Pitt staff discusses safety

Daniel Yablonsky, Business Development Manager for Bike Pittsburgh, talks safety for bikers in city. Nikki Moriello | Senior Staff Photographer

Brown-bagged lunches in hand, Pitt’s staff joined the ongoing conversation about Oakland’s bike safety at a Staff Association Council forum Wednesday in the William Pitt Union.

The Brown Bag Series, a lunchtime meeting series that encourages staff involvement with the Staff Association Council, had its first meeting of 2016 Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. The SAC met to hear local transportation and safety experts discuss city initiatives, such as installing more bike racks and decreasing jaywalking.

Bike Pittsburgh’s Business Development Manager Dan Yablonsky, Pitt police officer Guy Johnson and Pitt’s Director of Parking, Transportation and Services Kevin Sheehy spoke to about 30 staff members.

At the beginning of the forum, Alex Toner, head of SAC’s external relations committee, and the guest speakers paid tribute to Pitt advisers Susan Hicks and Michael McDermott, who were both killed while riding their bikes in October and last week, respectively.

Here are two key takeaways from Wednesday’s meeting:

Bike Pittsburgh highlights safety

Yablonsky said since 2000, Pittsburgh has had an influx of bikers and pedestrians, rising to the 11th most-biked and fourth most-walked city in the country, according to 2011 U.S. Census American Community Survey data. He said Pittsburgh’s pedestrian population falls short only to Washington, D.C., Boston, San Francisco and Seattle, according to the survey.

Pittsburgh is the eighth highest percentage of transit commuters and ranks in the top 10 cities in the nation for active transportation, including travel by walking, biking and transit, according to the data.

Because so many people are riding bikes, Yablonsky said, both motorists and cyclists must be careful and be aware of each other.

As part of its advocacy efforts, Bike Pittsburgh has installed bike racks, specifically Downtown, and Healthy Rides throughout the city.

According to Yablonsky, 7 to 15 percent of cyclists in Pittsburgh are enthused and confident when traveling on the roads. But Yablonsky also said 50 to 60 percent of people who are interested in cycling are concerned about their safety.

“Bicyclists on the road are not just objects, they have family and friends who care about them. In the future, we want to install more bike lanes and become closer to creating a safe, connected network,” Yablonsky said.

Pitt seeks to decrease jaywalking

Throughout the year, Sheehy and his team have inserted a few yellow signs before the crosswalks to warn people of buses traveling from the opposite direction.

Johnson esaid there is a struggle between satisfying the needs of vehicle owners and pedestrians.

“[Overall,] we are trying to educate and make motorists more aware of pedestrians. However, the process can become complicated. When we create a change that benefits the pedestrians, it often times can create a problem for the drivers,” Johnson said.

Pitt began cracking down on jaywalkers in 2014 and the city has installed more signs to aid pedestrians over the last two years.

Johnson said Pitt police are working on making Oakland’s streets safer for both drivers and pedestrians, but asked that, in the meantime, residents and students be patient about the progress.

Sheehy said Pittsburgh, especially Oakland, has a jaywalking problem.

“[Jaywalking]creates a big concern for the safety of students and faculty,” Sheehy said. “That is why we added more road crossing signs.”

In November, a Port Authority bus struck a Pitt student crossing Fifth Avenue, prompting Pitt to warn students to be more alert when crossing streets.

According to Toner, the Brown Bag forums allow the Pitt community to be a part of a larger dialogue in the city.

“The point of these forums is to engage the staff in how to make positive impacts within Oakland and the city of Pittsburgh,” Toner said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that 30 people attended a Staff Association Council event Wednesday, Jan. 27. Around 75 people attended the event. The story also previously stated that the event focused mainly on bicycle safety in the city of Pittsburgh. The event centered on bicycle safety, pedestrian safety and motorist safety in Oakland. The story has been updated.

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