Car-Free Fun Draws Thousands to Final Open Streets

The Strip District was crowded with bikes, walkers, and shoppers during Open Streets PGH.

The Strip District was crowded with bikes, walkers, and shoppers during Open Streets PGH.

The streets of the Strip District and Lawrenceville were the scene of a different kind of traffic jam this weekend, as thousands of walkers, bikers, rollerbladers and skateboarders made the most of more than three miles of car-free roads.

Open Streets Pittsburgh saw roads closed to vehicle traffic from Market Square, through Penn Ave in Downtown and the Strip District, to Butler Street in Lawrenceville.

Part of a movement that has spread to more than 100 cities worldwide, Open Streets encourages people to lead a more active lifestyle, and reclaim public spaces from vehicles.

During the road closure, several vehicle crossings were managed by teams of costume-clad volunteers, helped by Pittsburgh City Police.

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Sunday’s was the third and final in the Open Streets Pittsburgh series this summer. The first in May brought out more than 15,500 people, said Mike Carroll, event manager for BikePGH. The second, on a rainy and much cooler day in June, saw about 8,500 people turn out. Early indications were the final event would be the biggest yet, with large crowds turning out to enjoy the hot, sunny morning.

“It’s not just bikes, we’ve got people walking, people running, people rollerblading,” Carroll said.

Open-air exercise classes were held at either end of the route, at Market Square and Butler Street outside the Allegheny Cemetery. Other activities included a “snow-ball fight” using polystyrene snow balls, yoga, pavement chalk drawing, and square dancing.

Along the route, retailers held pop-up markets outside their shops, and long lines formed at coffee shops and water-bottle refilling stations.

The three events had attracted people from a range of ages, from children up to 80-year-olds, Carroll said, and participants were staying for about two hours on average. “Open Streets is about the community, and that’s what makes it so amazing.”

But the success of the day was best judged by the smiles of those taking part, he said, gesturing to the flood of cyclists and walkers passing by: “If you just look around, everyone is smiling”.

Photographs: Heather McCracken

Heather McCracken is a Pittsburgh freelance writer and keen cyclist.

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