Katie Bombico figures she and other local cyclists must have looked pretty ridiculous barreling down Penn Avenue on May 12 with dozens of T-shirts, a partly broken-down clothing rack and a big rolled-up banner strapped to their backs.
But it just wouldn't have been right to drive these materials to Garfield's Quiet Storm coffeehouse for the first benefit party for Car Free Day, created by Car Free Pittsburgh.
Tentatively approved by the city, Car Free Day will close four blocks of Penn Avenue in Garfield between Winebiddle and Mathilda streets on July 23. The family-oriented street party will aim to show people that a good time needn't involve gasoline or a transmission.
At the Quiet Storm, attendees were asked to sign a pledge to go car-free for up to a week. More than 100 people did so. The group also offers a brochure outlining the benefits of laying off the auto habit.
"The car is a really useful tool," acknowledges George Brittenburg, one of Car Free Day's handful of young organizers. "With anything, though, you need moderation.'
He says he was inspired to create the event from simple facts: skyrocketing gas prices, car accidents and time wasted in traffic and searching for parking. Especially troublesome to Brittenburg was how damaging Americans' reliance on cars is to the environment, the roads themselves, and even our waistlines.
Negotiating city streets on a bike can be tough, he admits. And the city's topography is also challenging. But he doesn't think car-free travel is impossible.
"It's very feasible," he says. "I can beat cars on my bike."
Not all Car Free Pittsburgh members are bike folks. Gordon Kirkwood describes himself as a "dedicated pedestrian," and many are rainy-day bus fans. The group's efforts are supported by both the Prague-based World Carfree Network and Garfield's Thomas Merton Center.
Car Free Day will include music and other performances as well as tree planting, basketball and a bike-powered tractor pull. Those who've made the car-free pledge will be eligible for a drawing to win a custom-built bike or a month-long Port Authority bus pass.
"How great would it be," asks group member Ola Creston, "to walk through the streets of Pittsburgh and not see any cars?"