In case you missed it: This week’s best reads from Pennsylvania cities

     Bicyclists ride in the streets of Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

    Bicyclists ride in the streets of Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

    Four-day weeks always seem longer, don’t they?

    Biking

    ICYMI, May 20th was National Bike to Work Day. But for some commuters, everyday is bike to work day. As more and more cyclists take to the streets, are Pennsylvania cities ready? Yes and no.

    The city of Reading is one that falls squarely in the ‘yes’ category. The city was awarded a perfect score by Smart Growth America, a group that rates cities based on their ‘complete streets’ systems. Complete streets are ones that accomodate all users, whether on foot, on a bike or in a car. 

    A group of spokes people (get it?) are sharing their experiences commuting by bike in Lancaster, and it’s not all pretty. 

    Here’s one idea for making streets more accomodating to bicylists: the Idaho stop. In Idaho, bikers can treat stop signs as yield signs when there is no other traffic at the intersection. That way, a biker on an empty road doesn’t have to lose momentum. 

    That’s a better idea than the infamous Pittsburgh left, where drivers keep an eye on the opposing traffic’s light and turn left the moment it goes red, in the millisecond before they officially get the green. Don’t try this at home, unless your home is west of the Allegheny Mountains. 

    Budgets

    It’s officially June, which means two things: you can wear white pants freely and the state has less than a month to pass a budget. But unlike the strict rules surrounding seasonal clothes, Pennsylvania legislators demonstrated last year that the budget deadline is more of a guideline. 

    Gov. Wolf and Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman held the state in a nine-month-long budget impasse as each fought for what they thought was most important: education funding on the left and pension reform on the right. Neither came out with a clear victory, and the situation isn’t much changed going into this year. 

    But Corman, speaking to the Centre Daily Times, said he thinks this year will be different. “I think he wanted to get everything done in the first year, and [Wolf’s staff] were all ‘Fight, fight, fight,'” he said. With some staff changes over the past year, “you definitely see a different tone.”

    Non-profits and schools, the groups most affected by the impasse, are really, really hoping that’s true. Many are still reeling from last year. A recent survey of 176 non-profits found they had taken a total of $172 million in loans during the impasse, along with cutting several hundred jobs. And that’s a fraction of the organizations in the state. 

    School districts and community colleges will have a long ways to go before they are whole. Many are struggling with credit rating downgrades, which increases the cost of future borrowing. A district that needs short-term borrowing to stay open will certainly feel the effects of cripplingly high interest rates as well. 

    Cops

    In many smaller Pennsylvania municipalities, there are limited written rules for the police department. Issues surrounding cell phone usage, internal affairs investigations or overtime don’t come up that often, or are governed by rules that aren’t updated frequently enough. It’s a matter of lack of time, funding and need.

    Sometimes, that leads to cops behaving badly. In Sunbury, a few months back, an investigation centered around a police officer who used department resources to carry on an extramarital affair, and a police chief who covered up the evidence for him.  

    In Gettysburg, a police officer was placed on administrative leave after he used a Taser on a man during an arrest. Now, the officer has agreed to resign. The incident has sparked a surge in critical thinking about the use of Tasers, or at least, a surge of consultant hiring. The borough has hired three outside consultants in the last year to examine the police department, an expensive move that has seen mixed community response. 

    Reading, a city large enough to have serious police procedures in place, is dealing with a use-of-force scandal of their own. In early April, an officer pulled a woman over for not using a turn signal, though video evidence showed she did use a turn signal. When she began to film the encounter, he smashed her cell phone. This launched a physical altercation that landed the woman and her boyfriend in the hospital. 

    The officer has been formally charged with oppression and evidence tampering. 

    Citizens have a right to record interactions with the police. But, as we’ve reported, many police officers in Pennsylvania are doing it themselves, with body cameras. Body camera footage came into play in the Gettysburg case, and there is some evidence that they can help de-escalate interactions between police and citizens.

    But a recent study adds a little context to that argument, saying that how those body cameras are used is more important than the fact that they are being used. Pressing record is not the end of the issue. 

    But wait, there’s more

    I knew the day would come that I would have to have an ‘etc’ category. A lot of interesting things happened in Pennsylvania this week that can’t be categorized, so here they are, in all their disorganized glory. 

    Philadelphia received a $75,000 grant to address racial inequality. Or, rather, to start thinking about addressing racial inequality. Something tells me it will take more than that to counteract centuries of institutionalized racism in the United States. 

    Building consensus and gathering meaningful feedback is what community planners want. The problem is, often others in the community don’t have any idea what that means. Some community planners offer tips on involving, you know, the people in the planning. 

    You can’t go home again. Unless you’re Paul Hertneky, the author of Rust Belt Boy, a new book about growing up in Ambridge, Pa. Hertneky revisits the town that inspired the book and finds it changed — and changing. 

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