Penn, Butler come alive at final OpenStreets event in Pittsburgh
It's rare for Nathaniel Dirks and Sydney Shoff to get up before 9 a.m. on the weekend. It's even rarer for them to go for a jog.
The Scott couple did both Sunday for OpenStreetsPGH, a venture designed to clear Pittsburgh roads of vehicles and open them to walkers, runners and bicyclists.
Organizers closed 3 1⁄2 miles of streets through Downtown, the Strip District and Lawrenceville from 8 a.m. to noon for the third and final OpenStreets event of the summer.
Dirks, 27, and Shoff, 24, ran in the OpenStreets Flash 5K, which started and ended at Sixth Street and Penn Avenue.
“Neither one of us is a runner,” Dirks said, but they wanted to try something different. “It was a reason to get up early.”
“And get active,” Shoff added.
Organizers encouraged businesses to open, even if they typically close Sundays.
Diana Stoughton, owner of Gryphon's Tea on Butler Street in Lawrenceville, opened at 8 a.m. instead of the usual 11 a.m. She said 30 to 50 new customers stopped by each time. At the second event, when it rained for the duration, she set up a tent to offer shelter and showcase the shop's loose leaf teas.
“It's just kind of like watching the street wake up while we're here, which is a lot of fun,” she said. “I would like to see it every month. I would like to see it continue throughout the year.”
Organizers offered fitness classes in Market Square. Denise Zurcher, 48, of Green Tree attended a cardio session with her daughter Kaitlyn, 22.
Zurcher said she will turn 49 soon. She promised herself she would exercise more.
“Next year is 50, so I want to be in a lot better shape than 49,” she said.
Don Orkoskey, president of the board of directors of Neighbors in the Strip, said about half the businesses along the route in the Strip District opened early for OpenStreets. Some initial negative reactions turned positive because of the extra customers, he said, though the road closure was an interruption.
“It's not going to be business as usual,” he said, “but the amount of street traffic, the amount of people with eyes on your business is incredible, and at least in the Strip, they're not necessarily the average Strip District customers.”
He said organizers who try the event elsewhere could benefit by communicating with businesses.
Mike Carroll of nonprofit Bike Pittsburgh, one of the groups that organized the event with Eve Picker of No Walls Productions, a property rental firm, said plans for next year could include moving OpenStreets to other neighborhoods.
“It is an option we are weighing and considering,” Carroll said, “and we want to make sure we have a good fit anywhere we go and really strong community partners, like we've had this year.”
The group learned how to bend, such as adjusting traffic closure patterns near the 31st Street Bridge after the first event, Carroll said. They added more signs at closed routes directing drivers to cross streets.
Carroll described community response as “overwhelmingly positive,” with 15,500 participants showing up for the first event in May and 8,500 during the rainy June event.
Organizers expected attendance to surge to as many as 25,000 Sunday. Nine people became American citizens during a naturalization ceremony in Market Square that coincided with the OpenStreets event.
This weekend featured a group ride of about 200 employees from Allegheny Health Network and Highmark using HealthyRide, the Pittsburgh Bike Share program that started this spring.
Erin Potts, HealthyRide's director of marketing and community outreach, said OpenStreets increased daily ridership.
“It's such a pleasure to watch Penn Avenue and Butler Street come alive with people enjoying their city,” she said.
Melissa Daniels is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.