Pittsburgh may not yet be a mecca for bicyclists and walkers, but local officials are trying to change that and make area roadways accessible for a mixture of transportation options. Efforts are not going unnoticed.
TransitCenter, a group that advocates for public transit and comprehensive transportation policies, released a report this week profiling Pittsburgh among six innovative U.S. cities for transportation policy planning.
The Steel City’s placement is partly due to work both in and outside city government. That wasn't the case for others, according to Shin-Pei Tsay, director of research and development for TransitCenter.
“Without civic advocates, people not in government, non-elite, people who live in cities, the mayors and leaders of that city and agency staff all aligned, even loosely aligned, around making that change, the change really didn’t come about,” Tsay said.
Pittsburgh stands out, in part, because it was not hindered by federal funding limitations, which don’t focus as heavily on public transit and bike and pedestrian paths, she said.
“People at the local level have found ways of working around and making progress without significant changes at the federal level," she said.
The profile credits the election of Mayor Bill Peduto, and new administration officials he appointed, along with the work of organizations such as Bike Pittsburgh and other advocates for moving transportation plans forward.
“Pittsburgh already had a really strong history of neighborhood-based organizations. It’s just that they tended to be atomized,” Tsay said. “And having all this new energy, people are finding ways to work together. There was this alignment Pittsburgh that we saw that very closely mirrored what happened in Portland, (Ore.) in the early 70s.”
Portland experienced what many metro areas did. Main streets were overtaken by highways and surface parking; today the city stands as a national model for comprehensive transportation infrastructure. She said Pittsburgh is going in that direction.
“Places where we don’t think of as typical bike lane or pedestrian-walkable places, I think that the leaders there do understand that this is their future and there’s a lot of innovation among practitioners in finding a way to retrofit those places,” Tsay said.
The other five cities profiled are Portland, New York City, Chicago, Denver and Charlotte. The full report is available online.