People vs. cars in Schenley Park

Schenley Park intersection

Schenley Park is home to some tricky intersections.

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

Crosswalk and speed humps near Temple Gate in London's Hyde Park (click for larger image)

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

South Carriage Drive in Hyde Park (click for larger image)

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!

10 thoughts on “People vs. cars in Schenley Park

  1. One thing that may be useful, given the need to maintain a smooth surface for the road races: movable barriers, such as the water-filled barriers Pitt uses to close roads for move-in, football shuttles, and such, or the ones the airport uses to narrow its roadways and slow the approaches to its departure drop-off and arrivals pick-up zones. Using a system of such barriers, it would be possible to narrow, for example, the intersection at the Visitor’s Centre and its approaches to a more reasonable width, forcing traffic to slow and, just maybe, be a little more predictable. The introduction of lane markers, especially to create turn lanes on Frank Curto coming from Phipps/Oakland and on Schenley coming from CMU/Squirrel Hill, would also be helpful.

    Another help would be to get rid of the “Stop except Right Turn” signs, especially at that same intersection, which can be especially confusing to visitors—if a true traffic signal is not in the cards, it should be a simple three-way stop.

  2. Having grown up in the area, I recall that as a child my heaviest use was the roads through, and trail behind, the golf course, at least on a child’s intuitive level. I would eventually find my way down to Panther Hollow, either walking or on my bike, and manage to avoid the round-a-bout and stay on the park (Visitor Center) side of the road. Rarely did I travel across Panther Hollow Bridge, and I could travel to the Museum and Library via Flagstaff Hill. So, from a native’s perspective, it may be wise to address the round-a-bout problem, but I would also suggest directing pedestrian and bicycle traffic to the trails of Schenley Park and the golf course leading to the residential sections of Squirrel Hill.

  3. As someone who lives in Sq Hill and works in Oakland, I regularly commute through the park on the bus, in my car, on my bike, and on foot when the weather’s nice. I must say each one of these transportation options has its ups and downs. The most obvious is walking and biking – there are not enough cross walks or side walks, and obviously no bike lanes (at least not on the roads I take). Separate bike trails are a nice option, but if they don’t offer as direct a route as the roads then serious bikers won’t take them. As far as driving, I know that the intersection from the part of Panther Hollow Road that comes from the Schenley Park Cafe, as it merges into Blvd of the Allies (where it becomes the main Panther hollow road) is always a dangeorus intersection. Cars are coming around a sharp, steep turn and must come to a full stop before moving into very fast traffic – this should either be controlled with a light, or at least have a yield sign instead of a stop sign. There is often a long back-up here during rush hour. In addition, after the light when Panther hollow has become Hobard Rd there is a left-turn-only lane to get to Beacon street. This causes much confusion and back-and-forth lane changing, especially as people wait until the last minute to get into the left lane to avoid people turning left at the light. I think it would help to put a concrete divider in the road so that cars are forced to turn if they are in the turn-only lane (because currently almost half of the cars simply ignore the sign and go straight). It also might help to have a left-turn green arrow at the light so that people feel safer merging left earlier.
    Thanks for listening! I’m glad you are making changes, and it’s nice to have a place to voice the concerns i’ve been thinking about as i commute every day. Now if you could just convince the Port Authority to put a bus stop for the 58 at the corner of Greenfield Rd and Panther Hollow Rd, we’d be all set!

    • very well put, from an experienced autopedcyclist!
      I can tell you know your roads. and whatever is done,
      I’m not sure car population and speed will decrease any time soon. The % of people in metro Pittsburgh may be down but the amount of cars must be at least double. i have also been commuting this route for more than 25 years and it now takes at least twice as long, maybe more ! Could it be that when we are multiple auto families now, ???

  4. I commute by bike through Schenley Park every day pretty much year-round, and I appreciate the focus on cyclist safety. In the morning, I use the the Bartlett/Blvd. of the Allies intersection and in the evening, I use the intersection at Phipps, where you said you saw several near-accidents. That doesn’t surprise me at all. I look forward to some well-considered improvements in these spots.

    I don’t have many problems with the Bartlett/Blvd. intersection, though if a roundabout is used there it may be useful to put the Blvd. on some kind of road diet or otherwise alert drivers coming down the hill (in both directions) that they need to proceed with caution. High-speed traffic on the Blvd. is hazard to slower cross traffic (me) on Bartlett/Greenfield Ave. I’ve wondered if the Blvd. through the park really needs to be four full lanes—a passing lane often seems to act as a kind of red flag for drivers to act like they’re racing in the Vintage Grand Prix.

  5. Ideas to consider:
    Add bike lanes to Panther Hollow Rd / Blvd of the Allies, either by widening the road or by cutting the number of car lanes from 4 to 2 – the bike lanes should run all the way from the center of Oakland to the center of Squirrel Hill.
    Stop sign for all where Schenley Dr meets Panther Hollow Rd (near Phipps).
    Bike lane on Schenley Dr past Phipps.
    Ramps to make it easier for bicyclists to get from Schenley Dr onto the sidewalks of Phipps.
    A better connection between the Junction Hollow Trail, as it comes north from Eliza Furnace, across the RR tracks to Panther Hollow Lake and the trails in Panther Hollow – either a bridge over the RR tracks or a level crossing with a crossing gate (note that Boundary St has a level crossing for cars).
    Smoother surface for bicycling (and jogging and stroller-pushing) on the Bridle Trail in Schenley Park. It’s currently rough gravel, with drainage and puddle problems.

  6. Pingback: What I learned today, vol. 40 « Closer To Pittsburgh

  7. A roundabout is the perfect solution to address safety concerns at the intersection of Schenley Drive and Panther Hollow Road. Roundabouts improve intersection operations while slowing down traffic.

  8. Pingback: The Bike Pittsburgh Blog Archives » What are your thoughts on People vs. Cars in Schenley Park?

  9. Just to add, buggy is one of the oldest traditions at Carnegie Mellon. Teams practice all year early weekend mornings for the races in the spring, and many CMU students participate in buggy. Speed calming measures like speed bumps would likely end buggy forever, because they are made by students, motor-less and rely entirely on gravity. The end of a 90+ year old tradition would be pretty devastating to the school.

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