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.

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