Pittsburgh maintains bike commuter growth despite trend toward single occupancy vehicles
Since 2006, we’ve been reporting on the US Census’ American Community Survey of commuting trends in Pittsburgh and across the 60 largest cities in the country, while sprinkling in a bit of analysis.
The most recent stats are based off of the survey’s 2017 numbers. The American Community Survey tracks the primary way that American commuters get to their job. Put simply, it is tracking how the percent of workers who live within the City of Pittsburgh get to their job, wherever that may be.
This year, due to a large data set spanning over a decade, we are going to focus on the 5-year estimates, as opposed to the 1-year estimate. The 5-year estimate gives a more accurate snapshot to what’s going on.
Below are some trends that we’ve noticed from the 12 years of data.
Results and Trends
Doubled the percent of bike commuters since 2009
Pittsburgh continues its upward trend in number of bike commuters, bucking a national downward slide. Not only is the percentage on an upward trajectory, but the sheer numbers have also risen. Since 2009, the rate of people biking to their job has nearly doubled, from 1.1% to 2%. Additionally, since there are also about 6,000 more workers in Pittsburgh than their were in 2009, the sheer number of riders has increased with this growth.
But, both bicycle growth rate and new bike lane miles have plateaued
The City, under the Ravenstahl administration, began installing the modern wave of bike lanes in 2007 with the installation of the Liberty Ave bike lanes in Bloomfield and Lawrenceville. While doubling the bike commuter rate over the past decade is great, the growth has plateaued, mirroring a slowing growth in the number of bike lane miles that the City has been installing over the past few years. Now, correlation does not equal causation, but it’s hard to overlook this trend, and we still maintain that the single best way to get more people riding is to make the streets safe. Unless we take bold moves and install quality bike facilities, at this rate, we will not reach the Pittsburgh Climate Plan’s 10% bike commute goal by 2030, and we surely won’t be addressing the air quality crisis engulfing our city.
Bike Commuting Women Growing Faster Than Bike Commuting Men
Since 2009, the number of Pittsburgh women who commute by bike has also doubled. While Pittsburgh men still comprise a larger percent of bike commuters, their increase has not been as rapid as women bike commuters. Additionally, the ratio of men to women has grown slightly more equal, where in 2009, 27% of bike commuters were women, while in 2017, women comprised 31% of bike commuters.
Biking and Walking in Pittsburgh vs Largest 60 Cities
The 5-year estimate also shows that Pittsburgh remains one of the top cities (out of largest 60 cities) for walking to work, coming in fourth place behind Boston, Washington DC, and San Francisco. We also remained in the top 15 cities for percentage of Pittsburghers who bike to their job.
Driving Alone is going up, carpooling taking a nose dive
Unfortunately, since 2009, the number of Pittsburgh workers that are driving alone, has increased from 54% to 55.8%. Likewise, carpooling seems to have taken a nose dive, comprising 11.5% of workers in 2009 versus 8.5% of workers in 2017. However, the number of workers below the poverty line that are carpooling has increased, while the upper income workers have decreased. These trends may be attributed to a combination of the low cost of gasoline, ease of parking, ride-hailing apps, decreased transit service, lack of bike lanes, and displacement, all of which look bad for the climate.
Transit has dropped, but stabilized, and low income people are increasingly dependent on it
While the Port Authority is logging an increasing number of trips, according to the ACS data, the number of Pittsburgh workers using transit to get to their job has dropped over the past decade, from 19.7% to 17.1% of workers. However, transit is increasingly important for Pittsburgh’s lower income workers, who have gone from 14.8% to 16.9% share of transit commuters. Studies suggest that ride hailing apps may be taking trips from transit.
Taxi/Motorcycle/Bicycle has increased for lower income workers
This one is a bit more complicated, as the ACS does not separate Taxi/Motorcycle/Bicycle by income. However, between 2009 and 2017, taxi/motorcycle/bicycle has increased for the lowest income bracket (11.1% to 16.9% share) and decreased for the highest income bracket (81.8% to 75.1% share). When looking at the modes individually, taxi commuters and motorcycle commuters have remained about the same, while bicycle commuters have increased. One could infer from this data that lower income workers are riding bicycles at increasingly higher rates, but higher income workers are using bikes less. However, this is complicated with the fact that it’s not clear whether people who use a ride hailing app tally taxi, carpool, or even drove alone when taking the survey. The ACS clearly needs to catch up to this newer form of transportation.
This is now our twelfth year reporting on the data for the 60 largest US cities (2006) (2007) (2008) (2009) (2010) (2011) (2012) (2013) (2014) (2015) (2016). As the ACS has some flaws, these numbers should not be taken at face value (see below).
What is the American Community Survey?
The American Community Survey is the country’s largest household survey, reporting its findings every year. The important thing to remember when reviewing the chart is that the data that we are using comes from workers who live in their city, and how they get to their job, wherever that may be.
It’s also important to realize that in order to even be counted in the commuting survey, you need to have a job to commute to, so cities with higher unemployment rates will have a smaller representation in their lower income bracket. Also, the survey doesn’t take multi-modal transit users into account very effectively. If you ride a bike to a subway station, which mode are you using?
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.
ACS LIMITATIONS, NOTES, AND CAUTIONS
- The ACS asks only about commuting. It does not tell us about bicycling for non-work purposes.
- Results are based on a survey of a sample of the population. Surveys take place throughout the year. The journey to work question asks respondents about the previous week.
- The journey to work question asks about the primary mode of transportation to work, and does not account for multimodal trips. The wording of the question will tend to undercount the actual amount of bike commuting that occurs. For instance, it does not count people who rode once or twice a week, nor people who bike to transit (if the transit leg is longer than the bike leg).
- The ACS has not changed since with the rise of ride-hailing apps. If you take an Uber to work everyday, it’s unclear whether you tally “car-pool,” “taxi,” or “drove alone.”
- Since the ACS is a survey of a sample, the results are estimates. The ACS releases a margin of error along with the estimate. Users can add and subtract the margin of error value from the estimate to find the top and bottom of the range within which the ACS is 90 percent confident in their estimate lies. Margins of error are reported on with the data on the ACS site.
- Changes among years may not be statistically significant.
- The numbers reported here are for the “principal city,” not the larger Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA).