First Lane for Bike Commuters

Pittsburgh unveiled its first commuter bike lane as part of a federal pilot program.

Air Date 9-26-07 by by the allegheny front
Produced by Violet Law

When you bike in Pittsburgh, you always can take the scenic route. There are trails running along each of the three rivers. But most bike commuters have had no such luck — until recently. The city unveiled its first commuter bike lane as part of a federal pilot program. The Allegheny Front's Violet Law hits the streets for this story.

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Violet Law

LAW: Here I am, on my morning commute to Downtown. I always take Liberty Avenue. The whole way. Recently, new markings have cropped up on every block, along the parking lane. These markings are shaped like a bike, capped with two inverted Vs. They tell the motorists to share the road with people like me. But I wonder if I should take it as a sign of change in drivers’ behavior.
[Ambient sound of pedaling]

LAW: O, gosh this FedEx truck is getting close to me.

LAW: The markings are called shared-lane markings. They designate a new, two-mile-long bike lane. The new lane has two sections. The first one-mile stretch has just the markings. The other has both markings and lane lines. Earlier this summer, city public works crew scrambled to lay down all the lines and markings in a week.

[Ambient sound of paint spraying and stenciling]

HASSETT: What the markings provide us is a visual clue to the motorist to expect cyclists on the roadway and a visual clue to tell the motorist that the cyclist belongs here.

LAW: Pat Hassett oversees transportation and engineering at Pittsburgh’s Department of Public Works. He says over the next few months more bike lanes will be laid down in other neighborhoods for commuters. Meanwhile, the city will survey drivers and cyclists about their experience with the newly marked lane.

HASSETT: Up to this point, the city has focused on developing a riverfront system. We’re now turning our attention to existing roadways and trying to better accommodate the increases in cycling traffic that we’ve seen on our roadways.

LAW: But some motorists, like Wendy Fuller, say it may take a bit of work for them to get the message. And before they can do that, drivers have to notice the markings first. Fuller is driving away from the post office on Liberty Avenue. That’s near where the new markings begin.

[Ambient sound of starting the car]

FULLER: You really can’t see them when you’re driving unless you get up on them. Actually now I’m about to run it over. [Laughter] You don’t pay attention to things on the ground. The only thing you pay attention to is the lines.

LAW: So far the markings-only lane has been tested in just a few cities, such as San Francisco, Denver, Chicago and Portland, Oregon. Pittsburgh is the last test site before the federal government adopts this kind of bike lanes as an acceptable alternative to the kind with lines. So the half-a-million people who bike to work across the country will soon have another option. Eric Boerer of the advocacy group Bike Pittsburgh says the markings have worked in other places.

BOERER: What the research has found is with these markings on the street cars tend to move to the left just even a couple more inches toward the center line. So if you figure on both sides cars move closer to oncoming traffic, which (a) slows them down and (b) create a larger area for cyclists to ride in, allowing them to get outside the door zone.

[Ambient sound of bike pedaling]

LAW: That’s good. Here is a van trying to stay away from me, close to the center line.

LAW: The best part of my commute is going downhill on Liberty Avenue. On a nice day, it’s so breezy. But now I have something more to look forward to. The bike lane with lines starts at the downhill portion of Liberty. Like Wendy Fuller, I also pay attention to the lines.

LAW: I’ve never been as happy to see the line. Now, I have my own lane. For The Allegheny Front, this is Violet Law.