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Bike Pittsburgh hosts forum on bike culture and safety

Credit: Jonathan Leung/Assistant Photo Editor Credit: Jonathan Leung/Assistant Photo Editor

Carnegie Mellon community members gathered in Rangos Hall last Monday to voice cycling issues and concerns to Lou Fineberg, program director of Bike Pittsburgh. Bike Pittsburgh, a nonprofit advocacy organization, aims to create a bike-friendly culture and infrastructure in Pittsburgh.

Participants raised a multitude of concerns including the safety and efficacy of bike lanes, how best to address aggressive driving, the practice of taking versus sharing lanes, and pollution.

Bike lanes, though widely believed to be a sanctuary for cyclists on busy thoroughfares, often instill an attitude in drivers that if bike lanes are available bikes must not be on the road.

Unsafe bike lanes, like those that have now been removed from Liberty Avenue, compound safety issues for bikers who choose the street over dangerous bike lanes. In response to these concerns, Fineberg underscored that Pittsburgh is still “really in the infancy of bike improvements” and suggested that concerned citizens write letters to city and state governments to address both poorly placed bike lanes and their marked absence on many busy streets.

Fineberg offered concrete strategies to ease the aggressive driving characteristic of Pittsburgh’s car-dominated transportation culture. Fineberg advocated that cyclists faced with aggressive driving should call 311 or even 911 in extreme cases.

“People who use their car as a weapon should have 911 called on them,” Fineberg explained. Fineberg also spoke of starting social media campaigns to raise awareness about the perils of aggressive driving for cyclists and pedestrians.

The practice of taking as opposed to sharing lanes is unfamiliar to many drivers. However, state traffic laws grant cyclists the right to take an entire lane if there are two lanes running in the same direction. Fineberg advised that cyclists “make conscious decisions as often as they can,” and that cyclists take a lane whenever the opportunity presents itself.

He counseled cyclists to consider what is “the safest I can be” and let that serve as the standard for navigating car-cyclist relationships.

Several participants also discussed the potential health consequences of exposure to exhaust pollution during cardiovascular activity. Although some researchers assert that exhaust poses equal risk to drivers, Fineberg countered with studies by Athletes United and Scientific American, which found adverse effects of cardiovascular activity in polluted environments.

He also proposed Bike Pittsburgh’s Better Bikeways Vision, which would distance bikers from exhaust emissions as a possible solution. In the short term, Fineberg reminded participants that, “as long as it’s not a business district, you are allowed to ride on the sidewalk.” He also noted that a small number of cyclists have taken to wearing face masks during their commute to protect themselves from exhaust fumes.

The discussion also briefly touched on pedestrian-cyclist relationships — a subject of particular interest to Carnegie Mellon students who choose walking as their means of transportation on campus. Pedestrians question the presence of bicyclists on campus walkways.

“This campus is small enough — students do not need to bike down walkways to make a 10-minute passing period. Bicyclists on walkways endanger students on foot,” first-year chemical engineering major Sage Yort said.

First-year electrical and computer engineering major and avid bicyclist Maya Lassiter advocated for students who want to ride their bikes to class. “As a cyclist, I would like to see the school establish separate bike lanes and pedestrian pathways,” she said.

Bike Pittsburgh’s forum offered an opportunity for concerned cyclists to discuss their budding presence in a largely car-dominated transportation culture, as well as advice and resources for experienced riders and students who may be considering joining the wheeled ranks of Pittsburgh’s cyclists.

Fineberg is optimistic about establishing biking culture in Pittsburgh. He believes that the success of such a culture depends largely on the implementation of bike-sensitive city planning, such as the inclusion of properly placed bike lanes.