Back in 2015, it was a new idea in Pittsburgh: For four hours, take a stretch of city streets and say “no” to motorized traffic, freeing that blacktop for cyclists, pedestrians and roller-skaters.
That year, the three free OpenStreets events in different neighborhoods drew 40,000 participants, says the organizer, advocacy group BikePGH. By 2018, the three annual events were drawing 113,000, or nearly three times as many.
Whether continued growth is in store remains to be seen for the fifth season, which starts Saturday. The 4.4-mile loop circling through East Liberty, Homewood, Larimer, North Point Breeze and Shadyside debuted last year; it is the longest route OpenStreets Pittsburgh has staged, says BikePGH’s Alexandria Shewczyk. And it offers a lot to do.
"It’s not just for cyclists,” says Shewczyk. “We have something for everyone.”
The route features three activity hubs hosting free fitness classes (think Zumba and yoga) run by the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, and other attractions. (Single-activity stations also dot the course.) Something new this year is the family-friendly hub in East Liberty, where the fitness sessions are joined by a YMCA food-prep class and – appropriately – BikePGH's own bicycling instruction for beginners of all ages.
“Anyone, everyone is welcome to come and learn if they have any questions on how to ride a bike, or even all the basics, we can teach you,” says Shewczyk.
Nor is OpenStreets necessarily all about physical activity. Shops and restaurants, for instance, remain open, too – more than 100 of them along Saturday’s route, says Shewczyk.
“That’s a really great opportunity to explore your community in a brand-new way,” she says. Major streets on the route include Fifth Avenue, Highland Avenue, Broad Street, Frankstown Avenue, and Homewood Avenue.
BikePGH founded OpenStreetsPGH as Pittsburgh’s version of the international Open Streets movement. The idea is to reimagine streets as places for people, not just cars. The Open Streets website lists 90 such events in North America alone.
Beyond the barred motor vehicles, anything goes; Shewczyk says organizers have even spotted participants using wheeled skis. Electric bikes are permitted if they keep under 15 mph, she says.
While cars are not allowed on the route per se, traffic is permitted to cross the route at 12 points. The route, route crossings, and information about activity hubs are all available at the event’s web site.
OpenStreets is staffed mostly by a small army of 200 volunteers. Sponsors including UPMC Health Plan and Peoples defray the cost of closing streets and staging activities.
This year, as always, there are a total of three Open Streets events. June 30 marks the return of the popular route running from Downtown to Lawrenceville through the Strip District. And July 28 brings a reprise of the loop passing through Downtown, Uptown and South Side.