North Side initiative marries well-being of bicyclists with businesses
A plan that has been gestating for several years within a bicycle advocacy group on the North Side finally has hatched.
The We Like Bikes! campaign is the first grassroots, multi-neighborhood initiative in the city to marry the well-being of bicyclists to that of businesses.
The Northside Leadership Conference hired Jesse Descutner in May 2018 to be the conference’s Main Street assistant.
“The conference gave me liberty to push this program through,” he said. “It became a passion project for me. I’d love to see this project cut and pasted all over the city.”
Mr. Descutner, a 2016 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh who commutes to work most days by bike from his home in Bloomfield, went door to door asking business owners to sign up. Would they keep bike repair tools — tire pumps, tire levers, chain tools, screwdriver/wrench multi-tools and patch kits — on hand and put a red We Like Bikes! decal in their storefronts letting cyclists know the tools are inside? And could they also please let cyclists use their bathrooms and fill up on water?
“I was amazed that every business I asked said yes,” he said. “Some businesses are even talking about offering incentives to cyclists, like discounts.”
The Northside Leadership Conference’s Walk Ride Northside committee began devising this plan several years ago, but implementation was left to first one intern then the next. None ever got the momentum to complete the project, said Jerry Green, a member of the committee who, with his bike activist wife, Donna Green, cycles throughout the city and region several times a week.
“Jesse has taken the bull by the horns,” he said.
Mr. Descutner has signed up 14 businesses so far. A $1,000 grant from One Northside, a Buhl Foundation initiative, paid for decals and tools, provided by Bear Dog Bikes in Allegheny West.
“We wanted to make everything North Side, but we want people in other parts of the city to come and know they can get assistance,” Mr. Descutner said. “We have a reliable network of businesses now. My goal is to expand up into Observatory Hill.”
The businesses are on a map at pittsburghnorthside.com.
Alexandria Shewczyk, a spokesperson for Bike Pittsburgh, said We Like Bikes! is a worthy model for replication in other neighborhoods.
“Businesses that show they care about the biking community can bring people into their shops,” she said. “More businesses are reaching out to us to have bike rack installations for customers or employees.”
Naomi Ritter, the manager at Arnold’s Tea, a participating business in Deutschtown, said the original owner, Verna Arnold, had the idea to be bike friendly several years ago. Ms. Arnold retired and sold the businesses to Claudy Pierre last year.
“She put in an application to be bike accessible, and so we’re in the process of getting a bike parking station outside our shop,” Ms. Ritter said. “We’re on a corner by a bus stop, and we get bike traffic from the Strip District and Downtown.”
Jamie Younger, owner of Young Brothers Bar in Marshall-Shadeland, said he talked to the Walk Ride committee several years ago about the many bicyclists who passed his Woods Run Avenue business en route to and from the Ohio River trail.
“I see a ton of bicycle traffic, and I thought it would be a mutually beneficial relationship between businesses and bikers to bring them in, refill their water and let them use the bathroom without having the pressure of making a purchase,” he said.
The longer-term payoff would be that these cyclists become customers, he said.
“Sometimes people would come in and say, ‘My bike broke down, can I leave it here and pick it up tomorrow?’ We had some guys biking from San Francisco to New York get caught in a heavy rainstorm. They ended up coming in, eating and drinking, and we put their bikes in a pickup to their destination in Lawrenceville.”
That got the wheels turning on the plan. But the trail’s proximity was just part of the mission.
“We want to make a connection between bicycling and local economic development,” said Nick Ross, chair of the Walk Ride Northside committee. “We want to cultivate healthy local business districts. Eight thousand people use the North Shore trail, so how can we help bring people up to the local businesses?”
“A lot of people from the North Hills park at Millvale to ride the trail, then leave,” Ms. Green said.
Signs that point people to businesses off the trail would help, she said, noting that there is a city process with signage that’s cumbersome.
An example of how businesses and bicyclists can bond is the relationship the Walk Ride committee formed with Penn Brewery in Troy Hill. The brewery, a We Like Bikes! participant, sits beside the trail that parallels Route 28.
“The manager at the brewery said, ‘Why don’t you meet at my place?’ ” Ms. Green said. “We started meeting there and we see bikes all the time there now.”
Originally published on August 12, 2019
SOURCE: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette