Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Can we please not build the MFSoB?

Again there is a big push to spend billions of dollars to build another piece of the Mon-Fayette/Southern Beltway project, or MFSoB, for short. [Insert a long string of deleted profanities here in which I offer my opinion on the project. But that's not the point of this post.] I want to talk about why nobody is offering a viable alternative. I have to go back 25 years to explain myself.

From 1990 to 1994, I reverse-commuted to Monroeville from Robinson and later McCandless, almost every day, by bus. This is why and when I developed an interest in promoting public transit.

During this period, I had plenty of opportunity to compare travel times between downtown and Monroeville, going both directions, at all different times of day and days of the week. I would compare the difference in travel times between driving there and busing there. I would also compare relative comfort of travel between car and bus.

Physically, nothing is different between an August 1990 trip and an almost-August 2016 trip via the two modes. Same roads, same bus routes, same travel times and conditions, same brick streets in Wilkinsburg. True, there are a couple more miles of East Busway now vs then, but that extension is not used by the Monroeville express bus.

I mention all this because the primary difficulty in getting people to use transit instead of driving is the level of difficulty and lack of comfort in traveling between the Parkway East and the East Busway. Inbound morning riders still have to sit on a bus stuck on the Parkway East tunnel traffic from the Penn Hills exit to the Wilkinsburg off-ramp, then get tossed about for almost 15 minutes on brick or unevenly paved Wilkinsburg back streets, when you’re moving at all. Yes they bypass the rest of the tunnel backup, but it isn’t much faster. Outbound, much the same — the Busway bypasses the daily tunnel backup, but it takes almost 15 minutes to get from the Busway ramp to the outbound Parkway, and it isn’t pretty.

All in all, when including the time necessary to transfer downtown and wait for the Holiday Park bus to show up, travel by car is still 20 minutes faster than by bus, even with the tunnel backup. That’s a doorknob-to-desk comparison — my house to my desk at the Westinghouse Energy Center (or whatever it is now). Absent all other reasons, the only figure that matters to anyone is elapsed travel time. Nobody ever asked me how much it cost me to travel from A to B — about one-fourth what the car was — or that I could get plenty of work-work done on the way home, or pleasure reading done on the way in. Irrelevant. No, the only thing that mattered was 45 minutes by car, 85 by bus, each way.

BUT THE FIX IS WITH TRANSIT, NOT HIGHWAYS. The solution to the problem is not to spend one or two or five billion for a new major expressway, tolled or not, but to improve the means of transfer from Busway to Parkway. Look at the connection from the West Busway to the Parkway West. That’s a direct hookup which takes only a minute or so. That is what’s needed east of town. One minute, not 15; a short, smooth ramp, not two miles of warbly brick streets.

THE PROBLEM IS EDGEWOOD. Edgewood Boro has always been a pain in the ass about transit. The whole East Busway could have been built to McKeesport and Murrysville in 1982 if Edgewood had played nicely. They didn’t then, so the Busway ended at Wilkinsburg until 2003. They didn’t again in 1997 when the extension to Rankin was being laid out. The extension got built despite Edgewood’s stupidity — which, by the way, was based almost exclusively on racism and fear. But no station, no park & ride, no linear park like exists along the entire rest of that extension.

THE SOLUTION IS TO BULLDOZE A PIECE OF THE TOWN. And nobody wants to do that. Somewhat justifiably. To make a connection, they’d have to either take a large chunk out of the back of Edgewood Towne Center, or eliminate a street bridge, Elm/Chestnut Street, cutting a neighborhood in half.

So, the boo-fucking-hoo part of this is that in order to fix a transit problem, they’d have to cut a wealthy, lily-white boro in half RATHER THAN a down-and-out, black/brown/mixed bit of the county — Duquesne, Rankin, Braddock. Again, flat-out racism.