Bike sharing is coming to Pittsburgh
next summer and will provide a great option for residents who live near any of the 50 solar-powered stations the city will install with the federal money available.
That’s half the number of stations the city originally proposed because the federal government committed half the money it asked for. But it’s a start. The map above is a draft of the station locations, which were chosen based on density, business districts and areas that are relatively flat.
Walkabout's guest planner, Christine Graziano
, has encountered different bike share programs in her residency and travels abroad, including in Tel-Aviv, Paris, and Barcelona. She said bike sharing has been in Europe since the 1960’s, but has only become increasingly successful since the late 90’s with the introduction of a combination of pay-by-credit card systems, corporate sponsorship, and supportive bike infrastructure.
She was in Barcelona, Spain this summer and noted that the bike share program there, with 400 stations and 6,000 bicycles available, “was being used to a much greater extent than I remember on previous visits.”
But it operates differently there than it will here, she said: “In Barcelona, I couldn’t easily use the bike sharing program because it is only available to residents of Catalonia on a membership basis, not transient visitors to the city - you can’t just pick up a bike and go.”
She and I both called BikePGH’s
executive director Scott Bricker
(below left) to find out how it will work here.
Scott: “You become a member, and there are many options — a day, a week, a month, a year, or three days, five days, three months. Once you’re a member, you get to use the bike for a half hour every time for free, after which you start getting charged. The purpose is this is a mode of transportation and not a long-term bike rental for recreational purposes. There are bike rental shops for that.”
Scott said the city’s proposal resulted in an application that passed muster on the federal level and on its stops back to the Southwest Pennsylvania Commission and to PennDOT, but instead of $3.8 million, the federal allocation was $1.6 million.
Scott: “The original vision was 1,000 bikes and 100 stations. Fifty stations and 500 bikes is about as as small as you’d want to launch with. We’re hopeful it will be successful, but we are seeing that the higher the density of stations the greater the success.”
I belong to Zipcar
, a car-sharing enterprise, and had been wondering how bike share works if you don’t have to take the bike back where you picked it up, as you have to do as a Zipster.
The answer is: Bike Share Pittsburgh will “rebalance” the stations.
Scott: “Every city with a functioning bike share program has to rebalance the system, even in D.C, New York, Boston, flat cities as well as hilly. It may be a little more of a challenge in hilly places but that’s part of the function of the system. To a degree, it balances itself, but where that breaks down you have a truck or two” hauling bicycles to stations to fill vacancies.
Christine: "In Barcelona, which is also hilly, and where the incentive of bike share is to reduce automotive use and the pollution it generates, “re-balancing the system is one of the most costly aspects of the program. To make up the difference, the city has proposed a rate increase to such a degree that riding the subway will be cheaper - a move critics argue will defeat many benefits of the program and result in reduced membership”. I interviewed a transportation planner in Barcelona, Carles Casas Esplugas, not directly associated with the program there so unable to implement his idea: give people a discount on membership or free rides in exchange for riding the bikes back up the hill.”
Scott said foundations are supporting the new non-profit Pittsburgh Bike Share but that a title sponsor or two presenting sponsors are being sought.
Christine: In Europe, Clear Channel Communications, an advertising giant, is a big supporter of bike share programs, and manages a few in the U.S. now, too. In some cases, they do so in exchange for the ability to place company adverts on bus shelters and other transit facilities; an arrangement which can result in the city paying nothing and making some money off the rentals.”
“CitiBikes [whose title sponsor is CitiBank] has supposedly achieved 1 million ride since May, their first month. It’s been phenomenally successful, and it is my understanding that the Pittsburgh program will be closely modeled after the one there.”
Scott rattled off the American cities that already have bike sharing, including ones as small as Chattanooga, Tenn., making me think of the old Pittsburgh joke that we’re well located for the end of the world because we’ll still have 10 years before it hits here.
It’s still true enough to be worth a grimace but not as painfully true these days.
The photo at left, taken by Christine, is of a bike-share station in Barcelona.
Christine: “Increased access to bike infrastructure is part and parcel of our best effort at generating more sustainable cities. It’s a key component of sustainable living and it has so many benefits” besides reduced car use and physical exercise. “It allows people to experience the city at a healthier pace” and to see the city. “It is also more democratic, giving people options especially when biking is made safe. It can be an efficient, inexpensive way to get around. Biking also benefits air quality."
Christine, whose husband is from Barcelona, travels there regularly, and she has traveled widely. A bike-share program she saw in Beijing provides cyclists with painted lines at intersections where they can be visible to avoid collisions with turning drivers.
Christine: “In other cultures, biking is about affordability; cars are expensive. Also, countries that were built a lot longer ago have been built for people rather than for cars, their landscape is more friendly and there is not as great a distance between things people need.”
Christine believes this is where a great opportunity lies: “The continued introduction of bike infrastructure and the growth of an integrated biking culture into our American and Pittsburgian landscape can generate new economic opportunities through demand. There will be incentive to build at higher mixed-use densities and to open businesses closer to where people live.”
As an instructor in the Urban Lab in the Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture last year, she worked with students who were designing visionary infrastructure enhancements for Brookline and Beechview. Because those neighborhoods are hilly areas in the city, the challenges for bicycling are great.
Christine: “People who live in the South Hills can’t get Downtown [safely] without putting their bike on a bus or getting in a car. A team of two students explored the possibility of using the Wabash Tunnel, which is less trafficked than other tunnels, to connect the South Hills to Downtown through the installation of a raised bike platform. The students worked out quite a few of the practical details, and presented the idea to the community and to the Port Authority. It was a favorite project idea of the community - they were very excited about the possibility.
For the Wabash connection to go forward, however, “it would need additional design work and commitment from the Port Authority, but it is a conversation well worth having in the future as the city continues to build out it’s bike infrastructure. “
The Pittsburgh Bike Share Partnership (PBSP) is an alliance of the city of Pittsburgh, BikePGH and Walnut Capital.
Map Graphic from pghbikeshare.org