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 (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.