Gil Peñalosa of 8/80 Cities in Toronto came to speak at City Live tonight. What a perfect evangelist - so much passion, so many examples of great principles he shared with us all. He beautifully deflected any of the simplistic reactions to what he was suggesting (we're unique in our challenges which is why it wouldn't work here, for example - "You're all unique" he replied). He sailed through example after example of how Copenhagen has managed to change minds about cycling as a result of the 70's Oil crisis. Stories of School teachers dressing up to get parents to park further away, and thereby increasing walking.
Creating spaces for people to move is what he's about - with clear strategies for separating pedestrians, cyclists and cars. This film shows exactly why its so vital in a city.
Gil's Ciclovias are legendary, and with some luck and some bright people here in PGH, there might be something going on here too. And we need it here.
One thig he states clearly - mobility is a right. Moving around the City has been one of the hardest parts of being in Pittsburgh, with its car culture (not many people walk anywhere) and diminishing bus services - my favourite cross-town bus, the 500, which connected us to Highland Park on one end, and The Mattress Factory, the Air studios, where I go to screenprint, and the new Hazlett Theatre was axed some months ago. Strangely it felt like one of those old routes from some far older time.
The reality is that cycling is a risky activity in this town - most people drive fairly large cars, and they certainly think it unusual if you don't (maybe you are poor, or too principled, or something). They have few cycle lanes, and these are precariously painted on some main routes. In the main you cycle at your peril, as most people in their larger protected cars don't even consider that you might be on the road at all. It makes cycling in London seem simple and less risky. There is no malicioulness, just blissful ignorance. Which means you have to drive far more defensively, anticipating opening doors, coming out of side roads, backing up without looking...all innocent activities, as many just don't imagine you would be there.
The roads are full of holes, but it still is a great place to ride - huge hills, great long roads like the Strip end of Liberty, amazing trails like Panther Hollow (here's what it's like) and the Eliza Trail from Neville Street. People talk about bikes and have a lot to say when they see you on one (once I was just called Mary Poppins). Like having a baby or a dog, it sets up possibilities for a conversation.
Seeing Gil speak reminded me that passion trumps everything.