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.