Sunday, April 28, 2013

Towards another bicycle parking facility in Downtown Pittsburgh

We could use another major bike parking facility downtown. There are a few racks here and there, but I am thinking about taking this to a new level: Repurpose that vacant storefront in the Union Trust Building at Fifth and Grant.

Until not long ago, it was an upscale men's clothing store. I do not quite know why it closed. Perhaps it was the lack of other nearby retail, or maybe because of it, as Macy's is almost across the street. In any case, the space is just the size for storing a couple hundred bikes. It is also right in the middle of a very dense employment district, with several large buildings nearby that have no or nearly no bike parking facilities. BNY Mellon 2 a block away does, but that cannot be used by anyone else.

I work directly across Fifth Avenue in the Frick Building, 20 floors full of office workers with no bike facilities at all, nor any obvious place to put them nearby. For a while, I was tying up my low-end bike in an old "toaster" rack on the portico of the City-County Building, diagonally across Forbes and Grant, but even that is undersized, insecure, and subject to pre-emption by events. If even 10 more people tried to tie up there, from Frick or City-County or the Courthouse, that would be overcapacity. More recently, I have begun locking up a more expensive bike to a sturdy railing in a parking garage on Cherry Way, but the strong smell of stale urine in that corner hardly makes for a warm welcome each day or a reassuring feeling upon departure. For all that, it too can only hold about 20 bikes.

The Union Trust corner storefront is an odd shape, with an even odder split level section, and window fronts that take up a lot of square footage. With a little thought and inspired architecture, that spot could handle a couple hundred bikes. Maybe on hooks? I don't care specifically how; that's a design issue best left to the experts. I would rather address establishing that the need exists, or inducing it, and initiating discussion of initial financing and ongoing operations. Yes, I do think there is a market for storing 500 bikes.

One thing such a space would do is provide legitimacy. Sure, here and there we can ask for and get a smattering of bike racks, and Bike-Pgh has done a wonderful job of getting hundreds of these installed throughout the city. These are excellent for the quick shopper -- the ice cream cone, the cup of coffee, a quick lunch. Less obvious is the need to tie up a nice bike for 10 hours straight, for all-day workers. Or 100 bikes. Or 500 bikes. Putting a formal bike parking facility in a high visibility location like this promotes the concept itself. In short, just having it there establishes the need.

There would be startup costs: Design, legalities, renovation, equipment purchase, installation. There would be operating costs: Leasing, electricity, communications, security. I am not trying for an exhaustive list so much as to acknowledge that they exist, and somehow must be paid for. Nor is it untrod territory, as we already have something like it on 7th Street. I suspect it will not pay for itself, at least at first, and perhaps not ever. It's a problem, but solvable. What's it to the city to be able to accommodate 500 cyclists? What's it to PAT to either accommodate cyclists who bus their bike downtown, or who bike all the way downtown so as to free up a seat for someone who cannot bike in from a bikeable area? Would the owners, property managers, and tenants of the Frick and Union Trust Buildings, the William Penn Hotel, the Courthouse, BNY Mellon 1, and Macy's, kick in a few bucks apiece to make it easier to tie up there? Can those called for jury duty be assigned temporary access for the few days they will need to be in town? All of these could be asked. Should be asked.

Amenities? We at least need a spot to tie up a $1,500 bike with the reasonable assurance that it will be there to ride home, with all the pieces still attached and intact, nine hours later. Video record everything from several angles 24/7/365 so any attempts at wrongdoing will be captured to pass along to law enforcement. Maybe this will not guarantee no thefts will occur, but it can make it a lot harder to get away with. Let's also have, at minimum, some tools available so minor repairs can be made. I would like to see a fully operational bike repair shop there, too, but I at least need to be able to pump up a low tire at 8 p.m. after the shop staff has gone home. I would like to be able to wipe the chain grease off my hands before I walk into work. No toilet necessary, just a unisex sink with soap.

Pittsburgh is not the first place to do this, nor would this be the first place in Pittsburgh. But it may be the first at this level of seriousness, a public accessible central storage facility. Could it be expanded to handle a 1,000-bike jukebox? Shower facilities? Cleaning and detailing service? Maybe. Let's learn how to walk before we try running, though. We more need to accommodate the growing bike population than someplace to purchase an Ermenegildo Zegna shirt.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Mild rant about driving

N.B.: This started off as a post on the Bike-Pgh message board, where the topic concerned a child who was run over by a woman in an SUV. The conversation was going on about the relative merits of various shapes of cars, when my contention was that if the driver was not driving at all, there would not have been a kid run over.


Not enough attention is being paid, IMHO, to my contention: Why EVER drive? What made this trip, or anyone’s trip in a car, necessary? I’m sure a few trips can only be accomplished by using an automobile, but the more you try not to, the more you find out that indeed it is possible.

Change some things.

* Choose not to shop at a place that can only be gotten to by car.
* Choose to plan expected trips, like shopping, such that you only need to do it once every two weeks instead of weekly or almost daily.
* Choose to commute by bus, carpool, bicycle, feet, or some combination thereof.
* Better yet, telecommute when at all possible so you don’t lose valuable time at 100% capacity doing something useless like merely getting there. Demand it, when the job allows it.
* Downsize your fleet. Your household only needs one car, tops. I’m making it work in McCandless, have been for 20+ years. Stop thinking “I own a car” and rather “My household has a car, shared among multiple drivers.”
* Stop making trips to “pick someone up” when they can walk or bike or bus.
* Decide that Suzy and Danny *can* get to piano lesson on their own. Think “they’re already 10″ instead of “they’re only 10″.
* Cease to tolerate bad driving behavior. Call people out on it. If you want to stand at red lights with a baseball bat and take out a windshield or two of drivers who don’t yield to pedestrians, it might be worth the court battle and media coverage.
* When cycling, TAKE THE DAMN LANE. Refuse to concede to having to hug parked cars (with doors opening), the curb, etc. You are MUCH safer smack dab in front of someone’s steering wheel than off to the side where they *think* they can get past you.
* Buy bus fare. I didn’t say ride the bus. (Well, I did, earlier, but this is different.) Buy a monthly pass. Then another. Figure out how the system works without having to figure out fares. Make it work. The more people they have paying into the system, whether they ride it or not, the more likely they will keep routes in place and maybe even expand service.
* Learn how to use the buses’ bike racks. Bike to the bus, use the bus to get past the suckiest traffic, then bike the rest of the way to your destination.

I was at the park for that little gathering. I rode from McCandless, up by CCAC North, by way of downtown where I work. I took a bus to the busway’s Homewood station and biked to Reynolds & S Lex. Then I rode back downtown, using Fifth, taking the lane (nearly) the whole way. (One spot, I let a bunch of cars and a bus past. One.)

Stop driving. I’m serious. Figure out how. Make it work. I don’t care what you’re driving. When we stop driving, we will stop running people over. It’s that simple.