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Heyl: Few cyclists utilize pedalers’ paradise of Penn Avenue bike lanes

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Clay Vanterpool walks in the deserted Penn Avenue bike lanes.

It was time to return to Desolation Drive.

Or as it’s more formally known, the Penn Avenue bike lanes.

In September, I spent an hour monitoring traffic along newly installed dual-direction bike lanes on Penn. I wanted to see if enough people were using them to warrant eliminating 10 blocks of vehicular traffic from Sixth Street, Downtown, to 16th Street in the Strip District.

The answer appeared to be an overwhelming no. Only nine cyclists used the lanes during my 60 minutes on the scene.

Since then, Mayor Bill Peduto has preached patience to those complaining that the lanes are chronically underutilized. Despite the city’s challenging topography and weather often more conducive to dog sledding than bike riding, he is moving forward with plans to develop a bike lane network.

I journeyed to Penn on Thursday to try to find evidence that the $1.6 million the city is spending this year on bike-related infrastructure is justified. Replicating the conditions of the initial clinical trial as much as possible, I went on the same day of the week and time as I did in autumn, under similarly favorable weather conditions.

A breakdown of the hour:

• 10:10 a.m.: Just 10 minutes into my monitoring, I spotted a cyclist traveling east toward the Strip. At that rate, I would witness six cyclists using the lanes during the hour. Could that incredible pace be sustained?

• 10:17: “I think (the bike lanes) are a great addition,” said Krista Koller, 28, of the North Side, who was cranking open the front windows of the Penn Avenue restaurant where she works. “I jog in them all the time.”

While we were talking, the hour’s second cyclist pedaled past us. Exciting!

• 10:31: In rapid succession, three cyclists headed west.

• 10:34: A one-minute comparison of traffic in the Penn vehicular and bike lanes:

Vehicular lane: Seven cars, two buses, a delivery truck and a taxi that pulled in front of the Courtyard by Marriott.

Bike lanes: (Sound of crickets).

• 10:35-10:43: In the interval in which two other cyclists used the bike lanes, I had ample time to notice the flowers in the sidewalk planters along Penn don’t seem to have survived last week’s cold snap that undoubtedly also kept bike lane traffic down.

• 10:48: Clay Vanterpool, 51, of the North Side solitarily strode down the center of the bike lanes. I approached him and asked if he was worried about possibly having to dodge out of the way of approaching cyclists.

“No,” he said, appearing puzzled by the question. “Why would I be?”

• 10:50-11:00: Two more bikers rode by, bringing the hour’s final tally to nine — the same number I observed in September.

With the nearby Roberto Clemente Bridge closed while two of its four vehicular lanes are converted into bike lanes, Desolation Drive’s continued underuse begs an important question.

Why turn Pittsburgh into a pedalers’ paradise when so few people seem interested in cycling through Eden?

Eric Heyl is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or [email protected].

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