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Podcast: Mobility and Infrastructure in Pittsburgh, PA with Karina Ricks

Posted on January 24, 2020


Karina Ricks GovLove

Karina Ricks

Karina Ricks
Director of Mobility and Infrastructure
City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Bio | LinkedIn | Twitter


Economic development through transportation. Karina Ricks, the Director of the Mobility and Infrastructure Department in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, joined the podcast to talk about how Pittsburgh is working with transportation companies in a collaborative way and how her department emphasizes mobility. She also shared details of the City’s new Bike Plan and her career path into local government.

Host: Ben Kittelson

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Learn More

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Metro21 Smart Cities Institute Launch: Karina Ricks

One Year In, Pittsburgh’s Mobility Head Reflects On Creating An Accessible And Inclusive City

“When would a city ban autonomous vehicles?” w/ Karina Ricks

Pittsburgh Bike Plan Website

Mobility & Infrastructure Website


Episode Transcript

Ben Kittelson

Hey Ya’ll. This is GovLove, a podcast about local government brought to you by Engaging Local Government Leaders. I’m Ben Kittelson, consultant at the Novak Consulting Group and GovLove co-host and producer. We’ve got a great episode for you today. We are headed to the Steel City for a conversation on mobility and transportation. As a reminder, the best way to support GovLove is by becoming an ELGL member. ELGL is a professional association, engaging the brightest minds in local government. Now let me introduce today’s guest. Karina Ricks is the director of the City of Pittsburgh’s department of mobility and infrastructure, a position she’s been in since 2017. The Department of Mobility and Infrastructure is the department in Pittsburgh, and its purview includes design and implementation of a complete network, resiliency projects around landslides and putting policies and programs to manage emerging transportation, including shared services and autonomous vehicles, and strategies to address long term sustainability. Before taking this current role, Karina served as the director of transportation planning for the District of Columbia, and was a principal at Nelson Nygaard consultant. So with that, welcome to GovLove. Thank you so much for joining us.

Karina Ricks

I am so happy to be here.

Ben Kittelson

So we have a tradition on GovLove too. We have a lightning round. And so my first question in the lightning round is, what book are you currently reading?

Karina Ricks

So I’m going back and forth between two books. So the first one, I am not a Pittsburgh native, so still trying to really understand this, this great city that I’m now a part of, and so I picked up a book called “Meet You In Hell”, which is not a description of Pittsburgh. But it’s a description about one of the really kind of critical disputes that happened here in the city in the age of Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, and in the height of the steel industry when there was a very critical labor dispute that happened here in the city at one of the mills here that led to a very violent put down of a labor organizing practice and to the absolute severing of the relationship between these two very, very powerful men because of the way that that dispute was handled. But it’s something that really kind of speaks to these two larger than life characters that were important in the forming of our city just sort of, you know, what our city was back in the early 1900s. And, and you know, really what, what formed the foundation of a lot of the infrastructure that we have today. So needless to say, their relationship never really got very much better as Henry Clay Frick said to Carnegie Mellon virtually on his deathbed, when Carnegie reached out to kind of patch over things before he passed on from this world and Frick’s response was, “tell him I will meet him in hell”. [Laughter] Anyway pretty, pretty spicy characters. But the other one, which I’d recommend to anyone was after seeing the film, really reading “Twelve Years a Slave”, which is an immensely powerful book and I think something that every American really should be required reading, just to understand that very, very dark place in our history. And, and you know what vestiges of that still are kind of shaping our world today, but really critical, critical reading and if you don’t want to read it the movie is incredible also. So…

Ben Kittelson

Yeah, I read the, I read “Twelve Years a Slave” a couple years ago. I really liked it. It was like you said like really transports you back and makes you understand an era in a different way. I have to add “Meet You In Hell” to my list. That sounds like really cool and interesting.

Karina Ricks

It’s very Pittsburgh.

Ben Kittelson

Yeah.

Karina Ricks

It’s interesting that there are some big characters that formed this city.

Ben Kittelson

I think that’s one of the fun parts about moving to a new place is you get to think about or look back and be like, what did I learn about like those very, like local histories, but like their histories that likes you know, shape a city and make it what it is and give it its, you know, personality and I don’t know, like that’s kind of a fun, a fun thing to get to like to learn about and explore. My second lightning round question for you. What was the first concert that you went to?

Karina Ricks

So that’s sort of an unfair question because it immediately dates people I think but maybe not. So the first, I don’t know who was actually the very first concert. I probably went to concerts with my parents but the first concert that I saved up for, waited, camped out to buy physical tickets, because you know, that’s what we had to do when I went to my first concert and was super excited and I still have the T shirt for was the U2 Joshua Tree concert, which was to this day, one of the most amazing musical experiences.

Ben Kittelson

Awesome. You did the whole like, like camping out for tickets? Like, like [laughter]

Karina Ricks

Oh, yeah, really a bunch of like, I think we were really probably 13 – 14 at the time, so it was a big deal.

Ben Kittelson

Awesome. My third question for you, what vegetable did you hate as a kid that you eat now?

Karina Ricks

Umm vegetable. Mmm I don’t know. I think I was… I’d like to believe that I was probably a pretty good grazer of my vegetables. But technically a fruit, I could not stand olives. It will just I couldn’t even have things near it. I wouldn’t want to smell them, they were just whack horrible things so yeah, that was it. That was a no go for me as a kid and now I like me some olives. So let’s go with that even though it’s a fruit admittedly.

Ben Kittelson

If you put I don’t know if you put that out with like a bowl of fruit I don’t think anybody would [laughter] like that very much. I’m with you. I think that that qualifies. So my last lightning round question, where do you go for inspiration?

Karina Ricks

Why go for it. I mean, you know what it’s really about just regular people. So I think we get like so mixed up with just data and best practices and you know, who’s doing the coolest thing and what is like the latest sort of, you know, whiz bang technology and you know, the thing that really grounds me that is always like, oh right, this is what it’s all about, is when we end up doing sort of, you know, pop up meetings or you know, you know, meet on the street kind of interviews with folks and asking them just regular run of the mill people who are trying to get to work or trying to get a job or trying to just get a lunch, whatever it is, and just asking them for what you know, what is what can we do to make transportation better, right. And they have the most practical answers and it’s not dig a subway, right. Like, their answers are, get more than two bikes on a bus. [laughter] If there was more space to put the bikes on the buses that would make a big deal you know. Or you know, introduce time to transfers for transit instead of, you know, needing to go in the same direction. You know, just really super… like a bench that I can sit on like, really, really extraordinarily basic things, but we’re all caught up on you know, doing something you know, with being first of a kind of, you know, cutting new ground. And now like, I just want sidewalks. [Laughter] You know, so getting grounded, being you know, reminded of sort of like that humble everyday stuff. It’s really important to do. I lose track of it. I think everybody you know, loses track of it, but, but going there and being like, right. My kids, you know, my kids are great walking around the city with them, and they’re like, yeah, Mom, you should put a crosswalk here. I’m like, you know what, we really should. [Laughter]

Ben Kittelson

Yeah, makes sense.

Karina Ricks

Yeah, yeah, yeah, let work on that.

Ben Kittelson

Yeah, that’s fair. I think it’s really easy to get lost, like in the high level, like, huge, you know, plans and strategic initiatives, but like some of those, like, understanding what makes a person’s experience, especially with transportation. That’s, that’s really, yeah, that’s important. Cool. So I always like to ask guests on the podcast because I, and I think I always think it’s interesting, like how people got, you know, to the position they’re in today. And just like, because there are such different approaches and such different paths to local government. So for you, how did you end up working in local government? How’d you end up in this position for the City of Pittsburgh?

Karina Ricks

Um, so I don’t know how long this podcast is. [Laughter] But I, I took the scenic route to get to this position. I’d like to say that as a child, I was playing with, you know, little toy bicycles and, you know, pedestrians and knew from the very beginning that this is what I’d do, but that’s not what I did. I initially went to school with an intention of going into environmental law and, and or Russian studies, you know, because they’re so close [laughter] and then ended up working overseas. I went into the Peace Corps and then in the Peace Corps I ended up doing some women’s economic development work in the South Pacific which was really illuminating and, and you know, a lot of that kind of came back to transportation. You are on an island, like in the middle of nowhere, shipping costs are really expensive, like, you know, how the women’s access to sort of the marketplace was constrained. And anyway, so ended up doing some more economic development issues there and then came back and like, I’m going to do International Development. That’s what I’m going to do now. So I came back, went to grad school for International Development / Urban Planning, sort of spontaneously because I spoke Russian, got an opportunity to go to the former Eastern European countries to do some democracy, and some of the former Soviet countries to do some democracy building work. And so they’re doing, you know, election monitoring and voter registration in Ukraine and Belarus and Yugoslavia, former Yugoslavia and again, like really just stressful numbering democracy work. But it’s striking me that these communities are really isolated from one another, these villages you know, multi-generational kind of communities living in these villages completely isolated from one another really leading the kind of tribalism and, and, and disagreement and stress. Sound familiar right?

Ben Kittelson

Yeah.

Karina Ricks

And but again, it was because the transportation connections, their abilities to mix with each other and really share ideas and see common ground and see each other as like, you know, human beings with a with a shared culture and a shared intent and everyone loves their children and wants clean air and clean water, right, like the commonalities that we have. They didn’t see that within each other because of the separation that was there. But so did that work? Again, came back to the US took a position at the federal government, the US EPA working on smart growth, issues on the national level, quickly learned that working at the national level is not for me because It was just a little bit too bureaucratic for [laughter], so had the opportunity as Washington DC was transforming itself from being, you know, really a very, very distressed and troubled city, had the opportunity to jump in with a new mayoral administration that was doing fantastic, amazing, transformative work for the city and joined the city planning department there. Got to do great work in the city planning arena around economic revitalization of the H Street corridor and the Anacostia waterfront you know, areas that had had suffered from after the riots of Dr. King that still had not recovered now in the 2000s. And great, amazing work. But again, like everything lead back to transportation. The Anacostia waterfront is not going to revitalize if we don’t have great mobility connections to get there. The H 3 quarter was all about being a transportation corridor and really being that kind of central area that people went to. A lot of the right quarters were around metro stations. So, you know, this, this theme kept coming through all of these different things… democracy, economic revitalization, women’s, you know, economic opportunity, like this whole kind of career trajectory. And then, fantastic guy, Dan Tangherlini invited me to join the District of Columbia Department of Transportation. And I was like, I thought you’d never ask ..a dream job. And that’s sort of and then everything kind of went from there. So got a chance to really, you know, then be in, in the heart of transportation and, and being in there. And I remember telling him when he invited me to be there. I said, well, it’s great, but you know, I’m not a transportation person. I think, you know, my opinion of this is that the transportation agency is the largest and most impactful Economic Development Agency in the city. And I want to be able to kind of, you know, do this work from that perspective, but this is about getting people the opportunity, it’s about changing the economy, you know, increasing in increasing equity. And he’s like, exactly, that’s why I’m talking to you. Come on over. And it was great.

Ben Kittelson

Very cool, very cool. I love that they have this theme throughout. And kind of in your experience at DC, like what were you able to, you know, work on economic development issues and equity issues through transportation, were you guys like empowered to do that kind of work?

Karina Ricks

Yeah. In fact, what I was brought over to work on was something that at the time was called the Great Streets initiative, and it was, again, these five really kind of economically distressed corridors, many of them had been riot corridors during, you know, after the assassination of Dr. King and, you know, just had really never, never pops like either never the all of economic activity had been concentrated on the west side of the city, most of these corridors were on the east side of the city. And it really had not kind of got out there. And so, you know, what we were able to do was use the transportation investments as sort of a loss leader, if you will, of saying, you know, if we are able to invest in good sidewalks and good lighting, and better transit access, and you know, bike parking and simple things like that, that just makes it easy, easier to get to these corridors and move along these corridors. That’s going to be the thing that is going to then wake up the market. And of course, I mean, it wasn’t I can’t say that, you know, we just did that and all of a sudden, like, everything changed. There was obviously a real estate market, you know, kind of independent economic forces that were at work. Apart from the transportation work we were doing. So it was a bit of Kismet that these things were kind of happening at the same time, but definitely it, it did make an impact. And I will say in some instances, we were fully unprepared for how profound the impact would be meaning that a corridor like H Street Northeast was the, you know, the historic African American business corridor. Right. This was like their, their main financial corridor. Definitely a very proud African American community. All of a sudden, you know, the switch flipped, and they started seeing themselves unable to kind of enjoy the fruits of this transformation. Right. They were being pushed out. Because we really didn’t appreciate at that time, a.) how quickly the change comes and, b) really how much groundwork was necessary to stabilize those communities so that the more vulnerable residents could stay and reap the benefits of these improvements for themselves, in addition to welcoming new residents, but being able to stay, so, lessons learned that definitely I took very much to heart and want to work very hard not to make those same mistakes again. It wasn’t a mistake necessarily, but it was we, we did not know and now we do, and we need to use that metaphor of hindsight.

Ben Kittelson

Yeah, it’s a lesson learned whether it was a mistake or not, but and, and such a sticky issue because you want you want to improve these places. But you know, there are, there are, you know, unintended consequences of that and, you know, increased market value and new residents wanting to enjoy the newly improved places is one of those.

Karina Ricks

Right.

Ben Kittelson

So for you when, what about this this job in Pittsburgh? And I know you had to stop in between working for the DC and the city, Pittsburgh but what about this job in Pittsburgh when I came up really like that this is this is worth it to like relocate and make the leap to a new city to take this on.

Karina Ricks

I mean, first and foremost was just the civic leadership. The mayor, Mayor Peduto is fantastic. He’s inspiring, he’s committed, and he’s genuine. You know, he has my back. It just it’s an amazing partnership to have. That kind of a mayor that really sees the big picture sees the long game because transportation is a long game. Um, and, and see sort of the threads that connect transportation to so many other city objectives. So he’s just an amazingly inspiring person. And I’m pleased every day to have the opportunity to work with and for him, but he’s not the only one. Pittsburgh is chock full of just amazing people, the nonprofit advocacy organizations that are here, we’re not, not always, you know, on the same side of things, but they are committed and passionate. And about making Pittsburgh a better place and to push us harder and faster, to really be responsible and equitable. And how we’re doing that. Obviously, the philanthropic community here is very strong and the legacy of sort of Carnegie Mellon to the Fricks, and all of them, who remain very much committed to the city and the betterment of the city. So, in the tech, you know, the tech revolution is I can’t say that that was not a bit dazzling also, right, like here is this completely wild, unknown, strange, autonomous like, Is it going to happen, is it not going to happen. What is this and who’s governing this, you know, so help with that was an opportunity to try and steer that technology more towards the goods and, you know, just deploying it sort of free range out in the world the way we did automobiles to begin with, you know, probably would would say, had mixed success in that arena. [Laughter] It was something that was you know, anyway and intriguing and unique to Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh kind of having a moment, right now.

Ben Kittelson

Yeah.

 Karina Ricks

You know, and so, you know, I came here really didn’t know much about the city don’t have any connections to it, didn’t really know what it would be like to live in the northernmost city of Appalachian and it’s great. The community is amazing. The landscapes are beautiful. The transportation assets that we have are just you know, they’re just fundamental characteristics, the bridges, the inclines, the teeny tiny ….. like streets that we have, the great bicycling culture I mean it’s a amazing city. So no regrets at all in making the move.

 Ben Kittelson

Yeah no I spent a little bit of time in Pittsburgh and I absolutely loved my time there it was, you know, such a fun, such a fun city to visit and yeah the hills and the rivers are beautiful. And I love the like gold or yellow, like bridges and kind of theme throughout but…

Karina Ricks

Yeah, so as the mayor says we’re like one giant high school with all the same tee colors [laughter]

Ben Kittelson

I like that [laughter]. So, one thing that I wanted to make sure I asked you about was like, your department is kind of an interesting… when I was reading about it seems like an interesting mix of maybe not services, but how they how you focus on, on the services. So it’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure. And that’s not something that, you know, everybody has, every city has, especially like, you know, mobility being first and foremost, it seems like almost like a twist on a traditional, you know, transportation department or public works department. Can you can you explain to our listeners a little bit about, you know, about your department, maybe some of the like core things that you do and how that fits under this umbrella of mobility?

Karina Ricks

Yeah, I had nothing to do with naming it. [Laughter] But that brilliance goes to the mayor, but I’m but but it really resonates with me deeply. And I think about two things. I think about the evolution of how we’ve understood what transportation is and the importance of it. So back in the day, you know, many cities had departments of highways, right? That’s what they were called. And which kind of gives you a an idea of where they put their emphasis, like where their priorities were, was in the Department of Highways, okay, then we got a little bit more enlightened and started calling them Departments of Transportation. But transportation is sort of a, an empty intent, right? It’s just moving things sort of shuffling things around. So this notion of mobility is really sort of a next evolution, I think of, of transportation. And I looked to the study that was done by Harvard University in 2015, when they did this research on communities, households in poverty, and found that of all of the different variables that they looked at that influenced the likelihood that a family would be able to escape poverty, the single highest variable that made the difference in whether or not they can better themselves and move up to that next level, in the economic ladder was the travel time of their commute. It was it was transportation. And so, you know, really simply comes down to that the physical mobility that household and poverty had was the most important factor in their ability to pursue economic mobility. And so we’ve really adopted that as a mission of our department. So the mission of our department is to provide the physical mobility necessary for the economic mobility of all Pittsburghers. That’s what we do. And then we do it through the way that we maintain our public infrastructure, the way we operate it, the services that we allow, to perform upon it, and all the other things that we do here. But it’s really about fundamental understanding that mobility and access is sort of the gating factor for so many other things of a full community life.

Ben Kittleson

Yeah, yeah. I love that. That’s such a great it’s like an emphasizing the piece. Yeah, I love that emphasis on mobility and on the connection that it has for people. So one, but maybe not problem but like Interesting, interesting challenge for a transportation department that is trying to improve economic mobility is often you know, economic regions are outside of, you know, the boundaries of the city. Do you guys have to, you know, with the mind on you know, improving economic mobility and mobility for your residents and households, like do you have to define yourself working more regionally or collaborating with you know, other nearby cities and counties to make sure residents of Pittsburgh can get to all the opportunities in kind of the region?

Karina Ricks

We do, we probably could do that better than what we do. But Pittsburgh is 56 square miles, in area. We are an old city and so there are well established boroughs all around us. So annexation and expansion of the city as some of our Western counterparts, and even Midwestern counterparts have done is just really not possible. Right. So the city of Pittsburgh, even though it comprises the largest individual share of population in Allegheny County, which is a county that we’re within the city only takes up a small fraction of the total county size. So that’s very different than say, our counterpart in eastern Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, which is both the city and county of Philadelphia. So it’s coterminous, the governance structures are all one. That’s not the case here. You know, we are, I think we’re sort of like the 56th largest city in population right now. So we’re like, you know, way down there, maybe 65th. I don’t know, we’re down. We’re down the church. But we are the fifth most dense city in the country, right. So umm, if our city size was comparable, you know, if our if our geographic size was comparable to say, you know, Columbus or Austin or Minneapolis is the same size, anyway. Some of these other cities, if we were comparable in geography to them, you know, our population rankings would be much much higher but so that the economy, we operate, obviously is a single economy. You know, Pittsburghers people who describe themselves as Pittsburgh, many, many, many of them have absolutely no idea where the actual official city line is. They only know it because the city street signs are blue and the adjacent borough street signs are green. So they’ve got no idea. They just know that they need to look at what color the street signs are to see whether or not they are in the city of Pittsburgh or not. But it doesn’t matter to them, as far as you know, where they go for groceries or where they go for work or where they go for healthcare. You know, it is it’s one economy and we need to manage it that way. So we do we work we work very closely with the Port Authority, which is the transit provider in the Pittsburgh area and Allegheny County. And so we obviously have a number of co-dependencies. They operate on our streets and our ability to manage those streets reliably and efficiently, has pretty, pretty huge impact on the service operations and sort of how things are going for them. Their frequency of service, reliability of service, quality of service has enormous implications on how people travel within the city. So, one bit of data that we’ve recently kind of seen from INRIX, which was a little bit shocking to me. I knew the number was big, but I didn’t know it was quite this big that in the city of Pittsburgh, within the confines of our little 56 square miles, 25% of automobile trips that are driven here in our city are less than a mile. They’re really short, right? 40% of them are less than two miles. So, you know, that’s a reflection on why are people making the choice to drive these very, very short distances, you know, when there is transit available, when these are distances that are, you know, quite easily walked or biked you know, to do that, and if we could, if we could get there if we could, you know, can get those 40% of trips into some other mode. Pittsburgh is also surprisingly congested along our key corridors, not necessarily in the downtown or those kinds of things, you know, see, you know, you see massive gridlock for extended periods of time like Tokyo, but in some of our highway corridors because of the bridges and tunnels that we have here. You know, we have like the fifth and seventh most congested highway segments in the country. So if we can and how many of those are just super short trips where somebody is going from just and one exit to another. Right? And everyone is suffering with, you know, just wasting hours and hours of time commuting to these places that are a little bit further afield where really, you know, driving is, is perhaps the you know, the only way that they can really get to and from these places. So those folks are tied up, you know, with extended periods of time because we’re failing to get these very short distance trips accommodated excellent way. So anyway, we work we do we do we think regionally we act locally. I do not have any control, no control over the transit service or what happens beyond the borders of our city, but we do we are very conscious that what happens within the confines of our 56 square miles has profound effect on the life, happiness and economic vitality of people that live much further afield in our larger region. That was a super long answer. [Laughter]

Ben Kittelson

No, it’s good. One of my favorite like, like transportation factors like, well, you mentioned that like, improving bus and like bike and sidewalk, you know, infrastructure makes people that have to drive makes their trips better too. Like, it’s like kind of counter-intuitive, but once you like, I don’t know, like, look at like, the research and the stuff around it. Like it starts to make sense.

Karina Ricks

Absolutely. 25% can you imagine I could, I couldn’t everybody who has to drive to have to drive I could make your commute 25% better. If you could just give me a little bit of space to make inviting accommodations for both and pedestrians. That’s better. You can’t even get that at a sale in Walmart, you know. [Laughter]

Ben Kittelson

Expanding it like a highway lane isn’t gonna give you 25% improvement. Yeah. [Laughter]

Karina Ricks

Oh, maybe for like the first week [laughter] at the cost of, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars.

Ben Kittelson

Exactly. So one thing when I was researching, kind of you and your department, I think you guys have a really cool and you mentioned the technology piece at the city in within kind of, you know, the City of Pittsburgh and what’s going on in that that community. Your department has been experimenting with, like transportation providers in a unique way. So can you talk to our listeners and kind of explain what what is the Pittsburgh mobility collective, kind of like, what are they working on? And then, and how is that how are you guys kind of engaging with this, this tech, transportation and tech world that’s thriving, I would say in this in Pittsburgh?

Karina Ricks

Right. Well, so there’s a great quote that I always misattribute to Mark Twain, [laughter] which I’ve been told is not actually attributable to him. But the quote goes, you know, “When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Pittsburgh, because everything comes to Pittsburgh 10 years late.” [Laughter]

Ben Kittelson

That’s great.

Karina Ricks

Micro mobility is one of those things that has been a bit later to come here than other places. Which is great, in a way. So we’ve been able to see sort of what has happened to our peer cities around the country, with these mobility providers, the good, the bad, and the ugly, right. There’s a lot of good that has come from them. Los Angeles and Austin and you know, other cities have had so this is a game changer for people being able to get to transit. You know to those to those high priority transit routes to the high frequency transit routes. Game changer and game changer for the nighttime workers who you know, the cooks and dishwashers and hospitality workers and others, you know for whom transit service is much lower frequency then and they don’t have the luxury of owning a car or being able to pay for parking in these areas. So absolutely a game changer for them and it’s fun and for the millennial’s and for the others, you know, like great they there’s nothing wrong with having a joyful travel experience either. But from an equity standpoint has also been shown some benefits to them. But it’s also shown you know, some not so great consequences, right like the providers kind of, you know, jockey with each other, they, you know, are sort of trying to get the pole position with the city, they’re not really integrated with the other mobility services. So while the micro mobility is getting people to the high frequency transit corridors, though users still have to pay a second time to get on the transit because there’s no fair integration, right? There’s it’s not really a complete system. It’s two services that sort of have adjacencies but aren’t really… the micro mobility is not really intentionally supporting the transit. You know, there’s some inequities that are there that need to be tackled, you know, and it’s not, it’s not for everybody, right? I’m a mom. You know, we see all the time sort of the desire line, if you will, of how people, what their mobility gaps are, that they’re trying to solve, right. Parents trying to get their kids, their school aged children to school like that’s, you see them riding on these, you know, little, you know razor scooters on steroids [laughter] kind of things to get where they’re going, it’s not safe, but they’re making an expression of their need and desire to do that. And, you know, so far the market has been not really terribly attentive to that expression of need. And they’re really just focused on sort of a different market segment. So lots of those things like the use cases are not being addressed well. There’s a, you know, segmentation of the market, segmentation of the system. You know, the cities are making up their policies as they go along. It’s totally trial and error. Right, so there’s all of this so and micro mobility had not come to Pittsburgh. Some had tried and we sort of beat them back but we do need it right. There’s a place in our ecosystem for these kinds of services. And so, you know, we did was we put on an RFP and we basically said, dear industry we want you to self-assemble. We don’t… we want to avoid, you know, what is often called the walled garden approach, right where it’s like, just Uber says, I can do everything I can do car share, I can do rideshare, I can do scooters, I can do I’m even going to like some for transit, like I can do all this, we are your one stop shop, just hire us. It was just too much. [Laughter] But anyway, you know, you know, they’re like, just trust us. We’re going to own your city. It’s going to be fine. Which, for obvious reasons, I have a little bit of reticence about that. And so we put out this RFP and we said, dear industry you need to self-organize. We want different independent companies that are you know, financially independent from each other that offer different kinds of mobility services. We want you to self-assemble, find your own partners that you’re willing to work with that you’re willing to kind of like, let your guard down a little bit and actually collaborate with them. And, you know, come to us with a willingness to co create with us, so that we can craft, we can do pilots to see how these services can best be bundled and offered to our communities of need, that they can actually access and then actually work for them. We can collaborate with our public Bike Share, which we have absolutely every intention of keeping robust and reliable because a lot of these micro mobility providers are you know, they’re here today gone tomorrow. We can’t afford to lose our public bike share. So you need to not try and cannibalize that. You need to be a part of the solution of maintaining that and you need to work with our transit to purposely you know, support, integrate with and augment the transit. But in exchange for doing all of that exchange for, you know, willingly letting others into your little, you know, a breaking down the walls to the walled garden in exchange for, you know, experimenting with us, in exchange for figuring out these tough nuts to crack, we will let you have, we’ll keep all competitors out of the city for a limited period of time to give you sort of a safe place to experiment with us. In the course of this, we will develop policies that will govern all future arrivals in the city, but we’ll develop those policies from a sense of true knowledge, talking openly with industry, who’s going to be subject to these policies, seeing how these policies actually play out on the ground, making adjustments in real time, right? So we will give you a safe place to experiment with us. And we didn’t know if anyone would take it really up to do this. But, but we did have, we had seven bidders that came back, some of them didn’t quite follow those qualifications of needing to, you know, be also including independent companies. But the one that we chose, which pushed themselves as skinny labs and have since branded themselves as a Pittsburgh mobility collective is led by Spin, who is wanting to bring some of the micro mobility vehicles here. They’re partnering with Zipcar, which of course, does car rentals, short term, you know, car share, car rental with the transit app, so that they’re going to actually make their services available not through their own individual platforms but through a single platform, which is also a very equal playing ground, so transit is the fundamental pillar of that. But these other services then become easy access to the transit riders. There’s ways, to ways carpool so that we can actually help people a very, very low cost option, right for a larger regional traveler, we can help. So obviously very striking for mobility which is associated with spin but anyway and Swiftmile, who is an independent electric charging module, and so working with them also on this charging infrastructure and our general electrification principles and goals that we have as a city. So very separate independent companies and you know, it’s been so far it’s been great. All of these companies have really, you know, they’ve been demonstrating a level of trust and good faith with us and with each other that I couldn’t have hoped for, you know, there is a healthy level of discomfort. Everybody has been kind of putting, right? Well, we’re all we’re all just more than a little bit vulnerable, right? Each and every one of us. But because of that, it really legitimately trying to figure this out. So and so yeah, so it’s a it’s a grand experiment. I think it really has some legs to show how we can really have something that is much closer to mobility as a service and may exist in North America yet. You know, I’m knocking on wood because it hasn’t come to pass just yet. We’re building the plan is we’re flying. But you know, we really are looking and we’re looking with an eye towards long term sustainability, right? It doesn’t help the company’s, it doesn’t help the riders, it doesn’t help the city. If these things like pop up, make a big splash like, you know, disrupt everything and then like venture capital runs out and they’re out of business, I’m gone. Right? Like people need a reliable way to get to work, they need to be able to plan their household budgets as to how much they’re going to have to spend to get around like, so trying to figure out how these things that have been, you know, really kind of, you know, venture capital driven. Like, how do they, how do they become a more sustainable piece of, of this puzzle? And so that we really do have this family of different mobility options, different services that people can call on, when they’re traveling with their, you know, two kids and grandma to go somewhere. They’re going to need something different than when it’s just like, you know, the 35 year old trying to get to the gym.

Ben Kittelson

Yeah. That is so cool. The Pittsburgh mobility collective sounds awesome and we’ll make sure to put more information about that on the notes for this episode and the post for this episode. One thing I want to make sure we cover before we end our time together. I read that you guys are set to release a new bike plan for the City of Pittsburgh later this month, can you give our listeners a bit of a preview and kind of the goals for the plan and what you guys have been working on?

Karina Ricks

So we have five goals that really drive everything in our in the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure. And I think they’re just really sort of five really simple goals and a bike plan also is sort of coordinated around those. So the first one is that nobody dies traveling on the city streets, right? Vision Zero, that should be a prerequisite. Nobody wants to kill somebody else. You know, just that that’s part of the obligations that we have as a as a public agencies to provide safety for everyone regardless of their purpose or color or you know age, mode of travel, nobody should be risking their lives simply traveling to the places that they need to go. The second one is that every household should have access to fresh fruits and vegetables within 20 minutes travel of home. And it shouldn’t require that they own a private automobile to do it. So that’s something we can map, we can look at it, we can see how we’re the doing ice cream tests, they should be able to get to the grocery store and get home again before the ice cream melts. And so we need to look you know, how long do they need to wait for that transfer for the bus or the frequency of the bus that’s happening? How far do they need to walk to get from where they are to where the transit is? Can we speed up transit travel times, can we provide other modes such as bicycles to get to those destinations? What can we do? Can we make a more supportive economic environment so the grocery stores can locate in food deserts. But anyway, that’s, that’s our second goal. Third one is that trips less than one mile should be most fun and enjoyable to do without a vehicle. And that’s right, like, simple goes like that 25% like, it should be fun. You’re just going, you know, few blocks, like, make it easy, make it fun. People want to be outside. Our physical bodies were made to walk and bike and this is what we’re good at. And so really looking at, you know, what are the obstacles that make it just like so hard? Why do we hate bike riders so much? Right? Like, how do we design our streets so that it’s, it’s fun and joyful to travel? Fourth one is that no household in our city of any income quintile should have to spend more than 45% of their household income on housing, and transportation. So those are the two largest household costs. We do pretty good right now, on average, Pittsburgh makes that mark. But as you get down into the lower income quintile it’s not really the housing costs that are killing people, although those are going up too. It’s the transportation costs. $9,000 to own and operate a private automobile in western Pennsylvania, and more than 50% of our households have two or more vehicles. So we could save households, you know, a pretty penny if we could let them just shed one. And so again, like making it easy. Bicycling is key to that. And then the last one is that our streets should reflect the values of our community. Well this is the city that produced Mr. Rogers. Right? I would hazard a guess that many of our streets do not project a loving, peaceful, tolerant spirit that Mr. Rogers embodied, right, they’re hostile. They’re hard. They’re, you know, so really looking at those. So the bike plan is super exciting. We actually sort of overhauled the bike plan as we were getting ready to release, and we said, you know, in this age of micro mobility, it can’t just be a bike plan. So it’s a it’s a it’s a bike plus plan or as one of my staff said earlier today in Pittsburghese it’s a bike fanat. [Laughter] So, but it’s really anticipating that we are going to have these other types of vehicles, whether it’s just e-bikes like pedal assist bikes, which are really joyful to ride here in Pittsburgh, with those hills I can attest. Okay. Right. Yeah, it makes a big difference. You feel like a superhero. You do end up with these speed differentials when you introduce those kinds of things. I’m like four miles an hour going uphill when it’s just me pedaling. But I can stay at like, you know, seven miles an hour up those hills with a little bit of E assist. But it means that we need to design our bike facilities to accommodate for that speed differential so that they’re a little bit wider. So that you know these micro mobility vehicles can actually maneuver within the lane without having to go into the general purpose traveling and risk mixing with these, these 3000 pound, you know, metal objects over there. So that’s why it’s a bike plus plan. But it will take us from our existing 40 miles of bike lanes and another 40 miles over front trails to adding 120 more miles of facilities. Yeah, it’s great. We have some pretty serious climate goals that we want to meet. And so the mayor is very serious. And so are we that this is a, this is a climate emergency, and so, really, like we don’t it’s a 10 year plan, but we don’t have 10 years to build that out. If we’re going to make a difference on this, we need to really, you know, make a big dent in that half of it may be built in the first couple of years so that we can move people away from new vehicles that are that are contributing so much to the global climate crisis and move them into more sustainable cleaner, lower cost, lower emission means to travel. So our last big plan was 1999. So few things have changed since [laughter]. But we still have hills, we still have rivers, we still have really skinny gopath streets. We just have a lot more people of all ages, who want to be able to bike on them from, you know, little kids going to the library to older adults who, you know, want to want to go visit friends and neighbors. So we’re excited to do this plan. It’s a big deal. It’s coming out in just a few weeks. And you know, we’re super excited about it and really even more excited than the plan, super excited to come out of the gate and really getting some of the stuff that’s going to be said before you know, it’s for the people who want to be able to use this option to bicycle. Of course, it’s going to be a great benefit to them. But to the drivers who have no intention of ever getting on a bike, it’s going to be a huge benefit to them as well, again, so we can get those short distance trips off their streets, get them out of their way, let them get on their way faster, more reliably, you know, cleaner, and in a much more organized way so that everybody can kind of know their place where they where they can move. So anyway, super excited about it. Yeah.

Ben Kittelson

That’s so cool. We’ll have to stay tuned and we’ll make sure we share that plan and once it once you guys publish it, and maybe we’ll have to have you back in after maybe a year or two and talk about the progress that you guys have made, will have made. So with that, Karina, thank you so much for taking the time and coming on GovLove. Really appreciate you sharing your expertise with our GovLove listeners.

Karina Ricks

I’m so glad to be here. Thanks for doing this and I’m going to go and listen to everybody else’s from the past now that I’ve had this one with you.

Ben Kittelson

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