'Healthy' Beginning For Long-Awaited Pittsburgh Bike Share

Jul 13, 2015

  Pittsburgh Bike Share swayed more than 7,000 riders into 10,000 trips in Healthy Ride’s first month of operation.

Launched May 31 after years of development and delays, the new short-term bicycle rental system lacks just one kiosk from completing its 50-station June goal. A planned station at Schenley Drive and Frew Street in Squirrel Hill had too much competition with nearby Carnegie Mellon University for digital airspace, marketing and outreach director Erin Potts said.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response we’ve seen from the Pittsburgh community,” said David White, the nonprofit’s executive director. “Our team has been working hard over the past few weeks to fix glitches in the system, and it’s been rewarding seeing so many people using the Healthy Ride system all over the city.”

Registered users can rent the 7-speed hybrid bikes for $2 for 30 minutes or through monthly membership rates available online or through its mobile app. Deeper discounts for group memberships are also forthcoming, Potts said.

The bikes are equipped with GPS trackers that help Healthy Ride tally where users ride the most, which neighborhoods see the most traffic, the duration of average rides, unique user rates and more. Future expansion – estimated in 2013 to cap at a possible 1,500 bikes in 150 stations citywide – depends on it, she said.

“We’re always recruiting feedback from riders and are pursuing outreach discussions," Potts said. "We’ve met with local organizations (and) bike and pedestrian groups, and so we’re constantly engaging the community to find out where they feel bike share is needed and necessary in terms of our initial round of station development.”

Pittsburgh Bike Share installed 49 stations during its soft launch in June.
Credit Rebecca Devereaux / 90.5 WESA

  Early glitches with docking and technology provided by German firm Nextbike, brand new to the American market, have been largely resolved, Potts said.

“It wasn’t really a system-wide problem," she said. "It was just one or two bikes that would continue to revert back to the German system.”

Healthy Ride employs a six-person "rebalancing crew" to haul bikes in a steady flow from station to station, particularly in areas like Market Square, the Strip District and Point State Park where they're more likely to pile up or quickly disappear.

Use tends to follow city events, Potts said, "so we try to anticipate that need."

The project, first OK’d by then-Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, was funded by a $1.6 million federal highway safety grant that covered equipment and installation with a $1.2 million match from local foundations. Former director Bart Yavorosky, who departed in February, estimated last year those funds alone could likely sustain the program through its first year.

Additional, five-year corporate partnerships with Highmark and Allegheny Health Network will do much more, Potts said. Healthy Ride declined to disclose the exact amounts of those "substantial" sponsorships, but will likely unveil more opportunities for smaller-scale sponsorship packages as expansion plans develop later this year, she said.

Mayor Bill Peduto told Essential Pittsburgh on Wednesday that Healthy Ride and other bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly initiatives will remain at the forefront of the city’s long-term planning.

“You’ll start noticing there’s more audible signals and countdowns that are being put in for people to walk and for people with disabilities," he said. "The bike lanes are going in so that the cars and the bikes are separated making it safer for both – not for one but for both. And we’re working to create a complete streets model for all of Downtown and for Oakland. Like I said, starting with the most congested areas, then moving out to the others.”

Healthy Ride has group trainings and instructional videos in the works to help familiarize Pittsburghers with bike sharing. The bicycles will also be available for Bike Pittsburgh’s Confident City Cycling Classes for riders who are new to navigating city streets.