If you want to change things, you need allies.
And when Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto came to town at the end of May, he bragged about one of his biggest allies – the city’s bike and pedestrian advocacy group, Bike Pittsburgh.
(It’s Bike Miami Valley’s older cousin to the east.)
The group, Peduto said, has helped him begin remaking Pittsburgh into a modern urban environment that’s friendly to all kinds of transportation options.
“It’s not about biking,” Peduto said. “It’s not about cycling. It’s not about infrastructure. It’s about culture change.”
The advocacy group for people who like to walk and ride bikes in Pittsburgh has grown from a small group of founders in 2002 into a force of more than 2,500 dues-paying members that has to be reckoned with in city affairs.
Peduto likes to say that Bike Pittsburgh has more members than the city’s Democratic Party, which has ruled city politics since the early 1930’s. And when the mayor meets resistance for his vision, Bike Pittsburgh is there to help push back.
“We feel it’s our job to make sure that we have his back,” said Eric Boerer, advocacy director for Bike Pittsburgh.
“There has been a lot of bikelash. But our job is to make sure he knows that his voters, his constituents want this stuff.”
“Bikelash” is the term that’s used for resistance or hostility to bicyclists or new bicycling facilities. The term, made popular by a 2011 New York magazine cover story, has been used from New York to Los Angeles in the intervening years.
And like many cities, the resistance ramped up in Pittsburgh when Peduto and the city began taking space from automobiles to make space for bicyclists, Boerer said.
In one example, he said, the city took a section of Penn Avenue through the downtown business district and turned it from a two-way street into a one-way street for cars and a two-way street for bikes.
“That got a lot of people upset,” he said.
And that’s where the huge Bike Pittsburgh army comes on strong.
They ask members to write letters to the editor of newspapers and to the mayor himself thanking him for his initiatives. The group communicates to city and county officials and gets members to attend public hearings to voice support bike infrastructure and programs.
Mike Carroll, event manager for Bike Pittsburgh, said the group works hard to get the message across to politicians that their members are “actively involved people in your neighborhood who are paying attention.”
While the non-profit group remains neutral in political elections, Carroll said, its “I walk, I bike, I vote” campaign has been instrumental in holding politicians accountable.
Every election, the group sends questionnaires to all local candidates asking about their positions on issues related to promoting safe walking and biking in the city.
“Without asking the question, you do not know what the views are for elected officials,” Carroll said.
Bike Pittsburgh publishes the responses, and the public does the rest, Boerer said.
In the last election, he said, one candidate “clearly knew what he was talking about and was saying a lot of the right things that I think our constituents wanted to hear.”
“That questionnaire got shared a lot online in the lead-up to the election,” Boerer said. “You could see how many tweets and how many times it was shared on Facebook. We knew how many clicks it was getting.
“We knew it was picking up some steam. And I think it really resonated with a lot of our constituents.”
The candidate won the election, he said.
Boerer said the group grew not only because it had a vision that people believed in, but also because it got things done.
It started with getting bike racks installed around town and grew from there, he said. Now they’ve helped to install protected bike lanes on four streets, they’ve published
bike maps, put on events and programs, and the mayor is talking about an eight-year plan to build “a complete bike highway” in and around the city.
And, in June, the city installed a bike share program, much like Bike Miami Valley’s Link Dayton Bike Share program.
Some people join because they can get discounts at supporting businesses and at the events that Bike Pittsburgh puts on, Carrol said. But the group’s accomplishments are the best argument for becoming a member.
His message: “It’s important to become a member to support the advocacy that we’re doing in bringing in experts and working with the city, working with elected officials, working with neighborhoods, and helping the city and challenging the city to do more.”
That’s good advice in Dayton, too. If you want to learn more about how to help support bike and pedestrian culture in the Dayton region, visit the Bike Miami Valley website, bikemiamivalley.org. To become a member click on the “Become a Member” link.
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.