Penn/11th: Traffic Calming + Graphic Crosswalks

The intersection of Penn Avenue and 11th Street is a high volume, four-way multimodal intersection connecting the Central Business District (Pittsburgh’s “Golden Triangle”) and the Strip District via Penn Avenue. The intersection is a critical entrance into the city for transit riders, cyclists, pedestrians and vehicular traffic. Safety concerns at this intersection are twofold: 1. 11th Street funnels very high speed vehicle traffic into Downtown as a de facto continuation of the 10th Street Bypass and 2. Drivers making turns from Penn Avenue as they enter downtown fail to yield to legally crossing pedestrians and people on bikes.

The main goals of this project were to re-align traffic flow through the intersection to reduce speeds and to install a pilot system of high impact crosswalks and bike crossings in order to significantly increase pedestrian and bicycle visibility. Envision Downtown worked with HDR Engineering and Wall-to-Wall Studios to create a unique and comprehensive design. 

Baseline Conditions

The intersection of Penn Avenue and 11th Street is a critical multimodal intersection in the City of Pittsburgh. High-speed, high volume vehicle traffic enters Downtown via 11th Street by way of the 10th Street bypass. The intersection experiences frequent surges in pedestrian traffic as it is a major pedestrian connection between the Strip District and Downtown’s Cultural District. Bicycle traffic through the intersection has increased dramatically since the installation of a two-way cycle track on Penn Avenue. The intersection is carries significant local, regional and inter-city bus traffic driven, in part, by the adjacent Grant Street Transportation Center.

Before project implementation the intersection acted as an abrupt buffer for inbound vehicles rather than a smooth transition from a highway to urban roadway network causing vehicles to travel into the city at high speeds. High speed inbound traffic combined with an oversized intersection configuration resulted in poor pedestrian and bicycle safety for the following reasons: 

  • Poor pedestrian and bicycle sight lines led to vehicular traffic often failed to yield to bike and pedestrian traffic
  • Large crossing distances increased pedestrian exposure
  • Poor lane alignment caused vehicles to drift while traveling through the intersection
  • Wide lane width encouraged vehicles to maintain higher speeds

The Penn and 11th intersection was highlighted by the Envision Downtown technical committee as a priority for an improvement project due to the combination of the above concerns and the understanding that simple paint treatments could begin to address the issues. 

Project Proposal

The goal of the project was to emphasize pedestrian safety at this critical connection between the Golden Triangle and the Strip District. In the design phase Envision worked with HDR to come up with solutions in order to improve how the intersection functioned for all users. Project components included:

  • To improve bike lane protection and vehicle-to-cyclist sightlines
    • Install a striped buffer between the Penn Avenue bicycle track and vehicle lanes on the east edge of Penn Ave. to improve site lines and give cyclists a lead time for crossing
    • Install high visibility green bike lane crossing treatment in a unique bridge design. Not only does this visually signal to drivers the presence of the bike lane but it also provides a clear definition to cyclists of how they should be positioned when crossing through the intersection
  • To improved traffic flow safety and emphasize urban roadway design on 11th Street
    • Paint curb extension at the south-western corner of Penn/11th in order to align travels lanes on both sides of the intersection
    • Reduce lane widths on 11th by installing a painted buffer between outbound and inbound traffic from Smallman Street to Penn Avenue. The painted buffer replicates the existing concrete buffer already in place between Penn and Liberty
  • To improved pedestrian safety
    • Repaint all four of the crosswalks at the intersection with a unique, impactful bridge design (more information on the design follows)

Engineering Plans

Envision Downtown contracted with HDR in the last quarter of 2015 to create and document a comprehensive technical design including, reducing the lane widths of inbound traffic from 11th and installing additional buffers and bollards. HDR did a site visit to understand how the intersection was currently functioning and analyzed the impacts of the proposed changes through:

  • Turning radii
  • Pedestrian sightlines
  • Bicycle sightlines

After the completion of the engineering drawings, they were taken to the Envision Downtown Technical Committee for approval on February 24th 2016.
These drawings allowed for a technical review and approval by the City’s Traffic Engineer. The plans also served as the site drawings for the paint contractors, Parking Lot Paint Company (PLP). PLP were chosen as they are an existing City of Pittsburgh contractor and have contracts with the City for ongoing line painting projects. 

Material Selection

For this project, there were three roadway paint options: epoxy, thermoplastic, and standard roadway paint. The cost and durability of epoxy and thermoplastic did not fit with the pilot/temporary nature of the project so a standard roadway paint was chosen in white (for pedestrian crosswalks) and green (for the cycle crossing).

Anti-split paint was not a major consideration in this paint selection due to the existing textured concrete surface in which the paint would be applied. Durability was also not a condition in this selection because it is assumed that after a year pilot of the crosswalk designs, the roadway paint will likely have reached the end of its life span and the design will be upgraded to a more permanent form if deemed successful.  

Design Selection

Envision Downtown was originally inspired to design the crosswalks based off a site in Indianapolis, where uniquely designed crosswalks and bike lane markings are used around the city. Key criteria for the design included: 

  • An iconic/graphic rather than an artistic design
  • Unique to Pittsburgh
  • Not distracting to vehicular traffic or other modes of transportation
  • NACTO standards for color treatments (white paint for pedestrian, green paint for bicycle lanes)
  • Translatable into a stencil

With the criteria and design expectations clear, Envision Downtown commissioned Wall-to-Wall Studios in May 2016 to develop design alternatives for the intersection. Wall-to-Wall created three very different designs alternatives for the project. The designs were vetted and a final design was chosen in June 2016 by a team of stakeholders, including the City of Pittsburgh’s Department of City Planning, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Bike Pittsburgh, and the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. The final Design was chosen based on aesthetics and ease of application. 

Following the stakeholder review and final decision, the design was taken before the Pittsburgh Arts Commission on June 22nd, 2016 for a courtesy review where it received approval based on use in a pilot project. Then the design was presented to and approved by the Envision Downtown Advisory Committee on June 23rd, 2016. 


The entirety of this project was managed by Envision Downtown. Traffic management permitting, MPT, was the responsibility of the paint contractor. The installation of this project was completed overnight beginning at 9pm on October 8th, 2016. The intersection was completely closed and requiring coordination with the Port Authority of Allegheny County to reroute busses during installation. Existing paint within the intersection was first removed and then the crosswalks, buffers and bike crossing were applied directly to the concrete surface. Per PennDOT standards, the paint contractor added glass beads to the exterior lines of the crosswalks to improve reflectivity.