Commuters trade the gas pedal for bike pedals
Stephen Wreschnig gets up every morning and commutes to work, like most people do. But, like a growing number of people, he doesn't drive.
He spends an hour riding his bicycle 10 miles from his Shaler home to his Downtown office, in rain, shine and even snow.
"It's a nice ride," Wreschnig says of his journey through Lawrenceville and the Strip District. "The crossing guards say hello, I get to see three different neighborhoods and I get some beautiful views."
Although Wreschnig has been cycling for 20 years, hundreds of people around the area are trading the gas pedal for bike pedals after gasoline prices peaked at more than $3 per gallon earlier this month, according to local organizations. The average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas on Monday was $2.99 in the Pittsburgh area, according to AAA.
"We've gone from 50 to 60 bicycle commuters Downtown in 2002 to several hundred in 2005," says David Hoffman, executive director of Bike Pittsburgh, an advocacy organization. "We've also gotten lots more requests for information on cycling in the city."
Hoffman reports that about 100 bike racks installed Downtown were rarely used a few years ago, and nearly each one is full every day now. A survey done by Bike Pittsburgh also shows bike sellers are selling more communter-oriented equipment and clothing compared to three years ago.
"It's a great thing to do," says Richard Meritzer, a senior planner with the city of Pittsburgh, who is in charge of the city bicycle plan. "It's ecological and it's healthy."
Although Pittsburgh's topography and urbanization patterns make cycling conditions poor, many people are tackling the tasks of bicycle travel.
Wreschnig's commute is not always ideal. He struck a car door as it opened once, and his been hit by vehicles "eight or nine times."
Cyclists risk more than drivers, as a light hit to a car may damage a fender or the paint, but the same hit to a bicycle could result in injury or death.
"In a car, on a bike, or walking, people do stupid things," Meritzer says.
The Department of City Planning issued the City Bicycle Plan in May 1999 to outline improvements being made to city streets and trails to make them more bicycle-friendly. The plan includes several facilities such as more bike trails, bike lanes and signs. While several projects are complete or under way, there are still close calls between cyclists and drivers on Pittsburgh's streets.
"They're all crazy," said David McMonagle, of Mt. Lebanon, after his car squealed to a stop on Oliver Avenue as a bike cut him off last Thursday. "They're maniacs. I'm surprised people don't get killed every day around here."
Occasionally, people do. Last month, veterinarian Dermot Foran, 36, of McCandless, was injured while cycling and died a day later. The site of the accident is marked with a "ghost bike," a white bicycle frame that is becoming known throughout the nation as a memorial to those who suffer bicycle accidents.
"We have as much of a right to be here as anyone else," says Eric Cruit of the Mexican War Streets, who does not own a car but bikes most places in the city.
"We have a long way to go before cyclists and motorists ride on each other's wheels, instead of walk in each other's shoes," Meritzer says.
However, Wreschnig says that most of the drivers he has encountered have been polite and patient, except the "one percent that can be obnoxious."
"I had a few people yell at me to get off the road," says Mac Booker of his cycling trips between East Liberty and Oakland.
A student at the University of Pittsburgh, Booker joins several of his peers in choosing a bicycle as the prime mode of transportation.
"I ride to campus or to lunch," says Pitt student Matt Rawlings, who works at the student station WPTS-FM. "Pretty much wherever."
"You have to be very aware of your surroundings, because drivers aren't," says Sun Hu of Squirrel Hill. "It's a zen thing."
Meritzer offers the Pennsylvania Bicycle Driver's Manual to cyclists who inquire about biking in Pittsburgh. The guide contains state laws governing bicycles and the best ways to avoid injury and damage while cycling on roads shared with cars.
"We need more bike education for bikers and drivers," Meritzer says. "It would make things a whole lot better."
Good to go
Bike routes to take
Roads to avoid:
Riding in style: Bike fashion
- Michael Mastroianni