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.

Measuring Walkability in Downtown Pittsburgh

Starting from Market Square, how far can you walk in Downtown? On the left: by using the street grid, on the right: as the crow flies

What is this?

A map showing the walkability catchment area of one point in Downtown Pittsburgh, as defined by the street grid. This is a common tool used in transit planning and placemaking to determine the walkability of an area and demonstrate how far away the site is to any other destinations or amenities. The easy way to do this is to draw a quick ¼-mile or ½-mile radius around a site, and the output is a rough guide to how far a pedestrian can walk in the allotted time. But Pittsburgh’s unique topography, inconsistent street grid, and long bridges make it impossible to walk “as the crow flies”-- you can see the noticeable difference in the two approaches in the image above. We decided that we had to go further and find out precisely how well pedestrians move between locations downtown.

 

The Process:

The usefulness and accuracy of this analysis relies on two basic assumptions: one, a pedestrian must follow the available roadways when walking to their destination; and two, it takes a pedestrian about 5 minutes to walk ¼ mile (assuming an average speed of 3mph). With that in mind, we began building a pedestrian network that approximated pathways throughout the city, eventually using GIS to give us an idea of how far someone can get from our chosen locations by following the available pathways.

Image Explanation (L to R):

FIG 1. First, we identified a few places that we determined were hot spots for Downtown. A radius was added for each at the three specified steps of ¼, ½, and ¾ miles, which shows us the furthest extent the network can reach.

FIG 2. The next step was to begin building our pedestrian network in ArcGIS by modifying the publicly-available street grid provided by the City of Pittsburgh DCP, taking away highways and adding public stairs, trails, and cut-throughs. For the sake of time and simplicity we went ahead and drew the pedestrian paths down the middle of the street when the sidewalk was available on both sides. NOTE: The image in Fig. 2 was partially completed at the time it was taken.

FIG 3. Once the network was built we specified the creation of three radii from our original origin points: 5, 10, and 15 minutes away (¼, ½, & ¾ mi). The output is processed through GIS software, and the resulting information is combined to give a good sense of walkability in the area. Particularly in this image, the impact of the rivers on inter-neighborhood mobility is apparent.

Following this last step we were able to create our own "ped shed" of the total possible area a pedestrian could get to using our parameters, the final results of which are shared below.

Click here for an example of this process at work for Washington DC’s Metro system, and click here for a good look at the reasoning and methodology behind the impetus for this process.

The Results:

We specified different points of interest in the Golden Triangle in order to assess how well-connected they were to their surrounding areas. The outdoor plaza of Market Square boasts the largest average concentration of pedestrians in Downtown according to the Public Space-Public Life Survey conducted last year. Because so many people arrive and depart from the space throughout the day, it began as the basis of our walkability analysis.

Other locations we chose as hubs for pedestrians were: David Lawrence Convention Center, PNC Park, and Point State Park, and the City-County Building, all shown below:

What can we learn?

These maps show a Central Business District that is compact and easily traversable, but without many good connections to the rest of the city. Bounded by the rivers to the north and south and highways to the east, a pedestrian only has the option of passing through a limited number of transition points to reach other parts of the city. One of the most important connective pathways is the trail system, which extends along and across the rivers and allows easy passage between neighborhoods. Making stronger connections between the trails and the rest of the street grid should be a priority moving forward.

The Golden Triangle is dense, with two colliding linear street grids and non-uniform buildings of different heights and square footage—to the average visitor, it can feel larger than it actually is. These maps show that walking can, and should, be a practical way of navigating the downtown area. Market Square to PNC Park in 10 minutes, the Convention Center to the Strip in 15 minutes; these are just a few examples of the linkages that make up a valuable part of the Downtown network. When the pedestrian is prioritized as an equal player in the urban space, more people will be invited to make these short trips on foot, connecting economic assets and providing utility for residents and visitors alike.

Residential Density in Downtown

Residential Density (housing units per building) in Downtown Pittsburgh as of Summer 2015 Source: Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership

Residential Density (housing units per building) in Downtown Pittsburgh as of Summer 2015
Source: Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership

What is this?

Graphical demonstration of residential density (as demonstrated by number of residential units in a particular building) in Downtown Pittsburgh.  3D renderings of individual buildings allow for a more dynamic representation of density with City View (formerly Washington Plaza) the largest at 380 units.

What can we learn?

The growth of Downtown Pittsburgh as a residential neighborhood is a major driver of the continued expansion of vibrancy in the central core.  Understanding the distribution of residents, and their proximity to various downtown amenities (green space, grocery store, etc.) helps to predict where pedestrian patterns will grow.

Identifying where large groups of Downtown residents are located (ex. 600-900 blocks of Penn/Liberty Avenues in the Cultural District) is also helpful to understanding changes to demand patterns in the off-street parking network.

Note: student housing buildings are not included.

Penn Avenue Bike Lane: June Traffic Report

June trip totals for the Penn Avenue bike lane are now available; overall trips for the month are down slightly (likely due to wet weather) but peak commuting periods remained robust.  The monthly total trips in June were 24,007 in the 1200 block (-0.90% from May), 18,464 in the 900 block (-8.85% from May) and 11,728 in the 600 block (-24.77% from May).

AVERAGE WEEKDAY TRIPS PER HOUR DEMONSTRATES A STRONG COMMUTING PATTERN

AVERAGE WEEKDAY TRIPS PER HOUR DEMONSTRATES A STRONG COMMUTING PATTERN

The average number of weekday trips in June was 791 with an average of 32 trips per hour from 6:00 am to 10:00 PM.  Trip patterns continue to demonstrate a strong weekday commuter pattern, peaking at 73 trips during morning rush and 69 during afternoon rush.

The weekend average remained slightly higher than weekdays at 827 trips per day.

Bike lane trips in June vs. recorded weather events

Bike lane trips in June vs. recorded weather events

Bike lane usage remains strong, particularly considering it was the wettest June on record since 1996. According to U.S Climate Data over 7 inches of rain fell last month which is more than double the 2.18 inches Pittsburgh saw in May yet the June numbers are still comparable to those recorded in the previous month.

June data provides the first opportunity to compare month-over-month usage in the Penn Avenue Bike Lanes.

June data provides the first opportunity to compare month-over-month usage in the Penn Avenue Bike Lanes.

The 3 counters are thin, rubber tubes stretched across the width of the bike lane and are located on the 600, 900, and 1200 blocks of Penn Avenue and were installed by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. They work by recording each time a bicyclist rides over and depresses the tubes. Overall, the counter on the 1200 block counted the highest number of trips, while the counter on the 600 block counted the fewest.

Beginning next month, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership will launch a real-time data portal for each bike lane counter.  Follow @DowntownPitt and @EnvisionDwntwn for more information.

Weekday Bus Ridership by Stop

Average weekday ridership (boarding + alighting); 2014, Port Authority service only. Source: Port Authority of Allegheny County 

Average weekday ridership (boarding + alighting); 2014, Port Authority service only.
Source: Port Authority of Allegheny County 

What is this?

Downtown bus stops visualized by average weekday ridership.  Ridership volume can either be visualized as a combination of boarding (getting on) and alighting (getting off) passengers as show above, or separated between the two as shown below.

Information is collected by automatic passenger counters (APC's) installed on the doors of Port Authority buses.  Passenger information for other regional transit providers is not included.

What can we learn?

Previous studies by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and others indicate that 54% of commuters in Downtown Pittsburgh ride the bus or T.  Understanding where those commuters begin and end their trips in Downtown is a critical component to better understanding, and then improving the experience of transit riders.

Passenger boarding information is particularly important to guide efforts in provide additional amenities for passengers waiting for buses.  Passenger volume can be combined with a qualitative assessment of bus stops (currently in development) to create a prioritization matrix for investing in bus stop improvement.

Based on information provided by the Port Authority, the five largest bus stops by volume (weekday boarding and alighting) are:

  1. Smithfield Street at 6th Avenue (6,474 daily riders)
  2. 5th Avenue at Wood Street (4,477 riders)
  3. 6th Avenue at Wood Street (3,817 riders)
  4. Liberty Avenue at Wood Street (3,600 riders)
  5. Liberty Avenue at Market Street (3,585 riders)
Average weekday boardings; 2014, Port Authority service only.  Source: Port Authority of Allegheny County 

Average weekday boardings; 2014, Port Authority service only. 
Source: Port Authority of Allegheny County 

Average weekday alightings; 2014, Port Authority service only.  Source: Port Authority of Allegheny County 

Average weekday alightings; 2014, Port Authority service only. 
Source: Port Authority of Allegheny County 

Downtown Pedestrian Crashes: 2007-2014

Aggregated pedestrian crashes 2007-2014. Source:PennDOT

Aggregated pedestrian crashes 2007-2014. Source:PennDOT

What is this?

A visualization of aggregated pedestrian crashes, by intersection, in Downtown Pittsburgh from 2007-2014. The data is developed from publicly available PennDOT information which is in turn aggregated from local police reports.

What can we learn? 

Reported pedestrian crashes are a major indicator (among others) of pedestrian safety at a particular intersection. This indicator can be further strengthened by overlaying pedestrian volume and traffic signal/cross walk quality - data sets that are currently in development. Establishing this data is the first step in the creation of a qualitative analysis of pedestrian safety in Downtown Pittsburgh.

Identifying intersections with high numbers of pedestrian crashes also creates the case for prioritization of these intersections for traffic safety improvements.  Based on the PennDOT data, the intersections in Downtown with the highest numbers of pedestrian crashes are:

  1. Ross St./Blvd of the Allies (15 crashes)
  2. Ross St./Sixth Ave. (13 crashes)
  3. Ross St./Forbes Ave. (9 crashes)
  4. Grant St./Seventh Ave. (7 crashes)
  5. Ross St./Fifth Ave. (7 crashes)

 

Penn Ave. Protected Bike Lane: May Traffic Report

On June 4, 2015 the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership released the first monthly report from three automatic bike counters installed on the Penn Avenue protected bike lane.

Location of bike counters + reported monthly total trip counts

Location of bike counters + reported monthly total trip counts

With business, residential and retail life booming in Downtown Pittsburgh, we are seeing increases in every type of commuter, including those on bikes. The lanes on Penn Avenue are successful because they provide safety and convenience for all
— Mayor William Peduto

A typical weekday saw approximately 740 bike trips in the lane with a distinct commuter pattern. While the data showed an average of 41 trips per hour from 6:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m., there were significant trip increases during peak hours. The weekday morning rush saw an average of 73 trips per hour. The weekday evening rush saw an average of 81 trips per hour.

At 875 trips per day, the weekend average is slightly higher than the weekday, though the difference is partially attributable to big events like Marathon Sunday and Open Streets. In contrast to the distinct commuting patterns seen during the work week, however, the weekends show a positive recreational trend with ridership peaking in the late morning at roughly 100 per hour. 

While the numbers dip due to the cold and rain, hearty Pittsburgh cyclists are still using the bike lane in the worst of weather. The coldest /rainiest day in May – a rainy, upper-40s degree day on May 21 – still showed 467 bike trips on Penn Avenue.  

Daily Ridership & Weather Penn Avenue Bike Lane @ 12th Street, May 2015

Daily Ridership & Weather
Penn Avenue Bike Lane @ 12th Street, May 2015

The 3 counters are thin, rubber tubes stretched across the width of the bike lane and are located on the 600, 900, and 1200 blocks of Penn Avenue and were installed by the PDP. They work by recording each time a bicyclist rides over and depresses the tubes. Overall, the counter on the 1200 block counted the highest number of trips, while the counter on the 600 block counted the fewest.