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Riding and Learning in Bike-friendly Downtown Pittsburgh

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Conservatory of Performing Arts Professor Rich Keitel commutes to campus on the Eliza Furnace Trail in Downtown Pittsburgh.

The Point
Fall 2015

“There is nothing more beautiful than taking a bike ride, especially when the leaves are changing. You just see the world differently while riding a bike,” says Conservatory of Performing Arts Professor Rich Keitel, who regularly commutes between his Squirrel Hill home and Point Park’s Downtown campus by way of the bike trail along the Monongahela River.

“I try to bike every day, regardless of the weather. I really enjoy it,” says Keitel, who is an advocate for bike safety measures such as helmets and who also leads his own students on a six-mile loop around the rivers each spring. “It’s good exercise. [Cycling] wakes me up before class and relaxes me after class.”

Chris Rolinson, associate professor in the School of Communication, agrees. He drives from his home in Coraopolis to the city’s Manchester neighborhood on the North Side, then rides his bike along the rivers and arrives on campus via the Mon Wharf. “The early morning light in Pittsburgh is amazing,” says the photojournalist. “I’ve found [biking Downtown] to be very safe, and it’s a routine I really enjoy.”

Bicycles Abound Downtown

Keitel and Rolinson are among a growing number of Point Park faculty, staff and students who cycle as they enjoy living, working and learning in the increasingly bike-friendly city of Pittsburgh. From cycling trails along the rivers and bike lanes on urban streets, to bicycle sharing stations on campus and throughout the city, there’s never been a better time to explore the city and its rich history on two wheels.

Point Park students can check out bikes for free at the Student Center, and bikes are also available to faculty, staff and alumni who pay a small monthly fee to use the Student Center gym and recreational facilities. “We’ve seen a steady increase in the use of the University’s bike lending program since it was instituted a few years ago,” says JW Tabacchi, director of student development. “It enables our students to get out and explore the city, which truly is their campus.”

Point Park’s United Student Government (USG) was instrumental in initiating the bike program, says Tabacchi. “USG is committed to the benefits of students having access to bikes. This basically serves as a form of free transportation around the city, enabling students to travel to events or a job or just ride for fun.”

BikePGH at Point Park

“As someone who went to college here in Pittsburgh, I can attest that bicycling is a very popular way for students to get around,” says Scott Bricker, executive director of BikePGH. “It’s affordable, it’s social, and it definitely ‘lengthens your leash!’ You can get around to more neighborhoods, more quickly.”

Summer 2015 marked the launch of Pittsburgh’s new citywide bike share system, Healthy Ride. Fifty stations, connecting 11 different neighborhoods, are now open and stocked with bicycles for public use, including a popular station on Third Avenue at Point Park. Bike riding Downtown is on the rise: in May and June alone, says Bricker, more than 24,000 bike trips were recorded by the pneumatic counter placed on the Penn Avenue bike lane.

Last August, Point Park hosted a BikePGH conference on campus, an event that brought together architects and urban designers to discuss city ordinances on bicycles, design solutions for bike parking in new and retrofitted buildings, and other issues that impact city cyclists. 

Riding with the President

In late summer, in what has become a Point Park tradition, President Paul Hennigan led student leaders on his fifth annual bike tour through the heart of Pittsburgh and along its rivers.

For Hennigan, the annual ride is a chance to kick off the new academic year by bonding with the students who will be working with and mentoring their peers in Point Park's five residence halls. For the students, it’s a Pittsburgh history lesson and an opportunity to become acquainted the city's nearby recreational trails – then share all their new knowledge to help other students make the most of their college years in Downtown Pittsburgh.

As in previous years, Hennigan's ride was preceded by meetings with the students covering where they would go and what they would see. During the second get-together, the students gave short presentations on the historical significance of buildings, locations and stops along the ride.

“The bike tour is a lot of fun, but it’s also an educational opportunity,” says Hennigan. ”It's a chance to say, 'lets not only enjoy the ride, but also understand the history we’ll see along the way.”

A Unique Perspective

The tour follows a 17-mile route through Downtown, the South Side, Station Square, Point State Park, the North Side and Washington’s Landing. Riders enjoy lunch at Redfin Blues, a restaurant along the Allegheny River.

According to Point Park student Sierra Barnett, a Columbus, Ohio native who joined Hennigan on his 2014 tour, the bike ride is truly a learning experience. “I really enjoyed [learning] that Pittsburgh, through all of the new development and through its impact on the world, [the city and its residents] really did have to pioneer their way through the years.”

According to Hennigan, “viewing Pittsburgh from a bike gives a unique perspective. The familiar landscape looks completely new somehow, even to someone who has seen it over and over.”

Hennigan’s recommendation, from students, faculty and staff to Downtown neighbors and city visitors alike, is to "grab a bike, strap on a helmet, and take your friends out for a ride. It’s an experience like no other.”

Text by Cheryl Valyo
Photo by John Altdorfer, video by Chris Rolinson
The Point is a magazine for alumni and friends of Point Park University