Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lawrenceville Greenway Circulator

Slow Clap to the Mayor, and URA for this plan.  It’s a great start to making the city more dense with development once again (and green development at that).  This new green development conjures images of Portland and other urban oases. 

As with any re-development plan (unless you’re a sprawling city) the key is to integrate transit options other than automobile based to increase mobility into and out of your new development.*

This newest plan for Pittsburgh’s new riverfront development certainly addresses these issues.  AVR’s branch to 26st street in the Strip has been planned for integration into the development as part of their already proposed commuter rail and also includes an at-grade “trolley circulator” which would traverse Smallman St.  and Penn Ave.

I’ve talked ad-nauseum about AVR’s commuter line (although I will address the addition of another commuter line later).   As a result I’ll focus more on the at-grade trolley topic as well as an oft ignored topic here in Pittsburgh; the water taxi. 

Trolley Circulator

In my mind, you wouldn’t have to do anything to the strip and it would already be a great idea for a tourist centered trolley.  An at grade line on Smallman St. from saaaayyyy the Heinz History Center to the 31st St. Bridge would be great to move people in the Strip on weekends. 

As such it only makes sense that this idea would be incorporated into this riverfront plan.  As written in the proposal, this line would start at the David Lawrence Convention Center and travel at grade up Smallman St. to the 40th St. Bridge, where it would then loop onto Penn Ave back to approx 21st St. where it would rejoin the ROW on Smallman back to the David Lawrence Convention Center. 

As I said before; solid idea.  I also realize that this is just a proposal for the entire project and as such doesn’t go into too much detail on the transportation aspects of it.  However, there are some issues that should be discussed and ironed out.  

First, check out this great primer for streetcar systems over at the Transport Politic.  

There have been a number of streetcar systems established in the U.S. within the past ten years.  What’s even more promising is that some of these have built a successful nitch in traditionally non-transit friendly areas, such as Tampa’s TECO Streetcar and Little Rock’s River Rail. 

These and other systems have capitalized on the nostalgia aspect of trolleys.  Many lines use either heritage equipment (like San Francisco’s fleet of PCC cars) or new equipment made to look old (like TECO and Little Rock).  It would bring back a lot of memories for Pittsburghers to see trolleys like this

 or this

There is certainly something to be said for marketing your operation correctly and nostalgia is certainly a good way to do it.  However, nothing beats ease of use and good inter-connection.  I like the idea that it spans the entire length of the Strip from downtown all the way to Lawrenceville.  It would be a great way for a Lawrenceville or Strip resident to get downtown or move between the neighborhoods.  

However, the key question which isn’t really addressed here is;  how do you get to the trolley if you’re not one of these residents?  What are it’s connections?  I know there is talk of another trolley circulator to Oakland but that’s a topic for later.  How will someone from the Southside, or the South Hills make use of this trolley without driving to a parking lot in the Strip or Lawrenceville?   The T would make a great connector, but with AVR seemingly going all the way Steel Plaza, that takes away that option. 

Additionally how will someone from Oakland, or Hazelwood, or East Liberty or Garfield get to this line without driving?

 It can be done, after all we’ve got the East Busway for the east end neighborhoods, and supposedly this commuter rail will be an option for people coming from the South, but how this will be integrated and implemented are important discussions that could make or break this operation. 

Lastly, I don't like the idea of putting it on Penn Ave.  I know the plan is to use the circulator to take cars off the streets, in particular Penn Ave. in the Strip.   As a transit guy, I know I’m supposed to believe that putting down rails will take cars off the roads, and I DO believe that.  However, I’m a realist and know a lot of people drive to the Strip on the weekends and that a lot of people will continue to do that as a lot of them are NOT city residents but in fact suburbanites.  I also know that it’s basically bumper to bumper traffic from about 25th St. down through 16th on a Saturday morning.  I think over time that will change but the change will not be immediate.  I think you can get nearly the same effect by putting two tracks in Smallman St. and letting Penn Ave alone.  That said:  it’s not a stake in the heart of the idea. 

The second issue is more of a practical nature.  If you have one track on Smallman and one on Penn, you are creating two at grade crossings of the AVR’s commuter line should it follow its proposed route on 26th St.  Two rail operations crossing at grade are more complex than a road crossing a railroad at grade.  It involves more circuitry, and electronic systems to accomplish.  Why do it twice within a few blocks, making redundant systems when you can do it once, on Smallman St?  You’re not chasing passengers away by having the route one block away with the relatively narrow blocks in the Strip, and you’re saving money on implementation and operating costs. 

Overall, I'm clearly on board with this.  I think it's a great idea and the Strip is a great place to do it.  However, there are some issues that will have to be fleshed out before this aspect of the Riverfront plan could be implemented.  

I was going to cover the additional circulator to Oakland in this post, but seems as though I am rambling and will probably cover that and the “proposed” North Hills to Hazelwood commuter line at the same time. 

Next up:  Water Taxi

*As an aside, that was a major failure with earlier re-development projects in the Pittsburgh area.  The water front is nothing more than a dressed up strip mall with oceans of pavement.  The South Side works, although denser development has few options for transit and no room for transit expansion.  

1 comment:

Michaek said...

One of my thoughts is that a single-track trolley line along Smallman (with sidings to support cars passing in opposite directions) similar to the (currently out of use) waterfront trolley in Seattle could make more sense than a line down Penn Avenue.

If the primary purpose of the service is to shuttle tourists, taking a different route inbound and outbound is more likely to disorient an unfamiliar traveler.