“A city always contains more than any inhabitant can know, and a great city always makes the unknown and the possible spurs to the imagination.”—Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust, A History of Walking
The best way to see Pittsburgh is by bike. And the absolute best way to see Pittsburgh’s public art is also by bike, in a decently sized (chatty) group and led by the curators of the 2013 Carnegie International (Thanks Tina and Daniel!). Luckily BikePGH, the ride organizer, picked a beautiful Saturday in November to ride 18 miles through the city’s parks, along its riverfronts, and through several neighborhoods starting in Oakland and ending in Millvale. The group, comprised of BikePGH members, met at the Carnegie Museum of Art, next to Phyllida Barlow’s TIP.
Our first stop was on the Carnegie Mellon University to see Mel Bochner’s (CMU alum) and Michael Van Valkenburgh’s Kraus Campo garden. The conceptual piece nestled between the University’s fine arts and business buildings incorporates text, architecture, and landscape architecture into an interactive experience.
Descending through Schenley Park, across the Hot Metal Bridge and traveling downstream along the South Side Trail, the group arrived at The Workers, the Industrial Arts Cooperative’s tribute to Pittsburgh’s industrial pedigree.
Downtown Pittsburgh was the site of our next two stops. Scott Burton’s Chairs for Six sit in the plaza of the BNY Mellon Center. Across town in the Cultural District, Katz Plaza hosts a collaboration featuring Louise Bourgeois, Daniel Urban Kiley, and Michael Graves.
A quick trip over the Andy Warhol Bridge led the group into the central North Side neighborhood to Randyland, where we were met by the gregarious Randy Gilson. Gilson regaled the group with his background and artistic philosophy—“I don’t know how to paint, but I paint! Nice!”
The ride’s final destination was St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Parish to view the Maxo Vanka murals. The murals extend far beyond the typical Roman Catholic iconography. A few years ago, I had read about the Vanka murals in David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries: “More unusual for a church are the political and antiwar aspects of the murals that echo the crucifixion—widows mourn over a soldier in a coffin containing a bleeding corpse, and crosses cover the hillside behind them. Another wall depicts corrupt justice: a figure in a gas mask holds scales on which the gold outweighs bread. Clearly World War I had a big effect on Maxo.”
As I said earlier, there is no better way to see a city and its public art than biking, and Pittsburgh is taking great strides in becoming a world-class biking community. Currently there are over 20 miles of riverfront trails along the Monongahela River, Allegheny River, and mighty Ohio River. Over the past several years, the city has added over 70 miles of on-street facilities that connect cyclists to the many vibrant business districts scattered throughout the city. With the development of BikePGH’s Better Bikeways Vision and the city’s MOVEPGH (transportation plan), cyclists can expect bigger and better toys within the next few years.
With that said, 2014 is expected to be a watershed year for the city’s biking community as Pittsburgh launches a bike share system and hosts Pro Walk/Pro Bike 2014, one of the pre-eminent active transportation conferences in the world. The bike share system will introduce 500 rentable bicycles onto Pittsburgh’s streets, providing cheap, convenient, and fun transportation for short trips. Pro Walk/Pro Bike will bring over 1,000 active transportation advocates, engineers, architects, planners, elected officials, and vendors to Downtown Pittsburgh in September 2014. It’s an amazing opportunity to showcase Pittsburgh’s improvements and learn from the global leaders in urban transportation design. Learn more about the Pro Walk/Pro Bike 2014 conference.
Stephen Patchan, Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator, City of Pittsburgh