Monday, August 11, 2008

Watching History

I went to a press conference today to discuss the newest city employee in Pittsburgh: The Bicycle Pedestrian Coordinator. We are now the first city in PA to pay someone to make things better for non-car-drivers. It was really pretty inspiring. The mayor (who showed up in a car) and the CEO of the Port Authority (also car) were joined by the head of Bike Pittsburgh (on a bike) and Stephen Patchen, who will now work tirelessly to enforce the "4 E's" required to get Pittsburgh to an official bike friendly status by 2010.

The city is going to educate both citizens and officials about bike safety and needs; they are going to engineer a lot of changes like improved sidewalks, more bike lanes, more bike racks; they are going to enforce laws and start with small things like including a box on official forms to check when there has been a bicycle accident; and they are going to schedule more events like the Tour of PA or even closing major roads a few times a year for scenic bike rides.

I got really excited listening to these suits talk about bike lanes on East Liberty Blvd and efforts to educate drivers on how to share the road. Perhaps I won't need to get so reactionary to angry honkers in the future. I'll have my own lane, after all, and nobody in it will have a horn to honk.

It would be easy for me to feel pessimistic about the impact of the changes, but I can't help but feel hopeful. All the officials mentioned several times that they are concerned with rising fuel costs and someone in the audience even asked the mayor point blank if he'd start riding his bike. (The answer was probably not). All the officials were, I think, genuine when they expressed their amazement at the number of cyclists present. We were packed into a coffee shop in Highland Park. With an iced tea in my hand, overflowing bike racks outside the door, and not an angry honk in earshot, it was nice to envision a Pittsburgh like Portland, OR, where bikes rule the road and crunchy people overwhelm the city. I hope it happens!

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