Penn Avenue Bike Lane: 6 Month Summary Report

The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership has redeployed the Penn Avenue bike lane counters ready to count commuters and recreational cyclists alike as we move into the warmer months. In honor of the start of this year's counting season we put together a summary overview of the some of the more interesting data points from last year. To view this years numbers in real time check out the bike counter webpage, and for more detailed info Envision Downtown will continue to publish a monthly review on the Data Blog.

Blue markers show the locations of the three counters and their names.

Blue markers show the locations of the three counters and their names.

Introduction & Background

Following the installation and opening of the Penn Avenue protected bike lane in September 2014, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership purchased three tubular bike lane counters to be installed at mid-block locations on the 1200, 900, and 600 blocks of Penn the following April. Full data was collected in 2015 each month from May to October, with the counters being removed in early November in preparation for the winter weather. (NOTE: due to a technical problem the 600 block counter was offline from mid-June until August, so it will not be the focus of extensive analysis in this post)

During the six-month period of study between May and October, a number of changes occurred along the Penn Avenue bike lane. In April 2015, the bike lane on Sixth Street across the Roberto Clemente Bridge to PNC Park opened. In May Pittsburgh's bike sharing program, Healthy Ride, opened with two stations along Penn at 12th Street and 10th Street. The extension of the lane to the full length of Penn Ave to Stanwix Street was not completed until late October and is not reflected in this data.

General Summary

Weekends vs. Weekdays

The percentage value of daily trips shows us whether certain days of the week are more popular than others for riders. Sunday is the most popular day for bike lane usage with close to 20% of all trips through the 600 and 900 blocks and 16.5% of all trips in the 1200 block occurring on that day. The numbers suggest strong recreational use of the lane and reflects special events that encourage weekend ridership, including the three Open Streets events that took place over the summer (Sunday, May 31st; Sunday, June 28th; and Sunday, July 26th) and Pedal Pittsburgh (Sunday, August 30th). Of all five weekdays, Monday has the lowest volume across all three counter locations while Friday is the highest performing.

It is worth noting that although the 900 and 600 block counters show stronger relative weekend patterns, the 1200 block shows a more equal spread over days of the week. With that in mind we can infer that there is a good mix between both recreational and commuter usage in the upper part of Penn Ave entering Downtown.

Differences Between Blocks

The 1200 block consistently saw the highest volume of traffic, recording 44.2% of all trips across all three counters between August and October. The 1200 block is where the bike lane first enters Downtown, funneling the Strip District, Lawrenceville, and East End neighborhoods to the city core. The lesser amount of riders between the 1200 and 900 block of Penn suggests that bikes enter Downtown via the designated lane before turning to alternative streets to reach their final destination, or use that stretch exclusively to exit the CBD.

Again, different counters reflect different usage patterns throughout the length of the bike lane. On the 1200 block about 9% of all trips were recorded between 8:00 and 9:00AM, and almost 10% were recorded between 5:00 and 6:00PM, which indicates a strong commuter pattern. In contrast, the 600 block saw a higher percentage share of its trips during lunch time (11:00AM – 2:00PM), with a slight peak occurring during the afternoon rush hour. This suggests that as it gets closer to the Point the bike lane is used more for getting around Downtown than to or from Downtown.

Weather Impact

Weather is one of the biggest factors affecting bike lane usage.  August 2015 (shown here in yellow) saw the most consistent traffic which corresponds with what was happening outside: an average high of 82°F, average low of 62°F, and only 2 inches of rain throughout the entire month. On the other hand, June 2015 (shown in purple) had over 7 inches of rain and a standard deviation of 220 trips* (compared with only 101* for August) throughout the month. As the temperature dropped, so did usage of the bike lane; October 2015 recorded the lowest gross trip count of all six recorded months with an average temperature of 52°F. *Note that in weather analysis we excluded the last Sunday of the summer months to control for Open Streets events.


Before & After

In April 2014, before the bike lanes were completed and opened to bicyclists the following September, traffic engineering firm Mackin Engineering was contracted to perform an analysis of Penn Avenue. This was done partially to identify latent demand for bicycling along that corridor, and to establish a baseline for patterns of mode use. We can put Mackin's bike counts alongside ours exactly one year apart and note the difference in bicycle traffic before and after installation of the lane.

The 600 block saw the most dramatic gain in ridership, with people crossing through that portion of Penn Ave. more on the comparison dates in April 2015 than 2014 by a factor of almost 7. The 1200 block, however, saw the biggest increase in individual riders, with 113 more individuals crossing the counter on April 24th 2015 than April 25th 2014 between 4 PM and 9 PM. The ridership was particularly affected in the evening hours, with an average increase of +376% across all three blocks. Most impressively, this information shows an increase in ridership on every block where counts were recorded and in every time slot (with the exception of the 900 block where ridership was unchanged) after the addition of the bike lane. Note the weather for each of these days was very similar, with temperatures between 40°F and 50°F, and 0.4in of rain on April 25, 2014 and 0.3in on April 24, 2015.

These numbers tell us that when adequate infrastructure is provided, both usage and demand will increase as people take advantage of the greater transit options available to them. And when it comes to access into and around Downtown Pittsburgh, the center of our regional economy, more options can only be a good thing.