Pittsburgh ranked eighth among large cities for commuting without cars

| Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, 11:51 p.m.

Waiting for his bus home from Downtown on Tuesday, Jack King was surprised to hear Pittsburgh ranks eighth among large cities where people commute to work by means other than cars.

“It's cheaper. The gas, the oil and parking is immensely expensive. The bus, in the end, saves me money,” King, 52, of Brighton Heights, said.

The Institute for Quality Communities at the University of Oklahoma dug through Census Bureau data — from the 2012 American Community Survey — on how Americans travel to work in the 60 largest cities and released its finding this week. Some walk, some bike, some use public transit.

Among Pittsburgh residents, 29.2 percent matched that category.

Among Northeast cities, Pittsburgh trailed New York, Washington, Boston and Philadelphia. But compared to Midwest cities, Pittsburgh trailed only Chicago, besting Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, St. Louis and others. Pittsburgh was well ahead of southern cities including Miami, Dallas and San Diego.

“I'd say that's pretty good overall — eighth,” said Shane Hampton, a fellow at the Institute for Quality Communities who researched the data. “The Northeast is the leader. The region is older and developed before the car was invented. A lot of areas there were developed to be gotten around on foot or by streetcar. The Sunbelt cities had most of their development in the 20th century during sprawl. Transit is really the key to all of it.”

Bike Pittsburgh Executive Director Scott Bricker said his organization analyzed the data but didn't find the biking numbers as encouraging. He said the city should invest in dedicated bike lanes with barriers separating vehicular traffic.

“It doesn't look like we've moved at all in biking. It's impressive Pittsburgh is ranking in the top 10 in these lists, but we're seeing other cities making investments in biking infrastructure. We've plateaued.”

Pittsburgh's numbers show that 1.4 percent bike to work, 10.6 percent walk and 17.2 take mass transit. The rest use cars.

Marissa Doyle, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's spokeswoman, agreed work needs to be done.

“We've focused on expanding and improving the city's multi-modal transportation opportunities so that residents can travel throughout the city easier and safer,” Doyle said. “We've also focused on expanding residential opportunities near major work hubs, such as Downtown and East Liberty.”

Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie noted a 2010 study by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership found more than 50 percent of Downtown workers take a bus or ride the T.

“We're constantly looking to make the system more efficient,” Ritchie said.

Matt Wholey, 49, of Shadyside bikes or takes the bus to his job in the Allegheny County Courthouse.

“I never drive. I enjoy the bicycle. It gives me fresh air and it's always 27 minutes. Driving can be quicker or it can take an hour if there's an accident,” Wholey said. “When I'm riding my bike home (on the Eliza Furnace Trail) I see all those people sitting in parkway traffic. They look so miserable.”

Bobby Kerlik is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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