Bicycling: Comparing Pittsburgh to Austin

As you probably may or probably may not know, I’m currently on the road, for awhile. Right now I’m staying in Austin, TX and I’m blown away by the biking infrastructure here. If you take a look at what this city has done and then compare it to our own beloved Pittsburgh, it’s both a little heartbreaking and equally inspiring.

To be completely fair, yes, Pittsburgh is an older city and Austin is basically completely flat. The former means our infrastructure would have been more likely to grow around horse and buggy and the latter made it hard for Pittsburgh’s streets to be all perfectly aligned. That’s the last time I’ll say that, because it’s dangerously close to becoming a cop out: sure, there are challenges Pittsburgh faces when converting its streets to bicycle-friendly ones, but every city has challenges. Now, on with the show.

The Heartbreak

As I’d mention, you can compare a city like Austin to Pittsburgh and feel sorry, angry, emotionally upheaved that Pittsburgh is so far behind when it comes to cycling culture. Austin has a river cutting through it, and the city has built trails on each side of the river for miles in either direction. Bike/pedestrian dedicated bridges cross the river, and the trails are not only well maintained, they have loads of benches, small parks, and aesthetic appeal built right into them. They’re packed with loverly couple’s strolling under the setting sun, runners sweating to the 2000s, and commuting cyclists. For the most part, everyone works together really well on the trails, like a highway at rush hour without all of the waiting, honking and screaming obscenities.

On top of these paths, which admittedly only provide access to riverfront property and a few other trails that lead through the city itself, there are dedicated bike routes, some of which have bike lanes, some of which are just recommended, and very well marked, routes that can help cyclists find their way around the city — even if they don’t know their way around the city.

And the culture is very pro-bicycle as well: though percentage-wise Austin has less bicycle commuters than Pittsburgh does, cyclists seem to be given more respect here. All of the aforementioned routes and trails aside, cars are more aware that bikes belong on the street as well, and there are bicycle shops everywhere. No seriously, everywhere. In the neighborhood we’re staying in there are three bike shops within 3 blocks of us.

Okay, so where’s the inspiration?

Pittsburgh has come a long way in the past year or two, and though we still only have three bike lanes (correct me if I’m wrong), that means we have 200% more bike lanes than we did two years ago. 🙂

We also have many of the features that make Austin’s riding so nice: trees everywhere and riverfront property, loads of it. The rivers have already been given trails, and they’re not bad trails at all, but the fact that they’re “riverfront” might be lost on people: the rivers in Pittsburgh are notoriously neglected. The city should have put — or at least should be putting — into place massive efforts to clean up the rivers and get people playing on them. Believe me, even if taking one of the riverfront trails to work downtown means I’m riding an extra mile everyday, it is completely worth it if you’ve got the beautiful scenery of a tree lined river flanking you. Compare that to trying to bullet down 5th Avenue between the smoke and clutter of traffic and tell me which one will put you at your desk with a smile on your face?

Pittsburgh is making strides, and they may seem small but in reality, with the help of Bike Pittsburgh, they’re moving strikingly fast.

Here’s to hoping that Pittsburgh continues along this course and one day we can be the city to which others compare their hometowns. In the meanwhile though, if you’re ever in Austin, I’d highly recommend bringing a bike.

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