BikeFest 2011: Tree Pittsburgh’s Trees of Pittsburgh ride.
It’s so hard to say goodbye
By Eric Boerer
The time has come for us to announce that we are letting go of something very near and dear to the heart and history of BikePGH.
Way back in 2005, when BikePGH was a mere three years old, a few dedicated volunteers, coordinated by yours truly, had the crazy idea of putting together a multi-week celebration of all things cycling and call it BikeFest. We thought it would be fun to solicit events from the nascent yet disconnected cycling community and put them all on a calendar, throw a huge party, and promote the heck out of it. Our original goals were quite simple: we wanted to unite the diverse squads within Pittsburgh cycling, and show off how many different ways you can have fun on a bicycle in the City.
So we wrote a grant to the Sprout Fund, who put their trust in our infant organization to see what we could accomplish. It’s only fitting that, with their recent announcement that the Sprout Fund is sunsetting, we are announcing that we’re letting BikeFest go as well.
The heart and soul of BikeFest is that it’s community-driven, meaning that the events that residents and community groups put together determine how the overall festival will look and feel.
BikeFest 2014: The 10th Annual BikeFest.
Creative events ranged from outdoor bike-themed movie screenings with Pittsburgh Filmmakers to scavenger hunts and pool hopping; from historic rides highlighting the City’s role in the Underground Railroad or radical politics, to a ride that simply tried to figure out where Roberto Clemente lived.
People used BikeFest rides to tackle issues ranging from the Iraq War to nuclear disarmament; from the climate crisis to urban gardens, and and so much more. An indicator as to how different the City was back then, during the inaugural BikeFest, the Brewery Ride went to all three breweries that were in Pittsburgh. This ride took us on Penn Ave, Liberty Ave, Negley Ave, and East Liberty Blvd, none of which featured bike lanes at the time. This ride has now evolved into the annual, iconic, and much celebrated East End Brewing’s Keg Ride.
BikeFest surpassed our expectations and it’s safe to say, helped launch BikePGH into the mainstream beginning with a City Paper cover story seen in newspaper boxes and coffee shops all over town. The event also served to muzzle naysayers who said that nobody rides bikes in Pittsburgh. Frankly, BikeFest, and especially the memorable BikeFest parties, brought bicyclists together, took our membership numbers to the next level and helped establish BikePGH as the region’s leader in creating the grassroots movement toward a bike-friendly Pittsburgh.
BikeFest was our first chance to show, in real life, what a vision of a fun, bike-centric city could look like. Thirteen years later, we still hold those same utopian values, but we feel that we need to evolve as we bring walking advocacy and equity issues into our organizational goals.
For example, we now run three OpenStreetsPGH events, where, for four hours on a weekend morning, we create a space for people to experience that utopian dream right in their own neighborhood. Last year, we were able to directly show 90,000 participants what a world without cars, but filled with people walking, biking, and living a healthy lifestyle can look like, in the hopes that they too, will dream big. This is literally ninety times the outreach that BikeFest has achieved, but the increased need of staff, volunteers, money and time requires us to rethink how we allocate these resources.
Additionally, I’m sure the participant’s of the 2005 BikeFest women’s tour of bridges would be impressed to see the development of our successful Women and Biking programming and Forum. The Forum, which took place (and sold out) last weekend, creates a space for Femme / Womxn / Gender Non-Conforming / Non-binary people to come together and also dream big about biking and walking.
In those thirteen years, we’ve worked closely with the City to expand the on-street bike network from 10 to 83 miles of markings. While we still have a long way to go, we’ve made significant progress to help people safely get around on two wheels, with a more than tripling of the bike commuter rate since the first BikeFest. So many people seem to be riding now, that any old-timer will tell you that they no longer recognize everyone they see on a bike.
What does the future hold?
Many of the events that came out of BikeFest, like the aforementioned East End Brewing Company’s Keg Ride, or the Every Pittsburgh Neighborhood ride, have their own following and will continue into the future.
Even Seinfeld only lasted 9 seasons, and we surely never expected to be running BikeFest after 13 years. However, it now seems an appropriate time for BikePGH to release BikeFest, let it go back to its roots, and let people in the community decide what the future will be.
Events can and should still happen, and we will be sure that people know about events on our calendar, a resource that anyone can submit bike-related events to. To think that when BikeFest launched, Facebook wasn’t a thing, and people now have this ubiquitous tool to create, share and promote their own events from their smartphone (oh yeah, smartphones weren’t a thing yet either). Additionally, there’s no reason why a few people with a crazy idea couldn’t start and run their own version of BikeFest.
In a sense, I suppose we’ve accomplished what we ultimately sought out to do, but maybe didn’t even realize it in 2005 – let’s make every day BikeFest.
See you on the road and trail,
Eric “Erok” Boerer, BikePGH
PS. BikeFest could not have happened without our members, volunteers, and sponsors too plentiful to name over the years. We’d like to offer a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to everyone who organized events, showed up to rides, donated money, hung posters, served drinks, and swept the floors before and after our incredible parties.