Sophie Masloff Paved the Way for Better Biking

Being named the “worst” pushed Mayor Masloff to strive for something better for Pittsburgh

Sophie Masloff was the first woman to serve as Pittsburgh mayor. Credit Bill Levis/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, via Associated Press

Former Pittsburgh Mayor, Sophie Masloff, passed away this past Sunday at the age of 96. Being students of Pittsburgh bicycling history, we started looking into her legacy on the matter, knowing that she had commissioned the first-ever bike map of Pittsburgh in 1992, known lovingly by old-timers as “the Sophie Map.” It wasn’t until 15 years later that BikePGH picked up the mantle to produce the Pittsburgh Bike Map, which we have been producing ever since.

sophie mapWe poured over the map, which seemingly included every piece of relevant information the City could possibly fit on the 31x 38 inch map (remember, these were the days before the Internet existed), including this nugget, “The City of Pittsburgh is developing a comprehensive program to enhance and encourage bicycling throughout its many neighborhoods…Since 1991, over 12 miles of new bike lanes were painted on City streets and marked with newly designed “Bike Route” and “Share the Road” signs”” – remnants of which are still hanging, yet faded, on city streets. We figured out that two of the lanes were situated in Highland and Riverview Parks*, but couldn’t track down the others. If anyone knows the other lanes that Sophie had installed, please let us know!

So it’s clear that Sophie’s legacy didn’t begin and end with her map.

opedBut how did this all come about? The story goes, after Bicycling Magazine named Pittsburgh one of the three worst cities in America for biking, she was incensed, formed the Bicycling in Pittsburgh Committee, and placed Tom Armstrong at its helm.

We tracked down a May 29, 1991 Op-Ed in the Post-Gazette discussing Pittsburgh’s “worst” status, that contained this amazing quote:

“If that kid in the movie “Breaking Away” had grown up in Bloomfield instead of Bloomington, Ind., he wouldn’t have eaten Italian food and idolized Italian cyclists. He would have eaten Italian food.”

This was followed by Tom’s letter to the editor.

The City has come a long way since those days, where now, even Bicycling Magazine places us in the “Best Cities for Cycling” lists, which we hope made Sophie happy.

We reached out to Tom this week to tell the story. Enjoy!

Pittsburgh had been mentioned in a national publication as one of the worst bicycling cities in America. Sophie and her aide Joe Sabino Mistick were livid. Sophie wisely figured that the bikers know best so we created this committee to provide a forum for public suggestions and criticism.

The turnout was enthusiastic resulting in pioneering efforts for bike routes, storage and signage. Pittsburgh’s annual bike to work day was initiated followed by a map of bike routes throughout the city. We established short and long term goals to give cyclists equality in Pittsburgh transportation.

After the public hearings, we appointed a bicycle contact within the planning department for cycling concerns and issues. It is gratifying to see the collection of bikes secured at PNC Park during Pirate games. The conventional wisdom was that nobody would use the racks that we demanded.

Joe Mistick and I rode along the bumpy abandoned RR east of Grant St with then State Rep Tom Murphy….Mayor Murphy then created the Eliza Trail with links to Oakland and the South Side. Next comes the connection to Duck Hollow and Frick Park!

It was only a beginning. BikePGH has done a fantastic job. Mayor Peduto is providing tremendous leadership making bicycles a ubiquitous fixture on the streets of Pittsburgh. Keep up the good work BikePGH. Our future is bright.

Tom Armstrong
Former Chair
Bicycling in Pittsburgh Committee

*The City’s first-ever bike lane was on Beechwood Blvd, and installed during Mayor Richard Caliguiri, Sophie’s predecessor who died while in office in 1988 at the age of 56.

Not a member of BikePGH? 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:

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