Bike the Vote! Pittsburgh’s Democratic Mayoral Candidates Answer Questions from BikePGH

Cycling is a political issue. When you choose to ride a bike, you are addressing many issues: personal health, air quality, oil dependence, economics, infrastructure, and safety.  Making the choice easy for people to use a bicycle for basic transportation is often up to our elected officials, and their commitment to dedicate the funding and resources to make the streets safe.

First of all, we’d like to thank the candidates for taking the time to answer some questions from us.

All candidates returned their answers in a timely fashion, this is the order that they were received.

Here are links to the Candidate’s Websites:

Election Day for the Democratic Primaries is Tuesday May 19

Without further ado:

1. Studies show that about a third of Allegheny County’s CO2 comes from “onroad sources” (cars, buses, trucks) and that 1 in 4 Pennsylvanians are obese. PennDOT’s Statewide Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan helps address these problems by giving large cities in Pennsylvania a target where 5 percent of trips shorter than 3 miles are made by bicycle. Do you think this is an achievable goal and what ideas do you have to accomplish it?

Robinson: I do believe it is achievable and it works perfectly well with my plan to support small businesses in our most distressed neighborhoods. These distressed neighborhoods have residents who have been held hostage in their homes. I want to create hustle and bustle in these neighborhoods. Pedestrian traffic as well as cycle traffic would complement my plan. The reason violent crime has thrived, is because people are not communing by interacting with each other in their neighborhoods. I would like to bring the shopping districts back, within 2 miles, into our neighborhoods.

Ravenstahl: More people are riding bikes in Pittsburgh than ever before. There are already efforts underway that will work towards this goal. During my term new bike lanes, the first 2 sets in the city limits were striped, I hired the city’s first ever bicycle and pedestrian coordinator and he is working to make neighborhoods safer for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. Additionally the engineering, educational and enforcement initiatives related to biking that I announced last summer to encourage cycling should also help achieve this goal.

Dowd: According to the 2007 American Community Survey, 1.1% of Pittsburghers are currently commuting by bike. I believe if the City follows through with some of the initiatives that I have championed while on Council, we will be on our way to achieving the 5% goal by the end of my first term as mayor in 2013. Reaching that goal requires 3 things: 1) Leading by example. I have commuted by bike on Fridays during the summer months and will continue to do that. As Mayor, I will implement incentives for city employees to commute by bike. 2) Infrastructure. Additional “sharrows,” signage, and dedicated bike paths along major thoroughfares in all of our neighborhoods will make it safer for riders and drivers to share the road 3) Advocacy. I will use the office of Mayor to be an advocate for cyclists and will ensure that the interests of cyclists are accounted for in questions of planning, public safety, and development.

2. According to the US Census Dept, twelve percent of Pittsburgh residents commute to work by walking, placing us second in the nation out of the 60 largest cities. The Department of City Planning has begun the process of developing a Citywide Pedestrian Plan to improve the safety for Pittsburgh’s pedestrians. Rate the level to which this will be a priority of yours. (Scale 1-5)

Robinson: 4

Ravenstahl: 4

Dowd: 5

3. Campuses across the country are known for bike-friendly streets due to a large concentration of students and staff, desire to reduce congestion and carbon emissions, and a strong commitment to health and safety. Oakland, on the other hand, is perceived as one of the least bike-friendly neighborhoods in the city, despite being home to three universities. How would your administration improve the safety of Oakland’s streets and make this academic center more friendly to cyclists?

Robinson: Bike lanes on 5th and forbes, more Bike racks.

Ravenstahl: With the hiring of the City’s first bicycle/pedestrian coordinator, Stephen Patchan, my administration is working to make the entire city more friendly to cyclists. The striping of bike lanes in the city and the marking and opening of trails are a step in the right direction. Additionally, legislation making it easier to install bike racks in the City should help as well.

Dowd: When I’m elected mayor, I will make pedestrian safety in Oakland a priority. There’s no reason why simple measures like policing, crosswalks and signage aren’t getting done. This Mayor has paid excellent lip-service to bicycle and pedestrian initiatives but has yet to prove he’s serious.

I would focus my efforts on ensuring that traffic laws are followed by focusing the resources of the Traffic Enforcement Division of the Pittsburgh Police Department. There are also many innovative and creative approaches to striping and crosswalks that the City of Pittsburgh has not yet attempted.

4. A major accomplishment for the cycling community was the City’s hiring of a Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator in 2008. This position was made possible by funding from the philanthropic community, but for only two years – do you plan on making this job a permanent position by including it in future budgets?

Robinson: YES

Ravenstahl: We will be working closley with the foundation community to keep this position in the City

Dowd: YES

5. What’s your idea of a “Livable Street?”

Robinson: Safe sidewalks free of hazards, trees and greenery, family friendly shops, proper lighting and free of abandoned structures.

Ravenstahl: My idea of a livable street is one where pedestrians, bikes and cars can safely operate together. We are making progress on such streets in Pittsburgh. With the new bike lanes on East Liberty and Liberty Avenues we are moving in the right direction. Pittsburgh has been named one of the top 10 cities for walking several times and with our focus on earning “bicycle friendly status” for the City, we can be working towards the creation of livable streets in Pittsburgh.

Dowd: A “Livable Street” is one accessible to all types of transit users. In a city with livable streets, buses, motorists, bikers, pedestrians, children and those in wheelchairs all have access to roads that are safe, easy to navigate, and lined with healthy trees.. A livable street is safe, convenient, and conducive to transit-oriented development in the neighborhoods that surround it. Livable streets promote the success of small business districts and afford commuters a network of transit options for downtown and major job sites. As a Councilman, I have worked hard to advocate for such streets in Lawrenceville, Bloomfield and Highland Park. As Mayor, I will ensure that Brookline, Beechview, Brighton Heights, the Hill, and other underserved neighborhoods all have multi-modal corridors that connect the people in the neighborhoods with the rest of the city.

6. How important do you see transportation as part of a climate action plan? (Scale 1-5)

Robinson: 5

Ravenstahl: 4

Dowd: 5

7. What role can our city’s employers play in encouraging bicycling to work? What could the City do to incentivize employers to encourage more bike commuting?

Robinson: I like the idea of giving a tax break or deduction; similar to what happens when we deduct parking fees.

Ravenstahl: The City has already taken steps by making it easier to install bike racks. The City can offer tax credits to encourage businesses to provide facilities for cyclists. Such tax credits would support provisions already in the zoning code which encourage these accommodations. Additionally we can work with the Pittsburgh parking Authority to provide accommodations for bikes in Authority lots and increase bicycle facilities to accommodate commuters.

Dowd: According to the Pittsburgh Bike Plan, “Few employers offer bicycle commuter amenities and no fitness clubs or gymnasiums offer the use of their showers or lockers.” The city should be the first employer to earn the designation of “Bicycle Friendly Business” from Bike Pittsburgh and should do so at the highest possible standard.

Additionally, the city can work with organizations like Bike Pittsburgh and local companies to sponsor “Ride to Work” days in the spring and summer months to create greater public awareness of biking as a commuting option. As mayor, I will happily participate in such “Ride to Work” days myself.

Moreover, all city-owned garages need to be equipped with safe bike parking areas that will give bike commuters confidence that their bicycles will be secure if left unattended for the work day.
Perhaps the City could also take a good idea from this years’ presidential inauguration and offer a free bike valet service on days of big events like the St. Patrick’s Day Parade or the Super Bowl parade. Parking can be a nightmare for these events, so having a healthy, carefree option would be very attractive to local commuters.

As mayor, I would also explore the possibility of creating a network of urban bike rental sites like those in Chicago, Washington D.C, Barcelona, and Paris. These systems enable residents and visitors to pay a nominal fee to rent a bike that can be dropped off at any other site in the system. Such a system will increase bike ridership and visibility while generating revenue for the city that could be reinvested in bike and trail infrastructure or education.

Employers should offer and publicize the “Transportation Fringe Benefit” that was passed into law as part of the bailout package last October. Employees who bike to work can receive a $20/ month tax benefit if their employers take advantage of this special measure ( It’s not a huge sum, but small steps like these add up over time to create a well-established biking culture. Every extra cyclist makes cycling more visible, attractive, and safe for the city as a whole. As mayor, I’ll work hard to coordinate the efforts of the city and employers on both large- scale infrastructure shifts and these smaller-scale measures so that Pittsburgh can be bike-friendly from Brighton Heights to Brookline, from the East Hills to East Carnegie.

Groups like Surdna and Transportation for America have already come to Pittsburgh, most recently for a Transit-Oriented Development Symposium in January. We should develop strong relationships with these groups and channel the great transit ideas that they are creating and discovering in other cities around the country. They could help us publicize our progress and create a nationwide image of Pittsburgh as a bike- and pedestrian-friendly city.

8. How far do you live from the City County Building? If you have ridden a bike to work please describe the ride. If you haven’t ridden to work, what steps would need to be taken in order for you to give it a try?

Robinson: I live less than a mile. I live in Crawford square, The Hill District. I love walking to work. It is a wonderful way to clear my mind. I also decompress on the way home. I can interact with my family right at the door. Walking is great for me. Cycling would speed up the process. I need the time.

Ravenstahl: I have not ever ridden a bike from my home to the City County Building. I would have to make sure I was in shape for the 5 mile ride! It would be tricky because there are highways and overpasses on the way from Summer Hill to the City County Building.

Dowd: According to Google maps, my home is 5.3 miles from the City County Building. During the summer, I ride to work on Fridays. In fact, my first trip to work by bike was with Scott Bricker as my bike escort.

9. Do you have any personal stories about riding bikes that you’d like to share?

Robinson: I ride in Schenley Park with my eleven year old. We go there because I am worried about his safety anywhere else. My neighborhood isn’t really safe for him yet. I will change that. When we share this special time, I really understand the importance of exercise and our health. I wouldn’t give up this activity with him for anything or anyone.

Ravenstahl: I have many enjoyable memories of riding bikes with my brothers when I was a kid. Additionally, I have had some great opportunities as Mayor to be involved with bike races that have come through the city and even had the chance to be one of the first people to ride a bike on the brand new bike lanes that have been striped in the City.

Dowd: Campaigns involve lots of promises and pledges to city residents. I’ve also made a pledge to my kids – this summer, before the general election kicks into high gear, I will make up for all of the cycling time we lose during April and May, when I am running in the primary. One of the things I miss most being on the campaign trail is cruising on the bike trails with my family.

On April 11 of this year, I participated in the Major Taylor and Western Pennsylvania Wheelmen tribute ride to the Zone 5 police officers that were killed on April 4. It was a powerful and moving event that brought diverse parts of our greater Pittsburgh community together. The solemn ride brought me closer to my neighbors and I was struck by the power of the simple act of riding together. The ride strengthened our resolve to never let such a tragedy occur in our community again.

Not a member of Bike Pittsburgh? Join today! We need you to add your voice! Bike Pittsburgh works to protect cyclist’s rights and promote the vision of making Pittsburgh a safer and more enjoyable place to live and to ride.

For more info, check out:


  • pratt says:

    Is Bike Pittsburgh endorsing a candidate?

  • erok says:

    we’re a non-profit org. we’re not allowed to endorse candidates

  • scott says:

    We can’t due to our 501(c)3 charitable nonprofit status.

  • jakel says:

    Councilman Dowd mentioned the tax credit for commuting. I followed the link to get more information on this, but haven’t found a resource for how to file for this status. Is there any info on how to go about actually getting the credit?

  • thedutchtouch says:

    i don’t know much about the election yet, but dowd seemed pretty convincing in this piece… now if we could only see through the campaign promises and know what each one would actually DO.

  • mkotyk says:

    While it sounds great that we have added the two new bikes lanes in the city, I heard no mention of what additional bikes lanes will be added. I would be very interested in hearing more about plans for the future. What is going on this year? We are getting into the construction season, so there should be new efforts underway to make the city safer and more accessible for cyclists.

  • davey says:

    Thanks for sending out such thoughtful questions. The candidates’ answers to these will definitely inform my vote in the primary. I especially appreciate questions 8 & 9, which look at the candidates’ personal experiences with cycling.

  • erok says:

    jakel: here’s a good discussion and a wealth of links to figure out the bicycle commuter tax credit.

    it seems that getting your employer to sign on to the commuter check program is the easiest.

  • Renny says:

    Someone familiar with the North Hills should bikely the mayor a route into town. I like the Dowd comeback on that question.

    The Oakland corridor should’ve been the first neighborhood to get bike lanes. I’d be interested to hear how/when Ms. Robinson thinks 5th and Forbes would be striped for it.

  • […] Bike the Vote: Pittsburgh’s Democratic Mayoral Candidates Answer Questions from BikePGH Election day in Pittsburgh, PA, for the Democratic Mayoral primaries is May 19th. Bike Pittsburgh (aka BikePGH) sent a variety of cycling advocacy related questions to the mayoral candidates and have posted the questions and the responses from the mayoral candidates here. […]

  • cburch says:

    All he has to do is take Evergreen (turns into East St). That would take him right to the 16th St Bridge. Pedal Pittsburgh rolls right by Summer Hill every single year. And its pretty much all flat so he wouldn’t need to train to build up to 5 whole miles on his bike…

  • erok says:

    yeah, oakland is it’s own beast. that is really going to require a huge amount of capitol to make something worthwhile.

    i agree though, oakland is probably the most important neighborhood in the city to make bike friendly. i think of all neighborhoods, it could help significantly reduce traffic congestion. when i lived in oakland, there were people that would drive from south oakland to campus. seriously.

  • scott says:

    Check out these memos to the future Mayor from three local architects and designers:

  • stevenpaul says:

    Big kudos to Scott, et. al for pursuing & publishing this Q&A. I agree that there’s not much to the mayor’s ride to work–5 miles, 99% of which is downhill or flat. I suspect that the primary obstacle is will [same as living downtown]. To be fair, Pgh mayors have crazy schedules that make it very difficult to ride to work on a regular basis.

    I’m grateful for the improvements to Forbes Ave through Frick Park. First, repaving it does wonders for my kidneys, even with shocks. And I’m glad that they had the prudence to repave just the bad parts instead of the whole road. The bike lane stripes are key, especially eastbound during rush hour when, if it’s not bumper-to-bumper, cars are blowing through at 45-50mph. It will also give us peddlers some relief from the gravel that collects on the side.

    I did notice that, regarding improvements to Oakland’s bike-friendliness, that none of the candidates even mentioned working with the established organizations in Oakland, ie Oakland Planning & Development Corp, Oakland Business Improvement District, & Oakland Transportation Management Assoc. These groups have critical roles in a difficult, complex and dynamic neighborhood. It would be impossible to effectively address any of these issues w/o working closely w/all of them.

    Maybe that was 3 cents….

  • jk says:

    Bicycling alone in traffic changes a person. So does bicycling on the streets as part of a large group.

    Kudos for getting Dowd to experience this first-hand. The “tricky highways and overpasses” are all the more reason Ravenstahl needs to experience the same thing.

  • […] Bike the Vote!! See how the mayoral candidates answered questions from BikePGH! The Headlines […]

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