Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, the keynote speaker Friday afternoon at the Miami Valley Cycling Summit, has a pretty good story to tell.
“Back in 1991, Bicycling magazine declared Pittsburgh one of the top three worst cities in America for cycling,” Peduto told the nearly 400 people gathered at the Fort Piqua Plaza. “By 2001 we had progressed all the way to one of the 10 worst cities for cycling. So we had come a long way.”
Peduto got a laugh with that line, but he had promised to change the culture in his hometown, and he said he “dove into the shallow end” as soon as he took office.
He got plenty of resistance – “bikelash,” he called it – when he started to push for changes on the roadways that included converting car lanes into bike facilities.
“People said: We got rivers. We got hills. It snows. Nobody is going to use these. Why would you waste taxpayer money? They don’t pay taxes. I pay taxes. Every excuse you could imagine. … But we’re not getting involved in ridiculous arguments.”
Peduto kept pushing through expansion of the city’s “bike highway system,” which now includes 67 miles of bike lanes – up from 13 in 2007. And there’s plenty more to come in the city’s eight-year plan, including a complete streets policy that will require engineers to consider the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians when they resurface or expand streets.
As a result, the city has already seen more than a 400 percent increase in everyday cycling, he said. Pittsburgh is now No. 4 in the country if you combine bicycling and walking.
One of Peduto’s major allies is the advocacy group Bike Pittsburgh, which he said has 4,000 active members. That’s five times more than the ruling Democratic Party machine in the city, and the envy of every cycling advocacy organization in this part of the country.
“Bike Pittsburgh puts out, every election cycle, a questionnaire for the candidates,” he said. “Their members are informed. Their members are engaged. They are part of the election process, and they elect good people into government offices.
“You want to see the same thing happen in your community — whether it’s a large city or a small town — don’t wait until a person gets elected and then try to educate them. Get the people who are already on your side and elect them.”
The city is also taking out metered parking to build free bike parking, he said, which is efficient because at least 12 bikes can fit in the space of one car.
“Businesses like it because, cars don’t buy bagels. People walking and on bikes buy bagels.”
And the police are getting involved.
In recent “Black Lives Matter” protests in the city, officers on bikes were out in front, he said.
And when officers see someone riding at night without a light, they pull them over – and install a headlight instead of writing a ticket.
“So the Pittsburgh story: If we can do it, anyone can,” Peduto said.
“We were on the bottom of the list. We were the city that was the least desirable to be on a bike. And we’ve been working hard to build the infrastructure to turn that around, to be a part of the new economy.
“People told us, ‘Pittsburgh is just not made for it.’ But we made Pittsburgh for the automobile back the in 1940s and 50s. Now we’re remaking Pittsburgh for everybody.
“So watch out! We’re on our way!”
The Miami Valley Cycling Summit is put on by Bike Miami Valley with the help of host organizations, in this case, Bike Piqua (which became a new chapter of BMV on Friday) and city of Piqua. It was supported by many of sponsors. The next summit will be held in May 2017 at Wright State University, and will be hosted by Greene County Parks and Trails.
Ken McCall is the database reporter for the Dayton Daily News and an avid cyclist. He is a member of Bike Miami Valley, where he serves as co-chairman of the Regional Advocacy Committee; the Dayton Cycling Club; the Ohio Bike Federation; and the League of American Bicyclists. If you have any story ideas or bike news, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (937) 225-2393.