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The Armchair Advocate

By Jeff Guerrero

Bicycle advocacy can be a tireless job, and for many people, the thought of another weekly meeting is enough to keep well-intentioned cyclists from contributing to a worthy cause. But being a conscientious citizen doesn’t necessarily entail volunteerism or civil disobedience. Sometimes you can affect change by just sending a few email messages to the right person.

In 2005 construction began on a dangerous portion of my commute—a stretch of four-lane highway with no shoulder. The curvaceous Mae West Bend corridor had been the cause of several deaths and countless accidents over the years, and recent flood damage made improvements imminent. Curious as to the possibility of adding bike lanes to my commute, I did some Internet research and located the appropriate person at the Department of Transportation.

It turns out bike lanes weren’t an option, but a few concise, well-written emails were all it took to get numerous “share the road” signs placed throughout the corridor. Sure, I didn’t save the world, but I was able to raise cycling awareness from the comfort of my own home. And so can you.

I sent a short, polite initial message, respecting the recipient’s busy schedule.

Bicycles and the Mae West Bend Sent: November 20, 2005
From: Jeff Guerrero To: Douglas M. Seeley

I am a bicycle commuter who rides through the Mae West Bend en route to work. I am curious as to whether bicycles have been considered in the construction plan?
Thank you for your time.
-Jeff Guerrero
Pittsburgh, PA

PennDOT’s response was not quick, but at least they considered bike lanes. Sadly, the road-widening already required major earthmoving, taking all available space.

RE: Bicycles and the Mae West Bend Sent:?December 9, 2005
From: Douglas M. Seeley To: Jeff Guerrero

Sorry for the delayed response to your email. Things have been busy with getting projects ready for construction next spring.?Regarding the Mae West Bend project, I regret to inform you that we were unable to make special accommodations for bicyclists. Due to the limited width and Right-of-Way through this corridor, it is difficult to provide the additional width necessary for bicycle lanes. I can say that the project will slightly widen the existing travel lanes so this will provide you a little more space for riding. There will also be new lighting installed through this section, which will help improve visibility.
Thanks again for your inquiry and have a happy and healthy holiday season.?
Douglas M. Seeley, Project Manager
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation
Engineering District 11

You catch more flies with honey than vinigar.

RE: Bicycles and the Mae West Bend Sent:?April 20, 2006
From: Jeff Guerrero To: Douglas M. Seeley

First off, I commend you and your crew for the amazing amount of progress you have made on Route 8. I for one am impressed, and look forward to the completion. I am wondering if it might be possible to request that you install a couple “share the road” signs to promote bicycle safety once the job is completed?

Although it’s clearly not a done deal, it looks like my efforts will pay off...

RE: Bicycles and the Mae West Bend Sent:?April 27, 2006
From: Douglas M. Seeley To: Jeff Guerrero

Thanks again for your inquiry and the kind words. ?I have approached our Traffic Unit regarding the incorporation of “share the road” signs. ?It appears that we will be able to include some of these signs along the project. ?This is not yet a done deal, but I am trying to coordinate and get approval to put them up.

Success! A short note of thanks is all that’s necessary.

RE: Bicycles and the Mae West Bend Sent:?March 13, 2007
From: Jeff Guerrero To: Douglas M. Seeley

I just wanted to write and personally thank you for having “share the road” signs installed in the Mae West Bend corridor of Route 8. PennDOT has done a magnificent job with the road, sidewalk and lighting.