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Bob is making a bike map too

I've added my version of Bob's fabled "north-west passage" from Bakery Square to Shadyside to that other map (though my route will actually take you from Howe to Beechwood).

I'm looking forward to Bob's Tour de Pittsburgh, but I sure hope I don't have to be a Cat 2 to make it all the way around.

2010-08-23 16:34:17

Just saw an article on the post gazette's website about Bob Firth and his upcoming bike map.

I'm curious to see what the crossover between this map and the bike-pgh map is going to be? He's clearly trying to target a specific type of rider with this map. His site is at

2010-08-23 16:34:17


"I did the entire circuit in under two hours, including time for lunch" said Mr. Guy, a category 2 rider. That's two steps down from pro. "It's about 40 kilometers."

He gives the distance in km's! Obviously paying attention to that Velominati's rules.

2010-08-23 17:15:55

How are Bob's other maps? I don't ride a car enough to judge them.

He gave "12 steps to a life with less car in it."

They ranged from some so sensible that it could literally be a crime that they aren't implemented (putting bus schedules up at bus stops), to ideas that are totally wack -"Rail trails and river trails are boring."

I suspect that his bike map would be similar - half the routes one might chose from it would be sensible and half would be idiocy.

I'm thinking Bob Firth is about self-promotion first with everything else a distant second.

2010-08-23 17:35:11

"putting bus schedules at bus stops"

Seriously, why don't we have this? Even at the shelters and other major stops? Is it really that expensive for PAT to laminate a schedule and post it or are they just too afraid people will just steal them?

2010-08-23 17:49:05

I remember hearing a reason once. Was it because they needed the advertising dollars and didn't have the space to spare at the bus stop shelters? Something like that.

2010-08-23 17:58:42

Someone taped up a new, plain old paper, 28X schedule at the airport. I thought that was nice.

2010-08-23 18:08:50

I think the bus shelters are actually owned by the advertising company, so PAT would probably have to pay them if it wanted to display the schedules?

2010-08-23 18:20:14


2010-08-23 18:43:09

Forget bus schedules at bus stops. Why don't we have an official BUS MAP? On that same topic, could one of you direct me to the third-party one that came out late last year...

2010-08-23 22:36:41

his maps are.... intensely colorful. i like pink, but ouch!

2010-08-23 22:59:11

Wow, a map with recommended bike routes around Pittsburgh. I'm glad he thought of that.

There were a few schedules for the T taped up at one of the stations a little while ago. I want to say it was Mount Lebanon. There are a handful of shelters with schedules taped up, including some by Pitt.

Edit: OK, his maps actually look pretty cool. I'll be interested to see what he comes up with. That said, the Howe Street connection is a useful shortcut I use from time to time, but hardly a Northwest Passage.

2010-08-24 01:21:33

Most of buses are not on schedule anyway, why do you want to know the time at which the bus is supposed to come, knowing that either it already came, or that it will within the next half hour?

2010-08-24 01:26:44

Well, there are busses that only run at certain times of day, or that stop running earlier than others, or that don't run on weekends, etc. Even if the times aren't particularly useful, the routes surely are, especially the ones that are different depending on the time of day.

2010-08-24 01:30:17

"There were a few schedules for the T taped up at one of the stations a little while ago. I want to say it was Mount Lebanon"

Yeah, Mount Lebanon T pretty much always has the red line schedule taped up on the cashier booth.

@lulu I like to know the frequency, and I also like to know if I get on an unfamiliar bus opportunistically, will it take me to Shadyside, or will it hare off to the south or north, that kind of thing.

2010-08-24 04:02:31

I think the schedules are posted on most of the fare booths on the T.

2010-08-24 04:28:16

Noah, you might be talking about this map site. Definitely the best take on the TDP stuff and the planned January cuts (130-page PDF).

Here's his blog, too. He goes by @TransitGuru on Twitter, and is always looking for constructive feedback.

2010-08-24 14:20:36

so the port authority can't post schedules because they don't own the shelters? didn't they think of that before they signed the deal?

2010-08-24 14:42:33

I love businesses that are near bus stops that post ad-hoc schedules out of the goodness of their own hearts. I just wish this was standard practice at every bus stop where there is a business nearby with a window...

2010-08-24 15:11:10

...and a big clock with the correct time.

2010-08-24 15:19:52

ohmygod, Stu, that map (publictransitguide thingie) is what I've been waiting for for like 10 years. That's fantastic. I never knew I could get all the way out to Natrona Heights! This is so awesome!!!! I feel like someone's just given me a map to the New World and now I get to go exploring :D

2010-08-24 15:32:49

wow, a new customer. see how easy that was port authority?

2010-08-24 16:06:27

yeah, I'm completely going to go buy a pass MONTHS ahead of my previous Car Elimination Plan schedule. I'll probably get one for September and fart around with swapping my commute from the company shuttle to the Warrandale Express from downtown. I had totally been putting it off until I was forced, because this map was missing. How do we tell everyone it's there? Like EVERYONE should know about it. I dont' want to crash the poor guy's server, but that map is huge. Literally and psychologically.

2010-08-24 16:31:26

I used the "Northwest Passage" today. It would be great if we could get a more official trail route through it with an actual paved road and not grass. I get to skip the light at Shady and Fifth which is probably one of the most dangerous intersections I encounter daily.

2010-08-24 16:36:24

Yeah Stu that's the one. Massive PDF that crashes my computer :)

2010-08-24 22:01:41

I love the bus stop @ Carson & 22nd. It has a number to text twentytwoout to and it instantly texts you which buses will be arriving in the next hour.

Should be one at every major stop imo

2010-08-24 22:08:24

cricket doesn't support that service :(

2010-08-24 22:13:12

The text thing repeats a bus schedule to you.

What would be really nice is which tells you when the next bus will arrive, not just when it is supposed to arrive. It only takes me an hour to walk home from work. If my bus is stuck in the snow or something, it would be nice to know that so I don't wait there hoping it might come rolling by. A bus schedule or PAT customer service can't seem to tell me that.

2010-08-24 22:24:21

PAT bus drivers have objected to GPS on buses as they believe management will use it punish them for not being on schedule. Way to go, PAT management, for creating such a supportive workplace.

Having said that, you might consider using to give you the next *scheduled* buses for your route. I find it helps to show up at the stop maybe 5 min beforehand. (Don't get me started on that SMS-based service... why do I have to key in those ridiculously long and otherwise meaningless alpha codes. By the time I get it right the next bus has arrived.)

2010-08-25 02:41:02

The new fare box upgrades include GPS. From PAT's Public Relations folks at

The ideal would be to provide real-time information, but at this time we’re missing a link in the technology needed to provide that. Our vehicles are getting GPS, but we don’t have the equipment to use the data. Getting real-time information up and running is one of our goals, but like many things in the world of transit, it all comes down to funding. We have applied for grant money to make real-time a reality for Port Authority and we’re hoping we get it.

2010-08-25 04:29:49

Google maps also has a public trans option in the direction along with car bike and walk. I find it a good source of information (if a little wonky as it told me to take a bus to get the several blocks across town to pick up another bus instead of walking. ) but like the rest of the directions, with a little thought and common sense they are a great starting point.

2010-08-25 10:31:42

Hopefully the new fare boxes work better as GPS units than they work at taking money.

2010-08-25 12:03:43

GPS: The buses (most of them, anyway) have GPS receiving equipment, but none have the ability to send that positioning data back to HQ. Hence, no way to tell your iPhone that the bus you want is about to arrive vs. already went by vs. stuck in the snow.

They will probably get that when they replace all the radios. Just like analog TV, their frequencies go bye-bye in a year or so.

Shelters: The ad companies signed the deals with the city and boroughs. Port Authority may have had no say in the matter.

@Ahlir: I don't disbelieve you but I had not heard that.

2010-08-26 00:35:40

+1 on what rsprake said, and I'd also like to know for sure if it's legal to ride through there. There is a chain at the southern end.

On one of the corners there's a gigantic (width of the road) puddle that's been there for 2 days and shows no sign of dissipating.

I like not having to make a left from Penn onto ELB though.

2010-08-26 01:05:13

@salty: The chain is likely there to prevent cars from passing, a Good Idea. If the passage was meant to be closed the barrier would extend all the way across. Also, I don't recall a "No Trespassing" sign.

As near as I can tell from the official city map, that stretch is actually a public right-of-way. Beyond that, the alley appears to be part of the Reizenstein lot (ie, the public school).

You can verify this from either or from Google Maps (which follows the lot map, but you also get to look at the satellite image to confirm the layout).

The puddle is a major pain though there is a shallow path through it. Then again, you do have fenders on your [commuter] bike, right?

2010-08-26 02:17:42

From that map it looks like there's no way to get past the armory without going on either its lot (204) or the school's (175)?

I have no fenders on my normal commuter, only on my MTB (backup/winter commuter). I just cut through the grass.

Well, I plan to keep going that way until I hear otherwise, and I know a few of my coworkers are doing the same, so we'll see.

2010-08-26 02:59:46

The puddles are mostly gone. I have taken that route every day since I learned about it and I love it.

2010-08-26 13:02:27

The puddles take a few days to dry out after a rain, but it is a good shortcut.

2010-08-26 16:09:46

i was apparently the only one who used this shortcut? also, there's a little gate in the schenley parking lot that is a lot more convenient when it's open.

2010-08-27 00:28:36

How hard is that, really?

Whoever signed the deal for the shelters with the ad companies should have required they post schedules. A while back, CMU Student Senate bought ad space at the shelters around campus and posted schedules there. It was great.

2010-08-27 18:28:48

As with many things in life, if they really wanted to do something, they could find a way--Exhibit A being the pole-mounted schedule linked by John above. This might be more expensive than shelter-mounted schedules, but I'd say nearly every stop has a pole-mounted "bus stop" sign where this could work.

2010-08-27 20:51:42

Someone (at least used to) put schedules in the shelter at 5th & Bigelow outbound (Pitt Union), but I think the university owns that shelter, not ClearChannel...

When I used to occasionally ride that little shortcut behind Reizenstein about four years ago, I would find an actual full-sized gate closing it off once in a while, but it was awesome otherwise. (Haven't lived that side of town for 3.5 years, so I don't know what it's like now...)

2010-08-27 21:00:15

I don't recall any other city I've ever visited that completely lacked bus schedule information. Portland, San Francisco, Minneapolis, San Diego, DC (and everywhere in Europe and Asia) all have schedules at shelters. For the first few months after moving to town, it was my number one gripe. How do you get tourists and people unfamiliar with the city to ride the bus when they don't have an idea when it will arrive and where it will go? Even now, I completely rely on an android phone with google transit data. Seems money spent posting schedules would increase ridership much more than money spent on all other PAT advertisements I see (they have a full page ad in the most recent Pitt News, for example).

Edit: I like the pole idea. Find some advertising company and stick spam on the back, schedule on the front. Add it to the existing signs that designate routes. It will pay for itself.

2010-08-27 21:06:05

I've visited cities where bus stops (at least the mainline ones) have electronic displays that tell you when the next bus(es) are due. In particular, Edinburgh has these, despite the fact that transit is provided by two competing private bus companies. So it can't be impossible to work something out, even in Pittsburgh. (On a side note, bus shelters in that city are right up against the curb with the closed side to the street so that you're protected against splashing. Can't we do that here?)

On posting schedules: citizens occasionally tape these up on their own, but they are removed by the shelter company, even if the advertising is not being obstructed. (If you're contemplating performing this public service: the correct way to do it is to use newsprint and wet glue; more difficult to remove.)

2010-08-28 04:28:45

while we're discussing mass transit and the problems with it, why doesn't it turn private? (it being the mass transit options in Pittsburgh, not PAT specifically, but the idea of mass transit in Pgh)

Aside from having to come up with someone willing to put up the capital for it, are there legal obstacles? What's the story on private vs. public there? As Ahlir points out, private mass transit companies do exist and (apparently) thrive enough to provide amenities our system can't handle - is the Pgh market so poor that we couldn't pay for a private system?

2010-08-28 16:02:30

Less that there are legal obstacles, more that what we end up with that wouldn't be a transit system. The only routes that would exist are ones that are overcrowded now, you'd likely be charged far higher than you do now, and the drivers wouldn't make half what they're doing now.

The TDP changes being made are long overdue, and accomplishing what they were intended: Much more efficient, less duplicative, more predictable scheduling, etc.

You just wouldn't have half the system you do now. And that's exactly what some people want.

2010-08-28 16:10:06

In Edinburgh, one of the two bus companies is owned by the local government. Wikipedia mentions a bus war between the two in 2001. The non-government-owned one tried to increase its share of the business, then retreated.

It also mentions that the average resident there takes 188 bus trips a year, more than twice the national average there. For Allegheny County, the corresponding figure seems to be 56 trips a year. So very high bus use might be necessary to have a private company compete with the government-owned one. (Or maybe the competition helped increase bus use.)

2010-08-29 00:15:28

@Steven, thank you for digging up the extra information. I didn't realize that one of the companies was municipal. (The one that I guess is the private one seems to also run transit in other UK cities.)

One the matter of private bus companies in Pittsburgh: They used to exist, maybe 50 years ago. But they mostly went bankrupt and were replaced by the transit authority.

Someone else who knows local history could chime in, but I expect that this had to do with some combination of declining ridership (cars!) and the structural inefficiencies of running competing bus lines.

2010-08-29 10:14:28

I recall a program on PBS a few years ago which described the activities of a consortium formed by (and I may be off a bit here) GM, Standard Oil and Firestone.

This consortium bought up private and municipal trolley companies across the country, so they could then be replaced with (here comes the punch line): busses!

It wasn't a "natural death" caused by declining ridership, structural inefficiencies or anything like that. It was bus makers buying the systems to create a market for their product.

2010-08-29 15:10:53

I don't get it. He acknowledges just about everyone but bike-pgh, who apparently had nothing to do with the underlying infrastructure his map highlights, publicizing said infrastructure, and marking it on a fantastic map of their own. Bike-pgh makes one of the best bike maps I've ever seen anywhere in the world (and others agree), and gives it out for FREE. He says "the masses of bike route squiggles might as well be a pile of spaghetti for how daunting they can be to decipher." Really? I didn't seem to have a huge problem with it. Maybe I'm a genius.

Hopefully this gets more people out there riding bikes, and helps Bob sell a lot of his books.

2010-08-30 15:36:23

haha, he even tried to take credit for the forbes ave bike lane

2010-08-30 16:17:15

The one thing I most like about his map has nothing to do with bicycles. I do like how he color codes the business districts. That's a visualization that I have not seen on any other map. Subtle hint: Anything other than driving out to the damn malls can only be A Good Thing™ for the city. (sorry, Nick D)

But like dwillen says, anything that gets more people on bicycles, especially those who would otherwise not do so, can only help us all in the end.

2010-08-30 16:33:01

there is no key for how he marked Bigelow Blvd or the Blvd of the Allies into/out of town. it almost looks like you can ride on it. it should be labeled blue with the white stripe.

2010-08-30 16:35:19

I believe neither Bigelow nor the Blvd of the Allies to downtown are limited-access roads, so (unlike the blue/white freeways) it's legal to bike on them.

He used the purple color that indicates a major artery that's bad for cycling, combined with a divided-highway pattern that makes them resemble the roads where it's illegal to bike. I think that successfully gets across the idea that it's legal to bike on them, but a particularly bad idea.

I think he's done a good job overall.

2010-08-30 17:44:01

i just think if you are going to make a map that is for novices, you should make sure they don't accidently end up on these roads, whether it's legal or not. I've seen bikes pulled over on the BOA, so i don't think that it's legal. i mean he does include places where you technically have to trespass (ie cut thru someone's parking lot), so legality doesn't seem to be a factor

2010-08-30 18:44:11

as far as making a nice loop of the east end, it's nice and i'm sure will encourage more people to give it a try.

2010-08-30 18:46:45

What is illegal about riding on the BOA? Or Bigelow? Not saying either one is a necessarily a good idea, but *illegal*?

2010-08-30 18:53:38

Seems to me he might be running dangerously close to lawsuitland by publicly suggesting trespassing. Not that the rest of us haven't here or there, but to publish something and try to make some money at it? Ummm, someone might have a problem with that.

2010-08-30 18:57:58

i don't know. i used to live with a view of the BOA from my house around the Birmingham Bridge area, and would see cyclists frequently stopped on the BOA by a cop.

2010-08-30 19:01:09

erok, maybe the cop stopped them to ask them where they got their sweet wheels.

2010-08-30 19:15:02

Every time we are flocking and some cop pulls up next to Nick on his tall bike, they ask him where he got it.

2010-08-30 19:20:42

regardless, the way it's marked isn't in the key. neither is the way Allegheny River Blvd is marked

2010-08-30 19:25:10

I like 90% of the map and it has lots of low-stress routes that I normally take while in the city w/ the exception of the bayard/bigelow/centre area, and the way Beacon (which I would call cycling friendly) is the same labeling as the blvd of the allies.

He is missing taking Smallman down to Butler st. which is kinda key for the return trip from the strip to lawrenceville/bloomfield.

2010-08-31 14:03:17

what is the difference between solid gray and solid purple. they are both "major arteries, cycling unfriendly." is there a reason to have two colors representing the same thing? am i just missing something?

2010-08-31 14:18:24

Someone pointed out to me about 20 years ago that east coast cities' transit systems take pride in being surly and obtuse. That's how you can tell Pittsburgh is part of the east coast and not part of the midwest. Schedules on the stops? Where are we, Minnesota? ;-)

I did try that SMS code thing on a bus stop last year and absolutely nothing happened. It might become a workable system if it was QR barcodes instead.

2010-09-01 02:52:59

Bob's map looks pretty good (inasmuch as he understands the casual biker's needs). There's at least one avoidable climb, but I'm willing to admit that it's probably a matter of opinion.

On the other hand, the north-west corner of the map is pretty confused. (But why don't we let Bob figure this one out on his own...)

2010-09-01 03:40:54

I have tried the sms messages on a couple of occasions and they seemed to work just fine. im just a little upset that I only noticed a few of them. with it being an automated system it should be easy to have it for all timed stops on the schedule.

Its not like there is just one guy with a flip phone and a bunch of flyers answering the texts you send.

2010-09-01 10:32:02

Dback - There's not?

Based on my experience with PAT I assumed it would be an old lady with a headset and a switchboard full of cables in front of her.

2010-09-01 11:51:19

Hey, don't hate on the old ladies at the switchboard, they have saved my butt more than once! Until the map that Stu pointed out, if it wasn't a 61A,B,orC I couldn't make heads or tails of the schedules or the maps. Where are the stops, when are the stops, what connections can I make, what do I need if I miss them. I call up their help line and the men and women that answer that phone have universally been incredibly patient and helpful, even when I call back 17 seconds after hanging up, get the same person, and say "ok, I still don't get it, where do I go?"

I have many times called the general number and left messages telling Whoever that their phone people have been awesome to me. They must have all the schedules and maps memorized, or be wizards. My money's on wizards, because the maps never make sense and the schedules are always wrong. Wizards!

2010-09-01 12:28:33

Smoothie break!

2010-09-01 13:30:17

I was just riding aimlessly around Oakland and you know what I started craving? Smoothies!

2010-09-01 20:12:33

it really is a smoothie ride map, isn't it? I wonder if he's pushing an alternative agenda, like he's part of the anti food chewing lobby and/or owns smoothie shops.

2010-09-01 20:29:52
bobsmaps has an updated Pittsburgh bike map (2015) - 11x17 version and 2 page version: A few observations: It's oriented toward comfort cyclists. It's timid about encouraging cyclists to ride near cars, even when sharrows or paint bike lanes are present. It attempts to identify "easy-riding routes". It's graphically confusing (six colors to indicate road/trail character). Details I disagree with: * It recommends Northumberland for E-W travel across Squirrel Hill (Aylesboro is better). * It recommends 44th or 45th St to get from Strip/Lawrenceville to Bloomfield (I'd use Liberty or Sassafras-Lorigan). * It marks Stanton Ave as a road to avoid. But a lot of it is useful information, and it documents how fragmented the bike network is, currently.
2015-04-16 15:01:43
I like maps, these are kind of cool. A bit confusing to follow, but the simplicity is good. Too many options can be really confusing. It's a good start for someone who's intimidated by wayfinding on a more comprehensive map.
2015-04-17 15:30:32
"It recommends Northumberland for E-W travel across Squirrel Hill (Aylesboro is better)." If I recall correctly, there are traffic signals at Northumberland's intersections with Beechwood, Shady, and Murray, while Aylesboro has only a two-way stop (with no cross-traffic stop) at at least Shady. Otherwise I find them largely indistinguishable.
2015-04-21 13:02:58
After taking Bob's advice and rereading his Op-Ed piece from 2012, I have no desire to follow this guy's advice. In his own words: "Statistics show that the more cyclists there are on the roads of a given city, the lower the rate of car-bike accidents." Yet here he is recommending a set of routes that encourage cyclists to hide out in places where they will be less visible to motorists, including avoid BIKE LANES. That is the very definition of being counter-productive. I'm sure Bob's maps contain some useful shortcuts and pleasant rides in the park, but hiding in the woods and carrying your bike up some stairs won't make cyclists more visible to motorists, which means Bob's line of thinking isn't helpful to our cause of advocacy. I'll stick to my hybrid Forester-plus-bike-infrastructure ideology, thank you.
2015-04-21 15:49:46
I think Bob would be OK with that, because the map's not targeted at you. It's for the folks who are scared of bicycling for various reasons, and who, once they get on a bike and ride around where there's little to no traffic, might then venture out onto roads with traffic, and become more visible.
2015-04-22 07:22:13
Yeah. I wouldn't follow bob's maps myself too often, a lot of the routes are very indirect, but I could see it being helpful for a more timid rider who's just getting used to riding in traffic. Or when riding at night where there is a higher rate of DUI drivers I'd like to avoid.
2015-04-23 07:49:04
Bob's New Map is an improvement over his previous attempt. That's the one that, bafflingly, had you do Brereton->Paulowna->Herron->Morewood instead of the now Brereton->Dobson->Morewood. Maybe Bob actually rode the routes this time. At this point I do agree that Northumberland is preferable to Aylesboro for novice riders. The stop lights make it a more controlled experience. Aylesboro is nicer but there's some tricky stuff.
2015-04-23 13:23:05