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'Car-Free Fridays' kicks off as workers ride transit, pedal bikes

| Saturday, June 13, 2009

Bike Pittsburgh kicked off its first "Car-Free Fridays" yesterday, hoping that the city's recent accolades for livability, walkability and bicycle-friendliness might encourage more commuters to leave their vehicles at home and find other ways to work.

Fifteen "bikepool" leaders fanned out across the city in the morning to show first-time bicycle commuters the safest routes between such places as Downtown, Oakland and the South Side. Meanwhile, free food and demonstrations drew people to Schenley Plaza in Oakland for some back-slapping and talk of Pittsburgh's ascendance in alternatives to automobiles.

"Pittsburgh's been in the news a lot lately: 'Prevention' magazine called us among the 'most walkable' cities; 'Good' magazine rated us as a burgeoning bike scene; and 'The Economist' called us the most livable city in the U.S.," said Lou Fineberg, program manager for Bike Pittsburgh.

The goal of "Car-Free Fridays" is to encourage commuters to take carpools, trains, buses, bikes and even kayaks to work at least once a week -- emphasizing traffic, environmental and health benefits.

At least once a week whenever it is warm, Tom Walker, a 57-year-old multimedia designer at "Car-Free Fridays" sponsor Mullen Advertising, carries his kayak a quarter-mile from his home in Millvale to the Allegheny River. He then paddles downstream and lands just outside his office in the Strip District.

"When I come into the office, I'm ready to work," Walker said. "Other people are still moving slowly, drinking their coffee."

Jonathan Kersting, 36, of Edgewood, regularly bikes to his job at the Pittsburgh Technology Council in Hazelwood.

"I've been seeing more people willing to (bike), and more accommodation from people on the road," Kersting said. "You still get yelled at from time to time, but I've been getting heckled less and less."

The Census Bureau estimated that in 2007, only 0.5 percent of Americans commuted to work primarily by bike and about 1 percent in Pittsburgh.

Dave Pritt, public-safety communications officer for PennDOT, was at Schenley Plaza to talk about bicycle and pedestrian safety. He emphasized that everyone on the road has laws to obey.

"Every motorist becomes a pedestrian when they get out of the car, and many might also be bicyclists on the weekend," Pritt said.

Port Authority of Allegheny County, a "Car-Free Fridays" sponsor, had representatives at Schenley Plaza to demonstrate how to load and unload bikes on the folding racks attached to approximately two-thirds of the authority's buses. Authority CEO Steve Bland, who rode a bus to the kickoff event, said 20 buses that the authority will purchase next year also will be equipped with bicycle racks.

"Our goal is to have follow-up events to really emphasize 'Car-Free Fridays,' " Fineberg said. "We're looking to do it once every few weeks."

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