National Bike to Work Day and a Little Speech I Gave

Friday was National Bike to Work Day, and Pittsburgh was a major participant, thanks to our local advocacy group, Bike Pittsburgh.   I biked often when I first moved to back to Pittsburgh in ’08, before I owned my scooter (have I mentioned I love my scooter?), and now a car.  Though my riding has lessened over the past two years or so, I am pretty outspoken about the importance of good bike/ped infrastructure, and was asked to say a few words on the topic at a community “visioning” meeting the day after BTWD.  So on Friday, I took the inaugural ride to my current job, and here’s how I told my story the next day: 

“During the past four years that I’ve been living in East Liberty, I’ve seen so much development in bringing people to the neighborhoods and getting folks out exploring the streets by foot and bike. As we all know biking and walking not only provides alternative ways of getting around, saves money, and reduces pollution, but really connects neighbors.  By providing safe paths for walking (through wide, well-lit, inviting sidewalks), and safe lanes for riding, our communities will become better connected, stronger, and more vibrant. And while Pittsburgh has seen much growth in this area in the last several years, with trail development, bike lanes and sharrows, and awareness efforts, we still have a lot of progress to make.

Don’t even ask…

Though I’m a pretty avid pedestrian, I consider myself a wannabe biker. I have always been comfortable on a bike, and confident in my right to the road. I grew up riding hundreds of miles of trails a year, but urban biking was new to me when I came to Pittsburgh. For many months, I didnt own a car and my bike was my primary mode of transit. I would ride to my jobs in Squirrel Hill and East Liberty, to run errands, etc.  I got all of the usual hoots and hollers from drivers (and I don’t mean the flattering kind), found myself dodging (not always successfully) one pothole or patch of uneven pavement after another, and keeping that eye out for car doors. When an angry driver would yell, I would mentally assert my right to the road…. and I kept hoping those repaving trucks would soon come through on my favorite routes.  But regardless of the challenges, biking really was the most efficient way of getting myself around, and I really enjoyed it!

However, my vehicle choices have since evolved  I am now part of the majority of the population that does have a choice, and while I so badly want to be a biker, it’s just doesn’t always seem like the easiest or safest option. While Bike Pittsburgh continues to do a great job of advocating for bikers, getting lanes and sharrows on our streets, and encouraging people to get out of their cars, biking was a much easier choice for me four years ago when I didn’t own a car. Those potholes, cardoors, and angry drivers all seem a lot more intimidating now.  Not to mention my commute to work is now farther than it’s ever been. For the last two years my bike has been barely used… In other words, I now understand how the majority of people feel about biking in Pittsburgh.

Taking a break in Lawrenceville

About a year ago I had a conversation that offered a mini-cross section of what I perceive to be people’s attitudes toward biking. Last summer, there were four of us in my office who all lived within a few blocks of each other. We carpooled often, and were all in favor of alternative forms of transportation. So, wanting to motivate myself to try out this new ride, I said to them “We should all try biking together sometime!”  These were the reactions: one woman was even more enthusiastic than I was, having also been a former bike-commuter… and the other two rambled off the following: “no way, it’s too dangerous! Pittsburgh’s not really biker friendly. I’d be terrified the whole time!”  And that is a conversation that I then started having with other people I knew, with similar reactions. There are a few types of people – those who will get bike or walk no matter what, those who never will, and those who would only with the right circumstances, and my coworkers, as many other Pittsburghers do, fell into the latter.  And me..without that extra dose of motivation, I never did take that leap back into bike commuting last summer.

But thanks again to Bike Pittsburgh, the state’s and city’s bike/ped plans, and the simple fact that more people are leaving their cars behind, we’re seeing changes. Now, a year after I had that conversation with my coworkers, and I’m proud to say I finally took that ride to work yesterday for National Bike to Work Day! And even more impressively, one of the women who was terrified a year ago is now shopping for a bike and ready to give the Pittsburgh streets a try… I felt great after my commute yesterday, and am re-invigorated to bike more…but I still ran into those same old challenges, and in many ways, it seemed little had really changed in my time off.

So, what I envision for the future is to see our streets become “complete” – supportive of pedestrians, bikers and then cars.  If you feel the same I encourage you to be a voice for safe and inviting streets, and to keep this topic in the forefront of our leaders’ minds. Sometimes it seems like we have a long way to go still, but we are getting there, and hopefully one day soon, we’ll have streets that are comfortable and convenient enough for everyone!”

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