keeping transit access within a half block but keeping the large vehicles out of the square.

Cyclists complain about the cobblestone, but Waldrup says that doesn’t bother him. “Not every space has to be built optimally for every mode,” he said. The net effect is that “pedestrians rule,” according to Stern. “People will walk wherever they want to walk. If a car comes in there, it’s very clearly understood as a pedestrian space as opposed to a car space.”

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Anthony Foxx Kicks Off Nationwide Project for Better Bike Lanes

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx praised bike infrastructure as a way to get more value out of existing U.S. streets. Photo: Green Lane Project

Staring down a highway trust fund that he described as “teetering toward insolvency” by August or September, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Monday that better bike infrastructure projects are part of the solution.

“When you have a swelling population like the USA has and will have for the next 35 years, one of the most cost-effective ways to better fit that population is to better use the existing grid,” Foxx said.

Foxx made his comments to a gathering in Indianapolis of urban transportation experts from around the country, welcoming six new cities into the PeopleForBikes Green Lane Project, a two-year program kicking off Tuesday that will help the cities — Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Seattle — add modern protected bike lanes to their streets.

“I know you are the vanguard in many was of these issues, and we at U.S. DOT want to do everything we can to be supportive,” Foxx told the crowd.

PeopleForBikes Vice President for Local Innovation Martha Roskowski singled out Indianapolis, the host city, as a particularly bright light in the constellation of towns using using curbs, planters, parked cars or posts to create low-stress streets by separating bike and auto traffic.

“This city is on fire,” Roskowski said. “You look at the Cultural Trail, you look at the other projects in the works. … You don’t really know that you’re at a tipping point until later.”

Roskowski praised Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican, for six years at the front of an Indianapolis transformation that has seen the city use better bike infrastructure “to be resilient, to be sustainable, to be competitive and to beautiful.”

“Five years from now we’re going to look back and say, we really changed how we thought about transportation in America,” Roskowski said. “Yes, we’re all going to drive cars still. But there are other elements to transportation.”

Six focus cities

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Green Lane Project Picks Six New Cities to Make Big Progress on Bikeways

Austin, Texas, built this beauty of a bike lane by the University of Texas campus while it was participating in round one of the Green Lane Project. Photo: The Green Lane Project

More than 100 cities applied for the second round of the Green Lane Project, the program that helps cities build better bike infrastructure, including protected lanes.

People for Bikes, which runs the program, announced its selections for round two today: Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, and Seattle.

“The selected cities have ambitious goals and a vision for bicycling supported by their elected officials and communities,” said Martha Roskowski of People for Bikes. “They are poised to get projects on the ground quickly and will serve as excellent examples for other interested cities.”

Several of this year’s choices already have good wins under their belts. Indianapolis, Atlanta, and Seattle had protected bike lanes on People for Bikes’ list of the country’s ten best new protected bike lanes last year. And Pittsburgh, with its star urbanist mayor, seems poised to make big strides.

Beginning in April, the selected cities will receive expert assistance, training, and support over a two year period to build safe, comfortable protected bike infrastructure.

During the first two years of the Green Lane Project, the number of protected bike lanes in the country nearly doubled from 80 to 142, People for Bikes reports. More than half of those new lanes were in its six first-round focus cities: San Francisco, Chicago, Portland, Memphis, Austin, and Washington.

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Bill Peduto: If Pittsburgh Can Make Streets Bikeable, You Can Do It Anywhere

Mayor Bill Peduto invited Bike Summit advocates to sample Pittsburgh bicycling in September. Photo: Brian Palmer

Mayor Bill Peduto invited Bike Summit advocates to sample Pittsburgh bicycling in September. Photo: Brian Palmer

Bike advocates from places like Portland, New York, and Boulder got a little Rust Belt envy this week when Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto spoke to the National Bike Summit Tuesday morning.

Peduto took office in January with big plans for bike lanes, express bus service, and eventually an expanded light rail network. (He got sworn in during the “polar vortex,” which was symbolic, he said, because “a lot of people said it would be a cold day in hell before I was ever elected.”)

Before launching into his perspective on cycling, Peduto regaled the audience with a history of Pittsburgh’s rise as an industrial giant and its 30-year decline, during which unemployment hit 18 percent and the city lost more population than New Orleans after Katrina. At about the same time that Pittsburgh’s economy hit bottom, it was ranked one of the worst five cities in the country for bicycling.

That was the nineties. Now Bicycling Magazine rates Pittsburgh the 35th most bicycle-friendly city in America, and Peduto wants to see it shoot into the top ten. Thirty percent of Pittsburghers walk, bike, or take transit to work — only seven other American cities have a higher share. But “we can do better,” Peduto said.

In the past few years, Pittsburgh has built 30 miles of on-street bike infrastructure and 500 bike racks, and it has started to install bike corrals.

Don’t forget, Peduto said, what an unlikely place Pittsburgh is for these kinds of improvements:

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Setbacks and Victories For Urbanism in Yesterday’s Mayoral Races

Mayoral elections broke both ways for livability in American cities yesterday: The results of some may slow progress on transit and street safety, while one-midsized city elected an executive who campaigned strongly on light rail expansion and bikeability.

John Cranley, who campaigned on stopping the under-construction Cincinnati streetcar, defeated Roxanne Qualls in the Cincinnati mayoral race yesterday. Image: Whistleblower-newswire

The biggest story was Cincinnati’s mayoral race, where Queen City voters backed Democrat John Cranley by a wide margin. Cranley campaigned on a platform of tearing out the city’s under-construction streetcar, even though stopping the streetcar at this point could be more expensive for the city than continuing it.

Cranley doesn’t have the power to stop the streetcar unilaterally. He will need council approval. But the Cincinnati City Council added three new members yesterday as well, and now a majority appear to oppose the project. Hopefully, reason and respect for public finances will still prevail in this case.

Cranley defeated former Cincinnati mayor Roxanne Qualls, who was vice mayor to outgoing Mayor Mark Mallory. While Qualls made it this far thanks in part to the political activism of streetcar supporters, her defeat was a blow to their cause.

Meanwhile, a champion of sustainable transportation in Seattle, Mayor Mike McGinn, fell to challenger Ed Murray, a state senator best known for crafting the state’s marriage equality law. McGinn came to the office as a political outsider after serving as the statewide chair of the Sierra Club and was known to ride an e-bike to political events. He presided over major zoning and parking reforms in the city, as well as some important street redesigns.

Ed Murray defeated incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn yesterday in Seattle. Will Murray be the "anti-bike lane mayor?" Image: The Stranger

Murray campaigned on a platform of uniting various political factions and making government work better. Last month, alt-weekly the Stranger wondered if he was also running to be the “anti-bike lane mayor.” Some of Murray’s fundraising came from groups who were upset about a recently-installed protected bike lane, the paper reported. On transit, Murray has stressed the importance of taking a regional approach and building collaborative relationships at the state level, but not necessarily the need for additional funding.

Seattle Bike Blog endorsed McGinn for reelection, as did the Cascade Bicycle Club. Seattle Transit Blog called his land use and transit policies “simply unassailable.”

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A Look at Pittsburgh’s Bike Parking and Presumptive New Mayor


The future looks bright for Pittsburgh for 2014. As they prepare to host the Pro Walk Pro Bike Pro Place conference next September, last week Project for Public Spaces held a one-day summit in advance of next year’s big event.

One thing Pittsburgh is doing is creating some innovative and fun bike parking facilities. As you’ll see from the video, we present three types, including a converted space in a parking garage decorated in a “Space Invaders” theme, an extremely unique and secure bike parking facility that repurposes shipping containers, and bike parking corrals outside some very busy restaurants.

Pittsburgh City Council Member Bill Peduto delivered a great speech to help kickoff last week’s conference. He won the Democratic primary for mayor and is the overwhelming favorite to win the post in less than two months. He has a very impressive grasp of transportation issues and has been a huge fan of Streetfilms for years. Understanding just how important livability is to a city, he can hit the ground running on transportation. I think the next four years in Pittsburgh could be groundbreaking.

I caught a few minutes of Peduto’s remarks, in the video after the jump. And check out short films of two Pittsburgh bike and pedestrian bridges here.

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Did Progressive Parking Policies Propel Pittsburgh Past Detroit?

This parking map of downtown Detroit has been making the rounds, following news of the city’s bankruptcy. It’s a striking image: Close to 40 percent of downtown Detroit’s develop-able land is parking, local experts say.

We thought it would be interesting to contrast it with a city that has a similar history to Detroit but is currently performing much better economically: Pittsburgh. Despite its rust belt history, Pittsburgh has a very progressive parking policy.

Here’s Detroit, surface lots in red, garages in orange:

Image: Data Driven Detroit. Orange shows garage parking, red shows surface.

Now Pittsburgh: buildings in brown, garages in red and blue and surface lots in grey.

Pittsburgh. Garages are show in red and blue. Surface parking in grey. Image via Visit Pittsburgh

Policies enacted by Pittsburgh have helped discourage solo car commuting. The city issues a 40 percent tax on parking throughout the city. It’s the highest tax of its kind in the country, and at one time it was an even higher 50 percent. In 2006, the Pittsburgh City Paper reported the city was generating about $44.5 million a year from parking taxes — more than it was making from taxing resident income.

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Bill Peduto, Rising Urbanist Star, Wins Pittsburgh Mayoral Primary

He’s a “top urban influencer.” He promoted parking reform in his campaign to become Pittsburgh’s next mayor. And on Tuesday, City Councilman Bill Peduto won the Democratic mayoral primary, making him something of a shoo-in for the city’s highest office. (Pittsburgh hasn’t elected a Republican mayor since the 1930s.)

With the election of Bill Peduto, Pittsburgh streets could soon become much more walkable and bikeable. Image: Post-Gazette

Just to give you a taste of how tuned in Peduto is to what makes a city work for walking, biking, and transit, we pulled some excerpts from a candidate interview he did with Bike Pittsburgh. Sit back and prepare to be envious.

Here’s Bill Peduto on increasing bike and transit mode share: “The best way to achieve this is to make sure that the bulk of new housing development that occurs in the city is transit oriented and is located within reasonable walking distance to a transit hub.” PennDOT has set a goal of 5 to 10 percent of trips by bicycle downtown and 5 percent of all trips under three miles, but Peduto says he thinks “we can do even better,” indicating that he’d like to see bicycle mode share as high as 10 percent. Currently, it’s at 1.4 percent citywide.

Here he is on pedestrian safety and traffic enforcement: “We’re going to get more police officers on bicycles and on foot patrols so they will have a stake in bike/ped safety.” “We also have to revisit our police policies and make sure that all of our officers are trained in bike/ped safety laws and the proper enforcement of them.”

On protected bike lanes: “We need to start to incorporate physically separated bike lanes where appropriate. We need to institute traffic calming measures.”

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Profiles of American BRT: Pittsburgh’s South Busway and East Busway

Pittsburgh's East Busway serves 15 bus routes and more than 25,000 riders daily. Photo: ITDP

Last month the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy released its report, “Recapturing Global Leadership in Bus Rapid Transit” [PDF], which proposed a LEED-like rating system for bus rapid transit projects and laid out a strategy for American cities to build systems as good as the world’s best BRT. While more than 20 American bus projects have claimed the BRT mantle at various times, the ITDP report named just five American cities with bus corridors that made the grade and earned the title “True BRT.” Streetsblog is pleased to publish a series of case studies from ITDP examining these innovative transit projects, starting with the country’s first BRT routes, in Pittsburgh.

In recent years, Pittsburgh’s reputation has been rejuvenated. The former industrial hub is becoming an innovative model for urban re-development, and an attractive place to live and work.

Pittsburgh’s leadership on the urban sustainability front is not a recent phenomenon – in fact, it was the first city in the United States to implement elements of bus rapid transit, and it paved the way for more robust U.S. BRT systems.

In 1977, only three years after Curitiba, Brazil implemented the world’s first BRT system, Pittsburgh opened the South Busway, 4.3 miles of exclusive bus lanes, running though previously underserved areas of the city, from the western suburbs to the downtown. The city was concerned about worsening traffic congestion, and, lacking the funds to rehabilitate the city’s streetcar lines, took inspiration from Curitiba and created the South Busway. Funding for the system came from U.S. DOT, the state of Pennsylvania and Allegheny County. The Port Authority of Allegheny County, a county-owned, state-funded agency, operates the system.

The success of the South Busway helped the city leverage funding for the expansion of the network, and in 1983, the Martin Luther King, Jr. East Busway opened. The East Busway began as a 6.8 mile network, with an additional 2.3 miles added in 2003, connecting the eastern suburbs with downtown. Fifteen bus routes run along its corridor. Its current weekday ridership is 25,600, with annual ridership close to 7 million.

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