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Pittsburgh's bike share program well on its way

| Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015, 10:33 p.m.
James Knox | Trib Total Media
Lead mechanic for Pittsburgh Bike Share Justin Marrow works on one of the bikes Monday Dec. 14, 2015 at the group's headquarters in Lawrenceville.
James Knox | Trib Total Media
David White, executive director of Pittsburgh Bike Share talks about their experiences running the first six months of HealthyRide Monday Dec. 14, 2015 at the group's headquarters in Lawrenceville.
James Knox | Trib Total Media
Inside Pittsburgh Bike Share's headquarters in Lawrenceville Monday Dec. 14, 2015.
James Knox | Trib Total Media
Inside Pittsburgh Bike Share's headquarters in Lawrenceville Monday Dec. 14, 2015.

The Healthy Ride headquarters is housed in a nondescript brick building along Penn Avenue at the lower end of Lawrenceville.

But peer inside the full-length windows and see what makes Pittsburgh's bike share program run: mechanics swapping out spare parts, employees answering customer calls and extra bikes stacked on metal racks inching toward the ceiling.

Nine employees maintain the 500-bike, 50-station rental system that opened in spring and hit full stride by mid-July. Healthy Ride has 23,000 registered users, logged 40,000 trips during the summer and officially is prepping for winter weather.

“We've done everything over the last 10 months for the first time,” said David White, executive director of Pittsburgh Bike Share, the nonprofit that operates Healthy Ride.

On this day, White returned to headquarters with a bike he rented.

“Every single day, we got up and did something we've never done before,” he said. “It feels really good to know next year, we'll be able to do everything a little bit better.”

Employees plan to keep half the bike inventory operational during winter months and begin an annual inspection process. They'll work eight-hour shifts that involve visiting stations every other day for inspections. They'll “balance” the number of bikes among stations by loading a large white van.

On Dec. 12, when unseasonable temperatures reached 70 degrees, Healthy Ride offered free rentals that drew more than 600 people. So far, the busiest day topped 1,000 rides, coinciding with the final Open Streets event in the summer. The program did not lose any bikes this year, White said.

The Healthy Ride station at 10th Street and Penn Avenue near the David L. Lawrence Convention Center is the most popular, and trip data show Downtown to the Strip District is the most popular route for the rentals. Employees have noticed hilltop stations — such as one by Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh — are popular places to take bikes from but not necessarily to return them.

North Side resident Jerrold Green uses Healthy Ride about once a month to head to Lawrenceville or the South Side. He likes the smooth ride on the bikes, which have thick tires and sturdy handlebars.

Green, 70, is a retired engineer and longtime cyclist, and a member of the Northside Bicycle-Pedestrian Committee. He would like to see Healthy Ride stations within five minutes of urban residential neighborhoods for frequent use — and more bike infrastructure such as protected lanes.

“Bike share bikes benefit all bicycle users by getting more bikes on the streets,” Green said, “which improves bicycle awareness among motor vehicle drivers.”

Healthy Ride has opened its trip data to public inspection so researchers can examine its effects. A student at Carnegie Mellon University determined stations in Shadyside tend to be the most popular at night.

Kostas Pelechrinis, a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, co-authored a study examining the value of bike systems. Pelechrinis found stations contribute to increases in neighborhood property values by about 2.5 percent, which has pros and cons.

“If you put these stations in areas that lead to an increase in the real estate, then you might dislocate people who live in those areas but are in the lower percentile of the income scale,” he said.

White said Healthy Ride would install stations in low-income neighborhoods as the system expands.

Bike share, he said, is a form of transit.

“As our cities continue to become more urbanized, we need to look at tools like bike share and other types of shared-use mobility options to create alternatives to single-person occupancy vehicle trips,” White said. “I think you'll see in the next five years bike share expanding to many cities, places you wouldn't expect it.”

Melissa Daniels is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8511 or mdaniels@tribweb.com.

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