Following several years of always being out-of-town or otherwise unable to attend an OpenStreets Pittsburgh session, last summer I returned to the city just in time for the sole event of 2021. I wrote about my experience cycling across the Mon to Hazelwood for that event around Mill 19 last summer. This year the organization is back to a full summer schedule with dates scheduled for May, June, and July. The inaugural route this summer ran from Downtown to the South Side, with the South Side terminus located nearby to where the Birmingham Bridge intersects Carson Street, which is practically at my front door. So on the last Saturday of May my roommate and I pedaled out onto Carson to join the crowds gathering to enjoy a day of (mostly) car-free streets.
After a week that was frequently overcast and occasionally rainy, it was a gorgeous Saturday. The day also provided a reminder of the importance of applying sunscreen: had I known I was going to be out and about for nearly five hours in vigorous sunshine, I might’ve prepared better. The route officially opened at 10 AM and, as with the Hazelwood event last summer, the streets steadily grew more populated over the course of the day. Below is a snapshot of the scene along Carson Street in the afternoon.
Among the various venders and activity stations scattered along Carson Street, stalwart South Side cycle shop Thick Bikes had a dedicated event area where visitors could ride a unicycle, drink a beer, and listen to live music.
We stopped a while to listen to the music, but did not take our chances on a unicycle.
Further down Carson we reached one of the great crossings of the route: the 10th Street Bridge. Unfortunately none of my photos can do justice to the experience of the actual crossing, which I can only crudely convey as both “cinematic” and “immersive.”
On the downtown-side of the expanse we approached the ostensible highlight of the entire course: what the OpenStreets web site described as “a magically car-free Armstrong Tunnel.”
The passage through the tunnel did indeed seem magical, in the sense of feeling out-of-the-ordinary to the point of nearly being otherworldly. During our initial transit the traffic was light enough to offer plenty of breathing room. On subsequent traversals the navigation around other moving bodies was a bit more harrowing, especially during the darkened portions of the tunnel where visibility was very low (an effect compounded by my sunglasses). While I was somewhat exacerbated by having to maneuver around perambulators and pram-pushers during these latter runs, I was also tempted to dismount and join these pedestrians who were savoring their time in the tunnel, walking through and examining the details of the wall tiles, inspecting the graffiti, etc.
The tunnel opened up on Forbes Avenue, emptying us out onto the streets of Downtown.
There were a couple of traffic crossings facilitated by event volunteers and city workers on the way to the Downtown-end of the course. Even during our first transit in the morning the streets on the Downtown side seemed more populated.
The Downtown terminus of the route was at Market Square, at the base of PPG Place and in the shadow of the Highmark building and Gateway Center. We surveyed the various booths and picked up some OpenStreets merch.
On our return trip from Downtown back to South Side my roommate and I both noticed a fountain in a courtyard that we hadn’t seen before. The fountain is in the courtyard of the Allegheny County Courthouse, and even though I have been in that complex multiple times (for various purposes of varying pleasantness) I had never noticed the fountain. Evidently many other riders were making a similar discovery on this Saturday afternoon, as several cyclists joined us in deviating from the route for a photo-op.
Back in the South Side we found Carson Street significantly more crowded than we had left it. Close to home we stopped and watched a stilt-wearing street performer’s show. He had amped-up energy and was doing great crowd work, but we decided to leave after he kept deferring his promised knife juggling routine.
We made the trip back Downtown. After arriving in Market Square we decided to continue on to the Point. This involved leaving the closed-streets car-free course and entering actual downtown traffic, which was a first for me. But it was a quick trip along the bike lane past the Gateway T Station and over to Point State Park. Once arrived at the central fountain we found that many other cyclists had decided to travel the extra distance.
From this point we decided to ride back to South Side along the river trail, cycling up to the Hot Metal Bridge to cross back over the Mon. We then made the round trip from South Side to Downtown and back a third time. All told we rode for nearly 20 miles and 5 hours. As I said before, it was a good reminder of the importance of sunscreen.