Maybe you’ve seen the blue and white square signs that popped up around the city with arrows pointing the way on a circuitous route around the city. Those are guideposts for bikers participating in Sunday’s Pedal Pittsburgh, the kickoff of the eighth annual BikeFest, an 80-event, two-week extravaganza hosted by BikePGH.
While PedalPGH began 19 years ago as an initiative of the Community Design Center of Pittsburgh, this is the first year the event will take place under the guidance of Bike Pittsburgh, an organization with a ten-year history of its own.
BikePGH is a member-based organization that works to improve safety, lead advocacy, and build community for bicycling in Pittsburgh. Motivated by six core values of fun, creativity & best practices, health & livability, equity & diversity, strength and sustainability, BikePgh has done everything from the creation of bike lanes throughout city neighborhoods, to equipping every PAT bus has a bike rack, to making sure that all new or repurposed buildings have secure bike parking. They even helped secure a position for Pennsylvania’s first city-level Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, a city official charged with turning the city into a more bike-able community.
The organization’s continuing goals are ambitious. Among other things, by 2020, BikePGH wants to increase the number of Pittsburghers who choose to travel by foot or bike, expand the bike network so that everyone in the city is within one mile of a bikeway, decrease injuries and fatalities through increased safety education, and recognize 100 bike-friendly employers.
Building a community, one party at a time
BikeFest began in 2005 at the hands of Eric “Erok” Boerer and with the help of a Sprout Fund Seed Award. Thousands of people participated in 40 events during the week-and-a-half fest. The next year’s Fest garnered 50 new members as well as $5,000 in raised funds.
With each passing year, BikeFest just keeps getting bigger and better. “The ultimate BikeFest would be a day that everyone in the region agreed not to drive a car and instead ride a bike to wherever they had to go,” says Fineberg. “The day would conclude with a huge party at a downtown parking lot with great views of the city”
While BikePGH boasts over 1,700 dues paying members, the organization relies on BikeFest as an opportunity to attract more people who enjoy biking—or remember enjoying biking in their youth—but might not consider themselves enthusiasts or activists. The variety of events helps bring a diverse mix of people further into Pittsburgh’s active biking community
The struggle for safer streets
Of course the major goal for BikePgh is to transform Pittsburgh into a safer, friendly place to ride a bike. While the organization has made some progress in the past decade by improving on-street infrastructure and building public awareness of cyclists, their work is far from over.
In a tragic turn of events, Pedal Pittsburgh’s co-founder Mark Schneider died on Sunday, July 29, 2012 in a bicycle accident near Frederick, Maryland. This year’s event was immediately dedicated to his memory.
With Schneider’s death and the recent deaths of two other cyclists in the East End, bicycle safety has leapt to the forefront of civic discussion in Pittsburgh. One of the major changes BikePGH is bringing to this year’s PedalPGH is a car-free option.
Pathways of Pedalpgh
PedalPgh features multiple routes that all begin and end at South Side Works and cross the Birmingham Bridge, which will be cleared of traffic for about a mile. Riders can stop on the bridge for a river-framed photo-opp before continuing on to either the Three Rivers Heritage Trail (up to 18 miles), the City Tour through neighborhoods like Squirrel Hill (25 miles), and the more challenging Metric Century (63 miles) that has its own reward in catching the view of Pittsburgh from Observatory Hill.
Seth Garnot has been championing for a car-free ride for a few years, first as a member of BikePGH’s board and now as an employee of the organization When BikePGH acquired PedalPGH, Garnot was at last given the opportunity to begin working on a car-free Pittsburgh ride. He looked to cities like New York, DC, and Chicago which all have car-free options.
Garnot teamed up with Mike Carroll of Lanterne Rouge LLC, who had previously hosted competitive races. Together they went to city officials, PennDot, Public Works, the mayor’s office and the city police to try to organize the space. They also received more support from the Sprout Fund with a $5,000 Seed Award to help establish car-free bike route open to the public.
“For one day, instead of a race, or busy heavy traffic, we activate the city in a different way, so people can enjoy it in a different light,” says Carroll.
Not only will PedalPGH be an enjoyable event unto itself as well as a boost in the fundraising department, it’s also another excuse to party. The conclusion of this year’s ride will be a Finish Line Festival in the South Side with between thirty and forty vendors, a beer garden, DJs, and live BMX entertainment. One hundred volunteers will help oversee the 2,000-3,000 participants.
After PedalPGH, the highlight event of BikeFest will be the BikeFest Party at the Pittsburgh Opera on Friday, August 10. According to BikePGH, it is “by far one of the best parties in Pittsburgh.” Other events on the calendar include a multitude of group rides through the city’s celebrated neighborhoods and parks, with some rides ending in a Pirates game, yoga, or breakfast at Pamela’s. The final event scheduled for Sunday, August 19 sums up the sense of community (and comedy) at the heart of the city’s cyclists: “Thank You for Being a Friend: A Golden Girls Themed Scavenger Hunt.”
Check out the rest of Bike Fest 2012’s events and activities online at bike-pgh.org.
Written by Amy Whipple