Tuesday, December 30, 2008

My idea for Heavy Rail service in the East End Part 1.

A little while back (yesterday), I wrote a post in response to a Post Gazette article about a proposed "rail shuttle" between Lawrenceville and Hazelwood. While I think the principle is good, I think heavy rail is a poor choice for a short distance shuttle, or if it is done, I think the destination choice is poor.

That said, I came up with what I feel could be a better solution while sticking with the heavy rail concept, integrating current plans for a two line commuter rail "system", and maximizing current rail infrastructure, and minimizing new construction.

I won't talk too much about the current planned system, other than offering a few ideas on how to maximize service, and how to work with the existing freight carriers over whose lines the proposed system would operate.

I will also talk about some ideas on how to make the "shuttle" a little more likely to succeed. (but I gotta be honest, I still don't know that this is a viable solution to move people within the city of Pittsburgh. This idea does not address the issue, that I've touched on before, that we don't have an integrated rapid transit system. It's still easier for people to enter or leave the city vs. move around in it. As long as that's the case, in my mind, you will be hard pressed to keep people, even those who work here to take up residence and reverse the downward slide of population.)

Finally, I'll break it up into parts so as to cater to today's A.D.D. generation. You have just read Part 1. Stay tuned for Part 2, god...FEEL the excitement!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Now We're Thinkin'

An article in today's Post Gazette talks about a proposal study to, what else, study. More specifically to study the feasibility of a heavy rail shuttle (for lack of a better term) that would run from Hazelwood through Oakland, on existing tracks (owned by CSXT but operated by Allegheny Valley Railroad (AVR)), and then run to Lawrenceville (on tracks owned and operated by the AVR).

The concept is designed to link areas of high tech concentration, almost creating a high tech corridor. The second part of the idea is to spur growth in Hazelwood, which I'm not sure if you have driven through there lately, but it's near death, and moving towards the "light", and by light, I don't mean economic revival.

(I wonder if this whole study has anything to do with the loss of D'Imperio's market. A market that has closed because of increased crime and lost business, and whose closing has caused quite a bit of controversy. It may sound crazy, but this could be an overture to show residents of Hazelwood, that hey, someone gives a crap about this neighborhood. Thus meaning that it's chances of completion are slim to none. I am going to put my cynicism aside for a moment and assume the proposal is genuine.)

If the proposal was truly made in good faith, it's an encouraging sign and overall, a good idea. It shows that local leadership (government) is willing to think about alternatives to expanding transportation, aside from building more highways. It could also act to attract high-tech businesses to Pittsburgh, in a continued effort to re-make its image as a High Tech oasis amid a rust belt dessert.

However, there are a couple of ideas to keep in mind before we all get too giddy about the idea:

#1. Even if this idea does come to fruition, this would be study #1 of approximately 100,000 yet to come. Translation, this idea is a looooooong way from being anywhere close to reality.

#2. Is this the most cost effective way to do things? Granted, it's great that the infrastructure is already there, and the fact that it's in relatively good shape (Good enough that Amtrak runs 2 trains a day over CSX owned portions of it. The AVR owned portion may need some work). However, Heavy Rail is not cheap to operate, especially over short distances, and for a (at most) 5 mile shuttle, that seems like it could be expensive. You would need high ridership to make it cost effective, and I'm not exactly sure running a frequent shuttle between the locations would justify the operating costs.

That's not to say it couldn't work. I think if you incorporate it as part of a larger system, and slightly re-designed it, you would have a hell of an idea. You've already got talk of a Heavy Rail system using self propelled rail cars* with one line going from Arnold to Pittsburgh, and the other from Greensburg to Pittsburgh, why not integrate it?

Food for thought, and since I'm such a dork, who finds dreaming up transportation systems in my head fun, I will be creating a post soon that will discuss such a system, that already exists...IN MY HEAD.

*As an interesting side note, a company called Colorado Rail Car, built a self propelled rail car called the "DMU" or Diesel Multiple Unit. These were the proposed vehicle for a heavy commuter system in Pittsburgh. (they actually ran a demonstration train from Oakmont in 2004) While doing a little research for this post, I found an interesting message on their website, it looks like the DMU isn't the answer. I wonder what potential impacts this could have on a commuter system in Pittsburgh?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Goodbye Joe Grata

While working on my holiday gluttony, I was surprised to see in the weekly "Getting Around" column on PostGazette.com that Joe Grata was going to hang it up!

He has offered about the only regular insightful, really transit/transportation focused writing in Pittsburgh since I have been here (on and off since 1999). It's weird to say it, but I took his writing for granted and was shocked to see him go, especially so quickly. I guess the Internet is catching up with the printed word, and the Post Gazette has offered him (as well as some other "big names" like Bob Smizik) a buyout and early retirement, and he accepted.

He was influential to me, reading his weekly columns really helped me to decide to start muddling my way through blogging. Additionally, in my mind he offered the only real qualified transportation/transit analysis in the region (among real paid writers). Much better than The Tribune-Review's answer to everything transit of "privatize 'em and let 'em sink or swim."

I don't know if the column will continue, or if it will fall by the wayside. I don't believe much, or anything has been said about it. It would be a shame to discontinue the column. Transportation/transit issues would lose one of their few legitimate voices, and it would be a slight to his hard work and insight over the years.

If nothing else, I personally appreciate his work, and will miss his keen insight on transit/transportation issues in the region.

Read his final column here

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The contract

I figured, unlike the last big news where I didn't blog about the contract resolution between the Port Authority and ATU 85 until about 5 days after it happened, I should address the latest news more promptly.

The details of the contract have been released. I won't regurgitate the details about it but you can find the full report and article here. For the most part, the new contract doesn't deviate too far from the fact finder's report that was published in August. The pay raise doesn't bother me that much, it's more of a cost of living adjustment. The only issue is the fact that the Port Authority will have to foot the bill for some who retire early, and will have to continue to pay health benefits for those same individuals.

I guess you can't get everything, and I think these compromises have helped slow the bleeding, but will not, I believe, be able to stop it. I am concerned that we will run into a similar situation to what we just endured in Pittsburgh when the next contract rolls around. I think the Port Authority will realize (or someone will make them realize) that further cuts must be made, and ATU 85 will resist next time just like they did this time. Only, next time the economy may be in a different place and the union could be much more empowered than they were in this case. Time will tell.

These are, if nothing else steps in the right direction. The new contract, combined with route restructuring and other reforms being thrown around the Port Authority could lead to increased ridership and less $$$ wasted.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

My Dirty Transit Secret

So here I am, blogging/bitching about how transit does not get enough attention and funding, and how more people should drive less and use public transportation more frequently. Well, I should come clean.

I live a double life. In my ideal (weekend) life, I either walk, or hop on the busway or another bus to get to things that I need to. (That is slowly becoming easier with continuing development in East Liberty, and that pace will hopefully quicken) Life is good.

Then there is my dirty little secret. 5 days a week, I get in a car, and I drive 40 minutes in the car, by myself to work and back. Don't worry, I hate it. It's stressful, tiring, and long. In fact, I daydream about being able to hop on the busway, or any other form of public transit and sit back, and relax, read, listen to music etc, while I am taken to work.

Why do I live this double life you ask? Because I have to. I really tried to find a way to make it work using mass transit, but I can honestly say it would not work. I would have to take a Port Authority bus to Pittsburgh Mills, wait (and I mean wait), get a Westmoreland transit bus to New Kensington, (wait again), and then take another Westmoreland County bus the remaining distance to work. If it were to work for me, I would have to leave three hours before work started. That would put the start of my journey at 5 A.M. Even if I were committed (or crazy) enough to undertake that daily sojourn, it would not be possible, because of how early my trip would have to start.

My goal is to at some point take a job in Pittsburgh that is more commuter friendly. For now I am stuck. Even if I wanted to move to a location closer to work, where I could take public transportation, I would have to get in my car anyway to run errands because the area is so rural.

What's my point? Plan development intelligently. The office park I work in was created for people to drive to individually, access to public transit was not even an afterthought, it was NEVER considered. Now we're paying. From a completely practical perspective, gas won't be cheap forever (thank god my car is fuel efficient). At some point $50.00 a tank for a small car will become the norm again. This is not to mention the other effects (the least of which not being my sanity).

Sure we have to bring transit to the people, but in some cases, you need to bring people to the transit. Part of a good T.O.D. plan is to integrate workplace space, so people can live shop AND work. Part of building a good transit infrastructure is integrating development that supports public transit, not development that barely takes transit into account, or does not take it into account at all.

My hope is that some day office parks like the one I work in now will be considered relics of a bygone era.

Monday, December 1, 2008

How to Spell Relief: AFL-CIO

I know this is old news by now, but like most Americans I took some time out to give thanks for all the privileges and luxuries I have as an American by nearly eating myself into a coma.

In a surprise turn of events, even as it seemed some sort of work stoppage was inevitable, both sides of the labor dispute, with the help of the AFL-CIO, were able to hammer out a contract in Washington D.C. I won't go into details on the story, legitimate news media such as The Trib and Post Gazette have done that sufficiently enough.

There are however, a few points that I find interesting, and that I hope more information will come to light about.

#1. The involvement of the AFL-CIO. Not too much has been said about this other than they really brokered the deal. This is surprising because they do not normally become involved in individual contract disputes, let alone help broker a deal. Joe Grata of the Post Gazette assumed that if the imposed contract were to hold up in court (which they must have thought it would have) it would have huge implications for organized labor in America. I think that is pretty plausible, in addition to an over-all environment in the U.S. that is not terribly friendly towards unions right now. People who are struggling to hold jobs for little money don't have alot of sympathy for bus drivers making $50,000 + a year, for example.

#2. The terms. Not too much has been said about the terms of the contract, and that is understandable because the contract hasn't been presented to the union members yet. Nonetheless, I'll be interested to see how close to the fact finder's recommendations the proposed contract is. Up until now, I've been pretty impressed with the way the Port Authority has handled the whole thing, not giving in to Union posturing about "we've negotiated to get to this point, we're not moving back" yada yada yada. It would be a shame if they threw it all away at the last moment just to avert a work stoppage. To me, that would serve as a textbook example of why we do not move forward as a region. It's early to be so pessimistic, and we will see when the actual terms come out.

The initial news is good, obviously, there will be no work stoppage. Hopefully the Port Authority can use this contract as a foundation to right the ship, and help to bring about the end of business as usual within the Port Authority and Allegheny County agencies.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Strike Update

Well, just like everyone who is interested in Pittsburgh transit/transportation issues (and of course people who rely on public transportation) I've been following the goings on with a lock-out/strike/work stoppage/whatever you want to call it pretty closely.

Alot's happened in the last 24-48 hours, so here we go:

Pat McMahon's a tv star:

What better way to spend a sunday afternoon, than by watching PCNC? I was suprised to see an interview with Pat McMahon concerning the looming strike. I attempted to find a link to the video on the internet, but god forbid they post that, it makes alot more sense and is much more relevent to the citizens of Allegheny County to instead post a video featuring "The World's Sexiest Man".

Nothing too earth shattering really, other than the fact it was nice to see him squirm.
No seriously, he looked as though at any moment he would break into hysterical tears and run off the set.


Aside from that entertaining bit, he stuck to the party line, we've negotiated to get to this point, we don't want to take a step backward, bla bla bla. The one note of interest was the fact that he brought up the trust fund to pay for retirees healthcare. I had heard about this as an alternate proposal, but don't know the details. At face value, I don't see a problem with a trust fund, but I don't know how much or if the union is looking for the Port Authority to kick in.

Someone let me know if you can find an actual link on the internet.

Meeting Canceled:

-ATU 85 was supposed to have a meeting yesterday concerning the looming work stoppage, but as the Post Gazette reported, the meeting was canceled. It apparently had something to do with an emergency meeting for Pat McMahon, and Steve Bland in Washington, D.C. More to follow on that.

-The Trib is reporting that because the meeting has been delayed, the stoppage has been temporarily avoided. The doomsday clock has been slowed, but is still ticking. Even if they stave off a work stoppage for the foreseeable future, the fact still remains that the Port Authority will run out of money in January and the employees will be laid off anyway.

Mr. Bland and Mr. McMahon go to Washington:

-As I talked about earlier, the meeting by the local ATU 85 has been temporarily canceled because of an emergency trip to Washington to discuss negotiation options with the AFL-CIO. Apparently both men met seperately with the AFL-CIO.

According to Steve Bland, the meeting, at least from the Port Authority's perspective was more fact finding on the part of the AFL-CIO. Call me a skeptic, but to me this seems that this information is being gathered in hopes strenghtening the Union's position as opposed to legitmately helping to bring the two sides together for a solution. We'll see. Also, Pat McMahon is quoted in the article as saying that as of Dec. 1st the workers will not walk off the job. Again, we'll see.

This is the first time he has said they will not walk off the job Dec. 1st. Previously, he has hinted to the fact but not said it in a quote. I wonder why the slight change in tune. Maybe it's because the general climate is not terribly sympathetic to Unions, or if it is as a direct result of the meetings in Washington, purely heresay on my part.

The plot thickens...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

I found an interesting article from the Tribune-Review, by way of MassTransitMag.com (which is a great site about current events in the transit world, by the way). It talks about how the North Shore Connector is a large investment for minimal gains.

I don't know about you, but it has always seemed pretty clear to me that the Trib is not terribly friendly towards mass transit and is even more unfriendly to the Port Authority. That's not to say that there is not merit to certain points they bring up. This is an example of that.

There have been many bastardizations since the Spine Line Corridor Study was published in 1993. The final product we have been left with is a nearly half billion dollar project that nets the "T" 1.2 miles, and two stops. Truly, the project is a huge expense, that does little to address the strategic needs of Pittsburgh's transit system.

On the other side of the coin, Federal funding the likes of which Pittsburgh has seen for this project does not come along often. The government was willing to pay for it, and we would be foolish to turn it down.

I guess the bigger question is where do we go from here? Dan "the Man" Onorato himself has said that we are unlikely to see such a large amount of government funding for another 25 years. Do we attempt any additional expansions at all? Do we try and get state funding? Do we attempt a cheaper expansion to the western suburbs? Do we attempt an expansion to the east?

Unfortunately, there are lots of questions and nothing that is easily answered. For now our best bet would be to maximize on what we are getting. The area around the casino could surely support my bro T.O.D. Other than that, I can tell you my commute to Stiller games will be alot easier!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Putting all our eggs in one basket Part Duex.

I originally posted this back in November, but have decided that there are things I don't like about it, so I've highlighted changes in bold vs. the original post. A map of the updated post is on my Google Maps Page (check the links)

This phrase usually has negative connotations; a colloquialism used to caution people about concentrating too much on one option, or putting too much emphasis on one way of solving a problem.
What we've had in Pittsburgh is the opposite, we spread ourselves to thin. We need to put all our eggs (or most of them) in one basket.

Why am I talking in all these wonderful generalities you may ask? Well that's because I am talking about our Rapid transit "system" in Pittsburgh. I've gone into reasons why we don't have an integrated system before so I'm not going to beat that dead horse anymore. Instead, I want to offer constructive ideas on how to reach an integrated separated grade transit system.

I was inspired by some posts on another Pittsburgh transit blog (sorry, don't remember which one) where readers were giving their best shot at designing a light rail system that would tie in with the current T. (Honestly, this post was the reason I started blogging in June. I never actually got around to this post until now however.)

So...instead of actually doing work while at work, I decided to give mass transit design a try.
First, a few "ground rules"


-It is currently designed as an LRT (Light Rail Transit) system, but could be implemented as a BRT (Bus Rapid Transit). Integration dahntahn would be a potential issue, but at least it would be a single mode expansion.

-The old route designators would be replaced by simple color codes. (I like history as much as the next guy, but I am a big fan of the K.I.S.S. principle, Keep It Simple Stupid)

-The goal is an integrated system, i.e. you can get on a train in Mt. Lebanon, and take it, without getting off, to ohhh, say RIDC Park.

-The system should use existing ROW's (Rights of Way) as much as possible. This includes current railroad ROW's and as much existing Busway as possible.
-This is not a full "fantasy" system, but a compromise between the bounds of reality and a complete "fantasy" system

Black Line:

-This line comprises what is currently the MLK Busway. It would start at Library, use the Overbrook Line, come through downtown and then continue East on the current Busway. No major changes would be made to stops in the East End. The goal, however, would be to reach Monroeville at some future time.

Gold Line:

-This line would start at the North Shore Casino (hopefully someday the Airport or West End), travel through dahntahn, hang a left at Steel Plaza, and continue east on what is currently the MLK Busway.
-At the Neville St. ramp, the Gold Line would parallel the current CSX track, tunnel under N. Oakland, and have a station stop serving Oakland somewhere in the area of Panther Hollow. It would be ideal to share the railroad tunnel, but unfortunately, Amtrak trains, freight trains and trolleys don't mix well. A separate tunnel would have to be bored, an expensive proposition I know. However, it's a relatively short distance, and at least there's no river above it.

-The line would continue to parallel CSX tracks into Hazelwood. Again, Hazelwood would be a GREAT spot for some T.O.D. An excellent way to use the brownfield that used to be J&L steel

-Ideally, the line would extend to Homestead, but that would involve building a bridge, and that costs $$$$$. There is an existing railroad bridge by the Glenwood Bridge, but it is in active use by freight trains. Again, freight trains and trolleys don't mix.
-"Hanging a left at Steel Plaza" would require the operator to change ends in a "pocket track" between Steel Plaza and 1st Avenue, a slow and costly move, especially during peak hours. Instead of this, the Gold line take over the route of the 47S and would go from the new Casino through Downtown to Steel Plaza and terminate at South Hills Village via the Overbrook line.
Blue Line

-This line would start at South Hills village, travel through Mt. Lebanon, and Dahntahn, sharing what is now the MLK Busway with the Black and Gold (get it?) lines. It would continue to share with the black line to Homewood, and would then take up the ROW of the old Pennsylvania Railroad Brilliant Branch. Portions of this line are in use, the wye in Homewood is used to turn the daily Amtrak train, and the western end is used by the Allegheny Valley Railroad to service the scrap yard in Sharpsburg. However, it looks as though the ROW is generally wide enough to support both the heavy rail and light rail.

-Once again, ideally the route would then cross the Allegheny and continue to RIDC park. The issue with this is, once again, a separate bridge would have to be built next to the Allegheny Valley Railroad Brilliant Bridge. This would be a perfect bridge to use if it wasn't in use by the AVR, and yet again, freight trains and trolleys don't mix. The bridge would work easily as #1 It is a former double track bridge with only one track in use and #2, the scrapyard only receives sporadic service, which could be separated because it operates at night.

-If a bridge wouldn't work out, a park and ride in the area of Washington ave. could be build to attract riders in lieu of taking it all the way to RIDC park. Getting to the other side of the river should be easy, however RIDC would be rough because of the land acquisition that would be involved and the sprawl of RIDC park itself, another option is to have service end at Aspinwall or even the Waterworks mall.

Green and Red Lines - I won't go into too much details on these because they are existing routes, but this will suffice to address the issues of covering existing service.

-Green Line would be the current 52A, and no changes would be made to its route.-This route would take on the route to Hazelwood and Homestead. It would begin at South Hills Junction, go through Allentown, downtown, and continue east on the current MLK Busway. At Neville Street it would either begin to parallel the AVR/CSX tracks and continue through a seperate tunnel under Neville, or would continue at grade on Neville to Panther Hollow for an Oakland stop. (I don't like at grade, but a tunnel would be very expensive. Neville is not that heavily traveled and is relatively short, and again would be a huge cost savings.) The line would then continue to parallel the AVR/CSX to Hazelwood where an excellent opportunity for T.O.D. exists at the old J & L site.
-The route would ideally continue to Homestead but either a new bridge would have to be built or the tracks could potentially use the Glennwood bridge at grade(it was originally built with trolley tracks). I generally try to avoid at grade operations but it would be for a short period and would save a huge expense.

-Red Line would be the current 47S, that travels from South Hills Village, via the Overbrook Line to the new Casino. -This route would run as the "Gold Line" between South Hills Village and the new Casino via the Overbrook line
Guess where I got this map!!!

I think this would be a huge gain for a (relatively) small investment. It would give you a much greater increase in areas serviced and make travel across the county easier. More importantly than that, it gives the same results that the Spine Line Study advocated 15 years ago. Offer Oakland and its 20,000+ employees and students an alternative to driving or street buses that don't do enough to take traffic off the streets. Throw in some T.O.D sites at underutilized stations, and you have an even bigger gain. By digging as infrequently as possible, and using primarily existing ROW's, the greatest costs associated with building a seperated grade transit system are minimized.

It doesn't hurt to dream...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

T.O.D.'s working out well for East Liberty

Apparently the rumors are true, Target, the Rich man's Wal Mart is coming to East Liberty.

Today's Post Gazette and the Pittsburgh Business Times reported that rumors which had been floating around for a while have been confirmed. The new Target is supposed to be open in late 2010, and be located near the newly built East Liberty shopping area that already includes a Whole Foods, Borders, and other up-ity stores.

This is exciting news for many reasons, some transit related, and some not.

1st and foremost, it will bring approx 200+ jobs to the East Liberty Area, and will provide a huge boost to an area that is already on the rise. Even more important, in my mind, is the fact that it will help battle urban sprawl. One of the many reasons sprawl has become so prevalent in our area, is that it's hard to find a lot of the conveniences (large chain stores, etc.) without having to drive outside the city to a mall or large shopping center.

No more my friends! This could help bring additional people to the city to shop, helping other businesses. It could also help attract residents to the city that may have previously used the reason that shopping was not convenient as a reason not to move to the city, or to leave.

Now, onto the transportation related benefits. Apparently, one of the reasons 'Sliberty was chosen was because of easy access to the Busway n'at. This is a great example of T.O.D. (see my KILLER article on Transit Oriented Development) and how it's working. The area around the East Liberty Busway stop is BOOMING, and this will only add to the success. Now people can use transit to come from downtown, Oakland, or other areas in the east end. They can come right to the East Liberty stop, get off, do their shopping, hop back on another bus, and be home in 10 minutes. It's better than driving a car!

If there is one shortcoming I could point to, it's that East Liberty is just one neighborhood. There are many others in need of and ripe for development. Hopefully people will see the success of what has happened in East Liberty and want to expand it to other areas of the city (Hazelwood, for example).

I complain alot about Pittsburgh, and it makes me glad to blog about something positive!

Friday, November 7, 2008

A True International Airport!

I know this not my usual realm, but it is transportation related, and it's good news!

It's been hard to come by some positive news about Pittsburgh International. How many stories have been published over the last 4 years about endless cuts in flights? It almost seems as if the airport has been dying a very slow, very agonizing death.

So naturally, it is good news to hear that Pittsburgh will truly become an international airport again, with 5 weekly flights to and from Paris, France. Apparently not all will originate in Pittsburgh, but it's good news that you can fly direct, without flying to another airline's hub, and then boarding an international flight.

I think what makes it even more exciting is that this service is occurring in the face of economic trouble and major problems in the airline industry. It's a clear sign that there must be a healthy market for international travel in Pittsburgh. (Apparently the $9 million the state and county agreed to kick in as an insurance policy in case the flights don't make money didn't hurt).

Either way, it's reason to celebrate, and who knows, at the risk of sounding optimistic, this could spur further carriers to have international flights from Pittsburgh, and perhaps help draw international companies to the area.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Pat McMahon: Dead Weight*

In this blogger's humble opinion, if you're not fed up, you're not paying attention (or you're staunch Union).

Upon reading the article by Joe Grata in today's Post Gazette, I became even more upset about Union's handling of contract negotiations with the Port Authority. The more I hear quotes from Pat McMahon, the more I see his words as irrational posturing for a strike. It seems more clear every day that Mr. McMahon and apparently the entire ATU 85 Board are completely unwilling to work constructively towards a contract solution. In fact, he and the Board that represent ATU 85 are dead weight. They are merely dragging along behind those in Allegheny County and Pittsburgh who are trying to move forward, and bring the region into the 21st Century, attempting to desperately hold onto ridiculous benefits, with little regard whether they pull Allegheny County and Pittsburgh down with them.

I've obviously taken a pretty adversarial view of Mr. McMahon's words and actions, so just to recap the facts on why I stand where I stand, here we go:

Compensation: Each transit operator does now and would continue to earn a MINIMUM, one more time a MINIMUM of $48,653.00 in wages. This does not include the opportunities for overtime, that could raise that figure even higher. The fact finder's report stated a 3% raise in hourly salary should be awarded to transit operators (which I agree with, for the record). This would help them retain their title as highest paid transit operators in the country (when cost of living is taken into account).

Health care: While most of America's work force with Employer provided health care pays for about 25% of their premiums, Workers in the ATU 85 pay 3%. Up until a few years ago, they payed NOTHING! The Port Authority wants them to pay approx. 9 %- 10% of their health care premiums. No one would argue that agreeing to these items would be concessions by ATU 85, but there is still little room to complain, in my mind, given the disparity between the benefits of most working Americans vs. transit operators in Pittsburgh. It would be a small price to pay to continue to enjoy some of the most generous benefits ANYWHERE in the United States.

Retirement: Currently, ATU 85 members can retire in their 40's or 50's based on years of service. They also are currently provided with extremely inexpensive employer provided health insurance. The Port Authority wants to raise the retirement age to 60 with 25 years of service, and get rid of employer provided health insurance (which is a HUGE drain on the Port Authority's budget).

Again, these are concessions, but few Americans are given such generous benefits (I call this the U.S. Army, which provides retirement at age 40 with 20 years of service and government paid for health care, then again, many retirees have been shot at and jumped out of planes for many years, so I'm willing to give them a pass. Driving a transit vehicle and expecting the same thing, however, is asking a little much). To want more benefits with no sacrefices in a time where most Americans are forced to concede to much greater cuts in benefits to me is ridiculous.

Bottom Line: All the facts in the world don't seem to be enough to change the mind of Mr. McMahon. It's a shame, because apparently some operators have come to think the way I do. They are happy to have a job with good benefits, and are willing to take a tiny cut to keep them, especially in these turbulent economic times.

The only fact Mr. McMahon seems interested in is the fact that he will not budge on benefits, and cannot be logically persuaded to do so. I do believe that in the end, the right decision will be made, unfortunately it may be made by a federal judge somewhere after days or weeks of grid-lock.

*I am not slamming Unions (not that it matters because I'm pretty sure no one reads this). I know most people in Unions, like any other workplace go to work, do their job with pride and go home. I am slamming the leadership of ATU 85. There are larger issues at stake than paying more for health benefits, there are alot of people that rely on the Port Authority, and I am pretty sure that they don't want to be taken down the road to a strike, although they obviously have no choice in the matter.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Stick to the issues

To my loyal reader out there, yes, I do realize that this is not a transportation posting. I've just seen so much crap flying back and forth between the respective camps of our illustrious Presidential Candidates, that I had to get something off my chest. Stick to the issues. People should be voting on the issues, not on alleged personal indiscretions, or un-substantiated political leanings that may or may not be true, and have NOTHING to do with the issues facing our nation.

I had a great discussion with a friend of mine who first brought this reality to my attention. He talked about how most people don't vote on the issues. More specifically, he talked how most Americans will not analyze issues on the platform, decide which candidate better represents their personal views on issues, and then vote for that candidate.

Instead, they take all the half-truths, here say, and bogus chain e-mails that the each political party, the news media, and their ignorant friends have provided them with, and they base their choice for the leader of our nation on that.

Don't get me wrong, I am not saying there shouldn't be negative campaigning. If you want to attack the opponent's voting record, or their stance on a certain issue, that is fine, but stick to the issues.

We have become a politically polarized nation, and I believe the aforementioned crap flinging is at least part of the cause. Political affiliation has become less about a stance on an issue and more about your value as a person. A Democrat in a room full of Republicans is seen as a communist or socialist who hates America. Conversely, a Republican in a room full of Democrats is seen as a gun toting psycho who admires the works of Hitler. Are there members who affiliate themselves with both parties that fall into those categories? Probably, but for the vast majority of Americans, it's not that way. We shouldn't think that is the case.

Hopefully, everyone will vote, but whoever you vote for, Obama or McCain, I hope you vote for them because you feel their policies will make America better, not because you believe some half truth smear campaign perpetrated by the opposing party.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Careful America, Your Ignorance is Showing

Let me start off by giving a little background on this post. I was talking to my mother a few days ago, and during a lull in conversation (believe me, there are more than one of those in a given conversation, but that is a topic for a blog about little things that annoy me about my mom) she brought up the fact that gas is "way down" to about $3.15 a gallon.

That comment just set me off. How blind can you really be? In my mind this drop in gas prices is temporary and won't return us anywhere near what prices were before this latest price hike began. All this temporary drop is doing is lulling Americans back into a false sense of security, so they stop all that crazy talk about "hybrid cars" and "public transportation". Once Americans are fat and happy again, paying $2.50 for a gallon of gas, and thanking the oil companies for it, all they will do is raise it to a new exorbitant price. Then, once Americans start rattling the cage over gas prices, they will lower prices again, not to the point they were formerly at, but just low enough to shut everyone up.

I checked on the Department of Energy site and looked up historical trends of gas prices. It seems that every year is a record high year over the past 8 or so years. Additionally, I found that after gas prices spike, they'll go down somewhat. That may last for a few months, but every single time, the prices manage to recover and reach a new high. I don't see that changing any time soon.

Now, I love my mom, that goes without saying, but it distresses me that she is so ignorant to the facts. I then made the mental leap, that her opinion is surely not an isolated one. I heard a report on the radio, that since gas had fallen below $3.50 a gallon, there was already a spike in SUV sales. I can't verify for sure whether this is true or not, but that's the beauty of not having to verify the accuracy of my sources.

Am I the only that wants to beat my head against a wall upon hearing "spike in SUV sales"?

This brings me to my point, well actually both of my points.

#1. Wake up mom, and wake up America. You, me, all of us are getting screwed, and saying "thank you sir, may I have another". I guess as long as everyone can watch their flat screen in HD at home, no one cares about the ever rising cost of gas, and what our dependence on fossil fuels is doing.

#2. Gas ain't going down any time soon, and the earth ain't getting any cooler. I have been impressed by the recent push for public transportation, but I am worried that now that gas has gone "way down" and my mom and a lot of Americans seem willing to settle for that, I'm worried that the push will lose all its momentum, and it will take $5 or $6 a gallon to get it moving again.

We need to continue the push (especially in Pittsburgh) for better transit now, before the luster wears off, and before everyone (especially the politicians) are lulled back into a false sense of security.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Great Minds Think Alike!

This Sunday's Post Gazette has a great article by Joe Grata that talks about the many transportation failures in the history of Pittsburgh, and an all around lack of vision.

I'm glad to see that there are others in Pittsburgh who:

#1 can see the lack of vision of local policy makers when it comes to transit.

#2 Perhaps more importantly, are frustrated, and think there is a better more efficient way to move people in Allegheny County.

By the way.......I don't like to toot my own horn, but I am going to anyway. Check out my series on the many transportation failures in Pittsburgh in this blog!*

*This assumes someone reads this blog other than the author.

Friday, September 26, 2008

My Friend T.O.D.

I know what everyone (approx. 1.5 people) who reads my blog is wondering: "Who is TOD? Silly reader...TOD stands for Transit Oriented Development. In a nutshell, TOD is a new(really old) method of planning and building commercial/residential sites so that they are located within walking distance of each other and are located with ready access to transit, whether it be astride light/heavy rail lines, or along bus routes.

While in my mind it's a great idea, it's not new. Before urban/suburban sprawl went out of control and became the "thing" in development planning, what you had in essence was transit oriented development. Small towns or neighborhoods existed where everyone lived, worked and conducted commerce. Everything was close (within walking distance) and most small towns and neighborhoods had ready access to transportation (other than cars).

TOD is a great answer to problems of urban sprawl. It also has the potential to bring riders to public transportation in droves. It can bring the people to the transit, instead of the other way around. You take conveniences that would normally be only accessible by driving (grocery stores, drug stores, etc.) and you put them all in one place. Put them so the people that live there can walk to and from them with ease. Then you give them ready access to transit so they can reach other TOD sites and beyond. It's easy to imagine a network of TOD sites located along established transit systems, and the development that it could create.

Is it a quick fix? No, but it also took sprawl a while to catch on. My buddy TOD is a good long term solution to fixing the problems and population loss in Allegheny County and Pittsburgh that sprawl has caused. In fact, there is already talk of several TOD sites in Allegheny County. Check out the articles here and here.

That is great for Allegheny County, but Pittsburgh is ripe for TOD. Areas of brownfield, like the old J & L mill site in Hazelwood, or the nearly abandoned neighborhood of Manchester, just a stone's throw away from the North Shore Connector. Imagine that, give the North Shore Connector some actual population to move.

I believe we are actually moving in the right direction with TOD in Pittsburgh, let's keep on building!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Dan the MAN!

Dan "the man" Onorato has taken his lumps on several issues lately. Probably the biggest lumps have come from the 1o% drink tax (of which I am a big supporter...no really I am.). As if that wasn't enough, the (in my mind) selfish members of Amalgamated Transit Union 85 have made his life even worse as of late. They, apparently, are willing to put the Port Authority in Bankruptcy so they can maintain ridiculous pension benefits that equal millions upon millions of dollars in costs, and healthcare benefits that they pay practically nothing for, and that cost the Port Authority $29million a year.

I don't want to downplay the important role unions have had in bringing labor practices to where they are today, with the checks and balances and safety measures that have been implemented as a result of organized labor. Unfortunately, there has been a huge role reversal in the last 30 years. Unions were once progressive organizations who were committed to worker's well being. Now they have become ultra-conservative organizations who are more interested in how much people make vs. their welfare.

I want to say kudos to Dan Onorato for coming up with a plan to change the way things are run in the county, coming up with a plan to fund mass transit, and then showing "tough love" to the Port Authority by refusing to release that funding until they come up with a new contract that reduces labor costs and makes the Port Authority a more efficient operation.

It is a sad statement about our region that seemingly everyone in position to make a decision (except for Dan the Man) must be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. The mindset of the Port Authority union, Bar and Restraunt Owners, and local government are all one in the same; they share a general unwillingness to change, even for the good of the region.

Dan the man said it best in this quote from the Post Gazette: "... he [Dan Onorato] expended considerable political goodwill in getting behind the unpopular taxes, and he also said riders had done their part by absorbing fare increases and service cuts. Now, he said, it's the union's turn."

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A History of Failure Part IV: The Spine Line

The time has come. We have reached the epic conclusion of our 4 part mini series. I must say, from a blogging standpoint, Pittsburgh has made it easy for me to complete these series of blogs. The ghosts of these past failures continue to scream for anyone who is willing to listen. Sadly enough, the policy makers in the region continue to ignore them. Every time an idea comes along to improve Pittsburgh transportation system and or infrastructure, in the end the idea either wholly fails, or the end product is unrecognizable from the initial idea, and does little to serve its initial purpose.

The Spine Line Study done in the late 1980's and completed in 1993 is no different. The Spine line study was wisely aimed at increasing public transportation access in the "Spine Line Corrider" areas of the North Side, Downtown, Soho, the Hill district, Oakland, and Squirrel Hill. What a crazy idea, integrate the highest density areas in Pittsburgh for both jobs and population with the rest of the T system, which up until then had only served Downtown and the South Hills. While this would not have given Pittsburgh a complete light rail system, it would have been a HUGE step in the right direction. Extensions to the North Hills, Mon Valley, Monroeville, or Allegheny Valley could have been added later.

By the time the study was published, several breakdowns of expansion were decided upon.

-Null Option: Basically this was status quo, no changes, or improvements would be made to the Port Authority network

-TSM Option: This option would basically add little infrastructure aside from a bus transit center in North Oakland. It would also increase the frequency and efficiency of the "W Flyer". I am guessing this may be the EBO of the Olden days.

-Light Rail Option: This was broken down into several smaller options.

-A North Side and Downtown option (Sound familiar???? It should. Here's a hint....
The North _____ Connector.)

-Downtown to Oakland. This option had several possible alignments. One alignment was
the Centre Ave Alignment, which would basically take the T through the Hill District on
Centre Ave and drop it in basically under the Hospitals and Pitt's campus. A second
alignment would roughly follow Collwell Ave through Soho and basically parallel Forbes and
Fifth into Oakland. A final alignment would take the T along the Mon, past the present site
of the jail and county courts building, through the technology center and come into Oakland
from the South.

-The Squirrel Hill Extension. There was one route proposed for this extension, that
would take the T roughly parallel to Forbes (obviously underground) from Oakland to
Squirrel Hill.

Of all the options, the most promising was the Downtown to Oakland option. While being a short option (mileage and trackage-wise) this would provide the greatest benefit to commuters and residents of Pittsburgh. It would give more people better access to the second largest employment center in Pittsburgh (Oakland) and would provide residents of the east end with a Mass Transit outlet other than buses.

The greatest deterrent to this project was cost. Even in 1992 the costs ranged anywhere from $1.1 to $1.4 billion. My answer to that is, it ain't gettin any cheaper! Then again, I don't make policy.

These costs put a bullseye on the project in the mid 1990s. Especially with two Republicans running the city and county. It's no secret that Republicans are not terribly big fans of mass transit in general and Larry Dunn and Bob Cranmer were no exceptions. They both claimed that larger county wide transportation issues that needed to be addressed, and it was too much money and resources for a small gain in a system (Again, I point to the fact that the Spine Line Corridor has the largest concentration of jobs and population in the county) By 1997 the Downtown Oakland option was no longer an option.

However, the North Side to Downtown segment remained on life support. Somewhere along the way however, the North Side to Downtown segment mutated into the Northshore Connector. In addition to a name change, there was a routing change as well. Instead of serving the greatest population centers and business centers on the North Side, planners took a Pittsburgh left to parallel the river and the fancy new stadiums that were soon to occupy the space on the North shore.

Sounds like history repeating to me. I feel like I am beating a dead horse here, but let me get out my whip for a minute. Once again, a solid idea that would have been a major infrastructure improvement for the city of Pittsburgh was lost through politics and unwillingness to act. Once again, the final product of the study bore little resemblence to the initial plan and did little to serve the purpose for which it was intended. Now instead of owning a system that encourages people to live close to or in the city and gives them access to an integrated light rail network, Pittsburgh has in essence encouraged people to continue to flee the city and county, and if they still work in the city, they drive.

Is anyone as frustrated by this as I am?

Perhaps even more important, does anyone read this?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Missing the Point

Eventhough I am in the midst of writing my groundbreaking and wildly entertaining blog series titled "A History of Failure" starring David Hasslehoff, I read a great article here that inspired me to take a short blogging detour.

To paraphrase, the author basically writes how the "system" in Pittsburgh's transit system is a loose term at best. It is hardly a coordinated and integrated system where one person can move easily from one end of the system to the other quickly and with few transfers if any. As I was reading this, I got to thinking about all the light rail fanatics vs. the bus people and their rhetorical back and forth arguments and squabbling over which mode of transit would be better for Pittsburgh and the world. I also thought how for every point one side makes, the other side seems to be able to counter it. Neither side can gain an upper hand and they continue to squabble long into the night.

(For the record I am a light rail proponent, but having the busway in my backyard has softened my stance over the past few years)

While thinking about these two points, the little light went on in my head. The critical issue for Pittsburgh is not HOW we get to an integrated system (whether that be light rail or bus), its the simple fact that we get one.

The issue first popped up for me about 6 months ago. My fiance' wanted to go to South Hills Village. At first I screamed in horror at the thought of trying to drive on Route 19 to the mall on a saturday afternoon and becoming lost in a sea of screaming teenage South Hills rich girls. Then I checked the Port Authority's website and quickly screamed again at the thought of spending an hour and a half(one way) making the trip only to become lost in a sea of screaming teenage South Hills rich girls. Luckily for me, after some vigorous whining I disuaded her from taking the trip.

I couldn't help but think if I lived in...ohhhh...say Boston, where you can use their excellent subway system to get just about anywhere in and around Boston, while making one, at most two transfers. Not so in Pittsburgh. Although going from the East End to the South Hills is RELATIVELY easy (you only have to make one transfer downtown). Going anywhere else with transit is anything but easy. Try going from the East End to the Airport or better yet, try going from Monroeville to the South Hills. It wouldn't be pretty.
Let's face it; Pittsburgh's transit system is fragmented. The main bus-routes on the East Busway (EBA, EBS, EBO) only go on the east Busway. The T that extends from downtown into the south hills, does just that, and only that. Let's not forget that the South and West Busways don't really go anywhere and none of the busways tie into any other busway at all. So while you have the light rail and bus people arguing that one mode of transportation is better than the other, what you've got in reality are two half'assed modes of transportation that aren't nearly as effective as they could be because they're fragmented.

Pittsburgh needs either an interconnected seperated grade busway system (say where you can go from Monroeville to the airport without the bus setting foot on public streets, and one or two transfers at most) or an integrated seperated grade T system that won't just take you from Heinz Field to Mt. Lebanon.

They both have advantages, and they both have disadvantages. Draw straws, who cares, just pick one and build it! Pittsburgh needs and deserves a good transit system. All the squabbling between the two sides distracts us from our goal and leaves the Pittsburgh mass transit system fragmented and un-effective.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A History of Failure Part III: The Pittsburgh Beltway System

I should start off by saying while I think we would have been better off as a city today if a beltway were built in the 1970's, I think the Mon-Fayette Expressway is an investment in the wrong mode of transportation at the wrong time. It's expensive, and our region would be better served to built its transit infrastructure than highway infrastructure when most people already drive around town to begin with. We should concentrate on getting people to switch, not to enable their current habits. But alas, that is another blog for another time.

Around the time of the GREAAAAATTTT SKYBUS, there an additional piece of the Pittsburgh Transportation Study was going on to plan a modern highway beltway system throughout Allegheny County. Presumably, this would go hand in hand with a rapid transit system to help catapult Pittsburgh into the 21st century.

If you look at the original plan, you'll see an extensive network of roads throughout the county. I'll be here all day, and you won't waste your time reading this if I were to detail every highway that was to be part of this system, but suffice to say that the proposed system looked like a plate of spaghetti on the map.

If at least part of this would have gone through, in conjunction with some form of rapid transit system, whether it be skybus or subway, Pittsburgh would have ended up with a pretty comprehensive transportation system providing the city and county with multiple mode options to residents of the area.

The one key difference between this failure and other past and present transportation failures in Pittsburgh, is that this one was not actually due to political wrangling in local government. This is not to say that certain factions didn't oppose portions of the proposed highway system (WRATH, a collection of citizens from Whitehall vigorously fought a south hills expressway) , but it is safe to say the plan wasn't killed from local government action, or lack thereof.

This time it was the state of Pennsylvania that did this project in. As of 1969, it seemed as though everything was on track for this new system. Land acquisition had already begun on several of the projects.

However, by 1973, all the projects were dead. I did some researching (I use that word loosely) to try and find out exactly why funding fell apart. I was unable to find out, but I do know that the plug was pulled on each individual route, and they were all cut at about the same time. Click here for a pretty good list and some interesting information about each of the planned highways and information about their planning and ultimate demise.

Unlike with other projects, this time the demise was so complete, that no part of the system was built, not one highway. The only structure Pittsburgh gained was the Birmingham Bridge. It is only piece of a "Oakland-Crosstown Freeway", and of the entire beltway project ever built. The Birmingham Bridge joins other notable "achievements" in Pittsburgh as the Wabash Tunnel and the Pittsburgh and Steubenville Railroad Tunnel as monuments to failure.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Dear Sean Casey and Friends....QUIT YOUR BITCHIN!

I am going to make a stand. The 1 or 2 people that read this blog and disagree with me be damned! I drink, and I like the drink tax. OK, I don't LIKE the drink tax, but overall, it serves a good purpose, and is at worst, is a minor inconvenience. What it is not, is a harbinger to the end of the restaurant and bar industry in Allegheny county as its opponents would have you believe.

The argument of the group known as FACT (Friends Against Counter-productive Taxes) has said that they do not feel it is their responsibility to bear the burden of helping out our local mass transit system, and that the tax will do more harm than good. First of all, for the record, I think it's sweet that they are all friends. I had no idea the local restaurant industry was such a close knit group.

Let's look at the arguments a little more closely shall we?

#1. What is the point of the drink tax? Right now, the Port Authority does not have a dedicated income source. It relies on state and federal grants, and fares in an attempt to meet its fiscal needs. The state (who is higher in the food chain by the way) has dictated that this funding will come from one of two places. Either a drink tax or an increase in property tax. Mr. Onorato and the city county government chose the drink tax.

#2 Why are bar and restaurant owners so angry????? Their main beef is that the drink tax will cause people to either decrease their drinking, or take it outside of Allegheny county, thereby causing a ripple effect where bars and restaurants would make less money, and possibly go out of business. Bottom line, they feel as though they are being unfairly targeted as the source of this tax that they feel they should not be involved in.
More specifically, their arguments are: 1. The tax is too high. 2. Problems with the Port Authority are not their problem. 3. The Port Authority has been stupid with money, and that is not their fault. 4. There are alternate methods for taxation, that will not cause the end of drinking in Allegheny county.

#3. My reaction: CALM DOWN. This is a classic example of Chicken Little screaming the sky is falling. I have yet to hear of a bar or restaurant that has had to close its doors for good because of the drink tax, and although I haven't seen figures, I have not heard one example in all the news and press coverage of this tax revolt about a substantial loss in business since the drink tax went into effect. Additionally, I will also respond to each previous point above with my own response.
1. 10 % does sound steep, granted. However, do the math. If you are drinking enough on a regular basis at a bar that 10% on your tab is too much , may want to seek help. Also, FACT has put a referendum in the November election to decrease the drink tax to 1/2 of 1 %. Honestly, why not just lobby for a repeal of the tax in the election? FACT claims their ballot as an "alternate solution". That's no solution, because nothing would be gained by the tax, it would rendered useless and more money would be wasted on its collection than made on the proceeds. In my mind, they are just being smart-asses because they are upset about the tax.
2. The fact is, the state of our transit system is every one's problem. Especially with gas prices that look like they've got no where to go but up. Investing in our transportation system is not pork, it makes sense.
3. I can't argue that the Port Authority has been dumb with its finances. There are many examples, including the approximately $400,000 in uncounted fares, and the fact that they have some of the highest labor costs of any transit authority in the nation. I will be the first to tell you reform is needed, and changes must be made to bring costs down, BUT that does not mean that they shouldn't get funding. It is possible to require reform AND fund them at the same time. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive.
4. First, see the response to #1. Again, reducing the tax that low is hardly an alternative. The other, less cynical alternative would be an increase in property tax. Did I mention how high this increase would be???? 25%!!!!! That is not a viable alternative. If FACT's main argument is that the tax is bad for business, imagine how bad a 25% increase in property tax would effect an already shrinking region! While it would be unlikely that someone would choose not to live in Allegheny County because of a drink tax, it would be much more likely for them to choose not to live in Allegheny County because of much higher property taxes. This could also spur on additional movement to surrounding counties where property taxes are lower. To me, that's a much greater consequence than paying an extra $2.00 on a $20 dollar bar tab.

Bottom line: The tax has had minimal consequences for local businesses, and has already beat projections for income generated (everyone knows we can drink in Western PA!), with no hard facts that business has decreased in Allegheny County. I am sick of hearing FACT's whining. We need to focus on the real issues that are holding our region back, and stop on the inconsequential crap. GROW UP RESTAURANT OWNERS

Friday, July 25, 2008


The Skybus could very easily be the greatest transit project in Pittsburgh history....that never was. The Maglev is currently running second, but any year now, this could replace the Skybus as the greatest project that never was, but I digress.

What is the Skybus you ask? Basically, if a subway, and a bus fell in love, got married, and had a baby, you would have the Skybus. If that doesn't explain it, here's a picture, and another. More specifically it was supposed to be a rubber tire mass transit system to be built in the late '60s into the early 70's in Pittsburgh and whose effects would be two-fold:

#1. Skybus would (finally) provide the city of Pittsburgh with an efficient, technologically advanced, and sensible rapid transit system.

#2. Skybus would establish Pittsburgh as the "Detroit of the transit industry", meaning that Pittsburgh would become the industrial, and research hub for the transit industry in the United States.

This post is not to debate the merits or negative aspects of the Skybus, but is more to illustrate its place as yet another Pittsburgh mass transit project that began with great hope, but became mired in political bickering, and was ultimately abandoned, or extremely bastardized. You can find a paper written on the Skybus and its fall from grace here, where you will get a much more in depth story on its history and the politics that led to its abandonment.

The initial study, which was officially termed the "Allegheny Rapid Transit Study" and was published in 1967. It addressed Pittsburgh's need (which we still have today) for a comprehensive mass transit system. The initial study did not make a recommendation on whether the rapid transit system would use traditional steel wheels (like a subway) or whether it would use a rubber tire system (the Skybus).

The study advocated the building of an "urban system" and a "suburban system". Two lines on the Urban system would extend from downtown, one to East Liberty via Oakland, and one paralleling Ohio River Boulevard.

Additional Suburban lines would extend to, Monroeville, New Kensington, Greater Pittsburgh Airport (Pittsburgh International), several lines in the south hills, and a line that would extend into the Mon Valley.

Eventhough the 1967 study didn't recommend a mode for the rapid transit project, in 1965 a 1.2 mile test loop was built in South Park to show off the Skybus. This demonstration project was designed to convince local and national decision makers that Skybus was the way to go for Pittsburgh and America. From the very beginning Skybus was the front runner, and it seemed inevitable that it would be the mode for the new transportation system.

Trouble began to arise when the political climate in Pittsburgh began to change in the late 1960's. The cooperation and unified vision that prevailed during the late 1950's and early '60's changed to an attitude of distrust towards the established powers that be in Pittsburgh. New politicians were not part of the "good ole' boy" system in Pittsburgh and began to openly challenge the Skybus as a plot by an elitist group to serve their own ends and not help the city.

Fuel was added to the fire when it was proposed that a starter system would be constructed from the South Hills to Downtown (Sound familiar..."T"). This angered the new regime in local government saying that, among other things, it was biased towards the affluent South Hills, and neglected the needs of the East End (Sound familiar..."East Busway")

There were additional arguments because certain local interests wanted to fully explore a steel wheel system (aka Subway).

What happens when you mix all this bickering up together in one big pot? NOTHING! That's absolutely what you got by the end. A project that may have revolutionized (I said may) transit, or at the very least would have given Pittsburgh the chance to have a comprehensive rapid transit system was gone.

PAT instead decided to upgrade the T in the South Hills and Downtown, and build the East and South Busways. One hell of a consolation prize for the city of Pittsburgh.

The Legacy of the Skybus: Once again, what did we all get in the end? Not a whole lot. A potentially innovative idea, alot of politics, alot of money spent, but no rapid transit system for Pittsburgh. The end result was an "upgraded T" that still only serves the South Hills and Downtown, and the continuing feeling that the East End is being slighted because it's not the rich, white suburbs of the South Hills.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Part I: The Early Years

I figured this would be a two to three part post when I got started. What I actually found is that Pittsburgh has been transit study crazy for the last 100 or so years. If ever there was a city that did not learn from its mistakes and continues to repeat them, it is the city of Pittsburgh. Here is a brief list of some early transportation studies that advocated advancements in Pittsburgh's transportation system (mainly construction of a subway system).

1906-1929: The first studies to mention construction of a subway underneath the city. The initial study in 1906 recommendations included a downtown loop with several lines radiating out from it. I wasn't able to dig up exactly why these first few attempts failed ( OK, I didn't dig all that hard). More importantly, these early studies began to establish a long standing tradition within Pittsburgh of studying mass transit options to death, but doing nothing further about it.

In 1919 the first mass transit proposal that really seemed to carry promise occurred. Bond was even issued in hopes of beginning construction, but nothing came of this. It seems that Political wrangling helped do this proposal in. The construction was to be limited to the "1st and 2nd Wards" (Basically daaahntaahn, and the Strip). Does this sound familiar to anyone???? Political in-fighting that stifles the local government until....absolutely nothing gets done, and alot of money is wasted.

The bottom line; between 1906 and 1929 no less than 7 studies/proposals came to light. In the end, what did the city have to show for it? $ 20 million in bond issued, another $30 million in bond recommended for issue for transit improvement, and absolutely nothing to show for it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A history of failure

I believe a large part of why we are where we are as a region today is because of a lack of vision and a reluctance to move ahead. It's funny that Pittsburgh and the surrounding region is very innovative, and is still a center for research and development, yet at the same time, there is a tendency to look backwards, and hold onto the past, and become mired in the now, rather than focusing on the future.

This lack of visions has seeped into all areas. From industry (the exodus of the steel industry and manufacturing in general), to government. Because this blog supposedly focuses on transportation, I'll concentrate on how the lack of vision and poor decision making up to this point concerning transportation has got us to where we are now as a region. I'll highlight some transit and highway plans* that never were, never got off the ground, or maybe should have never been. It's amazing to me the number of transportation plans in the Pittsburgh area that have gone no where (and continue to go nowhere aka "The Maglev" or "The Springfield Monorail"). Stay tuned!

*That's right, I said highways. While my tendency is to bad mouth highway spending and driving, and to talk up mass transit, it would be naive of me to think that any city can survive in our culture without a logical highway system.

Before I beat down the Burgh Part 2

I graduated college in 2002. I would have been happy to stay in my new found home, but the Army saw to it that I would not be able to stay. They had lived up to their end of the bargain to pay for my college, now it was time for me to live up to mine.

I spent the next three years bouncing around, from Kentucky, to Georgia, to Iraq and back. The whole time I wanted to get back to Pittsburgh more than anything. I tried to visit at least several times a year. At the time, Pittsburgh seemed like a fortress of reason and intelligence, where I was living in the land of ignorance and necks that are red. I told myself again and again that when I was done serving, I would come back to Pittsburgh (but I wasn't really sure I believed it myself).

In 2005 I sealed the deal. I met my now fiance' while home on R and R from Iraq. In 2006 I was released from Active Duty and moved back to Pittsburgh. It was not all roses, not by a long shot. The population had really begun to leave the region, and Pittsburgh was still dealing with its plunge into bankruptcy in 2004. The poor state of the region affected me personally. I came out of the military with a pretty good resume'. While friends of mine had accepted very good paying jobs across the country, I limited myself because I wanted to be here, for better or for worse. I spent the last two years bouncing from job to job trying to find a good job that was equal to my experience. I've finally found a decent job, but it's not my dream job and it's probably just another stop along the way to my ultimate goal.

Either way, and as silly as it may sound, I am committed to this place. It has become my home, and we've shared the best times, and the worst times. My heart is tied to the success or failure of the city.

Right now we (you, me, local government) are not going in the right direction, so I will be critical, I will "bash the Burgh". But just know, that I do it out of a sense of tough love. Because Pittsburgh is a great place, and it should be able to live up to its potential.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Before I beat down the Burgh Part 1

I'm sure many of my posts will be critical of Pittsburgh. There is alot not to like about the way things are being run right now in our city and our region, but there is plenty of time to discuss that later. The point of this post is to discuss what I love about Pittsburgh, why I chose to create this blog, and why I make my home here.

I'm not originally from Pittsburgh, I grew up in Eastern Pennsylvania; Allentown, PA to be exact. The closest I ever came to the city was changing U.S. Air flights at Pittsburgh International in the days when it was an incredibly busy hub.

My first visit to the city didn't happen until I was a freshman in college at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, VA. I was on the debate team (ha ha, laugh it up) and we traveled to Duquesne University for a debate. I gotta admit, I wasn't terribly impressed but then again all I saw was the inside of Duquesne classrooms with nothing else to look at aside from crucifixes and other dorky, pock marked debate kids. Even at that point, I had no idea that a year later I would be a sophmore at Pitt.

At the time, I was looking to join ROTC (not for an overwhelming need to harm my fellow man, but for the purpose of serving my country. Unfortunately, this concept is lost on most of American society. Everyone would like to take advantage of the convieniences and opportunities of this country, but few have done anything to earn it.) and Mary Washington College did not offer it. I applied to several other schools, of which Pitt was one of them. I had no allegience to Pittsburgh, and Pitt was not my first choice, but they were the only school that acecpted me.

At the time, for me going to Pitt and coming to the city of Pittsburgh was a matter of necesity; they had a program that I wanted and they were the only ones to accept me. Now, however, as I look back on it, it was one of those events in my life that was "meant to be". My life has become undeniably intertwined with Pittsburgh. The best years of my life have been spent here. If it was not for coming here I would have missed so much. I would have missed the opportunity to serve my country, the opportunity to learn what a real sports fan is, and most importantly, the opportunity to meet my fiance'.

I spent 3 years at Pitt, and absoultely fell in love with Pittsburgh. It didn't happen overnight. At first, I wasn't too fond of Pittsburgh. It didn't impress me very much. As I look back, that is because I had no idea everything that the city had to offer. My world consisted of Pitt's campus and the college ghettos of South Oakland. Once I branched out and learned the cultural, sports, and entertainment options Pittsburgh has, I was hooked. Anyone who says there is nothing to do in Pittsburgh just isn't looking.


I'm certainly suprised. I generally don't have too high an opinion of blogging. In my mind, any idiot can type the ideas that fall out of their head and post those ideas on the internet. So here I am, typing ideas that fall out of my head and posting them on the internet. Well, I guess I figure what's one more idiot????? If nothing else, I think this will give me an opportunity to express my thoughts and ideas, and people can take them for what they are worth. That's the advantage to blogging that I think I was overlooking before. It gives people a voice, and a forum that was not available before. I've got plenty of ideas (some good, and some bad); why not share them???

The over-all focus of this blog is definitely issues facing Pittsburgh. If I had to refine that further, I would say the main topic will be transit (hence the name of the blog), but I don't intend for that to be the only thing I discuss. For that matter, I can't tell you what the focus is going to be. I figure I will post things as they come to me, and I guess we'll see on the other side what my focus really was!