But new data analysis about Pittsburgh commuters from local mapper and blogger Conor Tompkins might provide some definitive answers to that eternal Pittsburgh question: Do Pittsburghers cross rivers?
The data shows that the largest portion of Pittsburgh commuters do not cross rivers. According to Tompkins, around 46% of Pittsburgh commuters cross zero rivers on their trip to work, but that segment is a plurality of commuters. About one-third of Pittsburgh commuters cross one river to work and and less than 5% cross two rivers on their journey to work.
There are about 610,000 commuters in Allegheny County, and about 90% of those commute to jobs within the county.
Tompkins conducted the study by analyzing commuting patterns for Allegheny County residents. He determined the census tracts where workers lived, and then the corresponding census tracked where they worked, according to American Community Survey data. Then he used an “as the crow flies” (the most direct route between two points) method to determine if workers' trips intersected with the Allegheny, Ohio, and/or Monongahela rivers.
He understands that “as the crow flies” mapping doesn’t follow exactly where commuters might be following the roads or transit lines, but he wrote that he thinks the method is still largely representative.
“There are edge cases where a commuter might ‘cross’ a river when there is a huge bend without actually crossing the river,” wrote Tompkins. “The Mon river near Kennywood comes to mind. Sewickley Heights is probably another case. If you draw a straight line between there and Downtown, it probably crosses the Ohio near Bellevue as well as the Allegheny. An analysis that uses the actual roadways would know that that commute takes 65 or 279 to Downtown, and doesn't cross the Ohio.”
Regardless, communities with the most commuters to cross one river include census tracts in the North Side and Southern Pittsburgh neighborhoods, as well as Frazier Township in the Alle-Kiski Valley. Areas with communities that crossed two rivers on their trips to work (which was still only about 50% of commuters in those communities) were Sewickley Heights, as well as several neighborhoods in Pittsburgh’s West End.
Those highest percentage of Pittsburghers not to cross any rivers live Downtown, the East End, and several eastern suburbs. Also one small census tract in McKeesport.
One facet that might be contributing to the some Pittsburgh commuters having to cross rivers, Tompkins says, is those who rely on cars to commute, or those with longer distance commutes.
“People in areas that are more car-centric might be more willing to (or are pushed into) commuting longer distances to work,” wrote Tompkins. “I'd guess that in Pittsburgh, your probability of crossing a river goes up the longer your commute is. But, that is a guess.”