Advocacy group Bike Pittsburgh turns 10

Riders young and old enjoyed Pedal Pittsburgh on August 5. Photo by Jennifer Reddy.

By Karen Brooks,

This is a good time to be a cyclist, or biker, or bicycle lover, or what-have-you, in Pittsburgh. We’re currently in the first week of BikeFest, an annual city-wide festival of rides and related events of all kinds, stretching a full 15 days this year. (An Olympics of bike-themed fun, if you will.) This past Sunday the Fest kicked off with Pedal Pittsburgh, a cool city tour by bike with a couple thousand of our biking buddies, and tonight is the BikeFest fundraising party, always a highlight of the social calendar.

This has also been a bad time to be a cyclist in Pittsburgh. In the last days of July, two bike riders were killed after being hit by cars on a stretch of particularly dangerous street, one of them in a hit-and-run situation. Then in the first days of August, three more people on bikes were in hit-and-run incidents with automobile drivers, including a six-year-old girl. Some blame the recent heat wave or especially exasperating construction detours, and others point to distracted or outright malicious drivers. But the recent injuries and loss of life are a sad undercurrent to our gatherings.

Through all of this, a superb group of people has been elevating our highs and supporting us in the lows: our own homegrown advocacy organization, Bike Pittsburgh. They organize the Bike Fest, and assumed organization of this year’s Pedal Pittsburgh ride to fold it into the fun. They’ve also been busy answering calls from the local media about all the accidents and are trying very hard to make sure that cyclists are portrayed in a good light, not with the typical car-centric bias.

On top of that they’ve managed to get the city to take immediate steps to help the problem, suggesting an alternate route along the dangerous stretch and stationing cops along it to discourage bad driver behavior. (Which is apparently not as easy as it should be: one police officer on motorcycle patrol was hit by an SUV.) They do it all with a friendly, cheerful demeanor. It’s obvious that they love their jobs.

This year, Bike Pittsburgh celebrates its tenth anniversary. The organization has done so much in ten years: convinced the city to hire a bike-pedestrian coordinator; hired its own traffic engineer to facilitate getting bike lanes installed, thus removing a big stalling point in the city government machine; encouraged the city’s Port Authority to install bike racks on all city buses; created and promoted Car-Free Fridays; started the process to getting us a bikeshare system; and generally had our backs. It’s no wonder that Bike Pittsburgh was honored as “Advocacy Organization of the Year” for 2011 by the Alliance for Biking and Walking.

From my own perspective, it’s easy to see the bike-positive changes in Pittsburgh. Almost half of my commuting route is now a bike lane or at least painted with sharrows. I can park my bike at an actual, functional bike rack at many local businesses. Perhaps most telling, and the point I enjoy relaying to anyone who will listen: when I see another cyclist out on the road, it’s no longer likely to be someone I know—there are so many more of them. (But I still give a friendly wave.)

Happy Birthday to the hardest-working, most dedicated, most fun-loving group of bike advocates out there!

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