The perils of biking in Pittsburgh

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I have to say one of my most blessed Pittsburgh experiences is impatient drivers almost hitting me as I’m biking to campus. There’s nothing more exhilarating to wake me up than a two-ton SUV sliding less than six inches beside me as I’m about to turn onto Margaret Morrison Street from Forbes. I get it, me, a cyclist, is hindering you from getting to Starbucks by five seconds. Instead of almost hitting me, just run me over, coward.

According to Pennsylvania law, “Motor vehicles must allow four feet of distance when overtaking a bicycle and travel at a careful and prudent speed. It is the motorist’s responsibility to provide this distance, not that of the cyclist.” When I’m biking down the road, I try my very best to not be a hindrance to the vehicles on the road. After all, their life is more valuable than mine because they are paying $4.00 for a gallon of gasoline, and here I am freeloading, not bowing to our fossil fuel gods.

I will say, most motorists on the road respect those on bikes, scooters, skateboards, etc. Thank you! But the real problem is those that don’t. This includes people who are distracted when driving, impatient, or simply ignorant. Bikers are expected to stay as far right on the road as they safely can. For me, this means about four feet from cars that are parked on the side of the road so I don’t become a victim of “dooring.” Dooring occurs when a bicyclist is injured or killed when a door is opened in their line of travel. Not the ideal way to go, I think. In Pittsburgh, there are about 57 accidents involving bicyclists every year.

As unfortunate as it is, I don’t feel completely safe riding my bike on the streets of Pittsburgh even though there is no good reason why I shouldn’t. Why should the source of one-fifth of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States be favored over zero-emission transportation like biking? The short answer is because that’s just the way it’s always been. Only 15 percent of people who live in the City of Pittsburgh said that they use biking as a form of transportation.

However, it’s important to note that 73 percent of motorists said they would be more likely to bike if there were more protected bike lanes, more trails, fewer aggressive drivers, and/or low volume, slower-speed streets.

It’s not just those who would use the bike lanes that believe they would prove useful. 83 percent of motorists also believe that people on bikes should have a dedicated lane or facility to ride in to reduce the possibility of accidents. This sentiment was especially high in people of color (95 percent) and women (87 percent), according to a 2020 report commissioned by the City.

In June 2020, the City of Pittsburgh released the “Bike(+)” plan. The plan “lays out a vision for a safe and connected network of on-street and off street (sic) facilities that will enable people of all ages and abilities to travel by bicycle and other small mobility modes.” In total, the plan proposes a total 150 additional miles of biking facilities, bringing the total up to 243 miles. Notably, the plan lays arrangements for bike lanes on Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill, Beeler Street, and Wilkins Avenue. Even if a street has a bike lane in only one direction, it is marked as having bike lanes. For instance, Forbes Avenue from Carnegie Mellon to Schenley Drive is marked as already having a bike lane despite it only being uphill (I, for one, would appreciate one going downhill as well.).

But is this really enough? Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate the efforts to make Pittsburgh a more bikeable place. I want to know that I won’t get hit because someone thought they could make it past me while only giving me six inches of room. I want to know I won’t get hit because someone was looking at their phone or wasn’t paying attention.

Amsterdam, a city known for how bikeable it is, has the answers to some of these concerns. This is because a lot of the design decisions are made with bikers in mind. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, really doesn’t have that vibe. Granted that a lot of Pittsburgh’s infrastructure is already in place and car-dominated, that doesn’t mean it's ever too late for more bike-friendly decisions to be made. Here’s to hoping that one day I don’t have to worry about cars smashing into me as I bike through Pittsburgh.