Ten months ago, Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure installed traffic-calming measures and a better connection between the Three Rivers Heritage Trail and Riverview Park in the city’s Brighton Heights neighborhood.

The project included speed tables to slow motorists, an extension of a bike-climbing lane on Woods Run Avenue to help cyclists get to the park, and brighter narrower intersections to make the area safer for pedestrians. It also created a triangular open space in front of the Woods Run branch of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

Last week, using part of a $15,000 grant obtained by BikePGH, artists used the space to create “Bikes and Books,” a street mural reflecting the location with depictions of the library, and bike trail and history of the neighborhood around it. The mural is part of a growing effort across the country to use street art to highlight the pedestrian nature of an area and remind drivers to slow down and be aware.

Ian Eberhardt, library services manager at the Woods Run facility, said the neighborhood settled on the mural after considering an outdoor reading area and other possible uses of the 2,000-square-foot site along Woods Run Avenue at Central Avenue.

Decades ago, the wide intersection was used as a turn-around area for streetcars, but when they were no longer used it left an unwieldy wide intersection that became a danger for pedestrians. The city moved ahead with safety improvements after data showed 42 crashes, including two involving pedestrians, in the Woods Run and McLure Avenue areas in the previous five years.

BikePGH helped to install this street art in front of the Woods Run branch of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh as part of a traffic-calming effort. (Ed Blazina/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Artists Ashley Kyber and Tom Higgs used the asphalt setting to create a bright inviting mural with a day-to-night theme that includes references to the former St. Leo Church, Allegheny Observatory and the library. It includes bike riders, an open book and a “grandmother tree” in recognition of the wooded area around the neighborhood.

The artists and volunteers finished the mural last week after facing challenges with temperatures frequently above 90 degrees the past few weeks. The area had been marked off with safety bollards during the city project last year, but now it is far more attractive.

“It acts as a welcome mat to the library,” Eberhardt said. “It really narrows the road. Before, it was a super wide turn.”

BikePGH used part of an AARP Community Challenge Grant to pay for the mural to show its support for street art as a calming measure. It cited a 2022 study by Sam Schwartz Consulting that found strong indications of the increased safety when street art is used.

Bloomberg Philanthropies funded the study after it ran into difficulty implementing an asphalt art initiative because some communities believed it didn’t meet federal requirements. The study reviewed crash data at 17 sites that added street art and found total crashes decreased 17%, crashes with injuries decreased 37% and crashes with pedestrians fell 50%.

“The promising findings from this study will inform ongoing discussions on how to revise U.S. roadway engineering guidance to improve safety for the most vulnerable road users,” the study said. “The study also provides data-driven evidence cities can use to make the case for their own arts-driven transportation projects.”

Pittsburgh supports the concept of street art and is willing to consider future street art projects as part of traffic-calming efforts, DOMI spokesman Jacob Williams said in an email.

“At the moment, we do not have a list of projects prepared that will include ‘street art,’” he said. “However, private residents and local community groups can reach out to DOMI if they would like to paint a roadway mural where there have been traffic-calming implements like ‘bump-outs.’”

At the Woods Run library, the mural will be a featured part of the celebration of its 60th anniversary at this location from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday. The library is one of the smaller sites in the Carnegie Library system, but it is so widely used that its lending volume is in the middle of the pack.

“We’re a small but mighty location,” Eberhardt said.

Ed Blazina

Ed covers transportation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at eblazina@unionprogress.com.

Ed Blazina

Ed covers transportation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at eblazina@unionprogress.com.