Mon Valley commuters taking to 2 wheels
The Rev. Brian Evans has a longer commute to pedal these days.
He still lives in McKeesport's Christy Park neighborhood with his wife, the Rev. Erin Evans, pastor of Greenock's Peace Lutheran Church.
He also still is on the McKeesport Trail Commission.
But instead of tackling the hills between home and White Oak's Faith Lutheran Church, he hits the Great Allegheny Passage and cycles his way to First English Evangelical Lutheran Church in downtown Pittsburgh.
“I end up doing it about three days a week,” said Evans, 33, who was called earlier this year from Faith to First English.
Evans travels with a combination of bicycle, car and bus. He's done pastoral calls on his bicycle.
His hours sometimes force his choice of transportation.
“I keep my car at work,” Evans said. “I think technically you are not supposed to be on the trail at night.”
As the name suggests, the Pittsburgh church is historic. Founded in 1837, First English was the first English-speaking Lutheran church west of the Alleghenies.
Evans, the 19th senior pastor of First English, arrived in time to help out with church history, as a participant in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America's Churchwide Assembly at the nearby David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
He brought bicycles with him to help delegates get around Pittsburgh.
The cycles were overhauled by young volunteers during the Mission on the Mon sponsored by Faith Lutheran and the ELCA's Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod.
“Sixty bicycles were donated by churches from all over our synod and Michigan,” Evans said.
Before the volunteers tackled them, a lot of the bicycles went to Zak's Bicycle Shop in McKeesport.
“Brian was in a bit of a pickle,” owner Mike Kostyzak said. “He had an agreement with another bike shop. So he came here with a week left and he asked me if I could do it.”
Kostyzak wasn't sure he could get it done.
“For that week I stayed well into the night to work on the bikes,” Kostyzak recalled. “Lo and behold we got about 52 or 54 bikes prepared for Brian in four evenings, till 2, 3 o'clock in the morning. It was fun. We had a great time.”
After the churchwide assembly the bicycles were to go to the LaRosa Boys & Girls Club in McKeesport.
Not all commuting is done on the trails.
When a flat tire isn't affecting it, Michael Kampe, 39, of Munhall uses his bicycle on a 25-minute trek, give or take a few minutes, along Brierly Lane and Commonwealth Avenue to his job as a custodian at West Mifflin Area High School.
“I try to do it four out of five days,” Kampe said. “Some days it's quicker, other days it's not.”
Kampe has been riding a bicycle for the past three years. During his off-hours he does hit the trails.
“Starting in the Waterfront I pretty much go all the way over to South Side and back,” Kampe said. “I love riding on the Hot Metal Bridge. The other way, I've gone past Boston.”
Bicycles are a common sight in the Waterfront. There are racks outside stores and places outside businesses where bikes can be locked up during the day.
There also is a trail that winds its way first along E. Waterfront Drive and then down toward the Monongahela River past the Pump House and the townhouses in the Steel Valley complex.
It's become a regular habit for cyclists of all ages, both for work and play.
“We ride it every day,” said Tom Beattie, 66, of North Versailles Township. “We ride from (the Pump House) to McKeesport and back every day, a little over 15 miles.”
Beattie and friend Suzanne McColloch of Forest Hills, who said her age was “unlisted,” are involved with the Steel Valley Trail Council.
“The best thing is, it is very well maintained,” McColloch said. “I don't think there is any other urban area in this part of the country which has such an extensive trail system.”
It also has been a blessing for Beattie.
“At this time three years ago I weighed 305 pounds,” Beattie said. “Now I weigh 235.”
“Bicycling saved his life,” McColloch said.
The organization BikePittsburgh seeks to help newcomers to this area and its trails.
Its print maps and those found at bikepgh.org aim to identify the best routes for cycling and connecting neighborhoods, car-free trails and “less-than-ideal, yet unavoidable stretches of road” it calls “Cautionary Bike Routes.”
The website also has a separate section where riders can familiarize themselves about how to stay safe while riding a bike in the Pittsburgh area.
Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or firstname.lastname@example.org.