Ditching the Car for the Bike in Pittsburgh
Editor's note: This story first appeared in sister publication Pop City.
Jason Hare sold his car five years ago and never looked back.
He now commutes to work by bike from his home in Shadyside, saving $8000 a year in car payments and expenses (not to mention losing 45 lbs in the process). "The money we save basically makes it possible to afford a home in a nice neighborhood, close enough to ride to work daily, year-round," he says.
When Jeffrey Bergman, director of TreeVitalize sold his car, it was a weight off his shoulders, he says. He now happily bikes to his office on Washington's Landing.
Rachel Dingfelder, 28, has no regrets either. "I ditched my car two and a half years ago for a lot of reasons," says the Upper Lawrenceville resident who works at the Midwife Center in the Strip District. She discovered life was more fun on her bike. So when her car needed a lot of mechanical work, she bid it farewell and joined ZipCar.
Over the last half decade, Americans, especially younger Americans, have been depending less on cars for their personal transportation. In 2004 the miles driven per capita in this country shrinked for the first time since WWII, according to a report from Transportation and the New Generation: Why Young People are Driving Less.
The trend away from driving has been led by young people, trumpets the report. "From 2001 and 2009, the average annual number of vehicle-miles traveled by young people (16 to 34-year-olds) decreased from 10,300 miles to 7,900 miles per capita – a drop of 23 percent.
It's likely to be a long-lasting trend, says the authors of the report. "Young people are driving less for a host of reasons – higher gas prices, new licensing laws, improvements in technology that support alternative transportation, and changes in Generation Y’s values and preferences – all factors that are likely to have an impact for years to come."
And in Pittsburgh, the trend has not just been away from cars, but toward bicycles.
Pittsburgh's shift away from driving is in large part due to a big spike in our cyclist population. Since the 2000 Census, the number of Pittsburgh adults who commute by bike increased by 269%,
the second biggest jump in bike commuting among the largest U.S. cities.
"Back in 2000, about 0.4% of Pittsburghers chose the bicycle as their primary way to get to work. Today, we’re up to about 1.6% – about the level that Portland, Oregon was 10 years ago. This ranks us as the 13th highest bicycle commuter rate in the nation," report the folks at Bike Pittsburgh on their website.
Just recently, Steve McKnight of Fourth Economy posted on Facebook after seeing 16 other bicyclists at an intersection at the Bloomfield Bridge during his bike commute home. Tipping point, he wondered?
Could be. Here at Pop City we tweeted once looking for bike commuters and those who gave up their cars and we were inundated with responses.
Bike culture here has grown and changed a lot since 2004, says William Lovas, 29, who works at Google and commutes a short distance by bike. 'I've watched the city become more and more bike friendly. He is one of more than a dozen Google employees who commute by bike, using the convenient bike cage in the garage for parking.
PNC also offers a bike cage, in the parking garage they share with Reed Smith, and bike commuter Brian Elmore, 23, of Squirrel Hill takes advantage of it. Like many bike commuters, he uses the Eliza Furnace Trail for his daily trek. The benefits? "I've been more alert at work," he says,"and very much look forward to coming to and from work." He especially loves the freedom from bus schedules.
Another benefit for bicyclists is the fitness factor. Sayf Sharif ditched his car earlier this year after buying a bike for $35 from Freecycle. He now commutes daily from Morningside to the South Side and has lost 40 pounds. Oh, and he rode in the MS150 in June.
For some, it's peace of mind. Lawrenceville's Ryan Reed, who bikes downtown to his job at a bar, says the ride home from work is one of the best parts of his day. "It allows me to take things a little slower," he notes. "It is freedom in a number of ways. The last two years have shown me that I could never live, work, or play outside of the distance I can bike."
Others can go car-free because of where they live. Allison Rowland, 29, resides without a car in Bloomfield, a very walkable community. She works downtown for an immigration law firm and has been a daily bike commuter for more than a year.
And D.S. Kinsel is an artist who also lives in Bloomfield and has been commuting for two years to Lawrenceville by bike. "I'm a born and bred yinzer who is used to the hills—I grew up in the Hill District," says the 28-year old. "I assume one of the few African American commuting cyclists of this city." (Topic of our next article, perhaps? Diversity in biking?)
For some, it's a couples activity. Allie Kanik, who works at Public Source, and her fiancé Andy Coleman who works in the same building in Oakland at Pittsburgh Filmmakers, commute from the Wilkinsburg/Point Breeze area. They are both in their 20s and commute a 4.5 mile mix of main roads, back roads and Frick Park.
Ted Zellers, 23, works as a software engineer at Showclix downtown and commutes via the Jail Trail. (We could do an entire story on the Jail Trail commuters.) He points to the many environmental factors of riding a bike, from the lack of emissions to no need for cumbersome parking infrastructure.
Also at Showclix is intern Jacy Clare who could be the newest bike commuter in the city. She started biking from Highland Park to downtown this past week and plans to continue the rest of the summer. "I'm from Portland, OR, which is a great place to bike, and I'm finding Pittsburgh to be just as nice. The cars are courteous, the routes are nice, and the public transportation options are aplenty."
Then there's Clint Bergeson of Swisshelm who bikes to Larimer every day where he works as a distribution coordinator for Penn's Corner Farm Alliance. That means… driving a truck all day. While he ditched his car to save money, he's happy to have one less car on the road and even in the snow, he doesn't regret it.
While it's easier to bike in certain neighborhoods of the city, some suburban bicyclists, such as Ben Stiglist, have a tougher time of it. Stiglist commutes from Mt. Lebanon to the Strip daily. He's been doing it since 2007, going down West Liberty Avenue, up Warrington Avenue over Mt Washington, to the Point and along the riverfront trail. That's rugged.
The 52-year old still owns a car but really enjoys riding. "And cycling to work saves gas, miles on the car, etc. And time—I can make it to my office in 40 minutes by bike, but the same car trip takes 40 to 60 minutes by car during rush hour."
Likewise, Stuart Strickland of McCandless Twp in the North Hills has a long haul to his downtown office of Carnegie Learning. "I am about as close to ditching the car as you're going to get for someone living 10 miles into the suburbs," says Strickland, who started biking in earnest when he was unemployed. "The more I tried it, the easier it got, both in physical effort, and in learning better ways to get around and deal with traffic. I started sharing my knowledge with others on the Bike-Pgh message board, and learning boatloads of information from others. I have since begun commuting in all four seasons."
For Theo Collins, it's about the view. She works at Duquesne's Center for Green Industries and Sustainable Business Growth (so you know where she stands on these things) and has a short bike commute from the South Side to downtown. "On the way I get to see the Southside, the Mon while crossing the 10th Street Bridge, and downtown. It’s a great mix." Look for her on the 70s Aerospace race bike that she restored herself.
And finally we have Maria Erb who can't stand to be in a car. "I moved to Pittsburgh from New England just so I could live car free," say Erb who is in her 40s. "I got a job at Pitt, moved to Regent Square, and gave my car to my husband. Now I bike to work every day and everywhere else as well, winter, summer, rain or shine. "Pittsburgh is one of the few places in the US where you can actually afford to live and work and enjoy life without a car," she says. "It's why I love Pittsburgh so very much!"
Photographs copyright Brian Cohen
In Highland Park
Biking in Pittsburgh
7th Street Bridge