With high gasoline prices, roads filled with potholes and the number of bicycle trails across Pennsylvania on the rise, Pittsburgh is entering a cycling boom… once again.
In the 1970s, city dwellers used bicycles to beat ever-spiraling prices of gasoline brought on by the oil crisis; instead of pumping black gold, they pumped pedals on the shopping trips and short journeys around the city.
Cycling had become so popular in 1974 that Pittsburgh newspapers reported on the bicycle parking problem. “With the recent surge in bicycle riding popularity, sights of overcrowded racks around the city may become all too familiar not only in parks and neighborhoods but in metropolitan areas where persons may be favoring bikes instead of autos,” the Post-Gazette reported.
In those days, the price of gasoline was at $1.32 a gallon. Pittsburghers used bicycles for transportation and recreation. Riding your bike was hip, easy and cheap.
A bunch of small bike shops opened in various neighborhoods. One of those popular destinations for young bicyclists, especially students, was a small Squirrel Hill bike shop on Forward Avenue called Velocipede. It offered a lot of economical options for passionate cyclists during the biking boom era in Pittsburgh.
In the 1970s on the streets of Pittsburgh, you could even spot people riding around town in “electropeds,” the descendents of the moped. The electroped was a battery-powered bicycle that sold for $400 to $600. The vehicle cruised at 20 mph and could get 40 miles on a full charge that used 10 cents worth of electricity.
Pittsburgh was not and, unfortunately, is still far from being a bicycle-friendly city. Any bicyclist could list a series of problems holding Pittsburgh back from becoming a cycling paradise: road hazards, conflicts and tensions among road users among them. In spite of the gorgeous trails along the rivers and an enthusiastic cycling culture, inadequacies of the existing bike routes for commuting remains an issue.
In 1972 and ‘75, cycling advocates authored some reports and proposals to build bicycle infrastructure in the city, including eight potential bikeway projects in the East End, North Side and Downtown. These proposals were implemented sporadically and have not been realized fully. The bike boom ended and the momentum died.
In Pittsburgh today, there are more reasons for cycling eventually to take off: an enduring fitness craze, perpetually high energy prices, social consciousness and awareness in climate change and efforts of the green movement to limit human ecological footprint. All are arguments in support for Pittsburgh’s cycling culture to prosper and thrive.