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Ahem, I live in Pittsburgh…

Afternoon rush hour on the East Busway at Wilkinsburg Station

Afternoon rush hour on the East Busway at Wilkinsburg Station

and I take the bus to work.

Granted, I only go partway to downtown, stopping at Oakland.  But I can’t say enough good things about the East Busway, where a constant, steady stream of buses and free parking, make it a breeze to ditch the car and take public transportation.

I’m not sure I’m totally onboard with the decision to eliminate the buses in downtown Pittsburgh just because there are too many people waiting for the buses.   That sounds like the dumbest excuse from a government official since the Republicans shut the government down for some unspecified gain they haven’t even dreamed of yet.  I mean, really, there are too many people waiting for the buses so let’s cut back on the buses and the crowds on the sidewalks will disappear?  No one will go downtown anymore because it will be impossible  to get there.  I don’t see any plans to expand the Parkway right over the river, because that’s what it would take to accommodate the increased car volume.

There are potentially good reasons for curtailing the buses downtown, but none are exceptionally convincing to me.  After all, my grandfather was a PAT bus driver for many decades and the buses downtown never struck me as the primary reason there were issues with traffic or crowds.

What I see as the traffic problem downtown is not the buses but the absolutely ridiculous amount of traffic trying to get across the Fort Pitt Bridge from either direction.  Basically, too many people are taking their cars downtown.  It’s not the buses that are causing the traffic jams.  After all, most of them are taking the Busways to get to downtown so they’re not the things cluttering up the Parkway, causing us hours to get from Monroeville to Ikea.

And while it’s true that Pittsburgh is very walkable, and because the city comes to a point, literally, nothing is very far away from anything, Pittsburgh does have possibly the most uncomfortable winter weather ever.  It’s damp, it’s slushy, it’s “slippy”.  You don’t want to go out of your house much less out of your car because the chill goes straight to the bone marrow like a thousand needles.  So, if the “presumptive mayor” wants to make life bearable for commuters who will now be forced to walk extra distances to work, he might want to take a cue from the Universities and medical centers in Oakland and employ a s^&*load of free shuttles.  They’re smaller and more nimble.

By the way, the universities pay quite a bit to PAT for the use of the buses for their employees.  If you have a university employee ID (Pitt, CMU, Carlow, Duquesne, UPMC), you can ride the buses for free.  That saves employees a ton of money in parking and gas.  And traffic in Oakland is actually kind of bearable, because there are dedicated bus lanes.   I’d call that a success.  Once you get to Oakland, your ID will get you almost to your workplace front door with plenty of shuttles and Pitt buses. There’s even a shuttle for the biotech corridor along the river. You don’t have to walk but walking in Oakland is pleasant and if you work in the medical center area, a daily workout up Cardiac Hill.  You can even track your shuttle on your mobile device.

So, maybe this plan is the “presumptive mayor’s” way of hitting up downtown businesses for money to support the bus system or a shuttle system.  Otherwise, I dread the increase in traffic.  It’s bad enough that the bus service to my area was cut back a couple of years ago.  I definitely notice a difference in the morning in traffic where the bus service picks up again.  The traffic jams going downtown are spectacular and just forget trying to get to work on time by taking the Squirrel Hill tunnels in the morning.  Nah-gah-happen.  Life would be so much better if the bus service to the suburbs went back to the pre-cutback state and more people took the buses to work along the breezy, fast moving busway.

Now, if Peduto wants to make the downtown district car free, I’m all for that.

10 Responses

  1. Sounds like a wonderful system.

    • They’ve made some savvy choice with the Busways but then the state transportation cutbacks have meant fewer buses to the suburbs. I’m not sure the politicians are feeling the zeitgeist. I take the bus each day with people from all professional and working classes. It is such a relief to get on the nice clean bus, plug in the iphone, pull out the kindle and let someone else worry about the traffic. Then, there’s no parking to deal with and no tedious time wasted in a car waiting to get home or to work. Busy people do not want to spend hours in their car commuting.
      Give me the P78 and P3 any day over a car.

    • And another thing…
      Pittsburgh feels like it’s on the verge of something. It looks cleaner, there’s a lot of construction and it feels like there’s a lot of energy here. Much of that energy comes from the university area, which held up pretty well after the steel mills collapsed. There are a lot of good reasons to move here but if the pols and chamber of commerce think that the buses are some kind of eyesore, I don’t think they really understand the people they are trying to attract. Sure, there will always be people who will want to drive the nicest cars and live at swanky addresses. But this city was built by working class people and the bus system is just part of the way the city works. Smart people catch on. The consultant class doesn’t get it.

      • I’ve never been to Pittsburgh but I did live in Paris (and in the far ‘burbs of London and Amsterdam) and I never cared much for the urban experience (Holland as a whole being a possible exception), but I think I would pick Pittsburgh as my city of choice, though I like San Antonio and Austin, too. Anyway, a walkable, clean place is a joy these days.

  2. For what it’s worth, car traffic in LA in the 1920s physically clogged the city’s trolley system and effectively killed mass transit in LA. Otoh, Julius Caesar decided that downtown Rome would be better as a pedestrian area and banned wheeled vehicles down town. It worked but then Julius Caesar was undoubtedly shrewder than the typical current US politician.

    • Really? I had read somewhere that the LA trolley system wasn’t finally torn out and destroyed until the 1960’s at earliest, and that it had heavy ridership till that time. I suppose it can be searchengined or wikipediaed.

      • I read a book back in the very late 60s or early 70s about the growth and development of LA. The original neighborhoods were built around the trolley service. Cars all of a sudden killed them off. Maybe a vestigial service remained but that was it.

        I don’t remember the name of the book but it predated the movie Chinatown coming out.

  3. Cleveland has felt on the verge of a renaissance for a long time, but, somehow never gets there.
    Here’s hoping that Pittsburgh fares bettter.

    • FWIW, according to Wikipedia, the population of both Pittsburgh and Cleveland peaked in 1950 but Pittsburgh’s has started to increase again although still less than half of its peak number. Cleveland’s decline in population is slowing but still continuing (from 914,808 in 1950 to 390,928 in 2012).

  4. Sort of germane to the topic in that Penndot is out of $$$. I looked up how the grown ups do it at Caltrans.


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