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.


Brent said...

Don't sweat it. There is no easy transit solution for office parks where parking is free so incentive is low. Hence the problems with Airport area buses like the 25A.

Jermaine said...

Great "double-life" story. I think a lot if us are going through the same thing and wishing we could live/work/eat/play/etc within steps from a T stop. I just recently starting getting into this topic and it seems like there's an awful lot of us here in Pittsburgh who feel the same way. Obviously all our "dream systems" look a little different, but we're all basically on the same page in demanding an improved system.

Have you been to the skyscraper forum entries on Pittsburgh Transit?



Look forward to reading more of your posts!

melancholic optimist said...

That's one of the biggest issues I think, related to transportation - control of the development of cities - and the situation you describe is one of the biggest reasons why Portland is focusing on development of what they call "20 minute neighborhoods."

That is, neighborhoods with dense development, where people can shop, watch films, work, and go out to eat (that is, all their average daily stuff), all within 20 minutes walking distance of their home/apartment.

This is the best situation for everyone, as then even if you do drive a car most of the time, the mileage you have to drive is dramatically reduced.

I currently work much further away than that from home, but it's still within 30 minutes on a bike (going slow), so it's still a pretty easy trip.

I think it's possible to some extent to re-arrange suburban areas to support this kind of idea more, and at least reduce the distance people have to travel, even if it's never as low as in dense urban areas.

Having it be common for people to have 2-3 hour commutes is going to become more and more burdensome, I think - so hopefully more and more places will start thinking about how they can change that.

Sean said...

Great "confession." I think this is a wonderful example of the failure of our development (especially in the US) and planning. We (including me) gripe about public transportation issues but sometimes miss the cause and attack the symptom. How can public transportation keep up with the suburban sprawl that most cities experience?

Even cities that are extremely proactive and progressive in terms of public transportation and even urban planning struggle with this issue.

Good luck with finding a more pleasant commuting experience!!

East Busway Blogger said...

Thanks for the comments! You guys bring up some interesting points. The biggest of which is how do we get suburbia to concenrtate on planning so that it is more transit friendly?

For all my complaints about Pittsburgh and their lack of coherent transit planning, I think they are catching on, and making steps in the right direction (T.O.D development in East Liberty etc.)

The key lies in getting a bunch of disinterested suburban authorities to start thinking along the same lines. Until recently, there was no incentive at all for these authorities to put any thought into planning. It may take a reverse exodus, BACK to the city for them to realize that they have to change to be competative

melancholic optimist said...

I think it's already starting, and it's going to become more and more obvious that suburban development as we've been doing it is simply not sustainable (not only as an environmental buzzword, but very literally).

Suburban areas around the country are already starting to see the effects of the way they've been planned out:


Let's hope that the authorities in suburban areas like this won't require their cities becoming destitute before doing something about it.

East Busway Blogger said...

It definitely is. I was going to put a hyperlink for a story done recently on how Pittsburgh's downtown is bucking the real estate trend, but I am an HTML moron and didn't do it. Here is the link to cut and paste in the mean time:


It's early, and so far the gains have been small for Pittsburgh, but I hope it's the start of a big trend.

melancholic optimist said...

Real estate prices in Portland have stayed relatively stable as well, for many of the same reasons - that is, that living in a "20 minute neighborhood" is not only economical, it is pleasant, and people enjoy doing it.

New condos and apartments are being built in Portland, almost always with shop space on the street level (providing employment and services to potential residents).

Larger scale on-street bike parking is becoming more and more common in downtown and inner east-side Portland, especially where there are restaurants and small shops - making it more appealing for them to have outdoor seating, and encouraging local neighborhood or nearby residents to come (as it then often becomes more convenient to park a bike than a car).

Bike boulevards (streets with heavy traffic control and calming measures to reduce and slow automobile traffic) are going in, and subsequently raising the property values of surrounding real-estate.

Of course, then we go and approve a 12-lane interstate highway bridge coming right into Portland, connecting to a 3-lane highway in Portland. Not quite sure what that's all about (and I hope it doesn't translate to enlarging the highway going through Portland) :)

brell said...

how about moving your housing if you can't move your job yet?

East Busway Blogger said...

It's a thought, but then I'm not really helping myself and becoming a dirty suburbanite (I'm speaking tongue and cheek).

When I say the industrial park I work in is isolated, I mean isolated. As in round trip to the nearest mega mart is a 25 minute round trip, and there is literally no housing around this area.

I may cut down on my daily commute, but would be adding additional miles driven by having to drive to everything else I need (i.e. the doctor, supermarket, etc.) Many of Pittsburgh's suburbs are more like exurbs, very compartmentalized areas of strictly housing with no significant job concentration, and all commerce clustered in mini malls or clustered around big shopping malls. I would still be a victim of sprawl.

At least as it stands now, when I am away from work I can walk (or hop on the busway) to the amenities that living in a city provides.

Driving this distance to me is a temporary sacrifice to my long term plan.

Robert said...

Just out of curiosity, and I hope I don't sound pushy or self-righteous:

Have you considered riding a bike? like, perhaps attempted to ride to your workplace on the weekend to see how long it would take or how hard it would be?

I ask because you give a time, 40 minutes, and not a distance from home to work by car. If going to work involves a lot of traffic, your average speed can dip below 15mph, roughly comparable to what an experienced cyclist can average. When I lived in NYC, I made my 7-mile one-way commute up through Manhattan in about 40 minutes, which was actually significantly faster than taking a cab or subway. And if I didn't mind getting sweaty, I could get it under 30 minutes.

I walk to school in Pittsburgh now, so I can't give any anecdotes about bike-commuting here, although my riding experiences here have been overall pretty pleasant. You may be surprised at how quick and convenient riding is, especially since finding parking is rarely an issue and you get some exercise in in the meantime.

East Busway Blogger said...

Not at all. Unfortunately, it's not 40 minutes because of traffic, or because I'm coming from the East End and say, working in the South Hills or West End. It's 40 minutes because I literally work near Apollo, PA. It's over 20 miles each way, and I can honestly say that I don't know, but can't imagine that I could average 30 MPH on a bike.

dhd said...

Having recently biked out to Apollo and back, I can safely say that for someone in good shape it would take about two hours to bike there from East Liberty. There are some vicious hills that can't really be avoided, although I suppose if you took SR380 the whole way it would be flatter...