Liberty Avenue Downhill

Saving Cyclists

From ill-considered bicycle advocacy


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The Liberty Avenue Bike Lane

(40th St. to 34th St., Downhill Side)

The Deadliest Bike Lane in Pittsburgh?

Liberty Avenue Bike Lane, hilly section

Steep door zone bike lane

A High-Speed Door-Zone Bike Lane

Liberty avenue is on a 4% grade from 40th street to 37th, and a 6% grade from 37th to the end of the lane. Even a cyclist in poor shape can easily travel downhill at this road's 35 mph speed limit. If someone opens a car door while a cyclist is going that speed in the bike lane, the cyclist will hit that door at the same speed he would be travelling if he had fallen off of a three-story building. That alone is enough to make this an extremely hazardous bike lane. Furthermore, stopping distance more than doubles on a 6% grade. Even if someone opens a door well ahead of the cyclist, it is unlikely that the cyclist will be able to avoid a collision unless he quickly swerves into the traffic lane, which is hazardous in itelf.

Too Many IntersectionsIntersections at 39th St. and at Manion Way

There are 9 intersections in the half-mile stretch from 40th street to 34th street. A cyclist in the bike lane is less visible to traffic pulling put of those interesections, and also to traffic coming up Liberty Avenue intending to make a left turn.

Right-Hand Turns from the Left-Hand Lane

Because there are so many intersections, it is not feasible to put keep ending the bike lane and asking the bikes to merge with traffic. As a result, bikes going straight are in what amounts to the right-hand lane, while cars turning right are doing so from the left hand lane.

How Did We Get This Deadly Bike Lane?

Winning this bike lane was the first "accomplishment" for the then-new bicycling advocacy group, Bike Pittsburgh. At the neighborhood hearing where this bike lane was proposed, the traffic engineer who designed the bike lane explicitly assured Saving Cyclists advocate Dan Sullivan that there would be a five-foot buffer between parked cars and the bike lane. As it turns out, the bike lane is the buffer. In the first two weeks the bike lane was open, a woman staying with Sullivan's next-door neighbor was "doored" and had to be treated at a hospital.

However, Bike Pittsburgh has remained committed to this lane, despite the obvious hazards it creates.

What Should the City Do Now?

Get rid of this bike lane, at least on the downhill side. There is no way to make it anything but a hazard to cyclists. Better yet, mark the existing lane as "Door Zone, No Cycling," and add signs that say, "Cyclists Use Full Lane."

Even the bike lane on the uphill side is unnecessary, although it is relatively harmless. It has fewer intersections, and most (but not all) cyclists climb the hill slowly enough that they can see people who might be preparing to open their car doors. Still, cyclists don't really need to be told to pull to the right going up steep hills, and drivers don't need to be told to go around them. Ideally, the city should just remove uphill lane as well. Signs that say, "Watch for Slow Cyclists" would give drivers all the awareness they need to interact safely with cyclists.

What Should Cyclists Do in the Meantime?

Ride in the traffic lane, especially going downhill. Drivers have been more aggresive, because they think you belong in the door zone as the signs suggest. However, you have a legal right to be in the traffic lane, and it is less dangerous to be tailgaited than doored. If you find this too intimidating, stay off of Liberty Avenue entirely and go down the hill on Penn Avenue, which has no bike lane.

Meanwhile, contact Bike Pittsburgh, the city's Bicycle Pedestrian Coordinator, your City Council Member and the Mayor of Pittsburgh and urge them to get rid of this dangerous bike lane. Also, if you call 311 from within the city, your concerns will be officially logged.

This bike lane runs from Bloomfield to Lawrenceville. The local bicycling contact for Bloomfield is Bruce and for Lawrenceville is Will Bernstein.

The Saving Cyclists advocate in Pittsburgh is Dan Sullivan.

We are interested in comments and questions that lead to light, not heat. Comments will be accepted or rejected accordingly.


Saving Cyclists
631 Melwood Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
United States