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Mayor promotes making city friendly to bicyclists

City officials want to make all of Pittsburgh -- even the hills -- accessible and safe for bicyclists.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced Monday the hiring of a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator to an excited crowd of cycling enthusiasts that was packed into a Highland Park coffeehouse. The coordinator, Stephen Patchan, will help implement a plan to encourage more people to bike and walk in the city.

"It's critically important for us as a city ... to think a little bit differently than we have in the past," said Ravenstahl, who wants to explore the idea of adding bike lanes to streets when they are repaved.

Pittsburgh is the first city in Pennsylvania to have a full-time bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, Ravenstahl said. The position is paid for by a grant from the Mellon Foundation.

City Councilman Patrick Dowd said leaders want to place more bike racks around the city, make sure cycling and traffic laws are enforced and work to build a tax credit for businesses that provide facilities, including showers and lockers, for employees who bike to work. He wants to improve a cycling route map created by the advocacy group Bike Pittsburgh and add signs to mark the routes.

"We don't actually have anything that we're delivering at this particular moment. What we are pledging is to work toward the development of a series of initiatives," Dowd said. "This is a long-term project that's going to continue, and it's actually going to take years and years of work."

Dowd said city officials would apply in 2010 for bike-friendly status, which is granted by the League of American Bicyclists to communities that provide safe accommodations for cyclists and encourage residents to use bicycles for recreation and transportation. No city in Pennsylvania has earned the status.

"We won't win it, probably, at the beginning," Dowd said. "We'll get some sort of recognition for the work that we've done, but it will also help us lay out a road map for what we need to do to be a more friendly city for cyclists and pedestrians."

Organizers want to see biking connected to mass transit. Two-thirds of Port Authority buses have bike racks and racks will be installed on 100 additional vehicles by next year, authority CEO Stephen Bland said.

"That's one-third too few, and we continue to work toward 100-percent accessibility," Bland said. "People won't use it until they know any vehicle that comes by is going to have a rack."

Mac Booker, who bikes to work when he can, said he was glad to hear that all buses might have bike racks. He said he thinks Pittsburgh, even with its hilly topography, can become a city that encourages cycling.

"The big problem with the hills in Pittsburgh, I think, is ultimately a problem that can be solved by fitness, and that's a fantastic thing because the hills allow us to become more fit as we're becoming more bicycle-friendly," said Booker, 28, of Bloomfield. "I think it's totally doable."

Patchan, the new coordinator, is a native of Connellsville and lives in the South Side. He said he wants to meet with the city's cycling community to see what goals are most important to them.

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