North Park Lake, a suburban oasis 10 miles from Pittsburgh and a product of the New Deal, is ringed by a 5 mile system of enhanced roadway shoulders, heavily-used by people walking, running, and biking (almost exclusively for recreation). While PennDOT and Allegheny County recently widened Ingomar Road in an attempted safety upgrade (photos below), the unexpected willingness of people to walk, run, and bike directly adjacent to vehicular traffic is much less a function of roadway design, and is instead a result of strictly enforced speed limits.
(I do mean road in this case, not street – and thankfully – not stroad.)
Since childhood I’ve enjoyed the lake loop on foot and bicycle, as have most other people I know in the area. Until recently, the facility consisted of a roadway shoulder – a mere painted line (like Pierce Mill Road pictured below). There was no spatial or physical separation between people and motorized traffic, no delineation between people walking and biking, no bike markings, no off-street trail or path, and no protected bike lane. Yet the common perception was of a safe place to walk and bike with children – in stark contrast to the broad assumption that biking close to moving cars is too dangerous for most people.
I believe the explanation is McCandless Township’s strict enforcement of a 25 mph speed limit, which has been in effect as long as I (and my parents) can remember.
Since I was old enough to drive (say 14 years old – wink), I was keenly aware of the speed limit along Ingomar Road. The reason for driving slow was obvious, having experienced the road outside of a car. Although Ingomar Road does not incorporate design features known to naturally induce lower speeds (e.g. narrower vehicular lanes), the McCandless Police have made speed enforcement a priority in the area. I estimate 85% of drivers on Ingomar Road do not exceed 25 mph.
That ordinary people feel comfortable walking and biking with children on Ingomar Road speaks to the value of slowing down cars (outside of limited access freeways). Education and design treatments are crucial for encouraging people to walk and bike for transportation in cities and suburbs, but effectively slowing down cars generates instant life- and money-saving benefits for people walking, biking, driving, and paying taxes.
The County and Township should be commended for taking engineering and enforcement measures to promote the health and safety of people circling North Park Lake. But hold your applause. The township’s recent projects and future plans don’t even attempt to ameliorate car dependence, preserve undeveloped land, strengthen the local economy, orient development around existing (surprisingly rapid) transit to downtown Pittsburgh, or take seriously biking and walking as beneficial forms of transportation.
So as not to strain your reading endurance, I’ll make necessary technical points in bullet form:
- 25 mph is certainly better than 35, but a 20 mph vehicular design speed is ideal wherever people are to be found. “Twenty is plenty” however advocates in New York City settled for a 25 mph city-wide default speed limit, which took effect November 7th, 2014.
- Despite being frequently referred to as the “North Park Lake Trail”, the facility is not a trail (see triblive.com, post-gazette.com, and the 2012 North Park Lake Area Master Plan by GAI Consultants). Trails are widely understood to be off-street and/or physically separated from traffic. No cars or on-street facilities are visible in the first 100 images returned by searching “trail” or “recreational trail” in Google.
- Although 25% of park users “get to North Park” on a bicycle and 12% walk, according to survey results in the 2012 master plan, GAI made no recommendation to improve bike and pedestrian safety on roads leading to North Park.
- Allegheny County aspired to widen Ingomar Road for “at least two decades” according to Ron Schipani, Capital Projects Manager with the Allegheny County Parks Foundation. Apparently re-striping Ingomar Road with narrower 10 foot vehicular lanes – thereby creating four feet from the existing 12 foot lanes and slowing traffic – was never considered. This despite the fact that the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) encourages the use of 10 foot lanes for lower-speed roadways. #facepalm