New Pittsburgh bike lanes polarize community

AP Photo Traffic flows along 7th Street, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016, in Brownsville, Texas. Traffic flow has been reduced to two lanes as city crews install a new bike path along the downtown street. (Jason Hoekema/The Brownsville Herald via AP)

AP Photo
Traffic flows along 7th Street, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016, in Brownsville, Texas. Traffic flow has been reduced to two lanes as city crews install a new bike path along the downtown street.

By Ollie Gratzinger | Staff Columnist 

If you’ve ever driven downtown, you’ve probably seen your fair share of cyclists. Maybe you’ve griped about the bike lanes turning a portion of Penn Avenue into a one-way street, or maybe you’ve admired the bike racks shaped into designs that look more like public art than anything else. Regardless, it’s hard to miss the influence of those determined enough to wake up, brave Pittsburgh’s often unstable climate and bike to wherever their day demands they go.

Get ready, because that influence is about to spread. According to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the city is going to be seeing more bike lanes popping up within the next year.

The Pittsburgh City Council has spent more than $800,000 on two bike lane projects the council hopes will make the trek across town easier, safer and generally more pleasant for cyclists and drivers alike. One of the trails will connect Downtown to the Point, and the other will extend the already-existing North Side lanes nearly a mile north to Mount Pleasant Road.

It’s no secret that Pittsburghers have a love/hate relationship with bike lanes. There really isn’t a moderate opinion of them: They’re either hailed as the epitome of health and wellness or detested as the biggest traffic problem to hit the city since the creation of modern roads. Hopefully, though, the newest city project will help level the playing field between motorists and cyclists by getting bicycles off the streets and out of the way of cars.

Freshman Paige Pegher is wary of such promises — and with good reason.

“I spent the last four years going to school in Oakland, where they recently put in a bunch of bike lanes,” Pegher said. “They totally screwed up traffic patterns and left way less room for cars. The majority of the time, no one uses the bike lanes and they still rode their bikes in the middle of the street. I’m all about going green, but I think it’s more important to accommodate cars because there are obviously more cars than bikes on the road.”

This brings us to the real conundrum: How can we balance health with practicality? Pittsburgh is a city at the forefront of green innovation, with organizations like Pittsburgh Bike Share promoting their Healthy-Ride bikes as eco-friendly alternatives to the Port Authority. The flip side, though, is downtown traffic.

Crowded streets present a unique danger to cyclists, as bicycles don’t offer the kind of all-around protection that cars, trucks and other motor vehicles do. It isn’t uncommon to hear of riders being seriously injured or worse by drivers who aren’t familiar with road-sharing rules and regulations, or who simply didn’t see the cyclists coming. If all goes as planned, though, the expansion of bike lanes will encourage riders to steer clear of overcrowded roads and stay in their own lane.

Freshman Sienna Petruschakvanicky has high hopes about what more bike lanes could accomplish within the city limits.

“I think that bicyclists are going too slow on the roads, which causes delays, and there’s already enough delay in the morning because of the early rush and construction,” Petruschakvanicky said. “Plus, not all drivers know the rules, like whether or not they’re able to pass a biker or if they can treat them like another car. More bike lanes would make downtown more efficient, since it would cut down on confusion and traffic.”

Not only will the expansion of bike lanes provide the city’s riders with a safe space to do their thing, but it would also offer a more cost-efficient option for commuters who might be struggling to make ends meet.

“I think that expanding the city’s bike lanes is a good decision,” said sophomore Kat Nestel. “People who can’t afford to spend money on gas can commute to work more easily without having to worry about cars as much. The city might need some additional road work to widen the sides of the roads, but despite temporary rerouting inconveniences at worst, it’s definitely a beneficial project in the long run because it enables people to have a green option that’s both healthy and cost-efficient.”

Whether you love them or hate them, it it’s becoming increasingly difficult to deny the benefits of the Pittsburgh bike lanes. It’s a trend that’s only going to get bigger, better and more prominent as time goes on and city officials have time to work out the kinks and twists. We’re well on our way to becoming a green city, and maybe it’ll be the bicycle that carries us there.

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