The Safety Street Q&A series features NCSR partners, industry leaders and other notable transportation organizations who are working towards the collaborative goal of safer roads.
Founded in 2002, Bike Pittsburgh is a charitable non-profit that works on behalf of the Pittsburgh community to make the city safe, accessible, and friendly to bicycle and pedestrian transportation. Eric Boerer has been a safety advocate nearly a decade. He started with Bike Pittsburgh part time in 2005 and is now its full time Advocacy Director. Safety Street had the chance to ask Eric about his views on the value of red-light safety cameras for cyclists in Pittsburgh and across the country.
Safety Street: What is the biggest challenge that cyclists face on the road?
Eric Boerer: The biggest challenge is aggressive driving. It’s something that I feel has changed dramatically over the years as more cyclists appear on the road. Thankfully, drivers have been improving in recent years, but it only takes one aggressive driver to ruin someone’s day or ruin someone’s life. Aggressive driving is probably the thing that scares Bike Pittsburgh members the most.
Safety Street: What’s the number one thing you hope drivers will keep in mind?
Eric Boerer: What Bike Pittsburgh is really trying to do with its driver education programs is humanize cyclists. Bikers are just normal folks trying to get somewhere. We could be your cousin, your doctor, your teacher. We’re not out there trying to annoy anybody, we’re just trying to get where we’re going.
Safety Street: The Pittsburgh City Council just approved a rule allowing red-light safety cameras in the city of Pittsburgh. What do you hope will be the outcome?
Eric Boerer: For one, we hope the outcome is that people actually stop at red lights. The cameras work, according to our research. Overall safety will be improved once people start obeying the law. On a broader level, it raises awareness of traffic safety in general.
Safety Street: Bike Pittsburgh has been an outspoken supporter of red-light safety camera technology. Why do you feel red-light safety cameras are so critical to cyclists?
Eric Boerer: It’s about safety. Any tool that helps police enforce safety on our streets is good for cyclists and really good for everyone who uses the roads. Once people think there’s a chance they could be penalized for doing something illegal, they’re far less likely to do it.
Safety Street: In Pennsylvania, fines paid by red-light runners will go in part to funding safety projects for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. Are there are strong cycling safety projects on your radar?
Eric Boerer: We’re working on bike lanes throughout the city in many different neighborhoods. Last summer, we released the Better Bikeways vision, which outlines that system. They’re bike lanes that encourage physical separation between cars and bikes. We’re trying to step up the level of bike lane beyond just a stripe on the road, whether that is in the form of painted lanes or in some cases concrete. Some additional funding for safety improvements could make current lanes safer, too.
Safety Street: Which neighborhoods in the city do you think are best for cycling? What are they doing right?
Eric Boerer: Last spring, the city painted intersections on Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield at the Bloomfield Bridge. Where cars need to cross bike lanes in order to turn, the city painted the lanes bright green, which helps raise awareness to the driver that there could be a cyclist in the lane.
The East End plateau has some of the best areas for cycling, because it has the best access to parks and the most bike infrastructure in place on the roads now. It helps that it’s one of the flattest areas of the city. The city has responded to that success by adding more bike lanes.
Safety Street: In your opinion, which neighborhoods in Pittsburgh are the next big thing for cycling?
Eric Boerer: We want to focus on Oakland and downtown Pittsburgh next. In August of this year, Pittsburgh will be launching its first bike share. That means there will be a lot of new people riding bikes in those areas.
Oakland has the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, meaning more than 40,000 students attend class within one or two square miles. Thousands of students ride bikes already or would ride them if the streets felt safer. Given how congested that area can be, and how much foot traffic it gets, it seems like a no brainer to make it as safe as possible for bikes.
The National Coalition for Safer Roads (NCSR) helps save lives and protect communities by demonstrating how red-light safety cameras can improve driver behavior.