I grew up on Washington Road. It wasn’t your average quiet street in a suburban neighborhood. It had neither the peace nor the tranquility of a cul-de-sac. It was a four-lane thoroughfare, a main drag, a highway. It was Route 19, for Pete’s sake. A heavy-truck-traffic, delivery-vehicles-welcome-at-all-times-during-the-day-and-night kind of passageway. A corridor for semis and 18-wheelers (I know this because when I was only two years old, a trucker man pulled over and plucked me off the side of the road after he saw me dipping my tiny toe onto the street from the curb. Thankfully, he returned me to my mom who had turned her head for only a moment. There was even a little story about this incident written in an old issue of Mt. Lebanon Magazine in the ’80s.) It was dangerous at times, like the night a drunk driver ran over the bushes at the front of our lawn, or the time someone hit my mom and dad as they backed out of the driveway. There were no opportunities to ride my bike in the road, have a genuine lemonade stand, draw hopscotch squares with chalk, or even play kick-the-can, catch, or touch football with friends. Yelling “car!” to my friends to clear the road when one was about to interfere with our activity would have been an endless, repetitive exercise in futility.
So it stands to reason that, for me, walking in the middle of a street is a kind of a novelty. It feels incredibly freeing, playful and wild. It feels like unchartered territory. It feels like a romantic movie scene. Any time I go for a walk on a residential street now that I’m a grown-up, I will make it a point to walk in the middle of the street (cautiously, of course). Why bother with a narrow sidewalk if no cars are coming? I’ve got years of street envy to make up for!
When I learned about Open Streets Pittsburgh, I was curious. I saw it being advertised and communicated and shared via social media for a year or two. I grasped the concept, but it wasn’t until I loaded up my husband, dog and infant son and attended my first event in May 2017 that I truly understood the event from the inside. Held on the last Sunday of the month in May, June and July, Open Streets Pittsburgh is presented by Bike Pittsburgh and the Colcom Foundation. Its intention is to “help Pittsburgh be the healthiest, most active and happiest city it can be.” They set up a route along city streets, designed to be a kind of loop, which is closed off to traffic—last May it was downtown to the South Side via the 10th Street Bridge and back; in June it was downtown to the West End and back via the North Side and West End Bridge; and in July it was the original Open Streets route from downtown to Lawrenceville and back via the Strip. There are people of all ages, shapes and sizes; families of five or families consisting of merely owner and dog; friends and lovers; bicyclists, unicyclists, skate-boarders, rollerbladers; babes in Björns, strollers or bike trailers; dogs on leashes, in purses, or also in bike trailers; walkers, strutters, dancers, runners, skippers, prancers—all of it, in the streets. There are vendors, music and art performances, yoga sessions, children’s activities, informational booths and cheery volunteers along the route—and each time another event is held, it gets more participation, more adjacent activities, more festive. It’s a utopia. If I could live in a world of my choosing, it might very well be along one of these routes, with all these other shiny, happy people, feeling active, included and proud of my city … and, above all, in the middle of the street.
To learn more about Open Streets Pittsburgh, you can visit the website or check out one of their social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Use @OpenStreetsPGH or #OpenStreetsPGH to stay connected. From Mt. Lebanon, it would be very easy to get to the May and June routes via the T, if that suits you. Load the back of the car with the kids and the bikes and park near July’s route in the East End—new this year! Thank you, Open Streets Pittsburgh, Bike Pittsburgh, and Colcom Foundation for an amazing time last year. I hope to see all of you in the streets in 2018! Mark your calendars for May 27, June 24, and July 29!