The coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt life in the region; overall, residents of Allegheny County are still traveling less compared to 2019. However, bike miles have gone up.
“We pretty much had our best May ever,” said David White, executive director of Healthy Ride, Pittsburgh’s bikeshare system.
The nonprofit’s ridership increased 43 percent from 2019 to 2020. Much of the growth stemmed from Healthy Ride’s partnership with Port Authority: anyone with a Connect Card can take unlimited 15-minute trips. However, beginning May 1 of this year, average trip length increased by 60 percent.
“Instead of linking the last mile or first mile of their transit trip with bikeshare, people are just taking the whole trip on a bike now,” said White.
National, county, and city data reflect an increased appetite for bikes. According to analytics company Streetlight Data, bike miles in the Pittsburgh region saw up to a 19 percent increase in May 2020. The region’s trails recorded jumps of more than 30 percent on some segments, according to data collected by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission. Year over year, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership recorded a daily average increase of nearly 50 percent at its counting sites during the months of March, April and May.
Ted King-Smith said he’s seen a lot of new faces at Golden Triangle Bikes downtown, where he is the fleet and service manager. He thinks people have more time to discover regional amenities such as riverfront trails.
“Since they can’t go their gyms or the pools or to sporting events or to other activities, they’ve have taken on cycling,” he said.
Bike manufacturers often want to sell racing bikes, he added, but this year it seems like more people have discovered bikes as a way to just get outside and get around.
“More affordable, more recreational bikes are the ones that really are in huge demand right now, the ones that are really accessible to people,” he said.
Golden Triangle Bikes owner Tom Demagall said while out-of-towner bike reservations for multi-day trips along the Great Allegheny Passage have been cut in half, local traffic is up by 25 percent.
Demagall is a board member at nonprofit Friends of the Riverfront and lives right by the trail.
“I can definitely confirm that the Three Rivers Heritage trails have been as busy as I have ever seen them,” he said. “It’s really been unreal.”
Anecdotally, bike shops in the area saw a bump in bike sales and continue to see demand.
While it’s hard to know if the increases will persist, the City of Pittsburgh plans to add 60 miles of bike infrastructure over the next two years, and has designated some areas as car-free zones to allow for more recreation space.