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The futures all yours ya lousy bicycle*

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

The city's planning department is taking a big step toward encouraging bicyclists to commute, both Downtown and to jobs in other neighborhoods.

Staff has initiated a plan to require of large-scale development a certain amount of secured bike parking.

Planners Stephen Patchan and Corey Layman laid out the proposal at a recent planning commission meeting; the commission will vote at some point whether to recommend it to city council. Keep an eye on the planning commission agenda at http://www.city.pittsburgh.pa.us/cp/.

It's a modest proposal - one space every 20,000 square feet - and flexible enough to allow the developer to put the spaces outside the development and/or in the right-of-way, as long as the right-of-way allows for safe and accessible passage of all citizens. The legislation will go through more tweaking and more fretting (on behalf of cars) before it is finished.

Mr. Layman tried to sell the idea with this understatement: "Because of the research being done in other cities, we're comfortable that this is a national trend." He added, "If it's a big enough investment, there should be a parking component for bikes."

Pittsburgh has been priding itself lately on being green and sustainable, but we are behind other cities in this country on taking bicycling seriously as a transportation option, and the most advanced cities in this country are behind cities in countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark, where the esteemed bicycle culture is backed by policy and public works infrastructure that puts to shame the fact that Pittsburgh has just three bicycle lanes - part of Beechwood Boulevard, part of Liberty Avenue and part of East Liberty Boulevard.

Still, Pittsburgh is getting on the radar of national groups and we are making national lists that rank cities for green and sustainable practices, including bicycling.

Bicycle parking is the next step in a country where people steal bikes. In some countries, bikes are free for the taking: People ride them to their stops and leave them for the next person. Until we become a more civil society, bicyclists need the assurance that their wheels will be there when they return. Fearing someone will steal my lousy bicycle is one reason I don't leave it locked to a pole for any length of time.

Planning staff have reviewed practices in other cities and are following the Philadelphia and San Franciso models. The Philly model requires two parking units for every 7,501-20,000 square feet of new commercial property. For every property larger than 20,000 square feet, a biking space must be provided every 10,000 square feet. The ordinance passed earlier this year. It can be viewed at http://webapps.phila.gov/council/attachments/6125.pdf

Frisco's plan is all about incentives, including making bicycling travel safer and enforcing laws to bring both cars and bikes into alignment. Read more at http://www.sfgov.org/site/bac_index.asp?id=11525.

 The common refrain I hear from Pittsburgh drivers is that cyclists don't follow the rules of the road. I see a lot of bikes darting through intersections instead of stopping with the cars behind them. It's a violation I have committed, pedaling my little heart out to get ahead of what I perceive to be bullies who want to knock me off. Most violators I see, though, look highly confident on their bikes, If everyone would steer like good boys and girls, people muight also stop driving on sidewalks, another violation.

Mr. Patchan, the city's bicycle/pedestrian coordinator, told the commission the proposed legislation is in keeping with the mayor's interest in a sustainable future, "to give more residents a choice" beyond driving alone in their cars. It includes an incentive to any developer, small or large, to swap out up to 30 percent of the car-parking spaces required by zoning in favor of bicycles. The thinking here is that "the person riding a bike is one less person driving a car," said Mr. Layman.

One of the commissioners said 30 percent seems like a lot. Here's hoping the other commissioners weren't thinking the same thing.

(* (see headline) a quote attributable to Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," a film based on the escapades of the late-19th century outlaws.)

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