Want Safer, More Accessible Streets? Dance.

Nov 14, 2016

Laura Hahn, left, high-fives another dancer in a Pittsburgh crosswalk. "Crossings" was a performance piece meant to raise awareness of the need for safe and accessible streets for everyone. (Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA)
Credit Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

 Last week, about 20 people waited anxiously for the walk signal at the busy intersection outside Target in East Liberty. When the light changed, they danced into the crosswalk. As James Brown sang “Get on the Good Foot,” they spun, they shimmied, they high-fived.

“Crossings” was a performance piece organized by Lively Pittsburgh, a group dedicated to building healthy, active communities. The afternoon event was meant to remind motorists that streets are shared, and that everyone is responsible for ensuring that they’re safe.

Jason Jablon is event coordinator for Lively Pittsburgh. Pointing to his T-shirt he said their motto was “safer together.”

“We’re trying to bring that awareness to everybody that we can all cross, and be safe, and please pay attention to us as we do it.”

Amy Mackewich and her daughter joined the crosswalk dance as they passed. Mackewich uses a motorized chair and said she has a lot of trouble crossing the street.

“The cars are so impatient with people. They constantly honk and don’t want to wait for me.”

It’s easy to forget that streets are more than just the asphalt surfaces cars use to traverse the earth’s surface, but streets are a community’s essential arteries. Sure, they allow cars to move, but streets also host buses and bikes, walkers and the odd rollerblader (scads of rollerbladers, alas, are no longer a common sight), they carry storm water; trees live on streets.

Kristin Saunders is bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for Pittsburgh’s Department of City Planning. She puts it more succinctly: “Streets are very complicated, and every square inch of them is used by someone.”  

Coordinating all of a street’s moving parts is a huge effort, but cities across the country have accepted the challenge and created Complete Streets policies. Basically, these policies are design plans that get all the different entities that work on or around or under streets to work together to create safer, more accessible, and convenient streets. These reenvisioned streets accommodate multiple modes of transit, with an eye to green spaces and stormwater management.

Earlier this month, Philadelphia established its Office of Complete Streets, and Pittsburgh City has been working on its own plan since 2015. In April of that year, Mayor Bill Peduto signed an executive order kicking off the planning process.

Pittsburgh has a long history of people walking and taking public transit, said Saunders, and about half of the people who come to the downtown core do so not in a car. But there’s plenty of room to do more, she added. 

Saunders said it’s about providing more options for people.

“Right now there’s probably a lot of people in the city who look at the street in the front of their house and think ‘I have one option.’ And that’s to drive,” she said. “Because that’s what this street was built for and what I feel safe doing on this street. So we want more people to look at the street in front of their house and think, ‘I have lots of options.’”

Today Pittsburgh City Council will consider the proposed Complete Streets legislation.