Petition for bike lanes seeks change, faces challenges


Jeff Ahearn | Assistant Visual Editor

By Zoë Hannah / For The Pitt News

Pittsburgh bike advocates are calling for more bike lanes in Oakland following a death on Forbes Avenue last Friday.

On Oct. 24, the day after Pitt adviser Susan Hicks died in an accident on Forbes Avenue, Gregory Dornseif, a Pitt sophomore, started a petition titled “#SaferForbesNOW. Not one more. Create safe spaces to bike in Oakland.” 

The petition, which has 2,504 signatures, calls on Mayor Bill Peduto, PennDOT District Executive Dan Cessna and Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher to add bike lanes to the “deadly” Fifth/Forbes corridor in Oakland.

According to Tim McNulty, a spokesperson for Peduto, the city already has plans underway for bike lanes in Oakland, but is waiting on a federal grant to fund bike lanes on either Fifth Avenue or Forbes Avenue.

McNulty said the mayor wants the project — originally scheduled to begin in 2017 — pushed up to 2016.

After 750 people signed the petition on the first day, Bike Pittsburgh, a local bike advocacy group, approached Dornseif and offered to help collect a concrete list of names based off of the virtual signatures. collects a number of signatures, but does not require real names on a petition. Bike Pittsburgh and Dornseif created a Google form on the petition and on the Bike Pittsburgh website to gather the full names of Pittsburgh residents who want to support their cause.

The group plans to present the list to the city in the next few weeks.

Eric Boerer, Bike Pittsburgh’s advocacy director, said the number of organizations — including PennDOT and the City administration — already working on separate plans for bike lanes in Pittsburgh makes communication difficult.

“There are so many moving parts,” Boerer said. “Nobody is really talking to each other.”

If community stakeholders like Pitt, PennDOT, CMU and Port Authority are all in the same room together, Boerer said they can better organize a plan for bike lanes in Oakland.

Both departments said they were working on projects to add lanes to Forbes Avenue before Dornseif created the petition. 

On Thursday, Pitt spokesperson John Fedele said the administration had not seen the petition and could not make a comment on it specifically.

Fedele said, the University does not have the power to install bike lanes near campus but encourages biking and bike safety.

Cessna, the PennDOT district executive who represents Pittsburgh, said PennDOT is planning to resurface Forbes Avenue from the Birhmingham Bridge to Beeler Street, but not widen or add bike lanes to the street. PennDOT is working with Port Authority on the project from the Birmingham Bridge to North Craig Street, and with CMU from North Craig Street to Beeler Street.

PennDOT, not the city, owns Forbes Avenue, Cessna said, and does not anticipate starting its project until 2017. The city of Pittsburgh owns Fifth Avenue.

PennDOT has talked with the Pittsburgh Port Authority and the Oakland Transportation Management Association about installing bike lanes along Forbes Avenue, Cessna said. But, according to Cessna, making room for the lanes “would be a challenge.” To implement bike lanes, Cessna said PennDOT would have to remove either a lane of traffic, or the city would have to remove parking.

“It’s not [a challenge] that can’t be overcome,” Cessna said, “but one that would incur sacrifices to traffic or parking.”

Even still, when Dornseif, a marketing and accounting major, saw Hicks’ mangled bike on Forbes Ave, he was shaken up.

“Someone died where I’ve biked so many times before,” Dornseif said. “[Creating bike lanes] might take longer than we want, but I won’t stop until it gets done. I won’t be satisfied until it gets done.”

Dornseif said he will continue to advocate for a bike lane along Forbes Avenue. Boerer reminded Oakland’s bikers that they are allowed to ride in an entire lane, not just the very edge of one lane.

“To drivers, relax, you’ll get there,” Boerer said. “To bikers, stay vigilant, stay visible.”

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