Bicycle czar will try to tame city streets

Mayor creates post to improve cycling

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Stephen Patchan prefers urban cycling to pedaling through the countryside because it's "more exciting, for obvious reasons."

   
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The new Pittsburgh bike-pedestrian coordinator's job, though, is to make pedaling or walking the city's 89 neighborhoods, car-choked pinch-points and steep slopes a little less of a thrill ride.

Mr. Patchan, 32, of the South Side Flats, started work Aug. 4 and yesterday he got his marching orders from Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Councilman Patrick Dowd and cycling enthusiasts who crowded Enrico's Tazza D'Oro, a Highland Park coffee shop.

There he heard cyclists talk about buses that steam past them only to jerk to a stop, tensions between cars and two-wheeled travelers, and gaps in the city's network of bike trails and lanes. Address that, they said, and Pittsburgh could join cities that are using their bike cultures to boost quality of life and lure development.

"I've always been a bike rider and have always had my ears and eyes on cycling concerns in the city," said Mr. Patchan. He added that he'll "do everything in my power to make this city as bikeable as it can be."

"It's such a great day for cycling in Pittsburgh," said Scott Bricker, executive director of Bike Pittsburgh.


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Mr. Ravenstahl noted that when it comes to cycling, "we're no Amsterdam," referring to the city in the Netherlands where bikes zoom down well-marked lanes along nearly every street.

Over the next two years, though, Mr. Ravenstahl and Mr. Dowd want to see tax credits and zoning preferences for businesses that accommodate cyclists, better bike route signs, more bike racks, local and national pedal-power events, and volunteer bike registration, among other things. They'd like to find money to repair city steps, with Mr. Dowd suggesting that the focus be on staircases that lead to transit.

"Twenty years ago, this would have been a laughable effort," said David Hoffman, founder of Bike Pittsburgh, who is now director of planning for the Marin County [Calif.] Bicycling Coalition and was not at yesterday's meeting.

"Pittsburgh has a long way to go, but we're making good progress," he said of the improving network of trails and lanes.

The mayor and councilman said they'll improve tracking of car-on-bike and car-on-pedestrian accidents, and make police more aware of cyclists' rights.

"There's clearly some work we need to do in our Police Bureau" to better enforce laws that protect cyclists using bike lanes along streets, said Mr. Ravenstahl.

Car-versus-bike hostilities are a problem here, said Mr. Hoffman, who got to know cyclists in many cities when he headed a national coalition of advocacy groups.

He said it's "easy to get aggressive" on Pittsburgh's narrow streets.

"Although attitudes are changing in Pittsburgh, it's still not as friendly as it could be," he said.

He said cyclists could do themselves a favor by respecting traffic laws.

Mr. Patchan's $45,000-a-year salary will be paid for the first two years by the Richard King Mellon Foundation, and then will become part of the city budget.

A Connellsville native and California University of Pennsylvania graduate, Mr. Patchan boomeranged back to the area after a stint as an urban planner in Tulare County, Calif. Once back in Pittsburgh, he worked for Downtown-based Environmental Planning and Design, a landscape architecture firm, developing greenways plans for Fayette and Indiana counties, among other projects.


Correction/clarification (published Aug. 13, 2008) -- The name of City of Pittsburgh Bike/Ped Coordinator Stephen Patchan was misspelled in a this story. Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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