Friday, July 16, 2010

The AVR Saga Continues

I couldn’t resist.  I had to write something after I saw the latest Article in the Trib about the AVR.*  As if that wasn’t enough, there was a follow up article in the City Paper. 

To sum it up: AVR wants to implement service from Arnold to  Steel City Plaza via their current right of way from Arnold to the Strip, breaking off (and I’m assuming) using street trackage on 26th St, crossing Liberty and using the East Busway to gain access to Steel Plaza.  They want to do this because: #1 They feel access to Steel Plaza will provide the greatest intermodality (can’t argue that, given the context) and #2 struggles with property owner below 21st ST (Buncher) continue, even though the STB ruled in favor of AVR owning the easement to their ROW in the lower Strip. 

A couple thoughts on the Trib article: 
I wonder if the Allegheny/Westmoreland County commuter proposal has really “lost steam” as the article suggests.  Granted, not much has been said about it lately, but throughout this planning process, there have been large gaps in time between updates. 

I also get the impression that really no one is on board with the AVR’s proposal, accept the AVR.  County and Port Authority officials seem to be awfully quiet about the whole thing. 

Then the City Paper article popped up.  This article brought up further issues, such as the proposed Buncher TOD development in the Strip.  Included in this was talk of an LRT line to Lawrenceville.  Additionally, the article questioned the validity and thoroughness of AVR’s study on connecting their transit line with Steel City Plaza.  There was no mention of the Allegheny/Westmoreland Commuter Rail proposal in this article. 

A couple thoughts on the CP article:  
Wow, the plot thickens.  I had seen articles about the proposed development in the Strip but had not heard talk about an LRT line to Lawrenceville.  I have to wonder where exactly that all came from (aside from Patrick Dowd’s mouth).  Considering PAT nixed the convention center spur, I don’t know how likely this line to Lawrenceville would be.  I’m certainly not opposed to the idea; however, I'm not holding my breath for them to build one.  Consider that the first Spine Line Study was completed in 1993.  Nearly twenty years later, we are close to having a tiny portion of what was supposed to be the Spine Line (The NSC).

My overall thoughts:  
There have been many developments in a short amount of time.  In addition, I’m not exactly sure what is really going on vs. what is conjecture.  Nothing is guaranteed at this point, not even AVR’s plan.  Dowd’s comments are right on about wanting to increase connectivity within the city, not just into and out of the city.  For my money, I’d rather see an extension to Oakland, transformation of the busway to LRT, or an LRT line to Lawrenceville through the strip before commuter rail. 

Additionally, I have to wonder where the commuter rail plan stands.  Again, if AVR forges ahead as is, they will be creating a single line transit system that will be limited in how it can tie in with other forms of transportation within the region.  You will never have a system of these lines in Pittsburgh where you can get from one point in the region to another (beyond Arnold to Pittsburgh).  A heavy type commuter rail would at least give the ability to operate inter-mixed with freight traffic, and would make the dream of having a system from one end of the county to the other at least a possibility.  As unlikely as that may seem, it is still MORE likely than a similar system using River Line style light rail. 

Having said that, any project that would decrease the number of vehicles on the road and the amount of time that people spend in cars would be welcome.  Commuter rail can spur TOD.  If someone moves to a walkable community near a train station from a suburban cul de sac because it provides access to the city that in itself is a victory.  Oakmont isn’t in the city, but it’s a perfect, ready made TOD community (with the exception of a super market, but I digress).  It would certainly not be a bad thing to expand a walkable community like Oakmont. 

Additionally, as a commenter In the City Paper article suggests, a golden opportunity to generate support for a commuting alternative is being missed here.  Route 28 sees 60,000 cars a day.  Route 28 is also undergoing major construction.  If even 10% of those people are convinced to try AVR’s transit line, that would be a great start to establishing a well patronized and effective commuter alternative.  If some sort of system were not started until, say 2014-2015 time frame, then people would be much less likely to ditch their cars.

As always, I guess the bottom line is:  The more we stand around and talk, the more things don’t change.

*As an aside, I like how the Trib gets their barbs in there specifically about the Port Authority and publicly funded transportation. 
Ardolino said the venture would not ask for funding from the cash-strapped transit agency.
"We're trying to keep Port Authority out of this equation," he said. "They have a role, but we'd rather not burden the authority any further."”

Then the subtle jab against publicly funded transportation at the end:
 "I'd be all for it if it would be mostly self-supporting,"
 Of all the quotes during interviews, I find it curious that this one is the one they would include...  

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