Grist: Pittsburgh’s next mayor sees a green future for the “smoky city”

By Ben Adler

PedutoSo you think bike lanes and mass transit are just the hobbyhorses of a handful of elites in coastal cities? Well, think again. Coming soon to an authentically middle-American city near you is an energetic “complete streets” movement with a progressive, environmentally conscious city government. Case in point: Pittsburgh, long known as the “smoky city” because of its history as the center of the American steel industry.

Like the rest of the Rust Belt, Pittsburgh went through decades of post-industrial economic decline and depopulation. But in recent years it has been clawing its way back, riding a wave of computer science and biotechnology innovation. It’s even got an influx of post-irony hipsters.

Soon, Pittsburgh will have a forward-looking city government to match its momentum. On May 22, city councilman Bill Peduto won Pittsburgh’s Democratic mayoral primary. Since, as Peduto notes, “There hasn’t been a Republican elected [mayor] in Pittsburgh since the days of the Great Depression,” winning the Democratic primary is tantamount to winning the election.

On the city council, and in his campaign, Peduto has advocated for sustainable development, complete streets, traffic calming, and alternative transportation. Grist recently caught up with Peduto by phone to ask him about how he intends to improve Pittsburgh’s transportation infrastructure, reduce its carbon footprint, and help further its revitalization.

Q. Did your advocacy on alternative transportation and “complete streets” work to your advantage in the election?

A. The voting base has changed in this city. It’s become younger and it’s become more progressive. That’s why I was able to win, quite honestly. Where the old voting bloc had dictated local elections for past 40 years, there’s a new progressive movement that has been able to win every contested race against the old guard. And not just in this election cycle, but going back about six years now, and to them, complete streets is on the agenda. It’s groups like Progress Pittsburghthat have helped to push it; it’s groups like Bike Pittsburgh that have advocated. And the last component is a city government that gets it.

It gets even better. Read the entire interview here.

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