Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Why not a Gondola???

First things first; I learned a valuable lesson early on while researching for this post.

An aerial tram is about as closely related to a gondola as a housecat is to a lion.  While trams and gondolas both travel through the air, are suspended and propelled by cables mounted atop towers, there are some key differences.  (All numbers are approximations and depend on system length, # of vehicles etc.)

Tram               Gondola
Cars/system                                1-2                  10+
Cost/line                                    $15-50 mil       $8-15 mil
Carrier Cap.                              20-50               4-12
System Capacity                        2000/hr            2400+/hr                                             

This idea of an aerial gondola in Pittsburgh popped up a little while ago, and is very intriguing to me.  The idea has been pooh-poohed and at first glance, that notion seems to be accurate.  They’re slow, and can only travel in straight lines without significant upgrades to infrastructure and increases in cost.  Some people may also argue that they are an eyesore high in the sky.

I for one think it’s worth a second glance.  First of all, we’re not trying to connect to the airport here.  This system could be successful as a link within the most dense parts of the city.  Secondly, when compared to the cost for an at-grade or underground rail system, you are looking at an absolute blockbuster bargain (an underground link between downtown and Oakland was estimated at over $1 Billion with a B and an at grade system has been estimated at over $100 million).  An additional positive aspect of an airborne system is the miniscule infrastructure footprint when compared to at grade or underground systems.  Lastly they’re not as slow as you think.  
Detachable technology allows the gondolas to separate from the cable while in a terminal and move independently from the cable which operates at a constant speed.  While the gondolas travel at a literal crawl in each station, they can actually travel as fast as 20 ft/sec once under way.  When you combine that with the fact that they travel in a complete straight line towards their destination, you could be looking at a trip between Oakland and the Southside in a mere 5 minutes.  Five minutes all while taking in beautiful views of our beautiful city.  

Here’s a few interesting reads:

Well, I couldn’t just sit idly by with all this new-fangled and novel transit talk going on and not flex my Google Map muscle.

Essentially, I tried to create a circulator that would take you from nearly any “city core” neighborhood to another relatively easily.  Station placement is key in this scenario because there would be no “intermediate stops” on a given line.  Therefore, easy access to TOD and or other transit is critical for this idea to work.

The system would consist of five color coded lines.  Each line would tie directly into another line at a terminal building and would operate in both directions.  This is to facilitate easy and quick transfer from line to line without a rider having to leave the relative comfort of an enclosed terminal.  Each gondola would ideally hold between 8 and 10 people, and each line would have enough gondolas to keep any transfer time under a minute.   Payment would be rendered at the intial entry station, and an unlimited number free transfers could be made, until a person exits a station and the system. 


Blue: Oakland Campus.  This line would connect Fifth Ave. with the Sports Complex.  Would also tie into the Yellow Line at Fifth Ave. and the Red Line at Pitt’s Upper Campus. 

Yellow:  Oakland to Southside.  This line would connect with the Blue Line at Fifth Ave, and the Orange Line in the South Side. 

Orange:  Southside to Mt. Washington.  This line connects with the Yellow Line in the Southside, and the Green Line at Mt. Washington

GreenMt. Washington to Uptown.  This line connects with the Orange Line at Mt. Washington, and with the Red Line Uptown. 

Red:  Uptown to Upper Campus.  This line connects with the Green Line at Uptown and with the Blue Line at Pitt’s Upper Campus.   


Upper Pitt Campus:  This station serves the Upper Pitt Campus and Hill District.  This station increases the potential for Pitt Students to use the gondola as an alternative to walking up the hill or using a shuttle.  For this service to work however, some sort of free fare system for students would have to be worked out. 
Oakland:  This station would provide access to the heart of Oakland with the Pitt Campus and hospitals.  It would also provide good transit access with the bus routes which traverse 5th Ave and Forbes Ave. 
South Side Flats:  This station would be best situated between the Southside works and Carson St.  This would allow easy access (2-3 blocks in either direction) to the attractions at the Southside Works and Carson St.  This stop would also tie in well with Port Authority service on the South Side. 
Mt. Washington:  This station would offer easy access to the Mon Incline and views of Pittsburgh
Uptown:  This station would tie in very well with Current re-development plans for the Civic Arena site and the Consol Energy Center.  The only potential issue with this stop is it does not tie in well with transit downtown. 

View Fun With Aerial Gondolas in a larger map

Again, this is by no means a hard and fast plan, but a mere suggestion at how and aerial gondola could be made a very well patronized, inexpensive, and viable form of intra-city transportation in the City of Pittsburgh.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter What?

It’s hard to miss signs of the 2011 Winter Classic between the Pens and Washington Capitals taking place in just over 11 days.  I for one am ecstatic; between the Alumni game and Classic itself, this an exciting time for hockey in Pittsburgh. 

How is this related to transit you ask?  Well, check out this segue. 

The only organization in Pittsburgh that doesn’t seem to know there is an event at Heinz Field on the 1st of January is the Port Authority.  I understand they’ve been pre-occupied, with the budget crisis, but still, this is a HUGE event for Pittsburgh.  Unlike your average Steeler game (which has a number of transportation options to choose from), a lot of people will be from out of town.  A lot of those same people will be staying in City and area hotels and will be looking for a good way (other than paying $100-$500 to park within a mile of the stadium) to get to the stadium. 

If you look at the Port Authority’s website, you’d think that nothing is going on.  A spin of the ole' trip calculator between anywhere and Heinz Field reveals no special service options, detours or announcements in conjunction with the Winter Classic.

 Meanwhile, a casual search of the internets revealed about 30 different forum threads on various websites from out of towners looking for ways to use public transportation to get to the game. 

This event has already been great for Pittsburgh.  We, as a city look awesome in everything from the advertisements to HBO’s series "24/7".  Pittsburgh likens itself to a progressive and “greening” city committed to livability and sustainability.  That image doesn’t really jive with a transportation authority who, from all appearances, is not concerned with providing quality transportation alternatives to driving for arguably the biggest sporting event in Pittsburgh this year. 

It seems that to the Port Authority, it’s just another weekend holiday on an un-remarkable winter day.  

Monday, December 20, 2010

AVR Commuter Rail Operations Part 3


The end is in sight! 
This final portion of my series on the proposed AVR Commuter line will cover equipment.  It’s been decided, for better or worse, that the AVR’s plan will not use an FRA-compliant heavy DMU, ala US Railcar.  Instead they will use a light DMU.  There are plenty on the market in Europe, and there are several operating examples in the United States

I’ve quoted the RiverLine a lot and they use a version of Stadler “GTW” line of vehicle.  This line is also used by Capital Metro in Austin, TX, and is the proposed vehicle for a new start up service in Denton County Texas

Other manufacturers with a foothold in North America include Siemens Mobility, whose Desiro design is used by Southern California’s Sprinter service and Bombardier whose Talent vehicle was chosen for Ottawa’s “O-Train”.

To be honest, that’s about the extent of the information.  Plenty of company propaganda, but little other information.  I’m not privy, of course, to pricing and what types of options the AVR would include, but if they’re married to a light DMU, then there are at least a number of options to choose from.  

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

By The Skin of their Teeth…

Whew….I can take a breath for now at least.  Funding is by no means secure for the future, but things look good today.

Here’s to the small victories. 

Very emblematic of the struggle within the state for transportation funding.  The groups that seemingly had little stake in the funding crisis voted “NO” overwhelmingly.  Those in Allegheny County and in areas that had the most to lose voted overwhelmingly “YES”.   It’s more of the classic “My taxes should only go to pay for my roads.  Screw everyone else.”

It’s sad to see that such parochialism exists even within the council.  I’m sure everyone believes they are voting in the best interest of the region (or at least that’s what the point of the SPC is).  However, there are clearly divergent views on what’s important. 

I for one don’t understand how you can let the largest population density in the region (and the economic production that goes along with that) to flounder without proper transportation assets and expect it not to affect more than just Allegheny County.  Washington County realized that, I can’t believe that some of our other neighbors (namely Westmoreland, Butler and Beaver Counties) could not, or chose not to recognize that fact.    

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Nothing Set in Stone

First things first.  Don’t call it a bailout (that goes for you too PG).  That insinuates the Port Authority immediately screwed something up*.  The Port Authority didn’t say; “Hey, let’s throw away our state funding on hookers and blow!”  The state promised dedicated funding for public transportation.  Their plan was arguably a stupid idea and they had no plan B when it didn’t work.  Now they can’t balance the budget while providing a sustainable transit funding source.  The blame for this immediate crisis lies with the state.

Apparently, some on the committee are saying that this is just another band-aid.  I would agree.  No one thinks this is permanent.  However, I would also argue the Port Authority shouldn’t be pushed off the cliff to prove a point. 
Permanent funding absolutely needs to be established.  Forcing the Port Authority over the edge and using Western Pennsylvania’s transit users as pawns in the process is not the right way to bring about the needed change. 

The move is meant to buy time to allow steady funding to be established WITHOUT the massive cuts, increased wear and tear on roads, and increased traffic headaches that will occur as a result. 

Not helping the cause is the fact that there seem to be some clear highway advocates within the SPC, especially in areas that are not densely populated and do not have a big public transportation footprint. 

Chairman Charlie Camp seems to be a leader among them, stating: 

"We're tired of the mass transit funding issue coming at the cost of highways and bridges and being put on our table."

I believe that to be a short-sited and erroneous statement.  The money is coming from projects that were not started.  This money would not have been spent on improving our highways.  Additionally, if the cuts are allowed to go through, they will cause major increases in road usage, and therefore increases in wear and tear on our already tired roads and bridges.  Not spending the money to keep the Port Authority going is NOT going to help Western Pennsylvania's roads.

Bottom line, it looks like it’s going to be yet another nail biter in this already very nervous year for the Port Authority and their riders.

If you care about keeping service at least at status quo, then here are a couple of contacts:

To reach the General Comments address:  comments@spcregion.org

To reach the Transportation Planning Directordipietro@spcregion.org

*As I've stated before, the Port Authority has done plenty over the years to warrant anger towards their financial situation.  However, this particular situation has nothing to do with the current regime at the Port Authority.  It's also easy to blame the Unions.  It's true that their negotiated advances did a lot to push us towards this point.  However, the Unions have a legal contract in place and Steve Bland cannot just legally back out on that contract and make the sweeping changes that are called for in some circles.  

Thursday, December 2, 2010


I found this by way of PGH is a City this morning.

Here's the story.

Rendell has found funding.  That part is good.  As of right now, we don't know if the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission will approve the "flexing" of $45 million in funds to cover the Port Authority funding gap.  They will meet to decide on December 13th.  If you'll recall, over the summer the Commission voted unanimously to turn down a one time "flex" of money from the Governor.  That was then, this is now.

At that point there was hope that a long term solution was still a possibility so in many ways it made sense that the commission would vote the flex down.   Now that we are down to the wire, they will hopefully approve the measure.

 Key word here is hopefully.

Another key issue is, this is just a temporary stay of execution so to speak.  It's a one year, one time cash infusion that will do nothing to solve the perenial funding issues facing the Port Authority.

However, at this point, I'd be glad to take just about anything that will help stave off the cuts.