Today, the smokestacks and steel mills that made the great city of Pittsburgh famous are mostly long gone. The “City of Champions,” as it is called, is now considered one of the most livable in the world, and many of the qualities that make it so also happen to make it a great city for biking and walking. (But then, is the link between active transportation and livability really a surprise to any of you?) Below, we’ve highlighted five distinctively Pittsburgh-y things that make this city a must-visit for anyone who gets around on two feet or two wheels. If you find your interest piqued, click here to register for our free off-year gathering this September 19th to network and plan for the big Pro Walk/Pro Bike: Pro Place conference that will take place in Pittsburgh next fall.
1.) Test your endurance on the city’s hilly terrain.
For those of you who enjoy a challenge, Pittsburgh’s rugged urban landscape should provide plenty. The city’s hills range from the gentle and scenic to the extreme—it is Pittsburgh, in fact, that is home to the steepest street in a US city (and possibly the world), not San Francisco as one might expect. The city’s infamous Dirty Dozen bike race, which takes cyclists up 13 of Pittsburgh’s toughest climbs in one day, doesn’t happen ’til November, but you can try your hand[lebars] on these monsters any time, since they’re all public streets. For adventurers on foot, the city features a whopping 712 step streets, and you can bet that many of them lead up to some spectacular views out over the many ravines and river valleys that are laced through the city. Not up for a climb? Catch one of the city’s famous inclines up to the top of Mount Washington for a sweeping panorama of downtown, and walk or ride back down. Bikes are welcome!
2.) Check out the city’s extensive urban trail network.
If you’d prefer that your path be relatively flat, those aforementioned ravines and rivers offer a whole host of options for getting around town. Pittsburgh has been smart about using these sinuous passageways for transportation a while now, having tucked several mass transit corridors in amidst densely-built historic neighborhoods and making links to downtown a breeze. They even beat the trend on now-popular Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems, opening the South Busway in the Saw Mill Run all the way back in 1977. Today, many of Pittsburgh’s verdant corridors feature bike trails that link up with the impressive Three Rivers Heritage Trail, which skirts the edges of the city’s three major rivers: the Monongahela, the Allegheny, and the Ohio, all three of which meet at the Point downtown. You can bet that Pro Walk/Pro Bike will include a bike tour of the city’s trail system, so if you want to get the inside scoop, sign up soon! (Space is limited).
3.) There’s plenty of ‘there’ there.
Placemakers will also be thrilled to find Pittsburgh well-stocked with great destinations to hop off into from those city-crossing trails. Because of the hilly terrain, the city’s neighborhoods, while linked by streetcars, developed almost as independent little villages. In the span of an hour, you can stroll from the vibrant street markets of the Strip District to boutique shopping in bustling Lawrenceville’s 16:62 Design Zone, and on to the homey Italian restaurants of Bloomfield. Or, start with a tour of the University of Pittsburgh’s truly unique Nationality Rooms before checking out the sprawling Carnegie museum campus in Oakland, then wander tree-lined streets to tony shopping and dining in Shadyside. You can also check out one of PPS’s flagship Placemaking projects, Market Square, in downtown’s “Golden Triangle.” Not only is the city brimming with stuff to do, it’s all right there, within easy walking and biking distance.
4.) See an urban revival in full swing.
In case you hadn’t heard yet, Pittsburgh is the ‘next big thing.’ That means you should probably come check it out now, before it really takes off. Right now, you can simmer in a markedly unpretentious local culture—this is the city of the terrible towel, the humongous Primanti Bros. sandwich, and the colorful “Pittsburghese” dialect—while also sampling cutting-edge art, food, and nightlife. The low cost of living encourages a vibrant city life at bargain prices, as there’s plenty of room for people to experiment with new ideas. Check out a whole warehouse’s worth of large-scale installation art at the Mattress Factory; feast at any one of the hot new eateries popping up in East Liberty; take a class at the hands-on Glass Center in the Penn Ave Arts District ; or spend a night drinking with friends in a de-consecrated Catholic church that’s been converted into a cavernous microbrewery and beer hall. Both colloquial and cutting-edge, at this moment Pittsburgh’s got the best of both worlds.
5.) Plug into a thriving, growing bike/ped culture.
Active transpo is playing a key role in Pittsburgh’s revitalization, and the city is overflowing with people who are passionate about making their streets more friendly to alternative modes. Not only is Pittsburgh the birthplace of three international cycling publications (Dirt Rag, Bicycle Times, and Urban Velo), it also plays host to major annual events like BikePGH’s 17-day Bikefest festival, and Pedal Pittsburgh. Between those larger gatherings, cyclists can grab a drink together at OTB Bicycle Cafe before heading over the Free Ride Recycled Bike Coop or the super-old-school Kraynick’s Bike Shop to hang out while repairing their rides. Pittsburgh is also home to Bicycle Haven, which bills itself as the world’s largest bicycle museum and shop. Clubs like Urban Hikes, the Western Pennsylvania Wheelmen, and the Major Taylor Cycling Club also offer ample evidence of the locals’ commitment to having a good time getting around.
So, did we hook you? If you want to come check out Pittsburgh and join us for Pro Walk/Pro Bike: Pro Place 2013, mark your calendar for September 19th, and then click here to register today.
We’re looking forward to rolling & strolling around this amazing city with you next month!