WARREN — When residents of Warren open up their local Times Observer newspaper, or pulled it up digitally, they found a welcoming headline: “Warren Named Best Bicycling City in State.”
Many locals initially thought that made sense, considering the picturesque mountain biking trails in the surrounding Allegheny National Forest, such as Jakes Rocks, Kinzua Point and Bent Run, just to name a few. But alas, this study was talking about biking inside the city.
The honor was bestowed by Insurify, an insurance comparison shopping website that used 4 million auto insurance applications from its own database and information from PeopleforBikes.org and BikeWise.org to make its proclamation.
“Bicycle safety is a community effort,” said Maia Sutton, a digital outreach specialist with Insurify. “Warren tops them all because of the smaller population… Biking in cities is pretty stressful, at times. Obviously, cities can be bike-friendly, but they’re still cities. Smaller towns, smaller cities with less commotion are going to be, in general, more bike-friendly.”
Sutton said there were four criteria for cities to be ranked to be ranked: Overall bike friendliness, bike commuting prevalence, prevalence of bike incidents, and DUI and passing violations. According to Insurify, Warren joins cities like Denver, Colo.; Portland, Ore.; Austin, Texas; and Charlotte, N.C. as the safest cycling cities in their state, which provide a boost in tourism, according to Dave Sherman, executive director of the Warren County Visitors Bureau.
“Not everyone wants to go to a large city — Philly, Pittsburgh come to mind,” Sherman said. “Sometimes they want the small-town atmosphere and the safety that comes with it, as Insurify verified.”
Jim Decker, president and CEO of the Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry, is a road cyclist himself, along with his wife. He said the announcement was a surprise, but the result was not, considering he has been an avid advocate for safer biking in the county for years.
Decker was involved in the Chamber fundraising for the building of the aforementioned mountain bike trails and supported PennDot and the city administration’s decision in to build Sharrows on both Market Street and Pennsylvania Avenue last August.
“It really reflects kind of the attitude this community has taken in the awareness that folks have, overall, to biking and outdoor rec[reation],” Decker said. “It’s a positive thing to have someone like [Insurify] looking at that data and demographic to make sure we are safe, and No. 1 is always the best place to be.”
Every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, a group of cyclists meet at Warren Cycle Shop on Liberty Street to ride together. They ride through Market Street and Pennsylvania Avenue — the two main roads in town where cars and bikes legally share the road — to reach destinations outside of town. Some trips take them onto Route 6, dubbed Bike Route Y by the Commonwealth in 2008, where they can ride on the side of a main highway, safely. These rides can last as long as 25-50 miles.
79-year-old Bill Sorvelli is a veteran of this group, biking most of his life in Warren. He said hearing the news was exciting.
“We finally got the recognition as being a bicycling community,” Sorvelli said. “I still have to watch myself. I can’t just go and ride my bike and say, ‘To heck with traffic.’ I have to be cautious of traffic.”
Bike safety comes first for these road cyclists, even if their driving counterparts are slow to change their attitudes to share the road.
“We watch out for those little rocks and potholes, and sometimes, those cars and trucks don’t anticipate that we have to weave a little bit to avoid those things,” said Dr. Jay Endres, who rides with the group consistently. “Hopefully [with the news], some of the drivers who don’t think we belong on the road will have second thoughts about having us share the roads with them.”