Monday, October 1, 2012

What to tell a newcomer

We have a new guy at work. He's new to Pittsburgh, having just flown in here two days ago. He has no knowledge of the city, yet has to learn how to get back and forth to work. He also (so far as I know) does not drive, so has to get around via transit, or rides from co-workers and friends. His main task to do is to find someplace to live, since he is living in a motel on a day-by-day basis.

If this were you, just dropped in a new city, how would you function? Wouldn't it be helpful to have someone give you a quick primer? Especially in Pittsburgh, where topography is a major impediment to getting around, and few streets travel in a straight line for very long.

This is the email I prepared to help him.

Some ideas come to mind of where you might stay while you are here. I am assuming that you will be, for the most part, not using a car. I myself am about 95% car-free, using buses and bicycle to get around.

Pittsburgh has two major downtown areas – the “Golden Triangle” where we are now (surrounded on two sides by rivers, and an expressway on the third), and Oakland, about 4 miles to the east, where the two big universities (Pitt, CMU) and a lot of hospitals are located. In fact, by itself, Oakland is bigger than every other city in Pennsylvania other than Philadelphia and the Golden Triangle. Dozens of food and shopping choices, lots to do (especially when surrounded by 50,000 college students).

There are many hotels both Downtown and in Oakland. Getting here from Oakland by bus is quite simple, with at least 10 bus routes shuttling between here and there, for about a 15- to 20-minute trip.

North, there are two brand-new hotels near the two stadiums (Spring Hill Suites, Hyatt Place), either a free 5-minute subway ride, or about a 10-minute walk. Possibly your best bets. A very different type of hotel is The Priory, a five-minute bus ride, a 15-minute walk, but a bit far from the subway.

The T only goes north to the stadiums, and south. Buses go in every direction, and use buses-only roadways to get out of town in a hurry.

Near-South, there are hotels in Station Square (at the other end of the Smithfield Street Bridge, about a 10-minute walk) and at the south end of the 10th St Bridge (Holiday Inn Express, about a 20-minute walk, or 10-minute bus ride).

Farther out South, there are hotels near South Hills Village Mall, and about a half-hour trip on the “T” (light rail). Dormont and Mount Lebanon are a little closer on the same subway line, but I’m not sure about lodging.

There is no West. Well, there is, but near-West, there isn’t much in terms of places to stay that are also foot/bus-friendly. I am probably the only person in the office who has physically walked along every street within five miles of downtown (and bicycled them and used most bus stops), and working from that experience, you really don’t want to walk along some of them. The big danger is cars, not people, and the absence of sidewalks and lighting. As long as you stay in your room or even the hotel, you’re OK, but crossing a street in the suburbs (like the Parkway Center Best Western) is chancy, and walking a half mile along Mansfield Avenue is suicidal (Hilton/Doubletree in Greentree). They probably have shuttles, or you might be able to arrange a regular ride with someone, but my experience suggests that the easiest thing to do is just to live close, and get around on foot, to spend the least time, expense, and trouble in travel.

Farther out West, there are a bunch of hotels in Robinson, and about a half-hour ride on the 28X Airport bus. Like Greentree, though, crossing a street (like you would have to do to get from hotel to bus) is not recommended. I’ve done it thousands of times; for seven years, I used to work in Robinson. Not fun. Same issues as in Greentree, only six- to eight-lane streets to cross, not merely four-lane.

Farther North, there are four hotels along McKnight Road that I can think of. Very quick ride into town, maybe only 10 minutes for the closer three, 15 for the next one out, but again, you have to cross a major street on the way home. I’ve actually crossed at the points you would have to. Not as horrible as the one in Robinson, but still not real pleasant. The near three are Hampton Inn, Intown Suites, and Comfort Inn (just opened). The farther out one is Holiday Inn, which has the added disadvantage of being on top of a large hill. I call places like this Holiday Inn “completely inaccessible to human beings except by automobile”.

If your preference is being close, I’d go with either a place right downtown or the North Shore. Then Oakland, then Station Square or the 10th St Bridge choice.

The bus or T is $2.50/ride, $25/week for an unlimited-use pass, or $97.50 for the whole month, vs one taxi ride at about $15, also about $15 to park a car for one day.
See me if you need to get around, however you decide to do it. I also drive – both car and motorcycle – and bicycle everywhere, so can provide you with whatever information you might need.

Hope this helps! 

1 comment:

  1. I live out in the Styx, so I generally give new arrivals a AAA map of Pittsburgh because it does a very good job of depicting the color belts and there's no explicit explanation of that to a newb.

    Other than that, I've encouraged folks working downtown to live along the T-corridor (south), because it seems politically insulated from the service cuts.

    You're quite right that West doesn't exist.