Letter: Oakland’s dangerous streets demand attention, a champion

This was written to be a letter-to-the-editor in early September, 2016, but was never sent. As of fall, 2017, I no longer work at Pitt or live in Pittsburgh, but remain deeply concerned not only about the safety of Pitt’s surrounding roads, but the lack of communication from the University about what they’re (presumably) trying to do about it.

I work for a small non-profit affiliated with Pitt–an international professional association for academics–which has been based in Bellefield Hall since 2010.  I’m also a 2007 Pitt graduate with a BA in Linguistics.  As a student and a staff member, I’ve spent nearly nine of the last thirteen years on campus in Oakland.  At various points, I’ve primarily driven, biked, or taken a bus to Oakland; in the last several years I’ve increased my riding and now bike to work nearly daily.  Public transit is my second choice, and through several moves since 2011 I have consciously chosen to live near a direct bus line to Oakland.

As a Pitt alum and staff member of an affiliated organization on campus, I have been and continued to be appalled at the University’s response–or lack thereof–to the death of one of its own last fall and the continuing terrorizing of its students, staff, and faculty on a daily if not hourly basis.  According to one Post-Gazette article last fall, after the death of Susan Hicks in the shadow of the Cathedral of Learning, the only comment from Pitt spokesman John Fedele was that ‘the university has bike racks throughout the campus, encourages car-pooling and stresses pedestrian safety to students beginning with their freshman orientation’.  None of which does a thing to protect their personnel from reckless, speeding drivers.  At least CMU’s students and staff are getting trees between them and Forbes’ flying vehicles…

Except during special events, Bellefield is usually two lanes, and with no speed or crosswalk enforcement, many drivers speed and few yield to the hundreds of students and staff that cross the road to and from Bellefield Hall each day.  I can’t so much as walk to lunch without nearly getting hit by a car directly in front of my office.  Every day, I watch people trot, jog, and outright run across the street because drivers refuse to yield despite the painted crosswalk and cross-here signs.

As this week’s crash indicates, speeds on the roads that ring the University of Pittsburgh are dangerously high–if anything, the constant congestion which slows drivers and reduces PennDOT’s holy Level of Service is a good thing; it’s awfully difficult to flip a sedan at twenty miles an hour, and any person hit by a car is orders of magnitude more likely to survive at low vehicle speeds.

As Linda Bailey, Executive Director of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (an organization of which Pittsburgh is a Member City), wrote this week,

“With 80% of the U.S. population living in urban areas, we should be building streets and designing cities that work for everyone, including those traveling on foot, on bike, or via transit.… In particular, arterial streets [such as Forbes Ave in Pittsburgh], which represent less than 10% of roadways but are the site of 49% of fatalities, should be prioritized as places where we can quickly make the biggest safety gains….All levels of government must do better. Elected officials should be champions for safe street designs.”

Where is our champion?

As Noel Mickelberry, Executive Director of Oregon Walks, wrote this week,

“None of these crashes look like one another. Yet each crash reminds us that a true change to the status quo on our streets is required to provide solutions. Each person injured or killed on our roadways demands attention and action from our city’s leadership and from everyone traveling through our streets.”

Where is the attention and action from our city’s leadership in Pittsburgh?  The mayor Friday urged us to wait for Port Authority to make a decision on BRT, but as even Port Authority’s own representative acknowledged at Wednesday’s meeting, that decision has been delayed repeatedly.

How much longer must we wait?  How many more students must be terrorized before Port Authority manages to get its act in gear?  How many more community members must die before we act?

We’ve spent sixty years tossing up our hands and ceding public space to public menaces. It’s time to take our roads back for all users.

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