National Main Street Conference is held in a different state each year. This year it was Pennsylvania. Trail Towns mobile workshop was amazing because it was a bike ride! It is impossible to learn much about a Main Street trapped on a bus tour; even if they let you out for a brief visit on the street or better yet inside of a renovated building listening to stakeholders. This Sunday tour set the tone for the week with a 30 mile bike trek from West Newton to Pittsburgh downtown with 50 other main street geeks.
The cyclist guides were proud of this 30 year project. Years ago, an idea was hatched to link splintered dead end bike paths into the unified Cumberland & Pittsburgh Trail: Great Allegheny Passage. One dedicated stakeholder and biker was Linda Boxx who rode the entire day explaining how she bridged gaps of red tape with magic, secret weapons and love of the trail.
We rode through endless tunnels of bright spring trees, sleepy neighborhoods, parks with little league games, rivers, bridges, a theme park and industrial parks. A constant stream of riders passed us throughout the day. Riding side by side, Boxx regarded, “Each ride unique with different weather and riders.”
I saw a young kids, a teenager with short curly purple hair rocking a unicycle, bike veterans outfitted with multiple packs on racks with mirrors and lights on every surface. If you had 12 days you could ride all the way to Washington DC! If you plan it right, you could stay at bed and breakfasts along the way with a service to shuttle your luggage while you are cruising to your next town. The whole concept is to get more tourists to stop in these towns along the way.
It is not perfect; like when the tunnel of trees ends you have to bike on surface streets which is not only dangerous but not pretty. Sometimes it is hard to justify bikers riding through pedestrian shopping areas. The bike trail took us through a big box shopping area and we completely bypassed the storefront pedestrian foot traffic. In some areas an elevated bike path could work. We never actually rode through a historic downtown. Urban legend David Lewis , and his wife Judi Tanner-Lewis residents of 30 years and shop owners in Homestead Borough mentioned that they wished the bike trail and Main Street were better intertwined.
The system is dependent on signage and mile markers. What sticks with me most was experiencing the riders of all ages coming and going as they pleased in a safe place for the most part away from vehicles. It was also hopeful to see the retail and restaurants that had sprung up along the way to support the bikers.