Pittsburgh sees 206 percent rise in bicycle commuting since 2000 – Fourth largest increase in the country

Pittsburgh: Fourth largest growth in bike commuting in the nation since 2000

The US Census just posted their American Community Survey results for 2009, a survey that we’ve been reporting about for the past few years (2006) (2007) (2008).  Thanks to the number crunchers over at the League of American Bicyclists, we were able to glean some commuting trends over the past decade.

The American Community Survey is the country’s largest household survey, reporting its findings every year.  With a sample size of about 3 million addresses, this is only an estimate, but is by far the best tool that we have understanding trends in the United States.  The survey uses questionnaires and interviews to gather information on demographic, economic, and housing characteristics.  For the past few years, we’ve been analyzing commuting trends, specifically asking “how do Pittsburgh residents get to their job (wherever that may be)?” And of course, because we love cities, not to mention a bit of friendly competition, we’ve included the largest 60 cities in our analysis.

This is not a sample of total trips, i.e. going to the grocery store, the cafe, the movies, etc., but merely how workers who live in the Pittsburgh city limits commute to their job. There are some fairly sizable limitations to the survey in terms of accurately portraying transportation mode-share, specifically it only counts people over the age of 16, and does not count the unemployed, retired or student populations.  Also, it doesn’t have a way to take multi-modal transportation into account.  Darren Flusche, the League’s policy analyst puts it this way:

The ACS and the decennial Census undercount bicycle commuting levels. They ask for the principal mode of travel the worker usually used to get from home to work during the previous week. Workers were asked to list only the means of transportation they used on the largest number of days in that week. This means that if the respondent rode a bicycle to work two days but drove three, they would not be counted as a cyclist.  Likewise, workers were asked only for the means of transportation used for the longest distance during the trips.  If someone biked one mile to a bus stop and rode the bus for two miles they would not be recorded as a bicyclist.

Enough of that…Let’s take a look at the data!

Percent Change in Bicycle Commuting 2000-2009

Click here to view the complete list of the 70 largest cities – Thanks League of American Cyclists!

One interesting trend that emerged from the survey was that Pittsburgh saw a whopping 206 percent growth in bike commuting since 2000 – the fourth largest growth in the nation. This is impressive considering how little on-street bike facilities have changed since then. There is clearly a change in mind-set among commuters, and any veteran Pittsburgh cyclist will tell you that, in general, drivers’ attitudes have changed since then as well. What the overall data also shows is that cities that had moderate numbers to begin with, saw large gains this past decade.

It is also striking that we are at a similar level to where Portland, Oregon was only 10 years ago, a city that now boasts a 6 percent bicycle commuting mode share. But Portland didn’t get to the Platinum Level Bike Friendly Community it is today without some investment. It is, however, surprising just how small of an investment it takes to trigger such a dramatic shift in how people get to and from work. Portland has committed to dedicating only 1 percent of their transportation budget to biking infrastructure, even though a much larger percentage was biking. This 1 percent has catapulted Portland to becoming the model for major U.S. cities that want to become more bicycle friendly. Portland realized that this infrastructure is inexpensive, and chose to save their taxpayers money and keep more money in the local economy by promoting, accommodating, and investing in this green, economical, and healthy mode of transportation. With only 1 percent of their transportation budget, they are now looking to Copenhagen, Denmark to learn how to increase their bicycling mode share to one-third of the population.

Also of note, over the same 10 years, the percentage of Pittsburgh workers who drove alone fell by 2 percent, while there was a 27 percent increase in commuting by walking.

Commuting Trends in Bicycling: Pittsburgh Ranks 15th in the Nation

Click on the tabs to sort by mode

Click here to see the complete chart without scrolling

Overall, Pittsburgh’s rank in bike commuting is fairly impressive considering that very little infrastructure exists compared to the other cities in this range. It is clear that the infrastructure is not keeping up with the demand – people want bike lanes and trails.

Commuting Trends Bicycling + Walking: Pittsburgh Ranks 2nd in the Nation

Click here to view this chart without scrolling

If you add bicycling and walking together, 13 percent of Pittsburghers get to work without using fossil fuels, ranking us second in country amongst the 60 largest cities.

Supporting active transportation pays off, and the people will notice. We are a very large constituency in Pittsburgh.

Commuting trends Bicycling + Walking + Transit: Pittsburgh Ranks 7th in the Nation

Click here to see this chart without scrolling

When you add in transit users (who are also walkers, bicyclists, and even drivers for part of their trip), Pittsburgh ranks 7th in the country – the highest ranking of a city without an extensive subway system. The Port Authority deserves credit for getting their buses into all the nooks and crannies, peaks and valleys to service Pittsburgh’s workers. It also shows just how devastating the proposed transit cuts will be on Pittsburgh commuters, and the environment.

It’s interesting to note that Pittsburgh’s biking and walking mode share alone is larger than the active transportation (biking + walking + transit) mode share of 41 other cities. 33 percent, or one-third of the Pittsburgh’s workers get to work using green, active transportation.

That’s quite the voting block!

*Note: Population rank is based off of the 2006 numbers in order to maintain the same comparison amongst cities over the years.

*Sources: American Community Survey, League of American Bicyclists

Not a member of BikePGH? Join today! We need you to add your voice! Bike Pittsburgh works to protect cyclist’s rights and promote the vision of making Pittsburgh a safer and more enjoyable place to live and to ride. For more info, check out: www.bikepgh.org/membership


  • StuInMcCandless says:

    A firewall at work prevents seeing online spreadsheets. I guess I’ll have to wait to crunch the numbers until I get home.

    I don’t suppose you could take screenshots of the spreadsheets and post those as links?

  • […] Pittsburgh sees 206 percent rise in bicycle commuting since 2000 – Fourth largest increase in the … […]

  • rachel_ding says:


  • Lyle says:

    Anybody want to start a pool on the results of the 2010 census?

  • Lyle says:

    Looking closer at this data isn’t so thrilling. Drill into the differences from 2008-2009 — the exciting 206% increase in bicycle mode-share.

    The proportion of those commuting to work by car, truck, or van increased from 63.2% to 64.1%. But bicycle commuters only increased from 0.8% to 1.3%. So the growth in automotive commuting was higher than the growth in bicycle commuting. Meanwhile, public transit users dropped from 20.9% to 19.3%.

    It looks like a bunch of people stopped riding the bus. 2/3 of them started driving, and 1/3 of them started biking — which might be healthier for them, but not healthier for the region.

    Mind, it’s probably misleading to try to draw any conclusion at all from small percentages with large error margins.

  • […] the increase in bicyclists over time in Pittsburgh is not only visibly apparent, but backed by data. Business membership is an opportunity to get involved with our important work that advance bike […]

  • […] Whether you love or hate the Pittsburgh Steelers, you’ve got to give credit to the city for having a phenomenal bicycle culture. Looking for a bicycle themed bar and cafe? Stop by Pittsburgh’s Over the Bar Bicycle Cafe! Or perhaps you’d like bridges with wide multi-use pathways? Not a problem for many of the city’s 100+ river crossings. With a 200% increase in bicycle commuters since 2000, Pittsburgh now ranks fourth in greatest growth in cycling in the US. […]

  • […] number back it up too! The American Community Survey results released earlier this year showed that 13.8% of the city’s residents walk or bike their commute. This is the second highest active commuting population among the nation’s largest […]

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