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Pittsburgh is (in many ways) the city that Portland wants to become

Posted by on September 17th, 2014 at 10:58 am

market square lead

Pittsburgh’s Market Square.
(Photos: M.Andersen)

When I headed to Pittsburgh last week to join the Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place conference for my other gig, I was telling people that “the Paris of Appalachia” (as its mayor likes to call it) is the city that my hometown, Toledo, Ohio, wishes it could be.

Three days later, I started telling people it was the city that Portland wishes it could be, too.

Pittsburgh obviously isn’t as bikeable as Portland, though it’s coming along. But almost everything else about the city measures up.

It’s young: the median Pittsburgher is 33 years old, compared to 37 for Portland and 37 nationally.

It’s educated: 19 percent of Pittsburghers have a graduate degree, compared to 18 percent of Portlanders and 11 percent of Americans.

It’s attractive: 9 percent of Pittsburghers moved to their county in the last year, compared to 10 percent of Portlanders.

It’s fairly diverse: 67 percent white, 25 percent Black, 5 percent Asian, 3 percent Latino, 3 percent multiracial compared to Portland’s 79 percent white, 6 percent Black, 7 percent Asian, 9 percent Latino, 4 percent multiracial.

It’s affordable: as of 2012, median rent including utilities was $755 a month to Portland’s $905.

Like Portland, it’s doing fine to well economically: metro-area unemployment is 5.8 percent, compared to Portland’s 6.3 percent and the country’s 6.5 percent.

And maybe most of all, it’s alive:

biking right through

walking on penn

talking to driver

bus stop 1000

Wondering what’s going on in that last shot? Here’s a hint: look at the little blue sign in the upper left.

At the bus stops of downtown Pittsburgh, it’s like Hurricane Sandy every evening.

The downtown is fed by 82 separate bus lines, plus a light rail subway. Here’s what the scene above looks like at street level:

bus stop street level 1

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Some of the photos above are from Market Square, one of the most pleasant and unique public plazas I’ve seen in the United States. Thanks to cobblestone streets and other traffic calming, it creates a loop of honest-to-god shared space in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh surrounding their equivalent of Pioneer Courthouse Square — and as a result their square is part of the city in a way that ours, nice though it is, has never really been. Instead it had elements of two of my favorite Portland places: Colonel Summers Park and inner Hawthorne’s Cartopia food carts.

market square strolling shared space

entrance to market square

market square overhead

Why are Pittsburgh’s streets so lively? Mostly because downtown Pittsburgh is very, very dense. With the notable exception of the buildings immediately ringing Market Square, almost every block has a building that’s 15 stories or taller, often even higher. One day last week, I walked past a row of checkered yellow cabs that said “NYC.” They were props for a movie shoot; Pittsburgh was starring as Manhattan.

Here’s a photo by Adam Sacco that captures it better than anything I took. He could have been looking up from almost anywhere in the downtown core.

Stormy Pittsburgh Afternoon

Oakland, the university district up the hill from downtown, serves some of the social function that Northwest 23rd does in Portland ‐ except it’s more than twice as tall, with lots of buildings reaching six or eight stories:

The Iroquois

(Photo: Joseph A)

One of the reasons Pittsburgh is tall is that its rivers and hills form a sort of natural urban growth boundary for its downtown. (We’ve done that too, except one our rivers is Interstate 405.) Here’s what the city looks like from above:

bruce pointing to pgh 600

But the bigger reason is that Pittsburgh’s big economic boom came between 1890 and 1930, when Pittsburgh was briefly the 10th largest city in the United States — and before the country buried its streetcar tracks, pushed biking and walking off the streets and passed laws that made dense development dramatically more expensive.

Some of those were laws that lots of BikePortland readers love to hate, like parking minimums and “level of service” congestion standards. But other laws are ones city-lovers generally support: disability access standards, storm drainage rules, prevailing-wage requirements.

Pittsburgh is successful today in part because its prewar boom was followed by a catastrophic economic collapse. Can Portland have the good without the bad?

Today, all of those rules have combined to make it much cheaper to build new homes and offices on the outskirts of Hillsboro than in the middle of Portland. That’s not to say that all those rules are bad. But they come at a cost: in higher rents (because central Portland isn’t adding enough new buildings to keep up with demand), in longer commutes and in fewer social interactions.

Pittsburgh doesn’t have as many of these problems … because after 1950, it went into a catastrophic economic collapse. Its population peaked around 700,000, a little larger than Portland’s today, and has never recovered. Though the city’s economy is healthy again, its population is now in the low 300,000s.

Pittsburgh is no more a paradise than Portland is. As Portlander Jamaal Green reminded me when I was singing the city’s praises to him, we can joke about the side benefits of an economic catastrophe but that’s cold comfort to two generations of Pittsburghers whose lives were devastated by it.

Will Portland ever achieve the human-friendly development and affordability that Pittsburgh was able to build in the years before Americans started building cities for cars instead of people? Just as importantly, can we do it without an economic collapse?

I think we can — because if you stand back far enough, cock your head to one side and squint, that’s the direction Portland has been heading. What’s unclear today is whether it’ll decide to continue.

 — The Real Estate Beat is a regular column. You can sign up to get an email of Real Estate Beat posts (and nothing else) here, or read past installments here. This sponsorship has opened up and we’re looking for our next partner. If interested, please call Jonathan at (503) 706-8804.

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

73 Comments
  • Avatar
    Alan 1.0 September 17, 2014 at 11:44 am

    Did you use any taxi cabs? How was that experience? My experiences with Pittsburgh cabs is the worst of any place I’ve ever been simply because they were almost never available. I ended up using gypo cabs (not even Uber/Lyft) because it was the ONLY way I could get places. I’ve also been ripped off by a limo service there.

    Other than that, yeah, nice town, good food and beer scenes, sports, CMU, etc. I hear winters aren’t a beach.

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      Jangalian September 17, 2014 at 7:10 pm

      The winters are why I’m moving to Florida this year! 8 months out of the year it’s winter. It starts with cold breezes, then icy rains, then wintery mix, lake-effect snow, six feet of snow, down to slush everywhere and more icy rains. AND THEN you get a chilly summer! No thanks. You can HAVE it.

      If Pittsburgh were ANYwhere else where it was even just a little warmer, it would be the ideal liveable city.

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        craig September 18, 2014 at 7:55 am

        Little exaggeration, perhaps?

        Cab service in Pgh is notoriously bad.
        When I was in Portland, though, we did wait for upwards of 30 minutes for TWO separate cabs to arrive one night. The first one I called called me back (having arrived) after I had already got back to our hotel and fell asleep.

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        Adam H. September 18, 2014 at 9:39 am

        Enjoy your hurricanes. 🙂

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        AA September 18, 2014 at 10:12 am

        Climate change will fix that.

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        Ian September 18, 2014 at 2:45 pm

        How can we have lake effect snow if there are no large lakes nearby? Trying to make Pittsburgh out to be a cold hellscape like Buffalo is pretty unreasonable. Yeah it gets cold but there’s no lake effect snow (Besides snowpocalypse I’ve never had to drive through a blizzard here) or extremely cold temperatures bar this winter, which was cold for everyone up north. It’s not Florida, but it’s not like you’re going to be locked inside your house for fear of your life either.

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        CC September 18, 2014 at 7:53 pm

        Let’s trade. I currently live in Florida. It has been 90 degrees+ since April. You’re trading the inability to go outside due to snow for an inability to go outside because it’s constantly like a dryer.

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        Therin September 19, 2014 at 3:22 pm

        Lake effect? What lake? Six feet of snow? Hunh? Eight months of winter? When was that? If you believe these myths, then you definitely should move.

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      LissaBrennan September 18, 2014 at 9:01 am

      Yellow Cab is truly dreadful and, knowing this, recently fought the right of Lyft and Uber to operate in the area. They lost.

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      Chris September 18, 2014 at 12:07 pm

      They fully legalized and protected uber and lyft this year, both of which are now hugely popular almost instantly.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) September 19, 2014 at 3:51 pm

      We called one taxi cab. The dispatch folks wouldn’t tell us how long it would take to show up; it took almost an hour. Then my colleague used Uber twice over the rest of the week. She said it was fantastic and now she’s thinking about Uber constantly.

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        Alan 1.0 September 19, 2014 at 8:54 pm

        Dispatch told me 30 minutes no matter what or when the call. The wait was never shorter, sometimes longer, and sometimes they never showed. I was calling from popular locations, like the casino, stadium area or hotels. The only place in Pittsburgh I didn’t have to wait too long for a cab was at PGH but I’ve never seen an attendant work so hard to avoid strangers splitting a fare into town, even though he had a long line of customers waiting. Once, leaving the stadium area for the south shore, a buddy and I waited about 45 minutes only to be upstreamed by someone else on the sidewalk as the cab rolled up. Grrr! We opted for a pedicab and tipped him well (we’re both Clydesdales), and undoubtedly had a more pleasant ride.

        The only good taxi experience I had there was a ride in one of Classy’s MV-1 cabs, alas no longer in production.

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    Brian September 17, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    Any mountain biking in/near the city?

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      Matt F September 17, 2014 at 12:53 pm

      It’s gotta have more than here

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) September 17, 2014 at 1:37 pm
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        Brian September 17, 2014 at 2:07 pm

        Thanks, Michael. I have yet to find a larger city (roughly comparable in size to Portland) that doesn’t have better mountain bike opportunities in/near the city than Portland. Hopefully the next Director of Parks will get it.

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          Erok September 18, 2014 at 9:02 pm

          Brian, there’s a reason that Dirt Rag Magazine is based here. lots of great mountain biking, some you can even bike to within city limits

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        TrailLover September 17, 2014 at 4:26 pm

        And I imagine some of you caught the recent Gateway Green/Forest Park piece in the Oregonian: http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2014/09/gateway_green_cycling_area_is.html

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      Zimmerman September 17, 2014 at 2:33 pm

      There is a MASSIVE amount of quality single track for all types of riders and desired riding experience in and around the city. Pittsburgh is a little slice of heaven for mountain bikers.

      It’s truly unfortunate that mountain biking is perceived as some kind of evil environmental destruction pastime to some here in Portland. Somehow, people in Pittsburgh are able to share natural surface single track trails without widespread destruction of entire ecosystems and without a single child or entire family being maimed or killed in the woods. I guess we can’t trust ourselves out West?

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      Silas September 18, 2014 at 9:27 am

      There are 3 incredible parks in the City with mountain biking/hiking trails. One, Frick Park, has some pretty stellar downhill runs – you wouldn’t even know you’re in a city.

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      Eric September 18, 2014 at 6:35 pm

      Most of the mountain biking around Pittsburgh is okay… nothing like you probably have out your way. If you’re willing to drive three or so hours east of Pittsburgh, the Allegrippis trail system is 32 miles of machined singletrack in stacked loops. It’s fast, not really technical. You can also take the Great Allegheny Passage and bike from the point downtown to D.C.

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        TrailLover September 18, 2014 at 7:03 pm

        But isn’t North Park just a few minutes out of the city center? It’s a 3,000+ acre parcel that purports to offer 45 miles of singletrack on a shared use trails system. Perhaps that’s not highly technical but it still seems far superior to the approximately 2 miles of singletrack that are reasonably accessible to metropolitan Portland residents without having to drive upwards of an hour out of town.

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          one September 18, 2014 at 8:25 pm

          How many miles are available in Portland on Powell Butte?

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            TrailLover September 18, 2014 at 8:36 pm

            I think it’s just shy of 2 miles. Add that to roughly 0.2 miles in Forest Park and voila! Virtually nothin’.

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              Charley September 19, 2014 at 9:28 am

              False. There’s over twice that mileage, and it’s really well built. Nice, flowy trails.

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                davemess September 19, 2014 at 9:36 am

                I agree that there is more than 4 miles (I ride Powell Butte almost weekly), but disagree with the really well built. I know some of the new trails were built with bikes in mind, but they had pretty significant constraints on building (no berms, making trails at least 3 feet wide, covering all roots). It’s a very sanitized trail system, while better than nothing it is not scratching the itch that most have.

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                TrailLover September 19, 2014 at 9:48 am

                I’m not sure what the actual mileage is at Powell Butte and I don’t think there was an officially published figure last time I checked. But if what you report is correct and you are describing legitimate – albeit over-sanitized – singletrack trail, then that brings our metro region of approximately 1 to 2 million residents (depending how you measure) to a whopping total of 4+ miles of singletrack trail. Totally inadequate, especially as we all sit in the shadow of Forest Park.

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      Lizabeth Gray September 20, 2014 at 9:39 am

      Yes, many of ski areas have mountain biking plus we have a series of state and national parks surrounding the city. Add in the River trail and you can go all the way to D.C.

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    Adam H. September 17, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    You only compared a tiny part of Pittsburgh. What about the neighborhoods surrounding downtown? It’s really easy to cherry-pick parts of a city and claim that the entire city is great and we should be more like them (and plenty of news outlets do this with Portland, too).

    How do the two cities compare as a whole, rather than comparing two cherry-picked spots?

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) September 17, 2014 at 1:29 pm

      True enough, though I spent a few hours exploring outside downtown on three trips. The difference was that I wasn’t taking photos (I was too busy trying to keep up with the dude you see above in Lycra!). Outside downtown, the poorer parts of Pittsburgh are old and crumbling, unlike the poorer parts of Portland that mostly aren’t yet crumbling (but will, unless they’re redeveloped). Generally speaking, those neighborhoods are denser and more walkable than Portland’s, except where they’re cut up by highways — much more likely to have been developed before 80 percent of the city was assumed to own a car.

      As for the biking: on-street infrastructure is minimal, hills are nasty, riverside trails are good (and impressively plentiful) but not nearly as pretty as the Esplanade. People in cars tend to be about as courteous toward people on bikes as those in Portland. I took a *lot* of lanes, out of necessity, and was only yelled or revved at twice.

      Far from a perfect city, but one that we’d do well to emulate the best parts of.

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    Jim Labbe September 17, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    I understand that about 30 years ago the city of Pittsburgh also restructured its property tax system raising the rate on land relative to improvements fivefold. Apparently this has contributed to creating the more compact, walkable neighborhoods that the Portland region has tried (pretty tepidly at times) to do with land-use and transportation policy.

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    Jonathan Gordon September 17, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    Pittsburgh even has its own version of De Ronde! First on my list of things to do if I ever visit:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirty_Dozen_%28bicycle_competition%29

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cK8MhLihFlg

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    Alain September 17, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    I’ve visited PGH several times, and have good friends there. I definitely like the city, it has a lot to offer, and is beautiful in many ways (the hills, the rivers), plus lots of bicycle paths and tons of cultural offerings. It is also a pretty segregated city. Try walking around parts of the Hill District.

    One thing worth noting is the Great Alleghany Passage and C&O trails that run from PGH all the way to DC… 300+ miles of mostly bicycle paths. Now this is something Portland needs. The Salmonberry Corridor is definitely the first step, but imagine a trail from Timberline Lodge to Tillamook or other coastal towns.

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    Reza September 17, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    Pittsburgh to me will always be infamous for the elevated highway they allowed to get built surrounding the historic Fort Pitt at the tip of the peninsula, cutting it off from the rest of downtown – just awful.

    It does have some impressive busways to the west and south of downtown, funiculars that take you to neighborhoods atop Mount Washington, and a legacy streetcar/light rail system that was modernized in the mid 1980s with new rolling stock and a downtown tunnel (now that’s definitely something that Portland should emulate). The system is incomplete though, only serving downtown, south suburbs, and (most recently) the near northside neighborhoods where the Pirates’ and Steelers’ stadiums are located.

    The panoramic view of the downtown skyline as you emerge from the Fort Pitt Tunnel is just incredible. Pictures don’t do it justice.

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    Lady Fuchsia September 17, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    I went to college at the University of Pittsburgh and lived in Squirrel Hill. Pittsburgh is a culturally vibrant city with outstanding colleges and universities and low crime. I rode buses and walked when I lived there; I would never have considered biking on Pittsburgh’s streets twenty years ago due to narrow, hilly streets and lack of infrastructure and few other bicyclists. I knew a guy who commuted by bike downtown and I thought he was insane.

    But I remember waiting for a bus outside Pitt’s Hillman library and seeing a pack of cyclists swarm by chanting a demand for bike lanes. I was blown away by this proto-Critical Mass demo. But it still never occurred to me to ride a bike for transportation until I moved to St. Louis and had to deal with inferior public transit.

    The buses I rode between Oakland (where Pitt is) and Squirrel Hill were so jammed sometimes you couldn’t get on. Parking is expensive downtown so a lot of professionals from the suburbs will commute by bus. I have thought about moving back there since they have been adding bike infrastructure over the past ten years or so. Neighborhoods like Squirrel Hill, Shadyside, and Oakland are as vibrant as anything you’d find in Portland, just as safe, and more diverse.

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    Huey Lewis September 17, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    Pittsburgh has always sounded ok to me. I have however known a number of Pittsburghers (unfortunate) over the years that moved out here and you couldn’t pay to move back to that city. Another friend, not from Pittsburgh, moved there and lasted maybe 6-7 months before he bailed.

    That’s no hard evidence Pittsburgh’s not a fine town, but it’s mildly worth noting. Maybe.

    I’m envious they have 3 pro sports teams and we have 1.

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      Psyfalcon September 17, 2014 at 3:40 pm

      Huge sports team to population ratio for the city proper, but the metro area actually has a few more people than Portland.

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        Huey Lewis September 17, 2014 at 5:39 pm

        I want baseball back in Portland. MLB. In Portland.

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          Mossby Pomegranate September 17, 2014 at 7:19 pm

          Nah…we’ve been sold the lie that soccer is all the rage.

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            davemess September 18, 2014 at 8:48 am

            True, the Timbers (and Thorns) are wildly unpopular……….

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            Adam H. September 18, 2014 at 9:38 am

            I love that Football (Soccer) is so popular in the PNW. In my opinion, it is much more fun to watch than Base Ball.

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            Huey Lewis September 18, 2014 at 11:01 am

            Uh, yeah. Soccer. People seem into that. I’ll pass, thanks.

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      infinitebuffalo September 17, 2014 at 4:10 pm

      For what it’s worth, I moved from Michigan to Pittsburgh as a college student nearly ten years ago (transferred to Pitt), and despite having graduated in 2007 have never left… From my seat here between the rivers my view’s not quite so rosy as Michael’s, and having not been to Portland I can’t make the comparison, but anyway I like it here.

      And, hey, if Doug Gordon says you’re doing something right, it must be true, eh? https://twitter.com/BrooklynSpoke/status/511212266742894592

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      davemess September 18, 2014 at 8:45 am

      are you not counting the Blazers as a pro sports team?

      (because the Timbers actually outdraw the Blazers, and would moreso outdraw them with a bigger stadium)

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        Huey Lewis September 18, 2014 at 11:04 am

        Yeah, the Blazers. The NBA. I’m sure some skewed metric shows the Timbers/Alaska Airlines being more popular(?) than the Blazers. I’m not counting the Timbers as a pro sports team. Because WGAS?

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          davemess September 18, 2014 at 12:35 pm

          20k+ people for EVERY home game over the last 4 seasons, and 10k people on a season ticket waiting list.

          Enjoy your long wait for the dying sport of baseball (I really hope you were one of the few thousand people actually going to Beavers games).

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            Huey Lewis September 18, 2014 at 5:26 pm

            If you think MLS is overtaking MLB and NBA in popularity any time soon you’re living in a fantasy world. And if either of those leagues are “dying” you know something they don’t.

            I’m glad soccer exists for all the non-sports fans so they have a spectator sport they can go cheer for. But it’s not for everyone (Americans, fine, whatever) and soccer fans seem to have a horribly hard time realizing that.

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              davemess September 19, 2014 at 9:37 am

              I didn’t say anything about the leagues. I was stating the fact that soccer draws VASTLY bigger crowds than baseball in Portland.

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      Chris I September 18, 2014 at 8:52 am

      I’m not envious of cities that have more spectator sports teams. It just means the people that live there spend more time and money watching other people have fun and less time doing it themselves. I’d rather participate in the sports.

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        Huey Lewis September 18, 2014 at 11:04 am

        Really? You sure?

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    TrailLover September 17, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    Yes indeed. Pittsburgh is yet another example of a city (region, actually) that is not mired in the dark ages of trail access policy for off-road cycling. The crazies may be at the helm here in Portland, but they’ll fade away as a brighter – and greener – future awaits Forest Park.

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    Adam Rogers September 17, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    It looks like a very European city from the photos.

    I LOVE the two-way cycletrack in one of the photos! Portland doesn’t even have one of those yet, unless you count that thing out on Cully. Let’s get one of those in the downtown!

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      Adron @ Transit Sleuth September 17, 2014 at 7:16 pm

      SW Waterfront does. Cully does. It isn’t two way, but it is a cycle track on Multnomah. Just saying, it seems a number of cycle tracks just get ignored in Portland… but we would do well to have a LOT more of them.

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        Adam H. September 18, 2014 at 9:32 am

        The cycle track on SW Moody in South Waterfront is the best bike lane in Portland and should be the model for all other cycle tracks around the city.

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          davemess September 18, 2014 at 12:36 pm

          It also has about a half mile of almost completely uninterrupted roadway (which is pretty rare in a city).

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            Peejay September 19, 2014 at 8:59 am

            And, when the uninterrupted roadway ends, it’s at a light that is one of the worst designed “bike friendly” lights I have ever used. I used to ride this lane daily, and I mostly used the east side of Moody when heading north. Moody is 90% great cycle facility, but the 10% of it that sucks ruins it.

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              davemess September 19, 2014 at 9:38 am

              Oh come on, it was completely brilliant to put the crossing button approximately 4 inches from the car lane of travel! I love having my front tire dangle 2 inches from getting hit just so i can press the button.

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    lahar September 17, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    damn you Fred and Carrie

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    Zach Holz September 17, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    Pittsburgh is really beautiful. They have a great cycling advocacy group, too. I’d love to spend more time there on a bike.

    And you can tell they’re doing something right, bike-wise, now that they’re getting bikelash op-eds!

    http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/Op-Ed/2014/09/14/Bikes-bikes-bikes-Pittsburgh-transportation-Joe-Wos/stories/201409140106

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    Paul Heckbert September 18, 2014 at 11:47 am

    Michael Andersen is suffering from “grass is always greener on the other side” syndrome. Yes, Pittsburgh has a number of nice qualities (I’ve lived here for 22 years), but it’s not the nirvana that Andersen makes it out to be.
    Weather? It’s gray a lot. If you need lots of blue skies, Pittsburgh may not be your place. On the other hand, both times I visited Portland, I got rained on, so maybe Pittsburgh’s not so bad.
    Government: Pittsburgh has a good mayor in Peduto, as of this year, but much of Pennsylvania politics is a corrupt old boys’ club. Our county executive, Rich Fitzgerald, just OK’d fracking in one of our county parks! Yes, Pittsburgh has cleaned up a lot from 100 years ago, when it was choked with steel mills and people dared not swim in its polluted rivers, but the extractive industry du jour, natural gas, is leading to a new round of environmental degradation.

    Pittsburgh’s rivers have been cleaned up a lot since most of the steel mills closed in the 80s, and we have a growing network of bicycle trails. The best ones, such as the marvelous Great Allegheny Passage, are primarily recreational. Bicycle commuting in Pittsburgh was horrible a couple decades ago due to intolerant drivers, narrow streets, potholes, and hills, but things have improved a lot. It will still take a generation to flush out the “get off the road, spandex asshole!” attitudes of many older “yinzers”.
    Yes, indeed, the Bike Pittsburgh group does a great job of promoting bicycling in the city.
    Overall, Pittsburgh is certainly not in the class of Portland or Toronto or Amsterdam when it comes to bicycle-friendliness, but we’re getting there.

    Pittsburgh’s public transportation system is pathetic.
    Pittsburgh’s universities, museums are excellent and its arts scene is pretty good.
    I’m highly suspicious of these statistics for median age of Pittsburghers. Maybe these stats are skewed because most college students live in the city of Pittsburgh, while Pittsburgh city is just a small fraction of the metro area, which is notoriously old and undereducated?
    Pittsburgh is highly segregated, with a history of police problems (google Jonny Gammage and Jordan Miles).
    On the positive side, Pittsburgh’s economy has diversified a lot since the days of steel, glass, and coal.
    Sports teams: yeah, we have several, but who cares?

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      davemess September 19, 2014 at 9:45 am

      Thanks for that.
      I’m a little worried that Michael went to a conference that is supposed to show off biking/walking facilities, and didn’t get a complete picture of what the city is really like.
      For instance a 3 day conference in Portland could paint a ridiculously rosy picture of amazing infrastructure innovations in Portland, yet we’re on here every day convincing ourselves that we’re not a very good city.

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      • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
        Michael Andersen (News Editor) September 19, 2014 at 11:11 am

        It’s a valid concern and I invite the skepticism.

        The biking, walking and transit facilities themselves are not Pittsburgh’s strength, and that’s not what I’m intending to say in the post above. (That’s why this is a real estate beat post.) Pittsburgh’s strengths are its dense development (including in the run-down residential areas far from downtown), its narrow human-friendly streets and isolated achievements like Market Square. All of that is thanks to the city’s age and the fact that its big boom came before the era of auto-centric planning. That’s the intended focus of this post: the centuries-long benefits a city can get by channeling the money of a real estate boom into human and transit-oriented development.

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      DBR96A September 19, 2014 at 1:30 pm

      The median age in the city of Pittsburgh is 33, which is below the national median, and the median age in Allegheny County is slightly above the national median. It’s the six outlying metropolitan counties (Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington, Westmoreland) that are aging, and they also do a thorough job of washing out the increasing level of diversity in Allegheny County. Every outlying metropolitan county except for Beaver County is at least 90% white, which is how Pittsburgh ended up being the whitest major metropolitan area in the United States. Allegheny County still has a very minuscule Hispanic population, but they do have a critical mass in a couple of Pittsburgh’s South Hills neighborhoods. The county also has a fairly sizable black population, and a rapidly growing Asian population. In fact, the Pittsburgh area is becoming a magnet for the Bhutanese, similar to how the Twin Cities became a magnet for the Hmong. And in terms of segregation, dissimilarity indices have it neck and neck with Rochester, NY for the least segregated major “Rust Belt” metropolitan area.

      As for educational attainment at the metropolitan level, it’s average among metropolitan areas with 1,000,000+ population, but it’s an average of two extremes. The over-65 population is college-educated at a rate well below than the national average, but the under-45 population is college-educated at a rate well above the national average. (The 45-64 population is average in this regard.) And the under-45 college-educated population is increasing, which belies the notion that smart young people are “fleeing in droves.” Basically, the Pittsburgh metropolitan area is being reborn from the inside out, starting in the city and spreading out into the rest of Allegheny County. It’s the outlying counties that aren’t pulling their weight. Allegheny County is growing now, but Armstrong, Beaver, Fayette and Westmoreland Counties are still shrinking, and Butler and Washington Counties aren’t growing as fast as before.

      Allegheny County has 52% of the metropolitan population, but 61% of the college-educated population, and 78% of the non-white population. It’s where all the action is these days, which differentiates it from many other “Rust Belt” cities like Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit and St. Louis, which are still losing population in their urban cores while their suburbs grow.

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    Chris September 18, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    As someone who grew up in Pittsburgh and has recently landed in Portland, I have to beg Portland to never become Pittsburgh. You have a lo Ely city in the northwest that doesn’t shut down at 5 30 pm.For any financial or travel benefits, culturally there is no comparison. In Portland, people smile at you. In Pittsburgh, people stare at you. Anyone considering a life in Pittsburgh: I hope you really like sports and people who still think Eminem was a role model somehow. Prere for a sea of bad attitudes when discussing travel, academics, or non conservative politics. Please, Portland, never become Pittsburgh!!

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    Chris September 18, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    Not to mention that drivers are more courteous on the I 5 N in LA and 580 W in the bay area during rush hour than anytime anywhere in Pittsburgh!!!

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    Ben Yogman September 18, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    Pittsburgher, tickled to hear our humble tahn (town) discussed positively in on bikeportland.org.

    There’s a lot of good stuff going on in the way of infill development and that has both improved the biking scene and the biking scene has contributed to the desirability. So there’s a nice virtuous cycle going. There’s also supportive city leadership that worked hard to make a few highly visible improvements just before the conference (the cycletrack on Penn being the standout) and rhetorically seems set to keep pushing. So modeshare in the ACS survey had a sizeable jump for 2013 (1.4->2.2%) and I expect to see another sizeable jump for 2014.

    A whole lot of problems, too. The snippets were already highly selective of the city, and in terms of biking in the metro area but outside the city is much, much more limited. Mt Washington (from which you get the view) is a serious barrier. The relative lack friendly roads going beyond is even bigger. PennDOT continues to think in motor vehicle only terms and there are so many important would be routes that belong to them and not the city. There’s a lot of resentment that toward the bike stuff that its presence only in the city proper breeds.

    I wish our new bike/ped coordinator a lot of success. There’s so much opportunity because of many relatively quiet streets from the city emptying all those decades back, and the topography creates pinch points for motorists that will not go away and make alternatives look more serious. But the money is VERY HARD to come buy to do things and even scraps from the table are resented because of our greatly decayed infrastructure (clearly needs more vehicles!).

    Now move, ya jagoff!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61p30ZdnXGI

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    Ian September 18, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    Pittsburgh is great! We have more recently been calling ourselves the Portland of the East. The city limits are tiny… only 58 square miles with 305,000 more or less and slowly growing. The metro has about 2.34 million people. Downtown is still developing as far as a neighborhood goes. The real city is in the surrounding neighborhoods like Oakland, Squirrel Hill, South Side, Shadyside, East Liberty, etc. Biking is becoming more and more a part of the city. Drivers are being more courteous and miles of bike lanes are being added. Pittsburgh is definitely on the up and up, and I’m proud to be a part of it! Can’t wait to come out to Portland and compare and contrast.

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    Jeff September 18, 2014 at 6:18 pm

    Nice article. I was out there for Pro Walk/Pro Bike/ Pro Place, too, and really enjoyed Pittsburgh. I remember thinking Market Square is the best square I’ve seen in the United States.

    Did you make it over to the South Side? It truly has the bones of a great northern European city. I’m also surprised you didn’t mention the cycle track, urrrhh… separated bike lane, they installed downtown.

    Thanks for writing this!

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    Dean September 18, 2014 at 10:21 pm

    Old-time yinzer here – and somebody who has been a bike commuter (off and on) for 40 years. Soooo much has changed. I see a lot of people from Pittsburgh commenting here and saying it’s not as rosy as the article’s author says. In many ways that’s true, we’ve got our problems to overcome. But as somebody who endured enormous bike hostility for such a long time the shift is stunning. Really, the thought of a separated bike lane on Penn Avenue downtown would have been unthinkable as little as 10 years ago.

    Pittsburgh has this hard-working sensibility and because of that we don’t sugar-coat problems all that much – that way we’ve got a better shot at solving them. But maybe we ought to take just a brief moment to be proud of how far we’ve come.

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    nebbynikki September 19, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    Huey Lewis
    I have however known a number of Pittsburghers (unfortunate) over the years that moved out here and you couldn’t pay to move back to that city.
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    What is this use of “unfortunate”? Pittsburghers are some of the friendliest people in the East.

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    robert wallis September 19, 2014 at 7:10 pm

    Thank for mentioning the GAP and C&O Canal trails. I think that one of the best things about Pittsburg is the fact that you can ride your bike (or walk) from downtown for over 300 miles on a bike path totally separate (and protected) from motor vehicles. Yes, Portland should take note.

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    paul jones September 21, 2014 at 2:21 am

    I moved to PDX from PGH South Side(100 bars, one drag.) We’re considered to be a low key NYC. I have much love for both cities.

    Yinz jags can take the trail all the way to the key west, make sure to enjoy Ohio Pyle and all the other beauts along the Appalachian trail, it’s absolutely beautiful.

    We raid our streets during bucco and stiller games;) and every weekend on South Side and shadyside (college crowds) if you want more adult crowds check lawrenceville and bloomfield, if you don’t act like an adult prepare to receive no service. Have yourself some primanti bros or round corner if tacos are your thing.

    The burgh Is home of the yinzr and Point State Park where George Washington had his yinzer fort fighting against the brish. We’re home to tons of films, hollywood loves us because we don’t give a flying jag about them or bother them. Dawn of the dead.. zombies… abduction fathers and daughters there’s quite a lot we tend to be quite artsy honestly.

    About the cab service. No one uses cabs they use jitnies – you can find your own at giant eagle parking lot in south side. Even though it’s illegal no one cares lol.

    Oh and be careful no one will stop to let you walk across the street like they do here so be carefuls lol

    PGH + PDX = x3oxoxoxo

    – Pauly

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    jamie November 2, 2014 at 6:09 am

    As someone who has recently spent considerable time in both Portland and Pittsburgh, I feel like I can chime in here. I also have 2 days to decide which city I should live in, as I have a job offer on the table. Maybe this will help out with my decision.

    City/Neighborhoods – I spent one day driving around Portland, and pretty much figured out the basic quadrants in which the city is divided-NW, SW, SE, NE. There’s one major waterway (Willamette) that several bridges cross – connecting the east with the west. Portland’s neighborhoods are pretty similar. The houses are all roughly a similar size, with few brick homes. Most homes are bungalow style, with painted siding with lots and lots of landscaping and gardens. I was surprised by how wide some of the residential streets are. Many streets also double as a bike lane, and are decorated with painted murals. It’s beautiful. Down in the city district/or ‘the Pearl’, there are a variety of apartment buildings. But there are really no shitholes anywhere in the city. In fact, I can’t remember passing a single area that I would consider a shithole. I read that someone said that St John’s is a bad area. I thought it was pretty sweet. I’d live there in a heartbeat.
    Pittsburgh neighborhoods are much more separate, partly due to the variety in terrain. In Pittsburgh you don’t have one major waterway that splits the city into east and west. There are hundreds of bridges and tunnels, and lots and lots of hills. Kind of makes it easy to get lost. The city is divided up into several distinct areas, and each is very different than the next. There can be mansions in Shadyside and Squirrel Hill. And the Lawrenceville, Polish Hill, and Bloomfield homes can be super small row homes. And there’s everything in-between. There’s new construction, old estates, townhomes, and vacant lots where houses are falling down. In Pittsburgh, you know when you are in a “bad neighborhood”, and you get the fuck out.

    Housing is definitely more expensive in Portland. I have a nice house that I paid around 100k for in Pittsburgh. It is not in the city, but I can get to the city by a 30 minute drive or 45 minute bike commute. Portland houses of comparable size and location would be more around 250k. Also, apartments are more expensive. You can get a pretty nice 1BR apartment in Oakland or Regent Square for around 800/month. In Portland, it would be more like 1200-1500. Groceries are also more expensive (and there are less big stores) in Portland. There are more markets, which are nice but generally carry more of a premium. There is no sales tax in Oregon.

    Jobs- I consistently read that Portland is hard-pressed economically. And I can see this. For as expensive as the housing/cost of living is (comparatively speaking), the average salary is pretty low. I have been subscribing to job message boards for about 3 months or so, and I get around 30 new jobs a day in my field. Very few pay over 70k, but there are jobs to be had. I only applied for one job and got offered it. The salary is actually less than what I make in Pittsburgh. I was initially surprised, but now I’m not. At the same token, I know plenty of friends in Pittsburgh that can’t find any job, let alone the “right one”. It took me 8 years of rejection before I finally got into Carnegie Mellon. Good jobs don’t come easy anywhere.

    People- This is a tough one to write without sounding biased. Yes, I am east coast born and raised. There tends to be this awe for the west coast from east coasters. In comparison, west coasters love their home and think the east coast is a shithole. West coasters also hate that east coasters want to move there. This has come up in numerous different circles. Other than that, I think both east coast and west coast people are both pretty nice. For me, personally, smoking pot was something that you did in high school or college. For Portland, cannabis is considered the same as beer. There literally is no difference. The abundance of ‘harder’ drugs is very apparent. Portland has way more homeless people. But sometimes you can’t even tell they are homeless. I.e. –d id that guy really have on a North face jacket and Merrell hiking shoes? And they don’t beg either. They are usually just slumped over on a bench. Or they build these little camping colonies along the shores of the Willamette. When you bike down the Springwater Corridor, you can see all the little villages that exist. They have dogs and tents. It’s kind of like those hippy festivals that I went to in my 20s. There is even a portajohn there. It’s kind of hard to tell who is homeless or who is just high as fuck and forgot where they lived. In comparison- Pittsburgh has beggars. These are the people that write their life story on a cardboard sign and stand in the middle of the highway. You are very clear on the fact that they are homeless, possibly a Vietnam vet and/or a single mother of 5. And the highway is also where they sleep. Underneath a bridge. Sometimes they have shopping carts, but there is never, ever any North face. And usually there’s a bottle of liquor as opposed to marijuana. Homelessness in Pittsburgh is more an individual activity, rather than a group one.

    Outdoors. People say that in Portland you can turn in any direction and within 3-4 hours or so you can be pretty much anywhere you would ever want to be. And I believe that. The Gorge is right there. Seattle. Rainier. The Coast. Bend. Hood. The list goes on and on. Forest Park is massive. Huge old growth forest with plenty of elevation and features to make hiking exciting. I desperately want to take my dog there. I haven’t mountain biked at Powell or Sandy, but I did go to Post Canyon, Mt Hood and Syncline. All have their merits, but I don’t think it is necessarily better than east coast. It is just different. From downtown Pittsburgh, I can get to Schenley or Frick within 20 minutes. North park, South park, Boyce, deer lakes, hartwood, bavington, Harrison hills, etc… the list goes on. There are easily 10 parks that are completely different from each other, within an hour drive of the city. And most parks have at least 20 miles of singletrack- with hills, rocks, roots and features. No vistas. No MT hood. Just singletrack. Outside of the city there are hundreds of opportunities. West Virginia- Wild and Wonderful. Michaux State Forest. PA Grand Canyon. Raystown. Maryland- Patapsco. I mean seriously, there’s so much beauty near Pittsburgh. But yah, those damn mountains surrounding Portland. I could probably spend a decade of my life exploring Rainier alone. A day in the West Coast is a day in a natural paradise, for sure.

    Portland has much more to offer with other sports. Skiing in Pittsburgh is terrible. You pay 70$ to wait in line for an hour for a 5 minute run that is a sheet of ice. XC skiing can be marvelous if it snows enough in the city. Otherwise you have to drive an hour to a groomed ski track. SUPing is really new to Pgh. I never even heard of it until this year. And we clearly don’t have the conditions or draw for sports like surfing or kiting. Fishing can be fun, but you probably don’t want to eat too many from the rivers. And Pittsburgh has fucking fracking. God does that piss me off.

    If I never lived in Pittsburgh and I had to choose between Pittsburgh or Portland, I would choose Pittsburgh hands down. It is the most beautiful city skyline you will ever see. It’s growing in every way imaginable. It’s economically stable. It’s a good place to raise a family. There are countless opportunities for outdoor adventures. It’s just cute. I love Pittsburgh. But at the ripe old age of 34, I have sort of maxed out on my Pgh love. I do believe that I would want to come back to Pittsburgh. But for now I want to live in Portland. Maybe it’s just to piss of the West Coasters. 🙂

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