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Open Streets festival draws bicyclists to Pittsburgh

| Sunday, May 29, 2016, 10:57 p.m.
A cyclist rides along Penn Avenue in the Strip District during OpenStreetsPGH, Downtown on Sunday, May 29, 2016.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
A cyclist rides along Penn Avenue in the Strip District during OpenStreetsPGH, Downtown on Sunday, May 29, 2016.
Dustin Jewell leads zumba at Market Square as part of OpenStreetsPGH, Downtown on Sunday, May 29, 2016.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
Dustin Jewell leads zumba at Market Square as part of OpenStreetsPGH, Downtown on Sunday, May 29, 2016.
Bikers ride along Penn Avenue in the Strip District during OpenStreetsPGH, Downtown on Sunday, May 29, 2016.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
Bikers ride along Penn Avenue in the Strip District during OpenStreetsPGH, Downtown on Sunday, May 29, 2016.

Judy Grimes was determined to ride her bike through Lawrenceville and the Strip District on Sunday, rain or shine.

Bad weather spoiled her fun somewhat last year when she joined other cyclists, joggers, walkers and roller bladers for the Open Streets festival — when Penn Avenue is closed to car traffic from Market Square Downtown to Lawrenceville and swarmed by thousands of people who come out to get some exercise and enjoy a traffic-free Penn Avenue.

“It is phenomenal,” said Grimes, 66, as she navigated the busy route toward Market Square on sunny Sunday morning. “I think it's amazing to see all the families.”

It was the first of three Open Streets events planned for 2016 by organizers Bike Pittsburgh.

The festival, now in its third year, is meant to promote healthy lifestyles, support the small businesses along Penn Avenue and encourage more people to use a bicycle as an alternative means of transportation. Open Streets takes place on the last Sunday of May, June and July from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Healthy Ride, Pittsburgh's bike share program, marked the occasion with a one-year anniversary celebration in front of its offices along the Open Streets route in the Strip District.

Healthy Ride has 50 rental stations scattered throughout the city and plans to add more in the next year, said executive director David White.

In the program's first year of operation more than 30,000 people took more than 80,000 bike rides, he said.

“We're thrilled,” White said. “It's been so exciting to watch as it's taken off.”

The group will be organizing city-wide forums and soliciting online suggestions from people about where additional rental stations should be added. Healthy Ride is in place in neighborhoods including Downtown, Oakland, Shadyside, the North Side and the South Side, White said.

“They're taking it very seriously, I think,” said Grimes, who commended the work of the city and advocacy groups like Heathy Ride and Bike Pittsburgh to make the area more bicycle-friendly.

The city added more bike lanes and expanded trails just last winter, providing more opportunities for devout cyclists like her.

In 1980, Pittsburgh had 3 miles of designated bike lanes. Today there are 73 — with more than 62 miles added since 2007. The city's budget shows that about $1.8 million, including bond and grant money, is to be spent on bicycle infrastructure projects through 2021.

“I know they're working really hard,” said Grimes, who lives in Carnegie.

Susan Lee, 44, of Highland Park brought her children, ages 4 and 6, to the Open Streets event with their bikes. They practiced navigating their little bikes in the crowd and learned to stay to the right, out of the way of traffic.

But besides the chance to get the kids out of the house for the day, her family wanted a chance to explore Penn Avenue and do something different.

“It brings a better sense of community,” Lee said about Open Streets. “It brings (people) to the city to see things they wouldn't otherwise see.”

Robert Gibson, 40, and Erin Wilson, 41, were in town from Washington, D.C., to visit friends. They biked during a similar event in New York City.

The pair rented two blue Healthy Ride bikes — $2 for half an hour — and pedaled down Penn.

“You get to see the street in a different way,” Gibson said.

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