Monday, May 14, 2007

Bike to Work Week

The May 4th Wall Street Journal had an article called "Building a Better Bike Lane" which details the ways that European countries are encouraging the use of bicycles as transportation. Not just for weekend recreation but for commuting and day-to-day work. In Amsterdam, 40% of workers commute by bicycle. In Copenhagen, more than a third ride their bikes. Copenhagen is building a parking garage for bicycles with spaces for, get this, 10,000 bikes.

Their article also mentions some of the better biking cities in the US. Boulder, Colorado has 97% of it's main artery roads with bike lanes and 21% of commuters ride bikes. Davis, California is a bike city with more bikes than cars. I've been to Madison, Wisconsin and seen the situation there where you can actually ride a bike lane into a shopping mall complex.

So, how does Pittsburgh measure up?

Pittsburgh has no arterial bike lanes. There are designated "bike routes" but they consist of nothing more than "Share the Road" signs on some of the most heavily trafficked and dangerous roads in the city. What bike lanes there are don't actually take you anywhere, and are focused on parks and recreational use of bikes. The few bike trails along the rivers do offer some off-road opportunities and there are more bike racks downtown than there used to be but they don't reach out far enough to really be commuting corridors. The Port Authority has a number of bus routes with bike racks but there is a 1-in-3 chance that any particular bus on that route won't actually have a rack.

With almost no biking infrastructure, it's not surprising that less than .03% of commutes in Pittsburgh is by bicycle. That's not three percent, that's three-hundredths of one percent. Between 25 and 100 people commute by bicycle compared to the 270,000 who come into town by car.

There is some slight progress towards making Pittsburgh a more bike-friendly city. Dan Onorato's grand scheme for the riverfront park system will be nice and I'll certainly use it for my commute but to make anywhere else in the city bicycle friendly where the car is already king will take some hard decisions that I doubt will be made. Bike lanes anywhere would need to be carved out of existing driving lanes or parking and I can pretty much guarantee that will never happen. Bike racks on city streets have been a hard sell. Even when offered for free, businesses have resisted them as cluttering up their sidewalks.

I've been run off the road too many times to be anything but cynical. People won't commute by bike unless the infrastructure improves and the infrastructure will not be significantly improved while ridership is so low.

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