Can’t Get There From Here: The Woeful Tale of a Stranded Pedestrian

Can’t Get There From Here: The Woeful Tale of a Stranded Pedestrian

This is the soundtrack for my exploration stroll the other day around my neighborhood. Unless you loathe R.E.M., it is a good accompaniment to reading this post.

Several times in the past I have celebrated my neighborhood and home on the North Side of Pittsburgh. But I have to tell you that I exaggerated a little and omitted much.

There are many beautiful areas of the North Side and much of it is quaint, wonderful, and convenient. But I have to confess: I live on the OTHER North Side, the part that was cut in half by a neighborhood dividing highway.

The parts that contain all the amenities like the National Aviary, the Andy Warhol Museum, coffee shops, grocery stores, and parks are all on the other side of this highway:

That is the scene I have to ride or walk across when heading to other, more lovelier parts of the North Side.

And if I want to go downtown or shopping in the Strip District, I find myself facing signs like this:

No Pedestrian Signs are More Common Than Crosswalks

Riding bikes is not much of a problem as you’re on the road, but if you are trying to get around by foot, as are children and many elderly who do not own cars, it is a death-trap. A place filled with crumbling gravelly sidewalks that are dangerous for nearly everyone except the most fit.

What if I depended on a wheelchair to get around? I’d never make it in this neighborhood.

Getting to the bus stop is quite perilous and I waited through three lights at one intersection waiting for a pedestrian signal. Over 50 cars drove by in three light switches and not one stopped to let me cross,  so I finally had to just make a run for it.

To cross to this intersection:

If you look really closely there used to be a crosswalk

Then the friendly pedestrian must run across another faded crosswalk, but this time there is a light for the walker!

Crossing East Ohio

Seems like that should be hazardous enough, right? But if I want to get my groceries from the Strip, I still have to get to the 16th Street Bridge and walk past the highway exit where this sizable vehicle powered up to the sidewalk where I was standing:

Intimidatingly Large Truck

And though I wasn’t trying to walk onto the highway, seeing this sign just reinforced how my walk felt:

Pedestrians Prohibited

By this point I’d walked less than half a mile but it took me nearly 20 minutes with all the waiting and trying not to die.

I’m fairly young and in shape, I ride a bike and move around all the time and this area is really difficult for me to navigate. Imagine how dangerous these streets are for people who are older, maybe less fit and less able to make a run for it across the street.

This area is incredibly unfriendly to pedestrians and many people do not have the luxury of investing a substantial amount of their income on a vehicle.

We need, very soon:

  • Crosswalks to be repainted
  • Pedestrian crossing signals at all intersections

Can you think of any other easy-to-implement solutions that could make this area safer for everyone?

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Drivers, Please Don’t Hit Me

Drivers, Please Don’t Hit Me

I’m just trying to go home too.

A couple of hours ago I was riding my bike on Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh when a woman driving behind me suddenly accelerated and swerved to the right to pass the car in front of her.

But the lane wasn’t empty.

I was there. I was riding my bicycle and she didn’t look before she nearly plowed into me.

Luckily at least I was paying attention (and not texting) and was able to react quickly. I slammed on my brakes and swerved out of the way.

It was the middle of the day and I was dressed in the brightest clothes I own (which says a lot to those of you who know me) so I was definitely visible.

Below is something of a reenactment photographed by my charming roommate. Mostly it’s just to show how bright my clothing was. Short of covering myself in hundreds of lights, I can’t get that much more visible in the middle of the day.

I embrace the hell out of safety because I love my life.

And I always ride with a helmet covered with flames of safety!

Re-enactment on my tiny street that rarely has car traffic

To everyone: please pay attention. Let’s just look out for each other and slow down a bit.

Kid on Bike Violence Demands Community Solutions

Kid on Bike Violence Demands Community Solutions

There always seems to be a story about this, some bored kids with nowhere to go and nothing to do decide to entertain themselves by tormenting an anonymous person on a bike, or on foot, or in cars.

There was a rash of brick throwers in DC a couple of years back, and this past weekend some more kids throwing bricks on the South Side of Pittsburgh. The biker was hit and suffered a massive gash to his head, but luckily was not killed. (Interestingly, the Post-Gazette said that the bicycle rider “drove under a trestle”)

Last year while riding my bike on the highway-esque Rhode Island Avenue in Northeast DC, a gaggle of kids pelted me with hot water balloons, knocking me off my bike into the lane of fast-moving traffic. Luckily (again), the driver in the lane wasn’t texting and reacted quickly enough to swerve and avoided hitting me.

I called the police, somewhat reluctantly and they answered the call even more reluctantly. The car-bound officers shrugged, saying that there was nothing they could do. The kids had all scattered and I wasn’t really hurt, after all, was I?

Warm weather seems to infuse bored children with the passion to fling heavy objects at cyclists or pedestrians or cars.

I wish I had some better ideas to share, but all I have are questions and frustration.

Are there any solutions?

  1. Better engagement for kids? Video games, television, and the news perpetuate the concept of violence as a culturally appropriate response to conflict resolution as well as presenting it as entertaining.
  2. Better police response? I don’t think this is the right one. The U.S. has the world’s highest incarceration rate, according to a study by the King’s College of London at 756 per 100,000 and has 23.4% of the world prison population. “Correctional facilities” seem to “correct” little except the number of people that are part of their communities and raising their families.
  3. More community and parental involvement? Nice sounding but how to actually implement this? Even families with two parent incomes are being continuously squeezed in this economy leaving many kids alone to entertain and raise themselves.
  4. Education? (“Rocks hurt!”? Nope.)
  5. More places for kids to play? I grew up playing kickball on my street nearly every day but many streets are too dangerous for kids and many drivers are too reckless, eliminating huge swaths of cities as potential grounds for play.

Any ideas?

Pittsburgh Ranked 28th Most Bicycle Friendly City

Pittsburgh Ranked 28th Most Bicycle Friendly City

Bicycling magazine has released their rating of the 50 most bicycle friendly cities (with a population of at least 100,000) in the country.

The magazine considered these factors in the ranking:

  • segregated bike lanes
  • municipal bike racks
  • bike boulevards
  • having the ear of the local government
  • a vibrant and diverse bike culture
  • smart, savvy bike shops

Minneapolis edged out Portland (#2) and won most bicycle friendly city.

Pittsburgh, home to me and the steepest street in America, was ranked number 28.

Washington, DC, where I cut my teeth on a bicycle, was ranked number 13. I wrote about DC biking culture and infrastructure for Momentum magazine last year, but even in a year, a lot of dramatic improvements have been made.

When I was researching the story for Momentum, I organized a happy hour to get the feel of what average riders and advocates wanted to see changed to make the city better. The top four recommendations kept surfacing again and again:

  1. Impose a congestion/commuter tax on those who drive into the city from Virginia and Maryland. Since the population of Washington nearly doubles to a million during the work week, it is logical that those drivers who benefit from our roads ought to pay for them.
  2. Install cycle tracks (bike lanes) on all arterials and on all future construction.
  3. Initiate a widespread education campaign about the rules of the road, sharing, and how to be both a safe driver and rider; delivered through PSAs, driver education programs and public schools
  4. Complete the trails that are unfinished, repair those in disrepair, and begin construction on all others.

What elements do you consider important in your decision to ride, or to not ride, your bike?

Washington, D.C.’s Transportation Action Agenda

Washington, D.C.’s Transportation Action Agenda

I was bowled over last week when I saw the Action Agenda from Washington, D.C.’s Department of Transportation. I was really excited to share some of the best parts of it, but now a bunch of time has passed and many other people have already analyzed it so I’ll just send you in their direction.

The WashCycle calls the plan “very exciting stuff,” noting that “If they pull half of this off, it’ll start to look a lot like Portland around here…It’s like our DMV has grown up into a real Transportation Department.”

Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space‘s Richard Layman says the Agenda “refocuses the transportation agenda on what we might call complete places and sustainable and optimal transportation and linking land use and transportation planning and objectives. It appears to extend the thinking of the Transportation element from the DC Comprehensive Plan in a more integrated fashion.”

Overall, I am really, really impressed.

I am especially excited about the plan to educate new drivers about bicycle and pedestrian safety. Although I think it should be incorporated into license renewal procedures for already licensed drivers… And even better would be if DOT and the Department of Education worked together to incorporate bicycle safety and use into the curriculum at an early age, as is standard in many European countries that have a much lower dependence on automotive transportation.

Things are looking up in Washington, DC where I was a pedestrian, cyclist, public transportation aficionado for nearly eight years. I’m excited to see what happens next.

My recommendation for Action Agenda 2014 is free public transportation.

How about it, government? How about it, citizens?

Snow Shows Beauty of Streets for People

Snow Shows Beauty of Streets for People

Over the weekend Pittsburgh and much of the East Coast received record amounts of snow. With nearly two feet of snow in my lovely hilly city, plows were ineffective, and cars were essentially trapped in their parking spaces. While understandably frustrating for many, the streets became a de facto party space for pedestrians.

Almost totally devoid of cars, people took their sleds, their skis, and their snowboards to the steep streets that seemed to be made for this purpose. Everyone was reveling in the ability to walk in the middle of the street without worrying about cars, and to use the topography of the land for great amounts of fun.

Unfortunately my camera battery became “exhausted” and I was not able to get a pictures of the guy commuting to a party on his snowboard, the people skiing down Fisk and Main Streets, or the sledders who flew down the middle of the road, giddy and yelping with delight.

Here are some night shots of empty streets. The electrical wires covered in snow make me want to have a block party!

Fisk St. in the Snow

This hill is half a mile long and made for excellent sledding. There was a lot of talk that night about how great streets are without cars, and I agree.

Wouldn’t it be nice if one out of ten streets going in any direction were just for pedestrians or nonmotorized transport?

There certainly are plenty of roads that cars are free to use, why not set some aside for people who aren’t traveling in a steel box, for people want to walk or ride in the middle of their streets and call out to their neighbors? For children who want to play safely in the streets, and their parents who don’t want to worry about them.

Germany has something like this called play streets. I write about it here, and we could use it HERE.

New Study Shows 20 mph Speed Limit and Drastically Reduce Injury and Death

New Study Shows 20 mph Speed Limit and Drastically Reduce Injury and Death

From Copenhagenize:

“The British Medical Journal published a paper about the effect of 20 mph traffic zones on road injuries in London…

Effect of 20 mph traffic speed zones on road injuries in London, 1986-2006

Results: The introduction of 20 mph zones was associated with a 41.9% (95% confidence interval 36.0% to 47.8%) reduction in road casualties, after adjustment for underlying time trends. The percentage reduction was greatest in younger children and greater for the category of killed or seriously injured casualties than for minor injuries. There was no evidence of casualty migration to areas adjacent to 20 mph zones, where casualties also fell slightly by an average of 8.0% (4.4% to 11.5%).

Conclusions: 20 mph zones are effective measures for reducing road injuries and deaths.”

It’s unconscionable to have this information available and not make changes to save people’s lives.

By enacting effective traffic calming measures, communities may allow cars and pedestrians to exist harmoniously, greatly reducing the likelihood of serious injury or death. The U.S. would do well to emulate Germany’s example which of “Spielstrasse“, or play streets, in which the pedestrian may use the entire street and the speed limit is walking pace. Speaking to Momentum magazine,  play street resident Anne Arnold-Winkenbach observes “that drivers sometimes go too fast down the street… Ten (6.2 mph), 15 (9.3 mph), sometimes even 20 km/h (12.4 mph).”

Authors of the British study note that “20mph zones in London save 200 lives a year, but this could increase to 700 if plans to extend the zones were implemented.”

Stop Sign Quest Part 4: New Stop Sign at 12th and Newton!

Stop Sign Quest Part 4: New Stop Sign at 12th and Newton!

Admittedly, I am pretty behind with this update, but it is fairly exciting to be writing about the new stop sign after writing about Brookland desperately needing traffic calming, the decade long quest for a stop sign by Brookland residents, and when traffic studies studies, and resident requests fail, accosting the mayor at a coffee shop.

The new pedestrian preservation device at 12th and Newton NE.

I’m told that it was fairly ineffective upon initial installation. Drivers unaccustomed to a stop sign sped through the intersection, pedestrians sprinted, dodging cars.

Both drivers and pedestrians took some time to get to this simple sign which powerfully and simply indicates that the street belongs to everyone, regardless of size, speed, economic status, physical impairment. Each person gets their turn to proceed in order of arrival, safely.

I would like to thank persistent neighbors and friends in Brookland, Mayor Fenty for being responsive to resident concerns and for introducing me to his staff to assist in getting the petitions and the stop sign, and especially Sybongile Cook, the Mayor’s Outreach Coordinator for Ward 1. Even though she doesn’t represent Brookland which is Ward 5, Ms. Cook was incredibly helpful in getting me the materials and contacts necessary to proceed with the stop sign request.

I was back in D.C. for the holidays and got to see the stop sign for the first time. I actually forgot that it was there and was baffled to see drivers waiting patiently in their cars at the crosswalk. I stepped into the crosswalk, sure that one of the drivers would decide I’d taken too long and accelerate, but that didn’t happen. I noticed the short line of cars waiting, remembered the stop sign, and yelped with excitement. I really did, I yelped.

I was so thrilled I crossed the street again. And drivers waited. And other pedestrians crossed too, now walking without fear.

Then I crossed for the third time, satisfied with the resolution to a year-long quest for a safer street in Brookland, and moved to Pittsburgh.

What’s This?: It’s a Very Tiny Bike Lane

What’s This?: It’s a Very Tiny Bike Lane

Now that I have a camera, I’ll be taking pictures of inexplicable things I spot around the city and posting them for discussion.

First: Why this tiny bike lane in Adams Morgan? The bike lanes on Columbia Road are a hiccupy disaster that look as though the city was rationing paint. They start for a few feet, then end, then start again, then end again, all within two blocks. This is bike lane part II: my bike and I were standing at the start of the lane. The lane ends at the crosswalk, where the cars are stopped, and does not continue after the intersection, so the cyclist must merge into traffic once again.

bike lane

I find this irksome. If there is enough space on the road to have a bike lane for part of the way from 16th St. to 18th, why didn’t they continue painting the lines for that stretch? Why end it again after the intersection?

While taking this photo, I ran into a friend on a bike who told me that, rather than finding this abrupt lane ridiculous and dangerous, he thought it was a delight. I was surprised, but he pointed out that it splits up the cars and give him a place at the front of the line to start when the light changes.

That’s not good enough. Rather than actually promoting bike safety it comes off as a perfunctory addition, casually included at the last minute. If DC wanted to get serious about making the roads safer for cyclists and the drivers who use the roads with us, they might try an innovation that Portland and New York have embraced in the last year: bike boxes.

Here is a photo from one of the first bike boxes in Portland that was installed in March of 2008:

Photo Courtesy of bikeportland.org
Photo Courtesy of bikeportland.org

The bright green paint of the bike lane and bike box is enough to alert even the distracted cellphone talking and texting driver to the presence of cyclists on the road. The car’s front tires are parked over the sign that says “Wait Here”, but they stopped with enough space for cyclists to be at the front of the box.

Portland’s Department of Transportation explains their rational for using bike boxes: “The main goal is to prevent collisions between motorists turning right and cyclists going straight. It’s all about visibility and awareness. At a red light, cyclists are more visible to motorists by being in front of them. At a green light, the green bike lane through the intersection reminds motorists and cyclists to watch for each other.”

Bike boxes indicate a more serious commitment on the part of the government to the safety of all road users. Rather than a token 20 foot lane insertion, DC should follow the lead of some of our more progressive transportation cities and begin implementing bike boxes as well.

For more information, the hard-working, creative folks at Streetfilms have an amusing video on the usage of bike boxes.

Stop Sign Quest Part 1: Slowing It Down in Brookland

Stop Sign Quest Part 1: Slowing It Down in Brookland

Brookland is a quaint, cosy, suburban-ish, neighborhood in Northeast Washington, DC where I’ve lived for two years. The center has a bit of a small town feel with brightly painted storefronts; people talking constantly, calling out to each other.

There’s a Taekwondo studio that brings lots of kids to the block; a chain pharmacy that drove out and took over an old fashioned fancy movie theater; several quicky type restaurants; the best hardware store in the city; several centers that serve the large, vibrant deaf population of DC. This brings a fascinating and very unusual element to the streetscape as it’s almost impossible to walk down the street without seeing a flurry of gorgeous sign language.

I had never spent any time on this side of town before moving from Northwest where I’d lived for five years. I was afraid I would feel isolated from the rest of the city, but I’ve grown to love it. Something that would make me love it more would be to have safer, slower streets.

I want a stop sign at the corner of 12th and Newton NE.

We need one.

At the corner of 12th and Newton NE.

It’s dangerous.

Hundreds of people cross it daily, dodging speeding traffic, to get to the Brookland Metro Station a block away which is also the hub for an incredible fifteen buslines.

Cars speed through the center of Brookland, in the middle of all this activity, frequently traveling well above the posted 25 mph. But why shouldn’t they? Everyone else does and there are five blocks uninterrupted by stop lights and stop signs, just open road. Why not press the pedal a little harder, just get through this section a little faster?

The street design encourages it by failing to limit speed with speed tables, speed humps, stop signs, stop lights, or other creative measures. 12th St would be so much more pleasant and safer for everyone if the traffic was slowed with a stop sign, or some more lovely methods like plantings in curb extensions. Chicanes filled with new street trees and large plants or sunflowers would also be quite nice.

Sign placement is a major problem on 12th. Sure, there are some yield signs. I saw this one when I was looking up, standing right in front of a street tree:

 

But ten feet from the crosswalk the yield sign is completely obscured by the tree.

(Note: the solution is better signs, and better sign placement, not less trees).

 

And if I’m in the road, on a bicycle, or in a car, I can’t see the yield sign at all.

 

So while we all live in the same city, share the same air, water, roads, and other public space, why don’t we just make sure that our resources are safe for everyone to use? I don’t think pedestrians, drivers, and cyclists need to argue. There’s plenty of space for all of us and in order to prevent someone from being killed cars need to slow down and this needs to be enforced.

****

On another note:

There are several things in that last picture that I plan to address in the future: the sharrow bike symbol in the bottom left corner, and the gaping U-shape of what would be a gorgeous shade providing tree if the electrical wires were buried underground as they are in many parts of the city.