Getting around Pittsburgh can be intimidating. Many streets have small road signs, or none at all, and some intersections resemble deformed starfish, instead of modern infrastructure. (And the hills, the never-ending hills.) This can lead college students to avoid venturing beyond their college neighborhoods. Pittsburgh City Paper says, “Screw that”; break out of the bro bars and corporate coffee shops that cater to you. Explore our wonderful city, with its scores of distinct neighborhoods, pleasant public parks and cultural institutions. To take in all these attractions, CP offers you a handy guide on all the different ways to get around Pittsburgh, with tips, secrets and advice. Onward and up those hills!
If you are a student at University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University or Chatham University, and you aren’t taking the bus or the T (what we call our light-rail system), you’re literally throwing money down the drain. Students and faculty at those universities merely need to tap their school IDs on buses and light-rail cars for free rides. Students at Carlow University, Point Park University and Robert Morris University can ride for $1 after 7 p.m. on the weekdays, and all day on weekends, as long as they present their IDs and pay in cash.
To ride the bus, wait at a designated stop (look for a small blue sign). If there are cars parked near your stop or you are waiting in a shelter, it’s wise to step out to the curb as your bus arrives, so the driver can see you. Track the progress of your route using the TrueTime feature on the Port Authority of Allegheny County website (truetime.portauthority.org). Enter your bus-stop information in the “estimated arrival time” feature and remember to check whether you are heading inbound or outbound. You can also enter your bus route into the “vehicle location map” feature to track the bus’ progress. If you live in Oakland, you might ride the 54, which travels from the North Side to the South Side through Oakland. If you’re on the 54 heading to the North Side, you’re inbound. You’re heading outbound on the 54 if you’re going toward the South Side. For most other routes, inbound is toward Downtown and outbound is away from Downtown.
When your bus arrives, enter through the front door and pay by tapping your student ID or ConnectCard (visit www.connectcard.org to find where to purchase a ConnectCard), or pay cash. It’s $2.50 for a one-way trip using a ConnectCard and $2.75 if you’re paying in cash. When your stop is near, pull the cord near the windows or hit the small red button near a rear exit to request a stop. Exit through any door.
Riding the light rail in Downtown or to the North Side is free. If you continue riding across the Monongahela River and into the South Hills, you have to pay ($2.50 using ConnectCard or $2.75 cash) at the front of the car. Currently, riders from the South Hills heading inbound pay as they enter, and outbound riders pay as they exit. Starting sometime in the fall, light-rail riders will observe an honor system, and will pay by either tapping their cards on receptacles located on the platform or stop, or as they enter the car.
Port Authority spokesperson Adam Brandolph says Port Authority will have a booth set up at Pitt’s Arrival Survival, or welcome week, to offer advice to students on how to ride the bus and the T. More information can be found at www.portauthority.org.
Rejoice Oakland students: Biking just got a lot safer in the heavily trafficked neighborhood. Pittsburgh recently installed more bike lanes in Oakland, on Forbes Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard (and more are on the way for Forbes near CMU). When cycling, remember to follow Pennsylvania state driving rules and learn to use your hand signals when turning and stopping. It’s recommended that you ride in bike lanes and in the righthand section of roads, but this is NOT a requirement. Any time cyclists feel the need (especially if they feel unsafe on the road), they are entitled to take the entire driving lane.
Local bike-advocacy organization Bike Pittsburgh recently updated its Biking 101 guide with expert tips; you can pick up a guide for free from your local public library or at the Bike Pittsburgh offices, in Lawrenceville. Bike Pittsburgh also has a list of how-to videos available at www.bikepgh.org. Its website also has a map of the city that provides all the best and safest cycling routes; paper copies of the map are widely available at bike stores.
If you don’t own a bike, Healthy Ride, Pittsburgh’s bike share, has you covered. The bike share has 50 stations located throughout the city, and most are in neighborhoods familiar to students (Downtown, Oakland, Shadyside and South Side); a station map and instructions on how to ride are available at www.healthyridepgh.com.
Healthy Ride costs $2 for 30 minutes, and bikes can now be returned to any station, regardless of whether docks are available (just insert the bike lock into the front-wheel base and hit the “OK” button on the bike’s keypad). Membership costs $12 a month and includes unlimited 30-minute rides. Riders can try out a Healthy Ride for free; just follow the instructions at change.healthyridepgh.org.
Pittsburgh is a walking town. According to U.S. Census figures, about 11 percent of residents commute via two feet, one of the highest percentages in the country. Ironically, however, the neighborhoods with high percentages of pedestrians, like Oakland and the South Side, don’t always feel safe for walkers. CP advises walkers to always look both ways, even when given a walk signal, and keep your eyes on cars as much as you can.
Intersections on Fifth Avenue in Oakland should be crossed with caution since there’s a counter-flow, bus-only lane, and speeding among drivers is common. This also holds true for intersections on Baum Boulevard in North Oakland, and Boulevard of the Allies, Downtown.
Regardless, CP also wants to empower students to walk. Walking is an effective way to get around Pittsburgh, since the city is relatively compact, and driving or taking public transit can sometimes be confusing. Also, the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota says regular, brisk walking comes with many health benefits, including preventing heart disease and high blood pressure, as well as strengthening muscles and improving your mood.
And if you live in Oakland and want to walk to South Side, CP suggests taking the trail through Panther Hollow. From Oakland, walk down Joncaire Street from Bouquet Street (or take the secret staircase behind Mazerowski Field and the Henry Clay Frick Library Building). Follow Boundary Street until the trailhead appears on your left. Then, just follow trail markers all the way to the Hot Metal Bridge, which crosses the Monongahela River to South Side. This route is about 90 percent car-free and very pleasant.
Since college students live in a time of smartphone ubiquity, many are aware of how to use ride-hailing apps, which are pretty self-explanatory. Both Uber and Lyft service Pittsburgh, and apps can be downloaded from each company’s website.
Andrew Woolf, general manager of Lyft Pennsylvania, reminds students that Lyft now offers a Round Up and Donate option, where riders can give to charitable causes like the World Wildlife Fund, the USO and the Human Rights Campaign.
An Uber spokesperson says students should be wary of driver scams, and that rides can be requested only through the app. An Uber statement sent to CP reads: “Uber is asking students to doublecheck two important details the app provides — the driver and the vehicle — to make sure the information matches up before starting a trip.”
Pittsburgh also has a local, taxi-run ride-hailing app called zTrip. This service allows riders to request a ride in the moment or book ahead, and riders have the option to pay with cash or a credit card. Drivers at zTrip are also required to pass background checks, and rides never have surge pricing. The app can be downloaded at www.ztrip.com. Promo codes are available on each ride-hailing company’s website.
If you’re a student with a car, CP advises you to study the route before heading out. Driving in Pittsburgh is filled with barely marked intersections and quirky rules. Stay alert for Pittsburgh’s many one-way streets and turn-only lanes. Drive the speed limit, respect bikes on the road, and watch for pedestrians. If we all realize that we have places to be and different methods to get there, our respective journeys will be less stressful and more enjoyable.