People vs. cars in Schenley Park

October 25, 2010 by Melissa McMasters

Schenley Park intersection

Our master plan update meeting for Schenley Park this Saturday was a fascinating look at the complex issue of people vs. cars in the park. There's no doubt that the park's layout presents a safety issue in several places, but any solution would have to consider the many different ways that the park is used. Here are some of the things we discussed at the meeting:

- Can pedestrian and bicycle safety be improved measurably if the solution doesn't include installing new traffic lights? How effective are traffic calming measures like speed bumps/humps, bike lanes, and protected crosswalks?
- Are roundabouts a practical consideration for Schenley Park, and if so, what makes a good roundabout? (Joe Hackett, from LaQuatra Bonci Associates and the master planning team, considers a "good roundabout" to be "a safe haven for pedestrians and cyclists," not just a way to slow down traffic.)
- Would better connections within the park increase use by cyclists as an alternative to biking on the roads? (For example, a connection between the Eliza Furnace Trail and the park's trails could provide an alternative to some road biking for commuters.)
- Is it possible to balance traffic calming measures with some of the key uses of Schenley Park: i.e., the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix and the Carnegie Mellon buggy races (which happened to be taking place the morning of this meeting)?

After discussing these questions, our attendees walked through the park, assessing conditions from Phipps Conservatory to the Panther Hollow Bridge to Frew Street by CMU. After witnessing several potential accidents near the Schenley Park Café, it became even more obvious that Schenley Park (with the most roadways cutting through it of any park in our system) has a bit of a car problem. But there are many ideas on how to solve it...

Success Stories
Several other parks provide case studies that show increased pedestrian and cyclist safety through traffic calming measures. Brooklyn's Prospect Park West was a three-lane street where three out of four cars exceeded the speed limit. This summer, a two-way bike lane, protected by a floating parking lane, was installed to slow traffic and to get cyclists off the sidewalk. Now, the New York Department of Transportation says that the number of speeding cars has been reduced to one in seven, and only four percent of cyclists are using the sidewalk (down from about 50%).

Temple Gate

Check out a great video showing the effects of the bike lines in Prospect Park here. You can also see the DOT's preliminary data on this page.

Elsewhere, The Royal Parks has successfully implemented speed humps in London's Hyde Park to slow traffic. The bricked humps are low to the ground, designed to slow the speed of cars without damaging them (especially ones that sit low to the ground), and also to be mindful of horse-drawn carriages that use the roads.

South Carriage Drive

As you can see from the South Carriage Drive photo, devices have been employed to help signal motorists of how to treat the roadway. Two painted white arrows just before the pedestrian crossing alert drivers that they are approaching a speed hump, with the thick end of the arrow indicating where the road surface will begin to rise. At either end of the pedestrian crossing, light poles with orange circular bowls on top flash intermittently, helping improve visibility for motorists at night. These lights, known as Belisha beacons, indicate crossings where pedestrians have the right of way over traffic. The beacons are standard to such crossings, ingraining the habit for motorists to stop for pedestrians whenever they see the flashing lights.

Speed humps have not been without controversy in London, however--emergency services personnel complain that they are an impediment, and they increase the wear and tear on vehicles. You can read an article on some of the potential objections here.

Lots of food for thought! Please share your comments and concerns with us below as we continue to gather opinions in preparation for making recommendations. And don't forget about this weekend's Master Plan Update meeting about Riverview Park, where we'll be discussing how to improve access to the park's unsung destinations.

Thanks to BikePGH for sharing the Prospect Park information, and to Robert Harbord and The Royal Parks for sending us the London photos!

Park Activities, Regional Parks Master Plan, Schenley Park