Wednesday, September 23, 2009

G 20 Journal

The nice thing about having my own blog is I can plug other blogs that are mine.  Living near a pretty large number of protests is going to be interesting, and the history major in me wants to record it.  If anyone is particularly interested, check out my daily journal-blog about the G20.  In all honesty, I hope it's boring, but we'll see. 

G20 in the East End

Monday, September 21, 2009

Dahntahn Lockdahn

This blog post is probably not news to anyone, there have been a bunch of articles about how the G20 will affect transit in downtown. Check out Post Gazette article here. Also, here's the link to the Port Authority's detour pamphlet. Actually, I felt left out of the collective G20 hand wringing, so I figured I would highlight the changes that will be taking place this week.

The Changes
Basically, the Port Authority will be vacating the Golden Triangle. And there you have it, there's my highlight.

Helpful huh? Honestly, there's a chance that a lot of bad stuff could go down, and there's a chance it could go (relatively) well. Call me optimistic, but I think it won't be as bad as everyone thinks it will be. Personally, I am in the same camp as Illyrias, who does not believe the sky is falling.

However, just in case the sky is in fact falling, I think we should harness the pahr of Pittsburgh Pride. I believe Steelers emblems should be plastered all over any potential protest site/Starbucks. The first rock or frozen turd to deface a Steelers emblem will cause yinzers to close on the site and destroy anyone who may have possibly maybe been involved. Nothing is scarier than watching towel wielding, mullet and zoobaz wearing overweight yinzers bear down on you and your fellow anarchists.

Ok, I kid, but seriously it would work…you know it would.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Changes?? Poppycock!

I don't want to belittle the concerns of people who have legitimate transit needs in Allegheny County, but I just don't like the point of today's article in the Post Gazette. I think the article focuses too much on a TINY minority of people that will be adversely affected by the changes that are coming about as part of the TDP.

Additionally, I flat out disagree with the comments of the people interviewed. They should do their homework before making broad public comments about service changes. Both people quoted in the paper have easy alternatives given the proposed changes (see the maps for the updated 51C/54C and alternatives for the 13B). The notion that the Port Authority will be driving (pun intended) people to their automobiles is misguided and just plain incorrect. If anything, the TDP will attract riders. Decreasing stops and focusing on rapid service has the potential to draw riders, not chase them away.

Although the article seems to lump fare increases in with the TDP, the fact is the two are separate. A fare change was meant to be part of the TDP, but not an increase. The TDP was well under way when the Port Authority announced that it was increasing fares to cover increasing legacy costs. In fact, you could argue that the TDP could help to minimize an increase that was going to happen anyway. The separation between the two is important and needs to be drawn lest people come to believe that fare increases were proposed as part of the TDP.

The problem, I believe, is the simple fact that the Port Authority is trying to change anything at all. Opinions such as those expressed in this article are the reason it's taken this long to get anything done in the first place. I've always held the opinion, despite the fact that Pittsburgh is incredibly innovative and has been throughout its proud history, it's people, for better or worse are very conservative and resistant to change.

You could argue that people will be affected by the TDP changes and will not have alternatives, but the people quoted in this article DO have alternatives and do not face significant changes. Again, the problem is that they face changes at all.

If you like the TDP and you use transit, get out and voice your opinion in favor of it. I personally don't want to see the plan derailed by the same old Pittsburgh attitude...

Friday, September 11, 2009

Keeping MAGLEV Inc. Afloat

In the latest victory to justify and allow their continued existance, a $28 million grant was awarded to MAGLEV, Inc. yesterday. Check out the article here in the Post Gazette.

My feelings on MAGLEV are pretty clear. I don't have a problem with the technology, and would love the idea of getting on a MAGLEV train and getting to Philadelphia in an hour or Chicago in a few. I just think this application as a commuter route to a nearly empty airport is absolutely ridiculous. All at a cost of $3.75 BILLION. By the way, that's in 2003 money. It's a safe bet that a more updated estimate would put the cost over $4 billion for 54 miles of MAGLEV track. Transportation in Pittsburgh already has enough black sheep, we don't need another. For the record the NSC at least allows Pittsburgh to expand its light rail network in the future to the north and west of the city. I don't envision a rapid transit system in Pittsburgh of interconnected MAGLEV lines.

I guess the bright side is that apparently this money was earmarked specifically for MAGLEV and does not come out of any sort of HSR funding.

While the MAGLEV funding wouldn't come out of a pot that Pittsburgh could use for transit, it's tempting to think about what you could get if you managed to get $3.75 billion for transit in Pittsburgh! Imagine the LRT or subway system you could have! Bottom line, there are so many better uses for the $28 million, let alone the $3.75 billion.

I feel like a broken record.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Something from Nothing

I've (finally) looked through the TDP and there's enough information out there on the net and in print as far as analysis of the TDP goes, so I figured I would take a little bit of a different view. I decided to pick the best of the best; the route change which, in my opinion was the best "new" look created as part of the TDP.

This year's Something out of Nothing award goes to: The G2 West Busway/Downtown/Oakland (Formerly known as the 100) (check out page 203 of the document). The Port Authority took a route that had some value, gave it additional responsibilities/routing and the route ultimately came out a much improved product.

Why do I like this so much, you ask? Simple, it creates a route that increases interconnectivity, maximizes grade separation that will increase not only its own efficiency but efficiency on additional routes. As any of you who read this blog with any regularity will know, I love interconnection, separated grades, and efficiency.

The new routing starts in Robinson Town Center, and travels the Parkway to the West Busway, through downtown to the East Busway to Oakland. It returns by the same route. The old route started in Carnegie, traveled on the West Busway, and made a big loop in the East End, meaning it went via the East Busway to Oakland and returned downtown via 5th Ave and Boulevard of the Allies.

First of all the routing is much improved. By routing the G2 on the East Busway in both directions, the transit time between the two will be quicker, and will have fewer stops. This will make it a more attractive option for students trying to get downtown or to Robinson. To me this is an incredibly simple change that will pay dividends.

Secondly, by extending the route to Robinson, the G2 will take on the 28X's responsibility of stopping in Robinson Town Center (the bane of any rider's trip to the Airport in the past). This could potentially increase ridership on the G2 in addition to the fact that the 28X(R28) will now be able to shave a significant amount of time off its schedule making its service more appealing. A good scenario for both routes.

In some of the more sensationalized, attention grabbing headlines I have seen concerning the TDP; they have advertised it simply as the latest in a series of "route cuts". Not so my friend, and the new G2 is the perfect example proving that the program is not just another in a long series of "route cuts".

Note: The Port Authority needs to clean up the maps vs. route descriptions on the TDP website. If I look solely at the map, it seems that the new G2 will operate between 6 AM and 12 PM, and will use the existing route structure once across the river (between downtown and Oakland). If I read the draft recommendations document, it states that the bus will operate from roughly 6 AM to 12 AM and will use only the East Busway in both directions from downtown to Oakland.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Rapid Buses, Noise, and Customer Service

TDP and the BRT

I haven't been focusing as much on the TDP perhaps as I should be, but as usual, Paz over at Politics and Place gives some good analysis on some fluff on the TDP concerning rapid buses. For my two cents, if Pittsburgh wants to emulate anything they should emulate L.A. which has developed a comprehensive "rapid" bus system and has taken BRT further than any other transit agency in the nation with its Orange Line and Rapid services. When it comes to levels of bus service, L.A. is a standard we should work towards.

Quiet Buses

This may be one of the most exciting topics I have ever written about in the short history of this blog. That's right folks, bus mufflers. Even if you're not transit-geek enough to notice by looking, if you ride the bus, you've probably noticed the noise improvement because of the distinct lack of that loud obnoxious Port Authority bus sound and the frequent plume of black smoke.

I love these things for several reasons:

1. Makes buses quieter

2. Gives buses, and transit in general better PR

3. Potential emission improvements

I'm not sure if these new mufflers are actually filters as well, or if they are just mufflers. I searched the web and Port Authority's website but couldn't really find out much information that would point to whether these new exhausts were filters or not. I attempted to contact the Port Authority but (surprise, surprise) have not received a response.

If indeed these new exhausts are filters, my first question, is why the hell aren't they on all the buses. This ties in well with my post about the emission reduction grants. Spare the hybrid buses for now, and improve your whole fleet using the federal money. I do not know the price of these exhausts, but think of the number old stinky buses that you could fit for the price of one hybrid bus. I don't have the facts to really do a comparison analysis, but the question is; is anyone at the Port Authority doing the analysis? Has anyone asked the question whether it would create a greater benefit in emission reduction to outfit all the buses with this new filter or get a few hybrid buses? From my experiences with the Port Authority, my guess is probably not.

Customer Service, or Lack Thereof

I don't have that much experience with other transit agencies, but good god is the Port Authority not-user friendly. From rude drivers, to tying to get information of any kind (other than schedules), I have had so many headaches it's ridiculous. When I do a post about the Port Authority that requires technical information from the Port Authority, I pray that I can find it elsewhere, because trying to get it either from calling them or through their online comments section is like pulling teeth. What are your experiences? I have a hard time believing I am alone in this experience.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Low Cost Alternatives

Pennsylvania's submission is in. Politics and Place and Green is Good beat me to the punch, so I won't rehash what they have already capably covered, EXCEPT to say, Keystone Corridor West…really? Don't patronize us. If you have no real plans of making it a corridor, don't call it one. I can call the Turtle Creek Industrial Railroad the "Export Corridor", but that doesn't change what it is. The same can be said for the "Keystone Corridor West"; you can call it a corridor all day and all night but to PENNDOT, it's a freight railroad with 1 passenger train each direction every day.

Enough Ranting…Instead I want to make a pitch for more "standard" service. Despite the problems of the late "Steel City Flyer" I do believe the market is there for greater service. In 2008 the Pennsylvanian's ridership increased 12%, and increased another 1% in the first half of 2009 (I know 1% is hardly stellar, but not bad when you consider that overall ridership on Amtrak has slipped from the huge increases in 2008).

Combine the increases with the fact that there are some holes in the current service and you get the opportunity for more service. Someone cannot take a train from Pittsburgh (which leaves at about 7:20 AM) go to Harrisburg or Philly, and expect to get anything done that day and return on a later train to Pittsburgh. The same goes for anyone traveling to Pittsburgh from Harrisburg or Philadelphia. In fact, that is even worse. If you have business in Pittsburgh, better be ready to make a 3 day trip! If your business takes place on Tuesday, you'll be leaving Monday afternoon in order to arrive on Monday evening. I hope your business takes all day, because your next opportunity to head east will be on Wednesday morning.

The bottom line is, we can do better, and do it for a lot less than an electrified HSR system*. The track is there, the signaling is top notch (used by 60+ freight trains a day). If you think said 60+ trains a day are a problem, consider a quote from an NS exec who when asked about the Pittsburgh Line in a Trains Magazine article from 2005 said that "We've Got Room to Grow". He is right. Most of the right of way from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg at one point had more tracks than what they have now. That means, if need be, another track could be put in place. This would certainly minimize interference between freight and passenger trains.

We, as a state could foot part of the bill and have Amtrak operate it, much the same as the Keystone Corridor, Lincoln Service, and Downeaster, to name a few. That would save on rolling stock costs. If we wanted to get crazy, we could follow the path of Vermont who has been pursuing DMU's for its Vermonter service. Everybody knows where I stand on DMU's. They're FRA approved so they could operate with freight trains. Additionally, they're cheaper to build and maintain than traditional trainsets.

This is by no means hard analysis, but it can be done, again maximizing existing infrastructure in order to save construction/operating costs. Pennsylvania would be doing its own citizens a much better service by committing to lower level but more frequent service instead of wasting a few million here and there every few years to study HSR west of Harrisburg with no real intention of ever building it.

*I haven't changed my position on HSR, and would support it if PENNDOT ever got serious about it west of Harrisburg. However, since they don't seem to be serious at all, we should at least get some form of transportation investment west of Harrisburg.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Are you happy? I'm happy

The big day is here and the results have been released (at least to the Press, oddly enough they're not yet available on the TDP website) It seems as though option two has won out, and that is a good thing.

It's good for alot of reasons, not the least of which is that the fact it was long overdue. Pittsburgh's population distribution and development patterns have changed dramatically over the last 50+ years, and the Port Authority never adapted their service to the changes. This was much needed. Better service will be provided to the now high density areas, and areas that do not have the same transit usage as in past years will see corresponding cuts in service.

Additionally, this should show, to the people who like to use the arguments that mass transit isn't efficient, or that mass transit agencies don't operate efficiently, that the Port Authority is making a good faith effort to both decrease operating costs while increasing service. Talk to any businessperson out there, that's good business thinking.

Finally, this is excellent timing. With transit funding stagnant in Pennsylvania, any way the Port Authority can save money is a good thing.

Public comment will be held from today through September 30th. TELL THEM YOU LIKE IT!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Perfect Storm for Public Transportation in the United States?

The Good

The last two years have been an exciting time if you are an advocate of public transportation in the United States. Among other things, we have seen a major spike in gasoline prices, and although they seem to have stabilized somewhat have pushed people away from their personal automobiles and towards alternate means of transportation in record numbers. Case in point: Amtrak saw a 14% increase in ridership between July 2007 and July 2008. The poor economy has eroded some that increase, but ridership is still higher than it was at this point in 2007. It's also important to keep in mind that this is with a smaller system than Amtrak has ever had along with stagnant funding. Check out the master list vs. what service is in place today.

Ridership on public transit is up. Way up. In 2008, transit ridership was the highest since 1956! That's big. That's 52 years of highway dominance, out the window in one year.

Additionally, the winner of the 2008 Presidential campaign brought even greater hope by promising to invest in our long neglected transportation system along with our national infrastructure. This promise was highlighted by the symbolic train ride that the President-Elect and Vice President-Elect took from Philadelphia to the inauguration in Washington, D.C.

Things sure are good in the transportation world aren't they? Not so fast. Some big issues in America right now are forming together with the record success of transit to form a perfect storm of sorts that threatens to hamstring transportation development in this country, if not set cause a massive setback.

The Bad

While transit use is up, which is great, funding remains flat. Check out an article here in the Post gazette that touches on the issue. Local transit authorities are faced with increased demands on their infrastructure and calls for service expansion all while dealing with the same funding levels that they dealt with 5 years ago. In some cases, because of the hard economic times funding has even been cut, again, while ridership increased. The system is broken, that's not news. The Gas Tax hasn't increased in 16 years and the Highway Trust fund is broke. You can't get better transit if you don't have the money to pay for it.

The Ugly

The healthcare debate, among others swirling around Washington seem to have caused enough strife to further the notion that our current funding strategy will suffice for another 18 months. The Post Gazette covers it here . It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if the funding system doesn't work now, it will continue to not work for another 18 months. Things will stay about the way they are now. Ridership looks to stay high, and funding will be inadequate which will cause further cutbacks and potential fare increases.

Hope isn't completely lost for a new funding package before the September 30 deadline of the current deal, but an 18 month delay could cause a permanent halt to a funding overhaul and renewed emphasis on transit.

The political tides seem to be shifting. The tremendous support that the Obama administration and their policies enjoyed may be at least wavering. The Senate Committee charged with appropriating the initial $4 billion dollars of HSR funds decided only to appropriate $1.8 billion. While this is not the end of the discussion, the figures initially discussed are already being paired down. This does not bode well for future HSR funding. The same can be said of transit funding. If support for HSR is still high and the money is being cut, imagine what happens when the support dies down, or gas prices come down.

I don't want to be a Negative Nancy here, but in my mind, we as a nation are at a crossroads. The demand for transit is there (and hopefully will continue to rise). What is missing is political will. If we put transportation in the back seat and don't fund it now and fund it properly, our best case scenario is we will have what we have now. Aging infrastructure, too many roads, and not enough alternate forms of transportation. That's the BEST case scenario.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The link between Healthcare and Transportation

While relationships between healthcare and transportation may not seem immediately clear (except for the fact that the people who work for and operate transportation companies/agencies/authorities all generally have healthcare) there are similarities in the debates between the various camps on either side of the issues.

First, let me say that the point of this is not to shout my opinions about Obama's healthcare plan, there are plenty of other blogs where you can find people's opinions about Government healthcare. When reading an article, found by way of The Radical Middle yesterday, I was shocked by some of the ridiculous arguments being made, by both sides on the medical debate. The far left view was that anyone who oposes their idea of Government healthcare is basically a heartless fascist who is just a puppet of big business, while the far right view was that Government healthcare was tantamount to communism and would force poor granny to go in front of a "death panel" that would decide her medical fate.

Both arguments are downright ridiculous, and the people who further these types of arguments should be ashamed of themselves. They turn important policy debate into a turd flinging contest. Their intent is also not to compromise and create the best course of action for everyone but to demean the opposition through the spreading of ridiculous lies and insults.
Where am I going with this you ask? After all, this is not Shadyside Hospital Blog, it's East Busway Blog. My point in this is the same ridiculous, emotional attacks that are clouding the healthcare debate are always present in the transit world, and it's a problem.

When lies, misconceptions and anecdotal arguments are allowed to influence public policy, the outcome is a dumbed down, half-assed version of an ideal policy. A perfect example in Pittsburgh is the hated Allegheny County drink tax. I have made it well known that I support the tax, because I looked at it rationally and to me it makes sense. You've got plenty of drinkers in Allegheny County, and the proceeds from the tax would serve a worthy cause, transit. However, the opposition to the tax was immediate and just plain angry. From radio ads by the owner of the Church Brew Works invoking Abraham Lincoln, to a gentleman who wanted to challenge Dan Onorato to a boxing match because of a tax on his beloved beer.

Most of the opposition was rooted in the fact that people just didn't want to pay more for alcohol, there wasn't a whole lot of rationality to their argument beyond that. The closest thing I saw to a coherent argument was that the tax would cause such an outrage that people would abandon drinking at bars in Allegheny County and flock to neighboring counties (which has happened to an extent, how much however, is not all that significant) which would cause bars to go out of business. However, even that argument which was rooted in rationality was taken to the extreme. Supposedly, the drop in business would lead to some mass bankruptcy in the bar industry, causing huge losses in jobs and revenues.

As it turns out, the "losses" have been minimal. The decrease in drinking at bars has been negligible, and I don't believe there is any quantifiable evidence that the drink tax has caused any bar or restaurant to close and the tax exceeded expectations for revenue. (Check out one of my favorite comment strings from way back on a "discussion" about the effects of the drink tax). My friend "anonymous" may have some valid points, but they are clouded by his insults and condescending tone.

The HSR debate is another example. There are logical arguments why HSR would not or could not work that could be made by reasonable people, and then there are people like this guy. (check out comment number 5). This quote came from Trains for America, and they seem to get more than their fair share of ridiculous, emotion based polarized arguments. You don't like trains? Fine, don't belittle rational discussion with regurgitated garbage you probably picked up off your favorite political radio talk show host.

I know that you find whackos anywhere, and two examples in a blog does not an argument make. However, go onto a news website and look at the comments that follow and article or opinion piece or watch a town hall meeting. It's frightening, not so much what people are saying, but how many people are saying the same crazy things, meaning the lunacy is widespread.

Why this polarized thinking has become so prevalent is another topic for another blog, but it certainly is present in transportation/transit policy debate, and it's damaging our infrastructure and de-railing (pun intended) our future.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Getting Back into the Swing of Things

I read an interesting opinion piece over the weekend about tolls vs. a gas tax as funding sources for "transportation". Check it out here.

I am assuming that by transportation the writer means solely highways because he doesn't really refer to any alternate forms of transportation. Between the author and the commentors, there a lot of misguided arguments. You get everything from the idea that increasing the gas tax alone will help, to the very common misconception among the pro-highway set that, other than vehicle cost/repair/maintenance (including filling up at the pumps) driving is and should always be free.

The events of mid 2008 have shown, in my mind that relying on a gas tax to fund transportation is not a solid bet. As gas prices increased independently of the tax, people drove less, to the tune of 12.9 billion miles. This caused the revenues of the tax to decrease by nearly $71 million. Tolling, I think has worked well, and should be expanded. Pennsylvanians need to know that driving is not free, and tolling provides the perfect method of explanation to the public at large. Ok… you can't toll everything, but I sure wish you could, and it certainly seem more stable than a gas tax. During 2008, the revenue from tolls increased despite the fact that nationally, vehicle miles driven decreased. (The increase was NOT from a fare increase either: the toll revenue increase occurred because the amount of vehicle miles traveled was higher in 2008 than 2007). There are mileage tax plans out there, but I don't even know if I like big brother having the potential of knowing where I am all the time, let alone what Cletus in central Pennsylvania will think of the idea.

I don't have the answer to taxing highway or road usage and the point of this post wasn't to propose an answer. At the risk of generalizing, this submission and the subsequent comments just go to show how ignorant people really are. There is a general misunderstanding of how roads and transit are funded; people still have this concept that "I pay for transit that I don't use and it's therefore a waste but don't have to pay for roads I don't use, and that makes roads more economical".

Another thing to take away is people's general dislike of transportation agencies. The Turnpike Commission gets a bad rap, but unlike PENNDOT was profitable until Act 44 required a $750 million contribution that put their numbers into the tank. There's a reason that Ed Rendell wanted to Toll I-80, it works on I-76.

Check out the Turnpike Commission's webpage here which goes into the details on their finances.

Monday, August 17, 2009

“Hybrid” Grants: A Small Step

Check out the article here. I certainly can't fault the concept, I just wish we could get more, and dare I say, I have some opinions on doling out the money. The Port Authority along with CSX, U.S. Steel, and Constructors Association of Western Pennsylvania are getting federal money to invest in hybrid/pollution reducing technology.

The Port Authority will replacing two internal combustion buses with two Diesel Hybrid buses. Additionally, nine buses will be given new engines to bring them up to 2007 EPA standards. CSX will upgrade 1 single engine, U.S. Steel will be placing filters on some of its dump trucks, and the Contractors association of Western PA will place filters on some of its construction vehicles.

I think that is great, however it is just a drop in the bucket, and I am curious if the actual impact will be as great as the estimates quoted in the article.

Here's an alternative solution: Take the grant, give it to one entity, and make them a "poster child" for the greening of Pittsburgh/ Allegheny County. For example, instead of giving the Port Authority $875,000, give them the $3.49 million and let them go to town. That would get them 8 hybrid buses and 36 upgraded, more emission friendly buses.

I think arguments could be made for all the entities, but the Port Authority makes the most P.R. sense. Think about it, Pittsburgh and the region are already getting great publicity as a leader in green. 8 hybrid buses and 36 upgraded buses would make a pretty big splash nationally, better so than 2 buses, 1 locomotive, and a bunch of dump trucks.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sorry, but I can't come to the blog right now....

but if you leave a message after the beep, I'll return your call as soon as possible.


Be back around the 15th...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Reconciling Sprwal and Transit Part 2

To answer my first two questions from the previous post, I hope so, and yes.

Now to elaborate just a little bit. I personally believe this type of construction or planning will slowly fade away with time. Eventually, it will be seen for what it is, resource consuming, inefficient, and just plain wasteful. Is that time now? I like to think so, but there's not a whole lot of hard facts to say that it is in fact the truth. In the Pittsburgh area specifically, much of the re-development of former industrial sites are in the areas of commercial and residential development. There hasn't been a lot of re-development of former industrial sites in an industrial capacity.

That leads us to the answer of my second question. Because sprawling industrial parks will not suddenly disappear from the landscape, it is worth making an attempt to integrate them with transit, especially those closer to urban centers.

The hard question

Now that I've answered the easy questions, the hard question is how exactly do we integrate these sprawling industrial sites with transit? It's certainly going to cost money, and you will be hard pressed to get the owners of the parks to shell out for the integration. Most likely the authority which operates service to that park would have to shell out, but that's another topic for another post.

Before you can even think of integrating an industrial park, like RIDC East or West, Southpointe, or any industrial park you have to give them decent transit service period. The RIDC Parks have decent bus service, but I'm talking about station stop on a separated grade system, whether that be BRT, LRT or even commuter rail.

In this sprawling environment, simple access is not enough, however. A patron getting off at a central transit stop in a sprawling industrial park could be potentially be faced with a mile+ walk with no sidewalks to their place of employment.

The answer to me is pretty simple; a mini circulator. A small bus that runs on a schedule that is closely tied to the schedule of the connecting transit (BRT, LRT etc.). This circulator should provide at least street corner service, if not front door service (This ability would obviously be impacted on the size of the industrial park). Schedule integration is the key. If someone can get right on a bus from their connecting form of transit, and be able to do so under protection from the elements, they would be much more likely to utilize the transit service as opposed to waiting 5 to 10 minutes for a bus to make a connection, potentially exposed to the elements.

The Harder Question

The biggest sticking point, as usual is the cost. Will this be financially feasible? In my mind a circulator would be a relatively inexpensive investment with relatively low operating costs. The big issue from a cost standpoint is getting the connecting form of transportation (BRT, LRT etc.) to the industrial parks. Most of these parks are missing connections to begin with. That is step 1 to integration, and must occur for these mini circulators to make any sort of sense.

If they (the politicians and public) can be convinced to give industrial parks adequate access to public transit, getting the circulators, by comparison will be easy.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Reconciling Sprawl and Transit

The United States has seen a resurgence of interest in transit and transportation modes other than private automobiles. While vehicle mileage is still incredibly high, the amount of miles driven has dropped over the last two years after reaching an all time high in 2007. Additionally, more people rode public transit in 2008 than in any of the previous 49 years. Poor economic times, fluctuating gas prices, and continuing negative news about the state of the environment have helped sustain that interest.

Many Americans are beginning to re-think our strategy on transportation and infrastructure. If this trend is to continue it will mean a massive upgrade and expansion of our non-automobile transportation system. While this is clearly positive, in my mind, there is a large amount of sprawling suburban style development which is still in place. Even though this type of development is shrinking, it is doubtful that suburbia is going to disappear anytime soon. This is especially true in the Pittsburgh area. Suburbs such as Cranberry Township (whose population has increased from just under 15,000 in 1990 to approx. 27,000 today) are continuing to expand, despite the economic times and a renewed interest in smart growth.

Sprawling suburban development does not just encompass the cul-de-sac development, there are suburban style strip malls that serve commercial needs and huge sprawling industrial parks with large green lawns, ponds and parking lots larger than the buildings they serve.

These types of developments lend themselves well to automobile transportation but because of the wide distances, large spacing, and long winding access roads they do not lend themselves well to transit integration. A central transit hub or station located in the physical center of any type of suburban development will not usually be sufficient to provide that development, or that mall, or that industrial park with transit service. Spreading the development out makes walking distances longer and even when distances are acceptable, the facilities (i.e. sidewalks) do not often exist to allow people to move between a home/office/store and a central transit hub or station.

I could talk about integrating varying types of suburban development with transit, but for this post I will focus on industrial development. This is partially because of my experience living in the city and commuting to the suburbs and because I think opening up suburban industrial parks to effective transit operations has a good chance for success if done right.

There are many industrial parks in the Pittsburgh area that fit this bill; RIDC Park(s) in Blawnox, and Robinson, Southpointe in Canonsburg, and Westmoreland Business and Research Park, just to name a few.

These existing developments bring up some interesting issues/questions. Are parks like these, "the wave of the past"? Is it worth integrating parks like these? Without "starting over from scratch", how do you integrate these types of parks with expanded transit systems? Is it possible, i.e. financially feasible?

These are all questions I intend to answer (or at least give my opinion on) but this post is growing by the second, so I will leave those opinions for a follow on post.

On Gas, Commuting , and Pure Truth

I don't plan on posting anything too earth shattering today, but there seems to be several articles/posts that are all intertwined and I think worth drawing attention to.

Apparently, a group of businessmen have gone to Washington D.C. (Mr. Smith style) to lobby for an increase in the gas tax, so we can get back to repairing our infrastructure and (most importantly) get back to building new highways to meet our "21st Century" transportation needs. While I agree cheap gas is bad, I do not think that raising gas prices to further our wasteful infrastructure habits is good. Perhaps it's even worse than cheap gas.

Trains For America talks about what if gas was $20 dollars a gallon, and how that would be bad. I think the price of gas does need to be higher, or people will not seek alternative means of transportation, however, a commenter brings up a good counter-point that along with those prices will come increases in raw material/construction costs which may make large capital projects (like HSR) cost prohibitive. I guess my short answer would be to find a price that makes people want to seek alternate forms of transportation but not so high that it would affect transit projects negatively.

Finally, I read a post over at The Radical Middle was truly a treat to read. Sometimes someone makes a point so clearly, and so succinctly, that you are both impressed and envious. Impressed at the clarity and simplicity, and envious that you would be challenged to write the same thing in a manner approaching its common sense and brevity. Enough schmoozing, here's the link. I'd try and recap and analyze what is written, but I wouldn't do it justice.

Monday, July 13, 2009


I have had some questions about and concerns about where the State of Pennsylvania stood on HSR. Now, I'm pretty sure that I have my answer, and I don't like it.

The Transport Politic did a post about the initial requests for HSR funding that were to be submitted last Friday. He broke it down into two lists, confirmed requests, and probable. While states like Arkansas (progressive state that they are*) and California have already submitted applications, and states like Alabama/Mississippi (again very progressive states**) are likely candidates to submit for funding, Pennsylvania is notably absent from that list.

While Transport Politic's post is not the final absolute list, the lack of any information coming from any source (be it news or government) in Pennsylvania pretty much sums up our status. I think the silence is more frustrating than being told flat out that Pittsburgh to Harrisburg HSR is not even a concern for ______ reason (budget issues, don't care, etc).

I would also be a little less upset about this if there were some alternate plan or "consolation prize" such as a few more trains between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh and or Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

It's not over, and there are more rounds of funds scheduled to be made available later. However, future funding from the Federal Government is never a sure thing.

At this point, it's hard to even say if there are any plans by Pennsylvania to apply for funding now or in the future.

*Sorry Arkansas, but you are kind of trashy
**Sorry Alabama and Mississippi, but you are kind of trashy too

Friday, July 10, 2009

So Long Steel City Flyer

In bad transit news, the Steel City Flyer, a relatively new, and high end bus service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg is going kaput.

Apparently, American selfishness still outweighs all other concerns:

"Workers don't do math the same way as their employers, he (Henry Posner) explained. Someone sent to work in Harrisburg could be reimbursed by their employers for up to 55 cents a mile for driving their own cars. They perceived they'd be giving up money (more than $200 for a round trip), though they'd save their employers money by riding the bus at $138.00. That was a subtlety he
hadn't considered when the Flyer began its runs, Mr. Posner said."

This illustrates pretty well where people's priorities are. We (Americans) care about transit and reducing our car dependence only when we stand to lose money by driving. So many times people who do not use transit use arguments such as transit/transportation is not "convenient" for them, or it is not timely enough (i.e. it takes alot longer to get somewhere riding a train, bus etc. than it does to ride in their own car). Here you have (had) a service that was competitive, was timely, and allowed people to commute, work, and return home in the same day. It still was not enough of a draw to stay afloat.

This brings up some important questions:

#1. Is there really that large of a market for air/train/bus service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg?
#2. Was U.S. Airway's commuter air service that successful? (What was the "ridership" on the daily flights? Did they merely maintain the service because Pittsburgh was in fact a hub?)
#3. How high would gas prices have to be for people to really consider ditching their cars in large numbers when traveling between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg? (The same question could be asked about Cleveland, or Columbus)
#4. Is this failure an indictment of non-automobile transportation between regional destinations?
#5. Were there mitigating factors to this failure that make you think there is a viable transportation solution?
#6. Do you agree that alot (not all) of Americans are utterly selfish?

I'm not going to answer these questions. I want to know what you think.

Talk amongst yourselves

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

DMU Update 2

I found out recently (by way of the Commuter Rail Report) that the United States may be back in the domestic DMU business. A company calling themselves U.S. Railcar has indeed bought the design and is moving production assets to a facility near Columbus, Ohio.

They are planning on re-commencing production sometime later this year. Additionally they are planning platform enhancements, the largest of which would be a new top speed of 125mph. (Pretty smart if you ask me, that gets them at least a mention for our new "HSR" network.) No word if there are any active or anticipated projects currently in the works.

Pittsburgh's Perspective
Hopefully this will change the finding of the report that DMU's would be considered for the AVR segment only. The whole point of this DMU design is to meet CFR 49 regulations for crash worthiness. The whole point of meeting this regulation is so that a DMU can operate co mingled on the same track at the same time as freight trains. This makes them a great idea for integrating with the heavy NS freight traffic on the Pittsburgh Line.

In fact, if there were some logical reason for the researchers suggestion of only pursuing DMU's on one segment of the system, it would make more sense for them to do it on the Greensburg Line. DMU's are smaller (capacity wise), and less expensive than traditional trainsets. The Greensburg Line has a lower forecasted ridership and according to the report would use shorter trainsets (of a single car and an engine). Why not get the most for your money? The DMU would maximize the amount of space used for a lower price than a trainset.

If trainsets are preferred for any operation, it would be for the Arnold/New Ken line as that has a higher forecasted ridership and a larger capacity trainset may make more sense (although I think you could argue that DMU's would more than suffice in that situation as well)

Time will tell, perhaps study #371 will reverse some of these interim findings.

Monday, July 6, 2009

El Circulatore Spectaculare

Here is the link to my humble submition for the Great Bus-Off of 2009. May the best circulator win!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Commuter Rail Report by the Numbers

I just got finished with the 258 page "interim" report on potential Commuter Rail between Pittsburgh and Arnold and Pittsburgh and Latrobe. Here's a list of the big numbers:

Ridership (2012)

Arnold to Pittsburgh

Alternative 1: 2,337 per day (S. Verona Stop, Penn Station via Brilliant Branch)
Alternative 2: 1,037 per day (S. Verona Stop, Strip District)
Alternative 3: 2,689 per day (Nadine Rd, Penn Station via Brilliant Branch)
Alternative 4: 1,343 per day (Nadine Rd, Strip District)

Latrobe to Pittsburgh

Alternative 1: 1,367 per day (Trafford Stop, no Irwin Stop)
Alternative 2: 1,252 per day (Irwin Stop, no Trafford Stop)
Alternative 3: 1,495 per day (Both stops)

Recommended Stations and cost per station:

Arnold to Pittsburgh

Arnold (Station and Yard): $12,819,000
New Kensington: $2,807,000
Oakmont/Verona (located in Verona): $4,437,000
Nadine Road/Allegheny River BLVD: $5,147,000
Shadyside (incl. in NS Line)
Penn Station(incl. in NS Line)

Latrobe to Pittsburgh

Latrobe: $3,269,000
Greensburg: $760,000
Jeanette: $4,941,000
Irwin: $3,973,000
Trafford: $4,595,000
Shadyside: $3,114,000
Penn Station: $3,437,000

Total Station Costs: $49,299,000

Capital Costs

Rolling Stock

Arnold to Pittsburgh Line:
Locomotives: 5 (4 and 1 "spare") x $3,550,000 = $17,750,000
Bi-Level Coaches: 5 x $1,700,000 = $8,500,000
Cab Control Cars: 5 (4 and 1 "spare") x $2,300,000 = $11,500,000

Spare Parts: $1,510,000

Total: $39,260,000

Latrobe to Pittsburgh Line:
Locomotives: 5 (4 and 1 "spare") x $3,550,000 = $17,750,000
Bi-Level Coaches: 1 x $1,700,000 = $1,700,000
Cab Control Cars: 5 (4 and 1 "spare") = $11,500,000

Spare Parts: $1,238,000

Total: $32,188,000

Total Rolling Stock Costs: $71,448,000 (2009 prices)

Track Improvement:

Arnold to Pittsburgh: $56,140,000
Latrobe to Pittsburgh: $7,246,000
Total: $63,386,000

Derry Maint. Facility: $13,347,000
Misc. NS improvements: $5,720,000

Total Capital Costs: $203,100,000*

*the report cites a total of $208,652,000, but that assumes 2011 pricing for rolling stock

Cost Per Passenger: $21.82
Annual Cost: $22,479,400

Important Dates:

Completion: 2012
Next Step: ???????

General Notes:

-I am concerned about the lack of an Oakmont proper station, they cite the lack of parking but at the same time draw attention to the fact that it's a great "walkable" station, and dedicate about 50 pages to developing TOD. You have a ready made TOD site in Oakmont and they are going to bypass it so they can have a 500 car lot in Verona...

-Another example of this occurs in Trafford/Pitcairn, the proposed stop is right behind a strip mall with no walkable development nearby. Less than a mile up the tracks is Pitcairn which has a main street that is a stone's throw away from the tracks (via a bridge over Turtle Creek). See above for why this angers me.

-DMU's were mentioned briefly. They were not mentioned as a rolling stock alternative for the NS line (why not???? It's designed to meet FRA standards for crash worthiness, thus allowing it to share rails with freight trains)

-Apparently a company from Columbus has bought the drawings and rights to the Colorado Railcar DMU concept. Should this come to fruition, DMU's should be the FIRST place they look for rolling stock (alot less $$$$$)

-It's mentioned that NS has not been consulted on any of this yet. This could be a major sticking point and great lengths will have to be made to keep them happy.

-No definite answers on funding, or timelines for a next step. This was just an interim study and there's more on the way. A 2012 timeline is very ambitious and if they have any intentions of meeting it, the next step must come very soon.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

LRT System Redux

In an effort to make my proposed LRT idea better (and to brush up on my skizzills for the Great Circulator Battle of 2009) I've updated my previous post from November. Check it aaaht.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Final Report Available

The WCTA has made the full commuter rail report available on their website. Check it out here. I haven't had the chance to read it, but I'm a dork and therefore am looking forward to reading it myself.

Also, I wanted to draw attention to the fact that the Westmoreland County Transit Authority is about a thousand times easier to deal with than the Port Authority. They kept me updated on the status of the report and unlike Port Authority employees are much more user friendly, and much less rude.

For background up to this point click here.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Quick Hits

I'm really not feeling all that ambitious today so here's some good stuff from over the weekend that is worth reading without my "expert analysis".

Politics and Place had a great response to the article in Sunday's Post Gazette. Paz highlights why although Concept 3 for the TDP is a great idea, it's not a great idea for Pittsburgh. Go Concept 2!!!!!!

Cap'n Transit has a post here that fits in well with the hot button issue of labor costs. Brings up some good points, but I think the Cap'n may be a little too liberal with the phrase "living wage".

A hilarious (and brilliant*) non-transit post here and here from the Angry Drunk Bureaucrat.

*To the numerous Federal Intelligence Agencies that no doubt read my blog daily, I just think it's funny, nothing more.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Fares, They Keep A'risin!

Another round of fare increases will be set for January 1, 2010. Fare increases seem like a common occurrence in Allegheny County, and the fact that there is another one was not all that surprising to me. I actually remained calm for the first few lines of the article.

Then I saw why the budget had increased significantly enough to warrant a fare hike despite the fact that the TDP is expected to be implemented (beginning in late 2009) to increase efficiency, and service while reducing waste.

It turns out that health costs are going up again and the PAAC will need $4 million to make up for the shortfall. Concessions were made by the ATU 85 during the last contract negotiations, and it was enough to stave off disaster but not enough to avert a fare increase. I can't help but be frustrated by this. I don't want to go on an anti-Union rant, as they negotiated to get what the got. Some of the blame lies on the shoulders of the Port Authority reps who, for years agreed to terms that helped to bring Pittsburgh some of the highest labor costs in the country among transit authorities.

Good stewardship not only means running with some degree of efficiency so as to not waste money; it also means having the foresight and planning ability to negotiate contracts that will not be destructive to your budget and ability to provide a public service.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

LRT Plan

I found a cool link to another proposed LRT system by way of some comments over at Null Space. Check it out here.

It looks pretty comprehensive and pretty aggressive utilizing at least some, if not all new rights of way which would require the land to be acquired, graded and tracks laid. Additionally, it's not stated by the map's creator, but I am assuming some of the tracks would be underground (i.e. through the South Side and through the Hill District, Oakland, and Squirrel Hill).

It's expensive and unlikely, but boy would I love to have an LRT system like that!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Our Neighbor to the Nor...err I mean West

Usually, most of the energy we Western Pennsylvanians focus on Ohio has to do with their terrible NFL football teams. When it comes to planning a new HSR SYSTEM, however, they are light years ahead of us. I talked a little bit yesterday about where various other HSR corridors stand, and because Ohio is our neighbor to the west, I wanted to focus a little more exclusively on them.

You could argue that Pennsylvania already has HSR (or at least a version of it) both on the NEC (Northeast Corridor) and the Keystone Corridor from Philadelphia to Harrisburg. However, we as a state seem to be pretty satisfied with that and have therefore become complacent (insert your favorite Harrisburg loves Philadelphia, hates Pittsburgh comment here).

They have become so complacent tht when I searched PENNDOT's website for "High Speed Rail" I got this message in reply. When I search for Ohio HSR, I found several websites, including All Aboard Ohio, which is a non-profit rail advocacy group which is very involved in making HSR a reality. Additionally, unlike PENNDOT, ODOT has an entire website devoted to their plan. Here's a summary of their accomplishments found on the "Ohio Hub" website*.

-Funding Requests have been completed and submitted for all four phases of the project
-A full report has been completed and includes:
  • Feasibility estimates
  • Capital and Engineering Costs
  • Operating strategies and operation costs
  • Ridership forecasts
  • Fleet Requirements
  • A number of appendices that tackle many of the practical issues including freight integration, funding and scheduling

Here's a quick summary of what Pennsylvania has done to secure funding to extend the Keystone Corridor to Pittsburgh:
  • Jason Altmire has said we need to begin work to secure funding to extend the Keystone Corridor or connect Pittsburgh to Cleveland
  • That's all
We may be better at football, but I sure am envious of what Ohio has done to position themselves towards the head of the line for HSR funding.

Pennsylvania is either happy with what it's got already or is completely distracted by the budget fight going on in Harrisburg. Ohio seems to want to include Pittsburgh in its plans but we have to assume that the State of Pennsylvania will have to involve themselves in some way shape or form. We, as a state can't sit here and think that Ohio is going to take care of everything for us. The Pittsburgh to Cleveland connection is phase 4 of the 4 in the project. I couldn't even estimate how long Phase 1 will take, let alone phase 4.

The last thing Pittsburgh needs is to be an isolated backwater to a budding HSR network.

*You could spend hours on this website, it has maps of the four phases, an archive of project related documents and reports, along with news concerning the project, and other info about HSR

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Standing on the Platform Watching the High Speed Train go by

The Pittsburgh blog scene has been on fire with posts concerning the flurry of train related news that has popped up in Pittsburgh's media. It's exciting to see all this sudden attention focused both on local commuter rail and on Pittsburgh's piece in the HSR puzzle.

Much has been said about where to go first, Cleveland, Harrisburg, or Washington D.C.? They each bring up good points. (For my two cents, Cleveland would be the easiest first step, and since we're already behind the 8 ball, we should be looking for easy right now).

Where we should go first is not the point of this post however. The purpose of this post is draw attention to the fact that we are, indeed, behind the 8 ball when it comes to HSR. Here's a brief synopsis of where some other programs stand in comparison to the extended "Keystone Corridor"

-California: In addition to having a pretty sweet website, California is first in line for $$$ so says Joe Biden. This surely has to do with the bond issue for $10 billion with a B that was approved last year.

-Florida: The sunshine state has developed a comprehensive rail plan which you can see here. Additionally, they are well ahead of the curve for the myriad of studies that must be undertaken. Several studies including a ridership and cost study were undertaken in 2003 and would just need to be updated. Their application to receive federal funding is also nearly complete.

-Ohio: Ohio has already dedicated $7 million to study HSR. Additionally, they have banded together with 8 other Midwestern states that would have Chicago as a hub in the hopes to increase their chances of securing funding. Multi-state cooperation is said to increase the likelihood of funding.

This is not an all inclusive list, but from this brief list it's easy to see who the front runners are for the money. It doesn't help that apparently the state of Pennsylvania has done....absolutely nothing. Until Mr. Altmire's speech about extending the Keystone Corridor or connecting to Cleveland, no one was so much as speaking about HSR involving Pittsburgh. With an application deadline of August 24th, we are fast running out of time to take advantage of this round of funding. Another $50 billion is slated for further down the road, but the winds of politics could change by the time that money is to be appropriated.

A failure to capitalize on this opportunity would be a failure by the leaders of our region and state. While our local leaders should do all they can to promote and build our transit infrastructure, it is our State and Federal representatives who need to push this forward. So far Jason Altmire is the only one who truly seems committed to making this happen (all while pushing commuter rail in parallel).

Pittsburgh has failed so many other times when we had a chance to better our transportation assets. This time the responsibility does not fall squarely on Pittsburgh's shoulders. It falls on the State and Federal representatives . We do not need to be standing on the platform as Obama's HSR Express flies through without stopping


In a town where transit related articles aren't always easy to come by, I got probably a little more excited than I should have to see three separate articles about commuter/HSR relating to Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. I'll write more (especially about the HSR entries) in a later post, but just to get them all out there, here they are in no particular order:

Commuter Rail: In an apparent reversal from a previous article in the Post Gazette, the Greensburg line is apparently not dead. Additionally, the costs estimates came back less than expected(sweet). I'm still not sure how many more studies must be taken but at $208 million, these lines look like a steal (Thank you existing infrastructure). Also, for anyone interested, public comment will be held June 29th in Greensburg, and June 30th in New Ken. Hours for both are 6-9 PM.

The Pittsburgh to Cleveland Connection: It's been stated by other bloggers that it would make better sense for Pittsburgh to connect to Cleveland (and Chicago) before it connects across the state to Philadelphia and Harrisburg. I for one, agree, and apparently so does Jason Altmire. In a meeting yesterday he said that a link between Pittsburgh and Cleveland is a "missing link" to Obama's proposed HSR system. Apparently, a connection between the two cities would be eligible for funding... however, before they can think about any corridor, they must begin to work on it. Leading us to our third trainapalooza article...

A slow start to HSR: California and several other corridors have a jump start on us for HSR funding. Although Philly to Pittsburgh has been designated an HSR corridor, that's about the only thing that has happened. Jason Altmire wants to take steps forward to begin working towards HSR corridors to and through Pittsburgh, although no concrete steps have been outlined.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Potential Side Effects

I wrote a post a while back trying to give some support to BRT as a form of mass transit. Overhead wire recently posted a piece about former HOV bus lanes being turned into toll lanes for cars and it got my mind spinning.

I'd classify myself as pro BRT and pro LRT, I think each has its place in transit and neither one should be totally discounted. However, his post, in my mind, uncovers a potential flaw with BRT that is worth noting. It's disconcerting enough that these once dedicated bus rights-of-way were transformed into further personal automobile capacity.

What is even more disconcerting is how easy it could be done, and their in lies the flaw. It's a heck of a lot easier to convert a busway or dedicated bus lane to a toll lane than it is a LRT right of way. How likely or unlikely that a conversion would occur can be debated, but from a sheer cost standpoint, it's more likely to happen with a BRT right of way vs. an LRT right of way. Additionally, while conversion is a strategic mistake, I could see people who choose cars for transportation lining up to utilize a converted busway.

I think we're safe here in Pittsburgh, the amount of ridership (especially on the East Busway) ensures our busway system's continued existence, but the potential for conversion is definitely a point that should be discussed when it comes down to the question of "BRT or LRT".

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Voice your opinion about Transit Cards!!!!!!!!!!

I've just woken up from my Stanley Cup celebration induced coma to make a quick post about transit cards for Western Pennsylvania (notice I don't just say PAAC). I got a head's up from Schloss in the Burgh's post about a current survey of transit users.

To paraphrase my favorite website...DO IT!

A couple exciting potential aspects:
-A single card for some or all regional transit agencies (i.e. PAAC, WCTA, BCTA etc.)
-Multiple purchase or re-charge options (on-line, at or near your transit stop)
-Make Transfers easier!!!!!!!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Trip to Fantasy Land - of transit that is...

This post is related to some thoughts that have been swimming around in my head that will hopefully move through my fingers to the computer for an upcoming post. I've been thinking a lot about reconciling the existing sprawl with better transit and how (or if) it could be done without creating a spaghetti bowl of a transit system.

I was thinking about a trip to Germany I had during high school as an exchange student. I was 16 and transit issues weren't all that important to me, so I don't have a lot to go on other than memory. One thing I do remember, however is not riding a big yellow school bus to school. I remember taking a bus/train to school, and a bus/train home from school. I wasn't exactly in a bustling metropolis either. I lived in a small village, and attended school in a nearby town of about 18,000 people named Bad Durkheim.

I remember being impressed, even at that age how easy the "commute" was and how amazingly efficient their operations were. We would pick up a bus in Niederkirchen and would take it to the train station in another village named Deidesheim. Once there, we would get off the bus, and literally, by the time we were able to walk to the platform, the train was pulling in. We would then take the train into Bad Durkheim, walk a few blocks and be at the school.

The ride home was similar, especially in its efficiency. We would leave the school, walk a few blocks to the station where the train was already waiting for us. After a few minutes, the train left, and we would take it back to Deidesheim, where as we would pull into the station, a bus would be pulling in to meet us.

What's the point of this little anecdotal trip down memory lane? This was not a heavily urbanized area, in fact, it was downright rural. Niederkirchen had no four lane roads, the train traveled on a single track line, and Bad Durkheim was the terminus of two seperate branch lines, that's all. Yet, the transit operations were so efficient that they acted as the school bus for an entire high school (sorry, it's been a few years and I forgot just about all my German, especially the equivalent of high school). I was amazed, day in and day out, how when we would pull into a station, a connecting form of transit was there to meet us.

I will grant you that America, and specifically Western Pennsylvania has much more sprawl and our ability to "cut and paste" a similar system to serve our sprawling suburbs and exurbs would probably not work. However, if nothing else we could use this model. Incorporate T.O.D. as a core along existing transit corridors to create more transit friendly and somewhat more densely packed suburbs instead of sprawling monsters that consume all our resources.

I better watch out, I may be branded as a "socialist" for wanting an effective, European style transit system.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Put your 2 cents in!

CHECK IT OUT! Give your input for the TDP (Transit Development Plan). A session will be held from 8 AM to 8 PM tomorrow at the Omni William Penn Dahntahn. An additional session will be held on June 8th at the Alumni Hall on Pitt's campus from 2-5 PM and 5:30 to 7:30 PM.

What's that? You forgot what the TDP is? Here's a few links to refresh your memory:

TDP Website

My post on the plan

Hint hint.....I like Concept two

Monday, June 1, 2009

Too late to help 28?

As time slooooowly passes between the myriad of studies and actual construction on a commuter rail line between New Kensington and Pittsburgh, I am constantly reminded why I think this commuter line is a good idea. I am also constantly frustrated by the fact that if it weren't for the 42,352 studies that were required, maybe this rail line could already be doing some good.

A major justification for this commuter service is the fact that the line parallels route28, 28 is busy, and 28 is undergoing some major construction (translation, Route 28 is a pain in the arse). Apparently, now 28 outbound will be closed through October. However, if the service doesn't begin operation until AFTER construction is completed on 28, then that reason loses a lot of its luster. I know this latest round of construction is not the last for 28, but the overall improvement project is supposed to continue through 2010. Even if the 28 project is delayed (as it most likely will be), there is yet to be any kind of target date for the commuter operation to start.

I know a major transportation project like a commuter line can't be made to "turn on a dime". The time from inception to operation is long. However, in the case of this project, and many others in Pittsburgh, that time becomes even more drawn out. The first study for this project was completed 9 years ago in 2000. Here we are in 2009 and the same study has just been completed...again. It's not like they had to acquire right of way begin new construction of a rail line. That's nine years that the same right of way has sat there seeing under 10 trains a week.

I do realize a couple of important caveats:
#1. I'm sure the information from a 9 year old study could be seen as out of date, especially by opponents of the proposed project.
#2. 2000 was not the transit friendly environment that 2009 is. In 2000 gas was cheap, the economy was doing well, and global warming was nothing more than an outdated buzzword from the 90's.

This project isn't the only one in Pittsburgh to languish for years. The first one that comes to mind is the Spine Line. The first study took place in 1993. It's now 2009 and we have a tiny little piece of what was supposed to be and the price just keeps climbing on finishing it off. Let's say, for sake of argument, that an LRT Spine Line to Oakland is finished in 6 years (very optimistic, I know). That would put it at 2016. Think about that, 23 years to get at most 5 miles of new track.

I'm certainly not trying to say that if the rail line doesn't commence operations before this 28 project is complete then the line will be a waste. However, I see the operation losing out on some major opportunities, like being able to gain more riders early on and helping to reduce construction delays along 28. The way transit projects in Pittsburgh seem to run, I will be happy to have anything at all!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Gas Creep

Don't pull your F650 out of storage just yet! An article from the most reputable new source in the world talks about how, despite the bad economy gas prices have had a solid recovery (for OPEC that is). Additionally, the future is looking bright as well (for OPEC). The USEIA(United States Energy Information Administration) has reported that it expects the prices to continue to increase as the economy gets back on its feet. The price per barrel is expected to reach $130 by 2030.

This is good for transit, bad for suburbia. I was worried that all the new hubbub about transit which took place around this time last year might be a shorter fad than slap bracelets or Zubaz (unless you live in Pittsburgh). Now however, it seems that my fears were nothing more than that.

After all the optimism in the U.S. when everyone was paying $2.00 a gallon and damn happy about it, it now seems that the recent spike in gas prices will continue for the foreseeable future. I don't need to sit here and tell you why getting your climate wrecking sprawl creating fossil fuel from an international cartel is bad.

Instead I will celebrate! Hopefully, this means that interest in transit will not wain. I say the sky's the limit, I can't wait for the day when we pay $5.00 a gallon! That would be the day when we would really see an honest effort put forth by the government and private industry to beef up our transit infrastructure and increase access to transit.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Raise the Roof Pittsburgh!

I realize this is totally non-transit, but I am happy any time Pittsburgh gets good PR. I'm pretty sure that I couldn't ask for a lot more than this (other than a Stanley Cup).

The G20 conference will be held in Pittsburgh on September 24-25. This will be a great opportunity to showcase our awesome city and our significant efforts to become a leader in green (They better get moving on those LED streetlights!)

I'm not entirely convinced that our "success" as of late has been somewhat overstated because of the good PR we've received, but hey, who am I to turn it down? The short term benefits to our economy and the long term benefits to our reputation could be great (as long as the city doesn't collapse into a fiery heap because of angry protesters....that would suck)

DMU Update

This post appeals to the technical geek within the history major that is me. As part of my in depth and hard hitting series "My Idea for Heavy Rail in the East End Part 7" I wrote about potential rail vehicles for this new commuter service. One big issue was the fact that Colorado Railcar had gone out of business. They were, up until their demise, the only manufacturer in the world who produced an FRA crash worthiness compliant DMU.

I wanted to follow up to see if their have been any developments because this could have a significant impact on an commuter operation from New Ken to Pittsburgh. By this I mean, if no compliant DMU could be found, whoever would operate the service (WCTA or PAAC) would have to consider either:

#1: Buying new full trainsets consisting of a diesel and passenger cars. (This is bad because it costs alot of $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$)

#2: Scrounging up used trainsets or RDC cars ( This could be expensive in itself and the equipment would require at least an overhaul, if not a full re-build. Using old equipment could also lead to increased maintenance costs and decreased publich perception of any service).

This update comes via a post from Seattle Transit Blog from last month. In an article about the last Colorado DMU which was shipped to Alaska Railroad, they mentioned a company called "Value Recovery Group" which is supposedly interested in purchasing the remaining assets of the company and resuming operations. I sent the company a message via their website asking if the information on Seattle Transit Blog is correct or not. No answer yet, but I just posed the question.

Again, their are international players as well, but it's hard to find any real information on whether their current product lines could be made FRA compliant or not. Again, I think it would be great for potential operations around the U.S. and especially Pittsburgh if the proven designs built by Colorado Railcar could be resurrected and produced again. I will certainly post again on this subject as more information becomes available.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Am I a hypocrite?

I got a comment a few days ago (I think, I put away the blog for the weekend) basically asking me why I don't practice what I preach. In other words, I blog about sustainable communities, when I don't really live in a sustainable community.

It's a fair question, and is certainly worth a response on my part. I guess the short answer is I do live in a sustainable community. I can hit the busway with a stone from the back of my house, can get a bus to just about anywhere I need to within the city and can walk to basically everything I need (food, booze etc.) The problem is I don't WORK in a sustainable community.

I've thought a lot about my current situation and figured out that there are really four options. I tried to pick the option that is best for myself and my family while taking livability issues into account:

1. Find a better job (by that I mean, one in Pittsburgh that I could commute to via public transit). I'm constantly in the search for a better job, but the economy is not the best, and unemployment has finally begun to catch up with Pittsburgh. At this point I am glad to have a job.

2. Seek a job in a different city that would satisfy the requirements that I consider ideal(walkability, and easy access to public transit). I could probably find a job elsewhere in the country, but the fact is I am committed to living in Pittsburgh. It's important to me, and to my family that we stay here.

3. I could move closer to my job. I could cut down on my commute and save on gas, drive less and do less damage to the environment. However, I'd be moving to suburbia, and my reduced driving to work would be offset by the fact that I would have to drive to do everything else. I believe if I did this, it would make me more hypocritical than I may already be.

4. I could live in the city, but commute to work. This option represents my current arrangement, and I like to think of it as making the best of my current situation. Right now, I have to drive a lot to my place of employment, but I've tried to minimize the damage I am doing, both to myself and my environment. I drive a small car that gets 35-40 MPG (which will be replaced by a hybrid as soon as the budget allows), and I still live in the city. This means that for social events, shopping or most anything else, I can still walk or utilize public transit. This option is not perfect but allows me to stay in Pittsburgh while still having some benefits (the transit and walkability) that would not be available in a different option.

Am I a transit role model, of course not, but I think the important thing is that I try to take livability issues into account in the decisions I make. I think that is the key for us as a nation moving forward. Does everyone need to be religiously committed to moving into a T.O.D. condo or apartment complex? Of course not, but we need to start realizing that much of our suburban living is unsustainable, and for us to factor sustainability into our thought process in some manner.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Flair for the Obvious

In completely unsurprising, yet sadly true news, our Infrastructure is obsolete and it's broken. A group of state level heavy hitters from across the country, including the Governator himself, have also put together a report on how to overhaul our transportation system and our infrastructure.

To anyone who has an interest in transportation related issues this counld be the unshockingist news of the century. It is however right on the mark. Our transportation infrastructure is overburdened and outdated. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, it will cost an estimated 2.2 trillion dollars to fix our transportation infrastructure. Additionally, the bipartisan coalition (with the Governator's help) issued a report on our transportation system which outlined the following changes that they feel must be made:

-Change the political approval process (less earmarks for transportation projects, more transparency)
-Emphasize Livable, Sustainable communities (YES!)
-Expand of public transit and passenger rail (YES!)
-Fix what we've got right now
-Tolls with variable pricing based on time of day
-Public/Private partnerships for transportation projects
-Create a stable revenue stream for transportation (Do something about the Federal Gasoline Tax and Highway Trust Fund)

I agree with all of these ideas and agree that these are all legitimate concerns. In my mind, the first concerns are fixing the infrastructure we've got now and making transportation funding solvent(that includes fiscal responsibility amongst transit agencies. No more$60,000 per year bus drivers who pay 3% of their health care and can retire at 50*).

However, the greatest long term point of emphasis needs to be sustainable living! Incentives have to given to stop the sprawl happy, auto accessible only types of development that have been the hallmark of the last 50 years. I can speak, from my terrible daily drive, that this kind of construction is still taking place around Pittsburgh. Public Transportation and alternative methods of transportation (i.e. trains) will only have so much value when there is a massive amount of sprawl. This will be a huge challenge given that some cities haeve nearly their entire infrastructure based on suburban style single family homes and single use commercial and industrial development.

While depressing to view, the beginnings of suburban slums and suburban abandonment signal something good. They signal that we are moving in the right direction and SLOWLY beginning to re-concentrate our population in ways that are more sustainable and transit friendly.

*I'm not attempting to cite a specific statistic, merely illustrate through rough estimation how labor costs for transit agencies are exorbitant.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A quick political Detour

I know I said yesterday (and I still maintain) that this blog does not discuss politics except for where politics intersect with transit/transportation, however I have to continue on my detour because of my genuine concern for this amazing city.

I'm obviously not happy about the outcome of the primary yesterday, but there's not a whole lot I can say other than: I hope a worthy challenger presents themselves before November or I hope our incumbent mayor shows us much more than what he has up to this point. However, that is not the point of this post.

What concerns me in this instance is involvement. Everyone knows we love our sports teams here in Pittsburgh (myself included). Just how much we love sports hit me today while I was surfing Post, and found under their "most e-mailed stories" that the number one story was not related to the election. In fact, the #1 story had something to do with the fact that James Harrison is afraid to fly. That whole election thing didn't even make it into the most e-mailed stories for today, period.

Is Pittsburgh sports REALLY that important, or do Pittsburghers REALLY not care about politics? I'm afraid it's a little of both. I'd be frightened to know the results if a poll was taken to see how many voters were swayed in favor of Mr. Ravenstahl because of his January "name change".

Turnout was low throughout the county at roughly 21%, and the unofficial vote count for the mayoral primary in Pittsburgh was roughly 45,000 or 13% of 334,000 residents (using 2000 census statistics). I understand that Pennsylvania voting laws don't help the situation, but if a republican or independant could vote in a democratic primary, would the outcome have been all that different?

I am surprised and saddened that a citizenry that is so fiercely loyal to this city is so apathetic to influencing the mechanisms for change. What can be done to change that? Are people disillusioned, or do they just not care? I sincerely hope it's not the latter.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Most Monumental Endorsement in Pittsburgh Political History

This post will hopefully tip the scales in my mayoral candidate's favor, but time will only tell. I have political opinions but try (for the most part) to keep them out of this blog, except where they intersect with transit related issues. Today is big for Pittsburgh, especially because it is basically the general election. Whoever wins today will most likely be Pittsburgh's next mayor.

For what it's worth, I am putting my political might behind Patrick Dowd. He is the only candidate that seems to have a strategic vision for the city to move it forward and who is willing to fight to take down the road blocks that lie in his way (pay to play politics, pension/health care issues, lack of government transparency). Additionally, unlike the two other candidates he is the only candidate to mention transit as a part of his strategic vision.

Maybe it was the "Steelerstahl" incident, or the Toby Keith incident, but Luke Ravenstahl has been anything but a leader. His goal has been to tread water while taking credit for anything that has been accomplished during his tenure, whether he had anything to do with it or not. I don't see Pittsburgh reversing the tide of population and job loss with Mr. Ravenstahl at the helm given what we have seen so far, and given his "vision" for the future.

I was impressed by Carmen Robinson's candid nature, responsiveness, and willingness to engage a low life blogger in a sustained discussion about transit. However, I did not get the impression from her that she had a cohesive strategic vision for where the city needed to go. I think with time and some re-work to her message, she could be an excellent candidate. However, that time is not right now.

No one else seems to have the drive, and the fire to fix Pittsburgh like Patrick Dowd. When I look at the picture he paints of his Pittsburgh, it looks like a place where I want to live!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Transportation Center, No, a Bus Station, Yes

In the finest traditions of wordsmithing, the Recently re-built Greyhound Bus Station was re-christened as the "Grant Street Transportation Center".

Really???? Balderdash!!!! I think the Grant Street "We have a bunch of forms of transportation kinda close" Center would be more accurate. I'm not knocking the fact that they re-built the Greyhound station, it was old, dirty, and kind of smelled. But let's call it what it is, a bus station. This is Pittsburgh politics at its worst, we call something different than what it is, and then cite it as an example of how we're "moving in the right direction", when in reality little has changed aside from some hollow words.

It's just another opportunity lost, or is it? There are several forms of transportation in close proximity; you've got the bus station, Amtrak, The T, and the busway. In fact Amtrak was originally supposed to be included, but for some unknown reason, was not. In my mind, you've already spent $40 million to re-build the thing, why not spend the extra few million (a small amount in comparison to the overall cost) to bring those things together, and actually MAKE it a transportation center. You're a few enclosed walkways from that being the case.

First things first, un-abandon the Penn Park branch of the T. The Port Authority said it was too expensive to operate. I agree, only because the manner in which they operated it was foolish. Have certain trains from the Overbrook line and certain trains from the Beechview line run to Penn Park instead of Gateway Center. Bring back that easy transfer to the busway, Greyhound, Amtrak, or to a potential commuter line. Additionally connect the busway and T stop to the Transportation Center and Convention Center via an elevated walkway, which was supposed to be included in the NSC project but was not.

Step Two, connect the railroad to the Transportation center. Again, one covered walkway could bring passengers from the station platforms to the transportation center. Right now, the Amtrak station feels more like a remodeled basement than a gateway to a city. Imagine if Pittsburgh sees increased Amtrak service under Obama's plans for expanded passenger and HSR service. Which would you rather people to first see when they enter Pittsburgh? This, or This?

Additionally, if any form of commuter rail becomes reality, again this is a perfect opportunity to integrate it into a real bona fide transportation center. Current plans call for the operation to either terminate in the strip district or at Penn Station. Either way it could be made to work (if the Strip option was chosen, the tracks could run right up to the Convention Center and an elevated walkway could be used to connect the the platforms to the transportation center).

As it stands now, there is no reason for most people to enter this $40 million "transportation center" unless you're parking there or taking a Greyhound bus. Give people a reason. For once, make a whole hearted attempt at integrating transportation modes. Don't make this new building a bus station with a fancy name.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Saga Continues

Strike 1 against the Port Authority's attempts to get funding for the last $60 million or so shortfall to complete the NSC. Read about it here. I'm tired of beating this dead horse. Anyone who has any questions on where I stand with the NSC can read about it here, and here.

Suffice to say, the only thing worse than spending $500+ million to get 1.2 miles of additional track is spending $300 million and getting nothing.

I know this isn't the last of the options, there will be more funding opportunities to cover the shortfall, and according to the article, there is enough money to keep working for another year. Hopefully this project doesn't become the next Wabash Tunnel (I'm referring to the 1st failure, not the 2nd, or 3rd)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

BRT: Deserving of of its Poor Reputation?

The heat's really been turned up on MBTA's Silver Line BRT service. The Overhead Wire and Transport Politic each have stories about the planned addition to this "system". Without re-hashing the articles, there's a lot of angst among Bostonians and pro-transit people because $115 million dollars is being spent to connect the currently separated "branches" of the Silver Line.

At face value, the concept of connecting the various branches to make a more complete "system" makes sense. However, if you read the details of the proposal vs. the original plan, there is reason for many people to be unhappy. Additionally, many commenters brought up personal experiences with the shortcomings of the Silver Line, including slow speeds through tunnels, awkward transfers, and efficiency issues (i.e. switching from electric power to gas power in the underground segments of the BRT.)

Their views and frustrations are certainly valid, the Silver Line has been poorly planned, and poorly run. Check out this report by the Sierra Club on the Silver Line (It's biased, but does make good points).

All in all there's a lot of information being flung like mud back and forth over the Internet between Pro-BRT agencies like "The National BRT Institute", or "The Bus Rapid Transit Policy Center" and Pro-LRT agencies like "Light Rail" or "Light Rail Transit Association". Both sets of websites are very one sided, and very biased in their viewpoint about transportation. If a person were to have no knowledge of transit and different modes of transit, and they logged onto Light Rail, they would leave the website thinking LRT was the best form of transit EVER, and thinking that BRT was garbage. The same goes for pro BRT websites. If a person logged onto a Pro-BRT website, they would leave thinking BRT is amazing, and LRT is a waste of money.

I don't like one sided viewpoints, so I tried to sit down and figure out if BRT really is deserving of its status as the crappy version of LRT. There are some common threads in the arguments that fly back and forth between LRT and BRT folks, which will be discussed individually. These are; which is cheaper to build/maintain, which is more cost effective, and which has the propensity to attract more riders?

Which Mode is Cheaper to build/Maintain?

BRT: BRT advocate's main argument is that BRT provides the same levels of service as light rail, but at a substantially lower construction and maintenance cost. One BRT website reports that the average construction cost per mile for LRT is around $70 million, while BRT is a "mere" $25 million per mile. Additionally, they claim savings in maintenance and operations costs, citing that there is less infrastructure, and simplified vehicle maintenance due to the fact that where as LRT has overhead catenary, a signaling system and rails/ties, BRT has paved road and buses, that are essentially no different from other buses which operate on the street, thus simplifying maintenance facilities, and employees needed.

LRT: LRT' advocates counter that these claims are a mirage. That in fact, Busways can be just as expensive as LRT if not more. They cite Pittsburgh's own West Busway as their main example. Which, like every other Port Authority project since the beginning of time has come in late and over budget. The cost of the project was $320 million for 5 miles of Busway, or roughly $40 million per mile. LRT advocates also claim that any cost savings in construction and lower overhead for maintenance are outweighed by the fact that the guideway for a BRT system has a MUCH shorter lifespan, along with the shorter lifespan of the buses vs. LRV's.

My Take: Edge BRT. There's a couple facts that should be taken into account. The West Busway was insanely expensive, and its cost per mile is much higher than what BRT advocates state the average cost per mile should be. However, that cost of $40 million is less than the average LRT. (Look at the NSC, if you DON'T count the tunnels, the construction cost per mile is approx $166 million*)

Which mode is More Cost Effective?

BRT: Advocates claims that BRT is more cost effective because the overall construction and maintenance costs are lower, and you get all the benefits of LRT. They even claim some advantages that LRT can not share, such as the ability of certain bus routes to operate at grade for portions of their route, and on the guideway for parts of ther route (for example, the Allegheny Valley Flyer which travels to East Liberty at grade, and then bypasses the bulk of Pittsburgh traffic by traveling the last 5 or so miles into Downtown on the Busway.)

LRT: LRT advocates claim that these benefits are overstated, and that BRT cannot provide the levels of service that LRT can. A study conducted by the city of Hamilton, Ontario found that in every city surveyed but one, operations and maintenance costs per rider were LESS for LRT vs. BRT.

My Take: Rest of the world, Edge LRT (Pittsburgh, Edge BRT). Why is that you say? There is a big caveat to this study; wanna know the only city whose cost per rider was higher for LRT than BRT? That's right, Pittsburgh. Across the board in Pittsburgh it costs more per passenger to run the T than it does to operate and maintain all three busways. The Hamilton report surmises that has to do with Pittsburgh's relatively low population vs. some of the other cities studied, such as Portland, San Diego, and Denver.

Which has the Propensity to Attract More Riders?

BRT: This is the one point the BRT advocates will readily wave the white flag on. They have recognized that the public prefers rail, whether it be a heavy metro or LRT. There are numerous studies on both websites to back this statement up. Even the BRT websites have not tried to directly challenge the assertions that BRT is less attractive to riders than LRT. Instead, they have undertaken studies on how to make BRT more attractive to those who prefer rail. (In short, their proposed answer is, make it as much like rail as possible).

LRT: Who's to argue with logic like that? When the BRT folks are conceding that they are not as attractive to riders, there's not much more to say.

My Take: Rest of the World: Edge LRT. Pittsburgh: Push. Once again, Pittsburgh bucks the trend. Pittsburgh's busways carry on average 17,000 more people per day than the T.

In most cases is LRT superior to BRT, in my unqualified opinion, yes. However, I think there is a tendency to dismiss BRT and I believe that notion to be a little bit short sighted. Clearly in the case of Pittsburgh, the Busway system has been very successful when you compare it to the T. Busways carry more riders and do it for less money.

Is a BRT a sure fire option over LRT? Of course not, but LRT is not always guaranteed to be a better option than BRT. In a place like Boston, BRT doesn't necessarily make sense, especially given the existing infrastructure and dense population. However, in a smaller population city like Pittsburgh, it's clear that BRT can fill a vital role. It can provide high quality, and rapid service by taking buses of the street and putting them on their own separated grade guideway, and do it more effectively than LRT. The point is, maybe urban planners need to look at both options, and don't just look at the biased opinions of special interest groups who clearly have an agenda beyond providing efficient transit service.