I’ve been wanting to bike the roads around Pittsburgh since I first came here, but circumstances stopped me. For one thing, I have a beach cruiser – not a great ride for city roads. I could, however, have just bought a new bike if there were more bike lanes and more biker/pedestrian safety around here; in the time I was a student, there were two traffic-on-biker/pedestrian fatal accidents that I can think of off the top of my head. I also know at least three friends who got hit by cars while walking around the city (luckily, none of them had horrible injuries). If I’m going to invest in a bike, I want the city to invest in my safety.
Luckily, Pittsburgh has a plan! They’ve already been working on adding more functional and well-marked bike lanes, and recently I heard of the Bike(+) plan. The idea behind the plan is to “enable people of all ages and abilities to travel by bicycle and other small mobility modes to access the needs of daily life including grocery stores, parks, schools and places of employment” (read more here). So, I’m excited to review the plan and see what I think – and start prepping to buy a bike.
First of all, why bike around the city? If automobiles were once the future of cities, there’s a trend now toward a future full of bikes and other small, near-pedestrian vehicles (check out PEVs from MIT and Piaggio’s Gita). Biking is something I miss doing more often and as Pittsburgh prepares to be more bike-friendly, I’m excited to learn to bike in an urban environment.
There are a lot of pros to biking. Bikes are more sustainable than cars, and increased use of bikes can decrease emissions and improve air quality. These are important trends as urban districts grow and develop.
Bikes are also far more affordable than cars; although I already own a car and won’t have to spend on a car purchase, the cost of gas is through the roof – and, obviously, I wouldn’t have to worry about that with a bike. And, if you don’t already own a car, you can take the price difference between my car and my possible new bike as an example: $17,000 down versus $1000 down.
I also enjoy biking, like I said previously. And since I’m looking at hybrid bikes, I can adventure on trails and around the city with the same little vehicle. That’s easier than having a car – where do I park? will I get towed? do I have to move for street cleaning? – and better exercise, too. The pandemic has taught me that I can’t rely on a gym.
Biking in Pittsburgh
Currently, uniform bike lanes are not available throughout the entire city. To some extent they start and end randomly, causing difficulty and confusion for bicyclists. Major arteries are also heavily trafficked at relatively high speeds (e.g. Forbes Avenue) without having designated bike lanes down their lengths. Smaller side streets are often used by speeding cars trying for a short cut, which is extremely dangerous for anyone on a bike or board.
Port Authority buses have bike racks at the front, which is a plus for bikers around here. There are also plenty of parks with bike trails, as well as bike lane improvements and Neighborways in the making.
The Bike(+) Difference
The first thing you’ll notice when you check out the Bike(+) maps is the amount of new multi-use and bike lanes planned. I’m hoping this will do as it promises and greatly increase connectivity for cyclists across the city.
The current biking-only network in Pittsburgh covers about 30 roads or parts of roads*; the proposed finished network will cover about 118 roads or parts of roads* – a nearly 400% increase** in bike-only travel space! None of that is including multi-use pathways, but there’s a good amount of increase in those as well.
The Bike(+) plan also includes initiatives to protect cyclists and other micro-mobility travelers as the physical network expands. One proposal I found particularly interesting was to “clearly define where emerging bike(+) devices may, and may not, operate in the public right of ways of Pittsburgh” (master plan document, page 33). There are a lot of engineers and engineering students and enthusiasts around here who ride hoverboards, motorized bicycles, unicycles, and more. Interestingly some of these vehicles are legally “toys” and are thus not street legal, meaning they have to be used on sidewalks and may be a danger to pedestrians. In a city with technologies like these available, new mobility modes need to be taken into consideration early. Bike(+) plans to do just that.
My Vision for Future Biking
My hope is that Bike(+) fulfills its promises and gives us a safer, easier, and more accessible Pittsburgh. I don’t want to kick out cars, but I want a future where urban areas connect locals and tourists to the outdoors, to different neighborhoods, and to each other; a future where a decrease in cars and an improved infrastructure keeps pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers safe together.
Imagine the improvements in air quality, health, safety, community, and culture that a better micro-mobility infrastructure can bring to a city! ✿
*Current biking network refers to solid blue lines on the map at the top of this post. Proposed bike-only network refers to dotted purple lines on the same map.
**118/30 = 3.93; 120 is 400% of 30
Note: According to the document (master plan) linked at the top of the page, the Bike(+) plan is set for major updates in/by 2025. See pages 76-79 in the document.