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!