On Friday night, Gwen and I went to see "Jack Reacher" at South Side Works Cinema. I arrived by bike, she by bus, and we went to Wine Loft next door for dinner, then enjoyed 2 hours of Pittsburgh porn as the backdrop for the action flick. Afterwards, we decided to hoof it 10 blocks to get cocktails. As we came home around 11:30, we saw what turned out to be the aftermath of this, just a couple doors from the apartment I lived in before moving in with Gwen. No good comments come to mind. In fact, while walking to get cocktails we passed the intersection, making sure to avoid most of the crosswalks (which are invariably dangerous perhaps in part due to the poor layout of the intersection) and still observed some stupidity due to a cab stopped partly blocking the street at the valet stand where the incident later took place.
There have been a number of people hit and injured or killed on Penn Avenue through the eastern part of the city over this year. It is a part of Penn Avenue I have long been familiar with: in 1987, while living in Forest Hills, I entered Central Catholic in Oakland as a freshman. I spent 9 months a year for the next 4 years as a morning rush school bus commuter on Penn, some evenings carpooling during evening rush, and sporadic summer days carpooling during one or both rush hours, with Penn Avenue being one of 2 likely choices. 7 full time semesters at Carnegie Mellon followed, where my reliance on Penn was lessened, but when working between semesters I still had to deal with it. Afterward, I took a staff job at CMU, during which I finished my degree, and so again I commuted during rush hour on Penn Avenue at least some of the time. All told, I spent from 1987 to 2005 where I was living east and either schooling or working in Oakland. I have more than a passing familiarity with crawling along Penn Avenue, the vast majority of it in vehicles with more than a single occupant, usually far more. During that time, the buses which ran from the suburbs to the universities in Oakland, the "U buses", were cut to the bone, and in most cases simply discontinued, including the one I was able to use.
During the time when my school bus used Forbes, I observed the width of the street and wondered if someday bike lanes could be provided through Frick Park. Today, they are. Penn was a different story. My bus made slow going despite 2 lanes of traffic being available. The stretch from Braddock Avenue to Dallas was always the worst. In response to the issues with safety of drivers and non-drivers alike, it's been suggested from a number of commentors that Penn be reduced to one lane in each direction. I can suggest only walking a mile in the other man's shoes; not even necessarily 18 years in mine. The city created marked bike options paralleling Penn Avenue through the "stupid zone"; They involve going a couple blocks out of your way. If you're not willing to do this, volunteering someone else to sit in more traffic? Yeah, I'll just sit here and laugh at you.
The sad truth is, if we want to fix the problem, the right answer to create a viable amount of non-single-occupant vehicle options, then limit lanes, but it won't happen. Bus service to the places you'd want to get, Oakland, and East Liberty/Bloomfield/Garfield will not be added. Instead, a subset of people will just push to make a huge mess, and others will push back.
Want my answer? Probably not, but I'll offer it anyway. If you've used Greentree Road, you'll understand what I mean, but the Smithfield St Bridge, the Liberty Bridge and the West End Bridge all also feature them: lane arrows. Narrow Penn Avenue to 3 lanes (not 2). Mark the lanes with arrows. During peak periods, offer 2 lanes in the peak direction. During non-peak hours, use lighted graphic signs to make the center lane left-turn only. Consider not offering left turns in the off-peak or perhaps both directions from 7-9am and 3:30-5:30pm. This was done when the Penn served as the Parkway East detours for the 1982 and 1983 construction seasons.
And the extra lane? Well, in spite of the issues the Munhall cycle track caused with recent snows (namely, the lack of plow options when physical separation exists), it seems like moving 3 lanes to the center, and splitting the remaining width to both sides, then curbing in the area as bike lanes, would provide a much safer experience for bicyclists, whereas the East Liberty Boulevard approach, where lanes are vacated and marked bike-only without separation, offers only confusion and opportunity for new and different accidents.