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Proposed speed bumps in Schenley Park create concern for Sweepstakes

Credit: Courtney Wittekind/News Editor Credit: Courtney Wittekind/News Editor

Recently, many Carnegie Mellon students have expressed concern about how speed bumps will affect the university’s 90-year-old tradition of Sweepstakes. Speed bumps in Schenley Park were suggested as a traffic-calming method at a meeting hosted by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy regarding revision of the Pittsburgh Regional Parks Master Plan.

The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy is a nonprofit organization founded in 1996 to address deteriorating conditions in Pittsburgh’s parks. In 2000, the organization released the Pittsburgh Regional Parks Master Plan, a 20-year blueprint for park restoration and management.

The plan lays out restoration projects in Frick, Highland, Riverview, and Schenley parks. Now 10 years into the plan, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy will be updating and revising the Master Plan after collective input from residents at a series of public meetings.

“We held meetings in each of the four RAD-funded parks: Frick, Highland, Riverview, and Schenley,” said Laura Cook, marketing communications coordinator at the Pittsburgh Park Conservancy.

Attendees at the Schenley Park meeting voiced concerns about traffic around the intersection of Schenley Drive and Panther Hollow Bridge. The current version of the Master Plan calls for an ornamental roundabout to be installed at the intersection. However some attendees at the meeting at Schenley Park, which was held on Oct. 23, have suggested other devices, including speed bumps.

“After discussing these questions, our attendees walked through the park, assessing conditions from Phipps Conservatory to the Panther Hollow Bridge to Frew Street by CMU,” wrote Melissa McMasters, online and community advocacy manager for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, in the organization’s blog. “After witnessing several potential accidents near the Schenley Park Café, it became even more obvious that Schenley Park (with the most roadways cutting through it of any park in our system) has a bit of a car problem.”

Unfortunately, the current Sweepstakes track passes right through that intersection, and some Carnegie Mellon students worry about how any proposed speed calming methods will affect the almost century-old university tradition.

Started in 1920, Sweepstakes is an annual racing competition between fraternities, sororities, and other campus organizations in which teams build small buggies to race down Schenley Drive and Frew Street. Since 1920, the typical buggy vehicle design has evolved into a small, torpedo shape, which minimizes air resistance. The driver usually lies prone inside the vehicle.

While the torpedo design is advantageous because it can reach the speeds of a car, some students predict that the design will pose a serious risk of injury to drivers if speed bumps are installed on the racetrack. “The buggies are going really fast, 30 miles per hour,” said senior material science and engineering major Jane Son, who is a former Sweepstakes mechanic. “If [a buggy] hits a speed bump, it will go flying.”

“Buggies roll very close to the ground and would not be able to roll over the speed bumps. Even if buggies could be redesigned to make this possible, speed bumps would be a painful obstacle for drivers,” said senior mechanical engineering major Laura Gurwitz, who will be driving one of the Student Dormitory Council’s buggies in the spring.
The risks associated with speed bumps might very well make Sweepstakes too dangerous to continue. “Putting speed bumps along the Buggy course would make it impossible to continue the sport,” said Gurwitz. “I think it would be sad to see a 90-year tradition end this way.”

Others are less worried and feel that Sweepstakes can adapt. “We can always modify buggies and put on bigger wheels that would roll over the bumps better, and somehow change buggy to have people re-pushing after the bumps,” said sophomore mechanical engineering major Lauren Milisits, who will be driving for the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.

Milisits also pointed out how the speed bumps may not even need to be installed within the current Sweepstakes track to calm traffic.

“If getting people to slow down near residential areas is the goal, then you don’t need them down towards the end of Schenley Drive because there aren’t houses there. The houses are all at the top of Schenley Drive and Forbes,” she said. “If the speed bumps are up past Tech Street and not on the buggy course, it’s not really a problem.”

Others at Carnegie Mellon, as well organizations with similar concerns such as the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, advocate for less intrusive traffic calming devices. “Stop signs and other caution signs can be an effective way to slow down traffic,” said Gurwitz. Removable speed bumps and barriers have also been suggested.

While worries about speed bumps may only grow as Spring Carnival draws closer, Cook stressed how the idea has only been discussed at meetings.

“The important thing is that there are no proposed changes, only public discussion about ways to calm traffic in the park,” she said.