What are those silver structures at the curb in front of the US Steel Tower on Grant Street? They look like Art Deco bicycle racks, or the first two of an intended row of ... flowers? | You Had to Ask | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

What are those silver structures at the curb in front of the US Steel Tower on Grant Street? They look like Art Deco bicycle racks, or the first two of an intended row of ... flowers?

Question submitted by: Jacque Rowden, Squirrel Hill

You know, one of the compensations of my job is the chance to be present when history is being created. I, for one, will never forget the way the hair stood up on my arms when Jeff Goldblum Day was recently decreed by City Council. And I was present back in early April of this year, when City Council learned that 130 bike racks like the one you've seen were to be theirs. For free.


Those who doubt the zeal of their elected officials should have been there. Members of Bike Pittsburgh, the cycling advocacy group who put the project together, were on hand to explain the program; they had full-color photographs of the racks -- both with and without bikes attached. The whole thing was grant-funded, requiring no city money: Pretty much all that was needed was council's willingness to bolt the stands onto city-owned garages and sidewalks. Yet City Council has always been wary of geeks bearing gifts. Councilors discussed whether the bike racks would be installed as far from the curb as the parking meters, how many bikes could fit on a rack, the process by which rack locations had been selected, whether community groups could veto an unpopular location, and so on.


At times, you got the feeling we were talking about the other kind of biker -- the kind that travel in packs with at least one guy named "Tiny" who really isn't. Council President Gene Ricciardi asked whether approving the stands would be "inviting more bike traffic on the streets." (You'll notice few people ask a similar question about parking garages.) And Ricciardi, who represents the city's South Side, wondered aloud if there would be "20 bikes in front of the Beehive" on East Carson Street. Even if there had been, of course, that would still represent less metal than one finds in the average Beehive customer's earlobe. But Ricciardi worried that pedestrians, especially the elderly, already found it difficult to navigate Carson Street's sidewalks.


To be fair, Ricciardi was merely representing the concerns of his constituency. Pittsburgh seems to have a deeply rooted antagonism for bicycles which I've never entirely understood. (I reserve my homicidal rage for in-line skaters.) But in the end, as other councilors pointed out, bicycles are permitted on city streets, and given the city's attempts to be more youth-friendly and progressive, installing new racks seemed like a good idea. Council gave its approval, and within a couple months the racks began appearing.


So far, I've yet to see a bike fastened to the posts you've seen on Grant Street ... which may be because they look almost too attractive to serve a useful purpose. (And yes, people do say the same of me.) Unlike the utilitarian posts you see in other cities, these things actually look ... elegant: Bike Pittsburgh refers to them as "Public Art Bike Racks," which is fitting. They sort of slope forward, like they might be mobile themselves: Circular in design, they feature a stylized rendering of the three rivers in the circle's center.


And as befits a self-powered form of transportation, they were made entirely within city limits: As Bike Pittsburgh is happy to note on its Web site, www.bike-pgh.org, the steel racks were fabricated by Garfield's Red Star Ironworks, from designs compiled by Wall-to-Wall Studios in the Strip District. Some of the grant money to finance the project was provided by Pittsburgh's own Sprout Fund.


Nearly 60 racks have been installed, most of which are in Downtown parking garages. Bike Pittsburgh plans to have more than twice that many racks scattered throughout the city. Neighborhoods slated for racks include Oakland, Highland Park, Point Breeze, Wilkinsburg, East Liberty, and Squirrel Hill. If you don't get one in your neighborhood, I urge you to contact your City Councilor: It might spice up future meetings.

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