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‘We have the know-how and expertise’ to make streets safer | The Homepage

Updated: Apr 5

An interview with transit advocate Seth Bush of BikePGH

By Ziggy Edwards and Ray Gerard for Junction Coalition

Risk of severe injury or death to pedestrians hit at different vehicle speeds. A graph shows percent risk on the y axis, and vehicle speed on the x axis. An upward sloping blue line (severe injury) and a red line (death) show that these risks increase the faster the car is going. A yellow sign says "Slow dahn." A person walking, rolling or biking is twice as likely to be killed if they are hit by a driver going 30 mph than someone hit by a car going 25 mph.
Graphic by Juliet Martinez

The first week of March was a busy one for Pittsburghers pushing for safer traffic conditions on Greenfield Avenue and throughout the city. On March 4, Mayor Ed Gainey announced that Pittsburgh has joined an international network of cities called Vision Zero that works toward eliminating traffic deaths.

The next day, District 5 Councilor Barb Warwick introduced a resolution to city council that formalized Pittsburgh’s commitment to Vision Zero and laid out the first steps the city will take. Representatives from the city’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (known as DOMI) and other city officials walked with a group of residents along Greenfield Avenue to see its dangers firsthand. They included the 300 block, which had been excluded from DOMI’s planned traffic-calming project on the street.

BikePGH’s advocacy manager, Seth Bush, attended the walk and shared his observations. When we interviewed him on March 7, he gave us more details about what Vision Zero means for Pittsburgh, ideas for calming traffic on Greenfield Avenue, and how people can get involved in making their neighborhood streets safer. His remarks below have been edited for clarity and length.

Can you summarize Pittsburgh’s newly announced plan for safer streets?

With the Vision Zero resolution, some immediate short-term changes we anticipate are going to be:

• Formation of a fatal crash response team.

• An all-department Vision Zero task force.

• The launch of the high injury network map, which will guide the city’s investment of time and effort into reducing fatalities.

In the long term, this initiative will direct the city to update the design of our streets to minimize the chances that someone will be involved in a crash, and if a crash happens it will not be fatal or cause a life-changing injury.

What is your analysis of the traffic conditions on the 300 block of Greenfield Avenue?

People need to slow down! Period. We know that signs, speed limits, or even enforcement by police won’t work over the long term.

The best way to slow down drivers is to design the street so cars can’t speed, so the roadway works for all users, including pedestrians and cyclists. It’s hard to say what the best solution is for the 300 block. But, based on our recent walk-throughs, I think a few changes should be considered:

• Adding a signal or at least a stop sign at the intersection of Greenfield, Frazier, and Sylvan.

• Adding highly visible markings on the pavement in the 300 block that indicate drivers need to share the road with cyclists. We call these “super sharrows” and they have bright green boxes around the bike symbol.

• Where parking is not allowed farther up the street, shift the driving lanes to accommodate a bike lane on the uphill side, ideally with vertical flex posts or another protective element.

• Add a “gateway” treatment somewhere between Haworth Street and the Alexis Street steps. This would likely involve curb bump-outs to narrow the roadway, signage, and raised stripes going across the street that create a rumble effect when driven over to alert drivers they are entering a residential area.

• An additional bump-out at the bus stop by the Alexis Street steps to narrow the roadway and make it easier for bus riders to get on and off their bus, especially people with limited mobility.

• Add crosswalks at either end of the 300 block, and possibly in the middle as well.

• Add a stripe between the driving lane and parking lane in the 300 block to indicate where drivers should be and hopefully limit the frequency of parked cars being sideswiped.

Do you believe DOMI will address the issues on the 300 block of Greenfield Avenue this year?

I feel confident that DOMI heard the needs of the residents and will implement some form of traffic calming in the 300 block in 2024 along with other proposed safety improvements farther up the street. Of course, ongoing advocacy will be needed to maintain DOMI’s attention on these issues.

Have you experienced other places with similar geography and layout? What improvements did the city make, if any?

Given the concurrent features of a steep hill, winding turns, poor visibility, the proximity of a major highway, a bridge and a small but active residential area, it’s a unique case in my experience! That said, I’ve seen the treatments I mentioned work in situations with several of those intersecting features.

We have the know-how and expertise right here in Pittsburgh already to design our streets so they work for everyone, and so no family ever has to lose a loved one to traffic violence. Let’s make it happen!

How will you be working with folks in Greenfield in their push for safer streets?

I will be keeping an eye on the Greenfield Avenue project and staying up to date with other initiatives led by safe streets advocates in Greenfield. I look forward to sharing resources, knowledge and guidance. I also hope neighborhood advocates in Greenfield and Hazelwood will attend one of our upcoming Advocacy Skills Training Workshops and other BikePGH events. People who are interested can find more information on their website.

What can everyday people do to create safer streets?

Be the squeaky wheel! Learn to notice what’s not working about your street for people who walk, bike and roll, and raise your voice about it. Even better, get together with those folks and raise your voices together. BikePGH’s advocacy website has lots of resources to help you do just that at www.bikepgh.org/advocacy.

Junction Coalition is a grassroots advocacy group comprising residents of Four Mile Run and surrounding communities.

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