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Digging into Pittsburghers’ Mobility Concerns

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A core tenet of the City of Tomorrow Challenge revolves around understanding the needs, concerns, desires, and experiences of the actual users of Pittsburgh’s mobility ecosystem (novel idea, huh?). This means talking with residents, visitors, and employees that travel around Pittsburgh, but individual anecdotes can only paint so much of the overall picture. To get a sense of larger scale trends and areas of interest, we completed an analysis of Pittsburgh’s 311 data.

311 call centers have been around in larger cities for the better part of the last few decades, but have really become increasingly utilized over the course of the last 5-10 years or so with the continued emergence of digital technology and mobile applications. People are able to report non-emergency issues through a 311 application, and the resulting information presents a robust dataset for understanding certain problem hotspots in a city. To familiarize ourselves with how Pittsburghers are thinking about the city’s mobility infrastructure, we created a handful of mobility 311 categories using data from the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center open data website. These included the following categories:

  -  Sidewalks: Includes damaged sidewalk, broken sidewalk, and sidewalk obstruction complaints

  -  Pedestrian & Bicycle Concerns: Includes requests for bike racks, crosswalks, pedestrian signals, speeding complaints, and other case types relevant to pedestrian & bicycle safety

  -  Street Condition: Includes sinkhole, pothole, and paving requests

  -  Landslides: Given Pittsburgh’s unique topography and hills, we analyzed landslide complaints as their own category

  -  Parking: Includes all parking-related requests including permit parking, parking meter requests, illegal parking, and others

While there are other request types, we wanted to start with the types that were most relevant to the mission of the Department of Mobility & Infrastructure (DOMI) in Pittsburgh, as well as taking into account the stories and themes we’ve begun to hear from the community.

As we began to analyze the data, we thought about the potential for bias or skew to the data, given it is inherently reliant on self-reporting of issues. We wanted to be sure that certain areas of the city aren’t unfairly over- or under-represented in the identification of hotspots. We found that Census Tracts with higher population, on average, have significantly higher numbers of 311 cases.

So, we performed the mobility issue hotspot analysis with the awareness that higher population areas may show up artificially more often than others. We will work to normalize this higher population skew in future work with this data.


Based on our categorization, we found roughly 3,400 sidewalk related 311 requests since 2015. The vast majority were in the Central Business District (CBD) and then a pretty wide spread around other neighborhoods, including South Side Flats and Slopes, the Oakland area, East Liberty and Shadyside, and others.


Pedestrian & Bicycle Concerns

With 4,380 total requests in the dataset, there are a substantial number of documented pedestrian and bicycle requests in Pittsburgh. These requests were once again strongly clustered around the CBD, the Oakland and Shadyside / Bloomfield / Friendship area, the East and West Allegheny area, a portion of Squirrel Hill, and a couple of smaller hotspots.

Street Condition

Street condition requests represent a large chunk of all the 311 requests, at just over 35,000 related requests in the dataset. The majority of these requests are centered around Bloomfield, Lawrenceville, Shadyside, and East Liberty, with additional clusters showing up in the South Side Slopes and Brookline.  


The landslide requests are a much smaller portion of the data at just under 300 total requests, but obviously represent an important consideration given their ability to cause significant damage and potential injury. The Mount Washington, West End, Brookline, South Oakland, and Spring Hill areas are a few of the main concentrations of reported landslides in Pittsburgh.


Finally, from a parking standpoint, there are just over 5,500 parking related 311 requests that tend to cluster around the CBD, East Allegheny, Oakland, Bloomfield, South Side, and Lawrenceville.

Hotspot Overlay – “Mobility Opportunity Areas”

While each of the themes we just showed are unique, they also have a good deal of overlap when it comes to infrastructure improvement and mobility innovation. Parking, sidewalks, pedestrians, bicyclists, streets, and the natural environment all must coexist to create healthy mobility options. That’s why we overlaid all of the individual hotspots to identify areas that, based on the 311 data, might be key opportunity areas for innovation.

What’s Next?

As we started to highlight, this data is extremely useful and interesting for understanding some of the opportunity areas within Pittsburgh’s mobility ecosystem, but it does have its limitations. We want to hear how this information compares with your experience in Pittsburgh - share your story. Also, as you’re thinking about new ideas for addressing mobility challenges within Pittsburgh, some of these locations and themes may be useful to consider.

Finally, in the coming months, we’ll bring in more datasets and work to uncover a variety of interesting and useful insight about Pittsburgh’s mobility ecosystem, so be sure to check back regularly! Now help Pittsburgh create the City of Tomorrow!

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Photo of Leah Perks

Very well written with a lot of great ideas.