The best part of being a Pittsburgher is the satisfaction I get from saying "See, I told you" to friends and colleagues from other cities. The reaction from outsiders who visit Pittsburgh for the first time is always the same -- astonishment, incredulity, curiosity. We're more than the smoky towers, molten steel and french-fried sandwiches people picture when they hear the name Pittsburgh.
A cool breeze meandering off the Mon and onto the river walk. The choppy notes of one lone busker on the Clemente Bridge before a ballgame. A neon ketchup bottle pouring itself neatly onto the Heinz History Center. This is my Pittsburgh.
This August will mark the third year I'll invite Point Park University student staff members to join me on a bike tour of Pittsburgh. There is no better way to see a city than from a bike, especially a city as great as ours.
The ride begins at the Golden Triangle bike rental Downtown and weaves along the Eliza Furnace Trail to the Hot Metal Bridge. We cross the bridge and continue on the South Side Trail toward the Duquesne Incline. The group carefully climbs up to the Fort Pitt Bridge, crosses the river and heads to Point State Park.
We ride over the Fort Duquesne Bridge to the North Side and journey to Washington's Landing, where a hot and fatigued bunch break for lunch along the Allegheny. Recharged by some nosh at Redfin Blues, we gear up, cross the Fort Duquesne Bridge, journey to The Point and circle back to the bike rental.
All along the way, iconic Pittsburgh landmarks whisper their history.
The purpose of the annual ride is to introduce our students, some from the region and others from far away, to their new home in a way that captures their attention. Even natives of the city find the bicycler's perspective refreshing. It's as though they've had their hands over their eyes for years and are just now ready for the big reveal. The city's stoic history and fresh innovation almost grab the students by the shoulders, spin them around and shout, "This is yours now! Don't take one minute for granted."
My favorite stop is on the Hot Metal Bridge, less because it sounds like a rock band and more because it feels like I'm suspended between the 19th and 21st centuries. Look one way and Pittsburgh appears to have gone untouched for a hundred years. Look in the opposite direction and you see a modern metropolis.
But that's what makes Pittsburgh so special. We honor our past while we embrace our future.
I got the idea for the bike ride from former Mayor Tom Murphy. Before the completion of the Great Allegheny Passage, before groups like BikePGH were cultivating a bicycling scene in Pittsburgh, Mayor Murphy was inviting his staff to join him on weekly bike rides through the city.
Viewing Pittsburgh from a bike gives me a unique perspective. The rhythm of the city seems to pulsate through the wheels and into my arms. The familiar landscape looks completely new somehow, even to someone who has seen it over and over. Mayor Murphy knew the bike rides were a chance to step away from the city's minutiae and begin to see how Pittsburgh's past and future can come together.
Within the last 10 years, we have taken a firm grip of our destiny to once again become a great American city. It seems natural that as the vivacity of Pittsburgh's economic development has grown, so has our interest in enhancing its environmental beauty. We want to be a part of the city by getting out of our cars and getting on to the streets.
My recommendation to you as one Pittsburgher to another is to grab a bike, strap on a helmet and take your friends out for a ride. It's an experience like no other, and you might even get another chance to say, "See, I told you!"
Paul Hennigan is president of Point Park University (www.pointpark.edu).