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Pedaling North

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On a given day, as many as 800 bicyclists ride on the North Side's river trails. But according to a neighborhood group, only a small fraction of those cyclists will ever venture into the actual communities above the waterfront.  

The group, the North Side Bike/Ped Committee, hopes to change that. 

"We are literally feet away [from the trails]," says committee member Stephanie Miller. "But there is a huge disconnect between the bike trails below" and the neighborhoods above.

Although bike lanes and sharrows have increased throughout Pittsburgh as a means of promoting bike use and safety, the North Side has no such bicycle infrastructure. Miller says the committee, comprising representatives from several North Side community groups, was created about a year-and-a-half ago to improve connectivity from the trails, and to create safe routes for bicyclists already living in the neighborhoods.

And the city seems to be listening. Committee chair Sean Brady says the city is now planning the North Side's first bike project. The proposed bike route will connect Point State Park to the Central North Side and Allegheny Commons Park. It will then move north on Brighton Road, eventually as far north as Bellevue.

According to Brady, the planned route would end about four blocks from Riverview Park, in Perry North. "All we're asking the city to do is put out a few breadcrumbs for the cyclists," says Brady, who's also director of development at the nonprofit Riverlife. "I commend the efforts of the city to make that happen."

But if the route should lack the proper signage, or entry into Riverview Park, Brady says, this could be "a huge missed opportunity to link communities, parks and trails."

However the particular route develops, though, Bike Pittsburgh -- the city-wide advocacy organization -- is encouraged by the committee's work.

"I'm really impressed with the fact that the North Side was so proactive," says Lou Fineberg, Bike Pittsburgh's program manager. "To my knowledge, they are the first neighborhood [advocacy group] in the city, and are ahead of the curve nationally."

Fineberg says that despite advocacy for new routes and signage, the process can be quite long.  "It still can take time to see improvements," he says, "but [neighborhood organizations] can affect the process."

Last month, the committee partnered with Bike Pittsburgh to host Car Free Fridays in the North Side -- a day-long event which encourages city residents to bike, walk or take transit to work. Miller says about 150 cyclists stopped by the information booth that her organization set up at Allegheny Commons. 

At the booth, the group handed out newly printed maps with three suggested bike routes corresponding to experience level; North Side bike T-shirts; and a series of discounts for bicycle commuters at local businesses.

"It's great that people are understanding that bicyclists are also customers," says Bike Pittsburgh executive director Scott Bricker.  "[Cyclists] can enhance the economy of a neighborhood."

Brady agrees that having more bicyclists in the North Side is good for business, and that having bicyclists in the community will improve the neighborhoods' image among outsiders.

"The North Side is stuck with a lousy reputation that is highly undeserved," Brady says. "It's highly rich with cultural amenities, and minimal [bike] infrastructure will help people bike to work, to events, and to unlock the mysteries of the North Side." 

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