Sunday, October 22, 2017

Coffeeneuring 2017 #1, 22 Oct, Cold Stone Creamery, Aspinwall

Off to a late start this year due to both schedule and equipment problems. My main bike is out of service, and Bike #2 is limited to shifting only the front ring. Since this makes biking in traffic difficult for me, I am employing the use of a car for the first time. For the first time in over 20 years, I have a car for my exclusive use. This will at least let me vary my starting points.

For Trip #1, I drove to Millvale, parked the car and headed upstream on two wheels. This is an improved trail for only a quarter mile, then over a mile of rough railroad ballast. Today's excursion also featured a railroad construction crew which blocked 90% of the passable space. Nevertheless I was able to get by them by dismounting and walking the bike on the far side of their equipment. They didn't even look at me.

A bit later I was in Sharpsburg, and took the opportunity to explore some of the back alleys near the river. Later, I tried to find a cut-through under the Highland Park Bridge, close to the railroad tracks, but was not successful, if only due to having to stop to pull a wire out of my gearset. I had to backtrack some, in so doing finding a back way to the entrance to the Boy Scouts' Camp Guyasuta, but alas I did not find a simple, level way to Aspinwall.

Once in Aspinwall, I figured I'd traveled far enough to qualify as a proper coffeeneuring excursion, so scouted out a place to consume such. Water Works Plaza offered several possibilities, as did a few spots in the village. When I got to the end of the plaza, though, I considered the hour and the sun angle, and so opted not to try to get to the next town upstream.

Cold Stone Creamery was the most appealing of several options. A quick check verified that they did indeed have coffee ice cream. I picked out something decadent and sealed the deal.

Since I am off to a late start this year, I am going to have to double up on some weeks. The real trick will be getting these trips in such that they are not part of my routine commute.

The trip back to the car was uneventful, though I did find the level way back next to the tracks that I couldn't find earlier. It really cannot be ridden in its current form, as it is loose ballast. Boy it would be nice if that could be set up as a direct bike path.

The last little bit of fun was finding a new set of tire-eating drain grates. Seems every time I try to go someplace new, I find another one of these. In this case, three, all at the same corner in Sharpsburg. We're fast coming up on 10 years since I started tracking these. Coffeeneuring helps me find more of them! Is that a good thing?

Monday, August 14, 2017

In what way can I help the BLM movement?

After reading a friend's thoughtful, well written introspective about the Charlottesville incident, with a call to action, I have to think, where am I with the Black Lives Matter movement, and what can and should I do to promote it? This blog post will serve as a second draft.

First, I am pretty sure I don't have any slave-holding cousins. My stock is only two generations removed from Canada, and prior to that Scotland, the north of England, and a bit of German. I'm about as WASP as they come. The problem is that though my lineage is free of white supremacist entanglements, my upbringing is not.

In my own lifetime, I went to a rural, all-white high school and a 95% white state college. At 18 or 19, I clearly was the product of an intolerant background. Had I not made a couple of strong, lasting friendships in college, I might have remained that way. To this day, most of my near-blood relatives have diametrically different views on this topic.

The details of when and how I evolved, and who helped, are irrelevant to this discussion. What matters is that over the years I became what those near-blood relatives refer to as a bleeding heart liberal and a social justice warrior. In my day to day life, that matters because my goal in life is to make it possible for people to do anything other than drive. That means improving public transportation. Owning and operating a car is darned expensive, but it seems black people end up living where the only reasonable way to get around is via public transport that is either inadequate or absent altogether, and costly to use what does exist. The economic injustice aspect of this needs its own explanation, which I do not care to enumerate here. All that's relevant to this discussion is I have been part of organizations fighting to better the lot of transit riders for close to 30 years. To me it is all too clear where the red lines were and are, and blacks are getting screwed. Specific things like the fare and transfer policies favor pass holding suburbanites. Being white myself, conversation with the people from these areas is often awkward because they see me as the do-gooder, the outsider, there to meddle, or just white and that's reason enough not to converse. Maybe they're right sometimes; it's hard to say. I haven't been as effective as I wanted to be, but that doesn't keep me from trying, caring, or understanding.

So what do I do? Posting on social media seems a waste of time, merely a chance to vent, to throw my lot in with the side of justice, without actually changing anything for the better. But I have no pull where it really matters, in places which provide that proper leg-up to those in need.

I suppose I need to settle back to what I do best, provide the support to the organizations I am involved with, and focus on using them as tools to help the afflicted help themselves. For me, those would be two or three specific groups. First: ACTC, the citizens' advisory group for Pittsburgh public transit riders. No problem finding blacks who ride transit, but the organization currently has its own issues, limiting its efficacy. Second: Toastmasters, helping people develop speaking and leadership skills, in this specific case, getting minorities to join and participate. In my experience, Toastmasters tends to attract mostly white male professionals. Not all clubs are like this, but many are. It's just how word gets out. Money, too, is a limitation, as it isn't free, and the dues are high enough to scare many off.

Third: The cycling community. Most of the bike rides I find myself on are overwhelmingly white. Is cycling just one of those things white people do and blacks avoid? A solution to that might be beyond my scope. Merely pointing it out and questioning it might be all I can hope to accomplish. Again, I don't know how to reach out, or to have them understand I am in a position to help, or even for them to understand that what I am offering is help at all. I fear we may as well be speaking different languages.

Within cycling, my specific purpose is to focus on law-abiding riding techniques, supporting commuting by bike. Here, though, the places many blacks live are very hilly, thwarting the very idea of cycling. This has a chicken-egg aspect to it, as the desirable level places have forced out anyone who can't pay the higher rent, so the ones who need the most help are already living where it is most difficult to help them. If a black dominated area is flat, it's also distant from where people work, so they bus instead. So whether because of steep grades or long distances, you don't see too many black bike commuters.

What I will not be is complacent, merely tweeting opinions and posting relevant stories. I do plan to act. I just do not know how best to provide that help.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Test-sitting a new bus

Every few years, Port Authority of Allegheny County, metro Pittsburgh's public transit system, orders an entirely new style of bus. When they do, it has been customary for them to invite their citizens' groups -- the Allegheny County Transit Council (ACTC) and the Committee on Accessible Transportation (CAT) -- to tour the bus and make comments.

There is more than a grain of sense to this. We are the end users, and no matter how much planning and research goes on, when all is said and done what often happens is that the Pittsburgh order gets built into a larger order with other transit agencies, some larger, some smaller, and maybe we like some of what gets added or deleted, sometimes not. But we do get one prototype bus shipped in. We, the end users get a good look at it, as do various drivers and mechanics at the garages, in their own time and place. After all, they as well as we will have to live with these beasts every day for 12 to 16 years, the typical lifespan of an American transit bus.

Monday 31 July 2017 was a gorgeous summer day, bright blue skies, 80 degrees, just perfect for checking out this 2017 model New Flyer Excelsior articulated bus. It was parked just beyond the regular boarding area for East Busway routes at the Penn Park station downtown. When I arrived, the bus and various dignitaries and staff were already there, looking it over. Interim CEO David Donohoe was there himself, giving it a test-sit and talking to staff, management, and a couple of ACTC and CAT members. I myself arrived by bicycle, and within a couple of minutes had checked out the bike rack. It was nothing extraordinary, the same sort of rack that's already on hundreds of buses. Nothing new here; the real fun was inside.

It helps that I had been on a couple of these tours before. In 1993, I toured new Flxible #2300, along with #2292, one of 10 Orion V buses with a different engine that had arrived only a couple months earlier. I missed getting to tour the 1996 Novabus prototype. I did tour the Neoplan 45-footers (1901-1940), which also involved a tour of the not-yet-completed West Busway, in July 1998; it dead-ended between Crafton and the Parkway West at the time. I missed the tour of the last Neoplan artics (3100-series, in 2004), but did test-sit the New Flyer articulateds (#3200, November 2008). Anyway, a lot of them over the years. In each of these, I learned to listen to the managers as they explain some of the thinking that went into the design decisions. The way to do this is to have an intelligent question or a relevant concern to point out, then just stand next to the right people and patiently wait your turn. Meanwhile, take mental notes.

One thing I pointed out was that there seemed to be a bit of an elevation difference between the main floor of the bus and the articulation joint, maybe a half inch. That's enough to trip over, and I mentioned this to someone. Fifteen minutes later, someone else pointed out the same thing to me, independently, so I went over to the same official and pointed it out a second time. This time, he came back with me to take a look at it himself. One thing that came of it was that he thought it might be possible to get the big rubber ring around the artic point ordered in yellow instead of black, so that it would stand out better. To be honest, that might be enough. But the fact that the concern got looked at at all was because ACTC was invited to have its say, and pointed out something top brass had missed.

I counted 52 seats, about the same as existing artics, and about the same as the 1900 series 45-footers that were retired a couple years ago. The artics will be used on heavy ridership in-city routes like the 61- and 71-series, the East and West Busway all-stops, and a few heavy hauling suburban routes like the O12 McKnight Flyer. We could probably use more than these will replace, as a lot of routes are full to bursting, but the net difference after the 2004 order of artics is retired will be zero or close to it. (The real problem is space; we just don't have room to hold 10 to 20 additional rolling stock, as I understand it. Find 30 acres closer to town than the old closed Harmar facility, and $250 million to build a garage, and then maybe.)

On to the tour. My video camera worked for about the first eight minutes of the visit. About half of that is walking toward the bus and trying out the bike rack; the other half is counting bus seats. Would have been nice to get another 15 to 30 minutes, but oh well. At least I could take pictures and tweet. Here is the video:

Photos I tweeted.

Some photos that Andrew tweeted:

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Denver Street Steps

In the summer of 2006, my son took a four-day class at Pittsburgh Filmmakers, located at the time in the building on Melwood Street just off Baum Blvd. I accompanied him on the trip there, as we were going by bus and I was not sure of the path myself. Since I myself was not taking the class, I had a couple hours each morning.

I asked the lady at the reception desk whether there was a faster way to get to the location other than the circuitous method we had used; I think we had used the 81B Lincoln (now the 82) and walked up from Centre Avenue. She replied that yes, there was a bus that dropped off up by the Craig-Bigelow split, but that didn't save much since you still had to walk all the way around Craig and Baum. But there was an unusable alternative, a blocked staircase that made a beeline from the corner to the building.

Blocked, as it turned out, by inch-thick poison ivy vines and other major overgrowth. It had been decades since anyone could walk through here easily. But since I had several hours at hand with little else to do, and the promise of being able to enjoy the fruits of my own labor within a day or two, I set to work. My tools at hand: a couple of discarded grocery bags, and Stone Age tools.

It took all that first morning, but I did get it to where you could see from one end to the other. As good a cleanup as I could manage, and I was done for the day. On day two, I got the rest of it pulled out and thrown over a cement block wall into a small lot full of wrecked cars. At the time, Mayor O'Connor was in the midst of a "Redd Up Pittsburgh" campaign, so I contacted the office and let them know there was a mound of poison ivy branches to pick up. One more pass to pick up just plain junk, and the steps were clear.

Once a year since, I revisit those steps to tidy up my work. It only takes 15 minutes, once a year, to keep the ivy pulled back as well as the rest of the undergrowth and trash.

In 2015, the City of Pittsburgh embarked on an inventory project for all of the city steps, all 700 to 800 of them. I assisted with the project on several steps in the Fineview neighborhood on the North Side. Dozens of others did likewise. We observed conditions of usability, overgrowth, deterioration, railings, cracks, and other matters. The city has since used this data to assemble a plan for repairing them. Of course there is far more to do than the city can accomplish in a decade, let alone a year, so figuring out which to do first requires human input. Thursday 28 July 2017, the city held an event to gather that input, which I attended.

Afterward, I filmed this little video, showing what Denver Street looks like now. I had not been here yet in 2017; I don't think I got there in 2016, either. The couple years of growth shows that the poison ivy is indeed coming back with a vengeance. I plan to present the city with my little story here and the video, in hopes that someone else can take up the adoption process, whether it be city crews or simply another concerned citizen a little closer than me, 12 miles away, who can devote 15 minutes a year to keeping that growth down.

Friday, July 14, 2017

New York passing laws

In some ways, I'm glad I don't live in New York anymore. I would be breaking the law every time I got on a bicycle. NY is one of those states that *require* cyclists to ride on the road edge.

Sorry, NY, your law is wrong. Cyclists should have explicit permission, and be expected, to use the entire driving lane by default. PA has the right idea, explicitly giving motorists the right to cross a yellow center line to pass a bike, if visibly safe to -- same as crossing a center line to drive around a fallen tree. If you can see to pass safely, go ahead and pass. If you can't, you wait until you can.

But NY expects cyclists in the lead to yield to motor traffic behind them. That's just wrong. And generations of motorists and cyclists alike passively accept this. I do not. I'm in front, you're behind me, I don't care if there's a 40 mph difference in our travel speeds. The fallen tree sure doesn't care.

Cyclists *may* release following traffic to pass them with a "straddle pass", by moving to road edge and allowing cars to pass more easily by moving partway into the opposing lane. That technique is called "control and release", and is very effective for maintaining a balance of traffic flow AND cyclist safety. But still, the cyclist gets to decide, not the motorist. The cyclist can see whether the road edge is safe; the motorist cannot. It is neither fair nor safe to require cyclists to ride unsafely, such as between a road-edge hazard and a car passing too closely.

I don't know how you get state law changed. But if I end up in NY for any length of time, you can darned well bet I will be advocating for the law to change, and riding the way I feel most safe.

Friday, March 31, 2017

My proposal for functioning Bus Rapid Transit in 2017

I presented this in front of the Port Authority Board of Directors at their 31 March 2017 meeting.

I am glad to see that PAAC, the City, and others have finally published a formal proposal for some sort of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project. That BRT is on the table at all is because the PAAC Board killed the last light rail extension to Oakland proposal in 1996, and that itself was over a decade since the previous failed attempt to build it. Half a human lifetime is a long time to wait for a transit improvement.

Unfortunately I hold little hope for the plan as written. There is so much infrastructure to construct, and so many political and engineering hoops to jump through, it may well be another decade before a single rider can board. We can do better and we can do it soon.

In short, instead of dithering over lane configurations, propulsion modes, station designs, forced transfers, and a thousand other details, you could have a functioning plan in place in a matter of months. Implement at least part of the Connect '09 plan to run "R" routes in conjunction with the existing 61- and 71-series routes. Use existing equipment, routing, and stops. Do not eliminate any existing routes, though modifying headways would be necessary.

For example, for the 71A, which runs 15-minute service much of the day, run the R-equivalent trip alternating with the regular 71A trip. The routing would be identical for both, but inbound after Centre and Negley, the R would stop limited times until the edge of downtown -- Aiken, Craig, Bellefield, Atwood, Robinson, Kirkpatrick, and Stevenson, then every stop after Diamond Street. Outbound, after turning onto Forbes, stop only at Stevenson, Kirkpatrick, Robinson, Atwood, Bellefield, Craig/Centre, and Aiken, before resuming local service at Negley. Timing, run a regular 71A at :00 and :30, run an R at :15 and :45.

Everyone will still have a one-seat ride to downtown. Everyone who still needs the every-stop service will still have it. The riding public gets the rapid service they've waited decades for, and they have it within a year. While I'm sure there will be a learning curve, it should be minimal. Just like the fine folks of Bridgeville and McCandless can distinguish between 31/G31 and 12/O12, respectively, I'm sure the residents along the chosen R corridors will learn quickly enough.

Meanwhile, plans can still continue for installing traffic signal hold-green technology, modifying travel lanes, constructing pre-pay stations, special rolling stock, etc. None of that is on the critical path to a fast bus, and none of what I am proposing needs the approval of anyone outside this room.

Implement this for one 61 and one 71 route in 2017, and commit to running them for one full year. I think you'll find it will work well, and if it doesn't, you can call it quits without having built or rearranged a thing.

Monday, March 20, 2017

My testimony on the Mon-Fayette before the Southwest PA Commission

Good afternoon, commissioners, and thank you for the opportunity to speak. My distrust of the PA Turnpike Commission dates to my great-grandparents' generation, who sold part of the family farm in 1937 to build the original Irwin-to-Carlisle segment of the Turnpike.

To this day, the road is an over-the-back-fence neighbor at my New Stanton house. (I was out there yesterday. It's now my daughter's house.) My Aunt Sarah, who was 29 when that deal went down, and I, lived together in the New Stanton house in 1987 when the Greensburg Bypass was under debate, and she noted then how similar the arguments were for building that extension, to building the original road 50 years earlier. Meanwhile, even in the 1980s and later into the 1990s and 2000s, I saw first-hand those same arguments for building each piece of the Mon-Fayette project. And now it's 2017, and here they are again.

The original road essentially killed the family farm as a viable business. That farm used to supply half of Greensburg with eggs and some milk. So much for economic development. If the Greensburg Bypass was to bring development to the New Stanton area, it didn't happen. They were still building Volkswagens out there when Toll 66 was approved. That fizzled, and Sony didn't last much longer. The site is still in use, but it would be foolhardy to suggest that building a huge road a mile away has helped it all that much.

So just remember, as its proponents ballyhoo all these economic benefits, that we've heard it all before, and it doesn't wash. If you're going to spend two billion dollars (that you don't have), spend it on stuff we know will work: Fixing local roads, improving public transit, and making it safer to walk across and along the streets in these old, industrial towns.

We do not need the Mon-Fayette project. Please vote NO on adding it to the TIP.

Friday, March 10, 2017

My comments to the PA Turnpike Commission about the Mon-Fayette Expressway

Today was the deadline for public comments on the proposed Monroeville extension of PA43, the Mon-Fayette/SOuthern Beltway project (MFSoB, for short). Here is what I sent them.

I oppose construction of this road. The desired connectivity of West Virginia to Monroeville is already available in limited access form via PA43-Interstate 70-existing Interstate 76 Turnpike, and the slightly shorter US119 path is only local access for a few miles. To get to Pittsburgh itself, I-79 to I-376 works well enough not to spend $2+ billion for a new parallel.

The long depressed river towns of Clairton, Glassport, Duquesne, and McKeesport, will not benefit from the road in any meaningful way, any more than Trafford benefits from being four miles from the existing PA Turnpike interchange at US22. There already are plenty of other roads in and out of these towns. Fix those first.

The reasoning for building this road dates to at least 40 years ago. I have lived here 35 of that, long enough to see how little difference the construction of Toll 66 made to the New Stanton area, where I own a house and land since the mid-1980s. That road never did live up to its hype, and the traffic it was expected to carry (25-30K/day) simply has not materialized (~15K/day), while 20K+/day still use US119 through Youngwood. Why should we believe that the same arguments used in 1987 to justify building that road will work 30 years later when they did not work then? Do you really believe that argument is worth spending two billion?

I dispute your financial strategy. While it is true that no federal or state funds will be used, funding still comes from two general state taxes, one on motor fuel, the Oil Company Franchise Tax (OCFT), and one on a public service, the Motor License Fund (MLF), ultimately borne by the average motoring public who will rarely if ever use this road, and most will rarely use any other part of the Turnpike system at all. If your financial justification is the OCFT and MLF, and if their main purpose is to fund the Turnpike, then eliminating both this project and the OCFT and MLF will actually benefit the average PA motorist by lowering fuel and licensing costs statewide.

The road itself would serve no useful purpose that cannot be obtained faster and cheaper through other means. If you want to move lots of industrial materials to and from these river towns, that's what railroads, pipelines and the rivers are for. If you want to improve commuter travel, the old PATrain and transit in general will accomplish that. If you want to improve accessibility inside these business districts, do like Carnegie, Millvale, and Bellevue just did with pedestrian improvements, bicycle facilities, improved stream flow, and traffic flow treatments. If you want better roads between the Mon Valley and downtown, then fix those existing roads! Those will cost far less than two billion dollars, be realized much sooner than 2036, and will actually work.

Then there is future maintenance. I-279 in the North Hills, another road that took decades to build, is now old enough at 27 years to need major reconstruction. The PTC is already in the news for not being able to make ends meet. Do the tolls on Toll 60 and Toll 66 even pay for plowing and salt in the winter and grass mowing in the summer, let alone future bridge replacements? If it does get built, are we then only 20-some years from closing it anyway for lack of funds to keep it fixed?

Enough. Other cities are tearing down expressways. Why are we even thinking about building yet another? No, we don't need it. Stop thinking that we do.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A solution to rotten transit service, but do we want it?

While Uber, Google, and others are working on autonomous vehicles, others are working on a specific use for autonomous vehicles, namely, to provide some minimal transit service to areas difficult to serve with full-size buses.

In this story from a transit industry magazine, tiny electric vehicles shuttle people to a nearby bus stop. I can see these being very helpful in areas where it's hard to thread a 35-foot bus around tight, inner-city streets. I can also see these as helpful for getting people from deep inside a suburban subdivision out to a bus stop on a trunk line.

Pennsylvania state law already allows for similar vehicles. See Title 75, Chapter 35, Subchapter F, Sections 3591-3596 (link). These little transit vehicles theoretically could be stored on-site, in storage sheds in or adjacent to the neighborhood served. Then, whether on-demand or by fixed schedule, these could come either to your door or a nearby corner, and shuttle you to the nearest bus stop. They would not get you downtown, and they likely would not get you from one suburb to the next; they are not taxis. But if your house is a mile or two off the main drag, they can get you down the street in a few minutes instead of having to walk it.

If you really wanted to go all out, equip each storage shed with a Tesla Wall, so it can be recharging its battery when not in use. Of course, run a utility line to it anyway, so it can recharge when weather is bad, or the neighborhood kids throw a blanket over the solar panels. Just like kids 100 years ago strung clotheslines under the trolley electric lines to knock the car out of service. But barring routine vandalism, they could get some of their go juice off-grid.

Next complaint: Labor unions. They're stealing our jobs! Well, yeah, they might be. OTOH, those jobs don't exist already. You already don't have service back into suburban cul-de-sac neighborhoods, so I don't see these as a big threat. On a larger scale, every bus driver job in the world might well be automated out of existence in 25 years, so go ahead, be the Luddite and oppose every use right now, no matter how much good it might do, how many additional people might be brought into the system, how many cars might be taken off the road, how many driver jobs are preserved by dint of these stabilizing ridership on outer parts of a route. I cannot and will not fight that argument. Been there, done that, and it's pointless. I'm speaking to the glass-half-full people, and those who can see the way forward.

I see jobs in this idea. Someone has to design a system that makes best use of them. Someone has to construct storage facilities. Someone has to service them. There needs to be a method to handle on-road situations where they become inoperable while containing passengers. These are solvable problems, but they do mean employment where no employment exists now.

Anyway, an idea worth looking into.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The 2016 Shitlist

This post is about the drivers who did me dirt in 2016. The boorish SOBs who shoved me off the road, passed me within inches, threatened me verbally or worse, and plenty more who blasted a horn in my ear. For a lot of these, I have video. For a lot of these, I have plate numbers. I went to the police with a couple. For a whole lot of these, as soon as it happened, I pulled over and tweeted the plate, if I did not already have it on video.

Everyone should do this. Call out plate numbers. It's good practice for when you have to.

I went through my Twitter feed, my Facebook posts, and my YouTube playlist I titled "Motorists Behaving Badly".

I should explain what a fucking horn is. A fucking horn is where someone comes up behind or alongside me and lays on the horn, to startle or alarm or force me to move over. Beyond being boorish, it's unsafe, not a whole lot different from coming up behind someone and popping a paper bag behind their head. On a bike, it's unnerving, causing possible loss of control. I will tell you nicely once, if you do this: Please stop.
* * *

2016 Shitlist


1 Jan
JNC-3661 grey Dodge, first #fuckinghorn of the year. Andersen St under railroad tracks. Where the hell did you expect me to go?

3 Jan
JYP-2140 #fuckinghorn while *I was driving the car*. I was going 25 in a 25 zone! Pulled over so I could get the plate, & him off my tail.

20 Jan
JFT-5505, high speed thread-the-needle pass, Perry Hwy just before Lindley Lane.
Reported to Ross Twp police, who followed up on this. No charges pressed.
Same incident I posted last Wednesday, but this time with the plate number: "JOHN FRANK THOMAS FIVE FIVE OH FIVE" Now, to talk to the Ross Police.
How I almost died this morning. Hey JFT-5505, would you cut off a car that closely?


3 Feb
JZG-0283, #fuckinghorn, Perry Hwy northbound at Washington Blvd
Classic case of a fucking horn. Pulls right alongside me and honks. The two cars at 0:11 and 0:25 figured out how to pass slower traffic without using a horn.

4 Feb
As I sat at a red light in West View on motorcycle this morning, someone pulled up behind me and snapped my photo. Say what? Ten seconds earlier he was laying on the horn. Best I can figure is that I wasn't doing fully 25, and had let a space grow in front of me, but I could see I was going to be fourth in line approaching a red light.

8 Feb
Post-script to the day: At one point today I was driving 28 mph in a 35 zone, and a car comes up behind me and lays on the horn. All I could think of was, what an entitled ass. How would he know if I'm carrying something delicate? Or maybe having engine trouble? Or looking for an address? At a different point today, traffic was at a standstill for 20 seconds while a family of turkeys made their way across the road. Sorry, pal, you don't get to go fast because of a number on a sign.

14 Feb
How dare I drive 35 mph over a posted-35 bridge? HONNNK! (McKees Rocks Bridge, westbound, around 10:30 this morning). Later, how dare I start to change lanes after signaling and the signal blinking two full times? No, I have to wait for the Lexus going 20 mph faster to get past me first.

(Browns Hill Rd heading away from the bridge about 1:30.) The damned nerve of some people.


6 Mar
FRR-2803, dark green Jeep-like. Fucking horn & super close pass. Give this fucking idiot a ticket. Perry Hwy past Cemetery Ln.

8 Mar
East Street close pass, JPD-0473
Front and rear view of earlier stupdity: Two cars pass me after following me down Concord to the right onto East St. The first one is fine, gives me a full lane pass. The second one decides to pass me within two feet.
Front video:
Rear video:

19 Mar
When I'm doing 22 in a 25, there is no reason to ride my butt because you want to do 35+. When I'm doing 32 in a 35, there is no reason to ride my butt because you want to do 45. Both happened to me today -- the 22 on a bike, the 32 driving a car.


6 Apr
...sequence starts...
I get 10.1 miles of my 10.4-mile bike trip home, and _then_ get a horn in my ear, or as I call them, a fucking horn, to startle or bully.
I don't know what it is about that last half mile of Perry Highway, but if I'm gonna get honked at, it's usu w/in sight of my house.
...sequence ends...

12 Apr
EGP-2255 small dark red car, very close in-lane pass. Perry Hwy near Thompson Dr.
What's maddening about that one was, at next light, 0.1mi later, he rolled down his window to argue. So that was deliberate.

21 Apr
Judge Manning has decided at least one case this week that pissed me off, and a few more that have me scratching my head. First, the guy driving his Mustang 85 mph while high and drunk, killing a girl standing in her own front yard, gets to walk. I think there were more, but that's just this week. (An earlier version of this post said he decided against a cyclist who was obeying the law. The decision happened as described, but it was a lower magistrate, not Manning, I have been informed.)

25 Apr
GJH-9608 blue econobox, #fuckinghorn, again almost eyesight from the house. PerryHwy at Lee.


3 May
Someone passed me on posted-35 East Street, crossing the double yellow to do so. Which would be fine if I was going 14 on a bicycle, but I was going 35 on a motorcycle at the time.

4 May
...This next one was City Councilwoman Darlene Harris
GPJ-8259 grey Jeep, white female, 50. Overweight, smoking. #Fuckinghorn, yells at me to stay in the bike lane. There WAS no bike lane.
This was in the 15 mph part of East St; I was doing 23.
When we start requiring drivers to acknowledge that cyclists have a legal right to the road, this bullshit will stop.
Also, my front camera was on. I might have a good view of her face when I caught up w/her (of course) at the next traffic light.
Meanwhile, I had just biked 7mi of McKnight Rd & most of East St wo any trouble at all. Just her, right there, where I'm 133% of speed limit
I checked my camera. No, didn't get pic of Jeep driver, but do have decent audio. Will process & post when I get home.
Front video:
...end sequence

4 May
This is a public service announcement: When driving your car, turn off the motherfiretrucking phone. Last night, two good friends got mowed down by a texting driver, who stopped _not_ because he hit the cyclists, but because he also plowed into a parked car. No, the cyclists are not all right.
And, yes, I am emotionally a wreck.

5 May
I chose not to wear my front camera today, traveling by motorcycle. Mistake. I missed being able to video a car drift left over the center line *three times* in a half mile. Clearly texting. Around noon, Perry Hwy by the park & ride.

6 May
Walking westward from the bus tonight, on my road at the height of rush hour, I get to the blind curve. 12 cars in a row were on or over the paint line into where I would have to walk. This is the same curve where, when biking (going east), I get flat up against the yellow line, going uphill at about 6 mph for upward of 20 seconds. Without a bike there, they're coming around that curve at 35-40 mph. And that's also why I don't squeeze onto the shoulder on the bike, because they'd be flying around there and not see me until they were on top of me. On foot, I can see them and jump into the grass.

12 May
The only unpleasant part of the trip home was getting honked at by the Shaler Shop'n Save, as usual.

25 May
The next $175 I can lay my hands on, I am getting a new rear camera. This morning, I'm on West Commons alongside Allegheny Center, turning onto South Commons, then onto Sandusky. I'm sailing along at 20+ mph (posted 25), and I'm just enough in front of this black car that I got to the Sandusky light first. I also have a car in front of me. The three of us get the green, we all turn onto Sandusky, and poor baby sounds the horn because he has to follow a bicycle up to the light at Lacock, where the car in front of me waits for pedestrians before turning right. Meanwhile, I can slither by and actually get a little space up to the next light at General Robinson, but four seconds later, same black car right on my butt. I had a red for a short bit and now he's less than a car hood length off my back, tailing me past the Warhol Museum up to the bridge. Then of course goes screaming by me on the bridge (two lanes southbound). I caught up with him, of course, as he got stuck behind a van on Sixth Ave at Wood Street. The van wasn't going anywhere for a few seconds, so I slid in between him and the van, sideways, and screamed at him, "Really?" Then got back in the lane and followed the van up Sixth. The impatient idiot turned onto Wood.

26 May
Rolling coal, Babcock Blvd by Ross-Shaler line
If you know your vehicle can do this, and obscure your plate so nobody can report you when you do, you suck.


4 Jun
The power was off for over an hour this morning, so I walked up to Perry Hwy and rolled video for 15 minutes. Hardly anybody follows the rules.

9 Jun
JYJ-3133 white Jeep, first wouldn't give me 4ft. Then of course I caught him. Didn't wanna know what the law actually said.
His wife was impressed I could quote the law, chpt & verse.
Also worth noting the male driver of JYJ-3133 threatened to run me over at the next light.
And a shout-out to the driver of JYJ-3133, in a white Jeep in Millvale yesterday, who said he'd run me down if he caught up with me at the next light, because I dared to take the lane -- just yards after a sign that clearly says "[bicycle symbol] MAY USE FULL LANE". He beeped at me after seeing me in traffic two more times in the next 15 minutes, so I know he knows me on sight now.

17 Jun
HVD-1645, red Caddy SUV that then turned onto Edwood, why was it necessary to blow a horn in my ear while I was walking on t'other side?


9 Jul
JGL-?045 "?" was a 5,6,8,9 not sure. Silver 4-door sedan. First laid on the horn bc I was going too slow. Then passes me *& the bus* ...
...on a curve, at a traffic light. Somehow no oncoming traffic. This is on downhill 19 in WView btwn McD's & WVwParkDr.
Further note that I was in the car at the time! Not on a bike! Passes a car going 20 then a stopped bus & tries to cut in front of the bus.

12 Jul
KCM-2589 red Jeep-like thing, unnecessarily close pass, both right wheels on my side of the lane line when I'm clearly taking the lane.
This occurred on Perry Hwy, Ross Twp, in front of Pines Plaza, less than one mile from my house.

16 Jul
Adding JPY-1934 to my shitlist. I'm on the motorcycle, on a 2-lane road (Ferguson Rd in Hampton, between Mt Royal and Duncan), going 35 in a 35 zone. This car comes up behind me somewhere around Post Rd and tailgates me all the way down to Duncan. No more than a car length back for over a half mile. I pull away from the stop sign at Duncan, the driver pulls away right after, and again comes up right behind me, but this time also puts on the high beams and lays on the horn, and continues to follow me, barely a car length back. We get up to the corner at Peebles, and I get in the left turn lane to make the left, and he goes screaming past me going straight. OK, fine, there's nobody to tangle with so I abort the left and follow him down to Babcock. He tops out at about 51 mph, never going less than 45. The damn nerve! I've seen the high beam thing on a superhighway, but on a suburban two-laner where there's no passing? Fuck you, pal.

18 Jul
JXF-7341, silver car, passes me on the right in parking lane as I am getting to the right to make a right turn. Brighton by Calif/NCharles.
I am on the motorcycle, going 25 in a 25 zone.

21 Jul
HNC-9261 #fuckinghorn McKnight Rd. Had 250 yards to pass me, lays on horn, passes, makes immed R turn. On front video. Did not engage.

23 Jul
@PGHtransit KBZ-7491 gold/tan SUV turns L dir in front of moving bus, Sandusky/GenRobinson. Props to driver for avoiding crash!


8 Aug
GXY-9750 white Prius, #fuckinghorn, verbal abuse, Perry at Highland, WView

9 Aug
JXT-0440 white car, #fuckinghorn McKnight Rd. At that moment I was going 27 mph, pretty fast for the curb lane on a 40 road.

19 Aug
HVH-7696 white SUV, ignorance, honks instead of passing, then full bore pass. Perry Hwy nb, WView.


2 Sep
Stupid drivers on McKnight. I'm slowing for the red light ahead. Car on right passes me and changes lanes left because of the bus. Car on left had been directly behind me, passes and changes lanes right, nearly sideswiping the other car. They didn't touch, but it was close. The one on the left was most at fault, choosing to get back in the center lane when the left lane he got into was wide open. He just wanted to move in front of me.

7 Sep
JXF-8177 black SUV, tonight's #fuckinghorn awardee, Perry Hwy 1/2 mi from my house.

21 Sep
Last night's ride home was almost uneventful. I forgot about the nine-inch pass by a Pittsburgh motorcycle cop at the corner of Grant St and the Busway. It was actually two cops. One was in a marked car in the left lane, but his buddy on two wheels rode alongside and passed me in my lane, while I was taking the lane. So he managed to squeeze between me in the center of my lane, and the police car on his left. No lights, no siren, not responding to a call, not in any particular hurry, AFAICT.


9 Oct
YZL-2589 grey pickup, passes me on R in intersection of Perrysville & Ivory, has to climb median to do so, and #fuckinghorn, too.

14 Oct
I got another "fucking horn" on Perrymont this morning, as I took the lane approaching the top of a blind grade. Wasn't the car directly behind me, but the second in line. We all get up to the very long light at McKnight, I put down the kickstand, set the bike sideways in the middle of the road, and stormed back to have a word with the blithering idiot. She didn't put down her window, but I gave her an earful nevertheless. "Do you know WHY I have to take the lane here? So YOU won't try to do something senseless like trying to pass on a blind grade! And then decide to take ME out when you find a car staring you in the face! Next time, hold your horn, and be patient!" I did not swear. And the guy I had to walk past, twice, thanked me and told me that he knew the rules and gave me the space I needed. I thanked him in return. And as I got back to the bike, the light turned green.

18 Oct
I am hit from behind and thrown to the pavement after being tailgated over 200 yards. 7800 Perry Hwy, about a half mile from my house. Car stops; does not run me over. Police and ambulance respond. I am transported to Allegheny General Hospital. Treated and released. This has been resolved legally. Police filed no charges against the driver. Case is closed.

20 Oct
HTZ-3306, silver grey GM SUV, yells at me on Grant St to get in the bike lane. There is no bike lane on Grant St.

25 Oct
JSS-0222 black Subaru? Grant Ave, Millvale, punishment pass and verbal abuse; then made L turn 100 yards later anyway. I did not engage.

30 Oct
Tfw you're driving a car 31 in a 25 zone, and someone comes up behind you and leans on the horn because you're holding them up.


11 Nov
PA plate "PUGDOGS" #fuckinghorn, Perry Hwy soutbound just before Lindley Lane

13 Nov
JBJ-5271 white Caddy, close pass & close pull back in, Perry Hwy 100' b4 my turn onto Perrymont. Literally can see my house from here.

22 Nov
Perrymont unsafe pass
Front video:
Rear video:
Sure, pass me at the very top of a blind grade. With an oncoming car you could not possibly see. (It happens at about :55 in the front video. Rear camera, in first link, shows the guy never even thought about slowing as he approached.)

25 Nov
Perry Hwy past HOV, close pass
Rear video:
46 seconds on Perry Highway. If you see that the two cars immediately ahead of you are changing lanes to avoid something, maybe you should think about getting over, too. The driver of the Jeep waited until the very last second to start to pull around me.

29 Nov
Car passes me on right on inside of a blind curve. When did this become OK?
Front video:
Rear video:
Pretty sure passing someone on the right on the inside of a curve is illegal. Pushing me into the opposite lane is just bonus points. Film at 11.


16 Dec
Once more, I took evasive measures not to be killed. On foot this time, walking Perrymont, on that same curve where the car passed me on the right, this car comes out of that same curve and does not straighten out. Aims directly for me on the shoulder. I jump into the snow, he straightens out and continues up the road.

21 Dec
JYJ-6028, white ?Toyota, someone tell this fuckhead what 75-3301c1 means. #fuckinghorn, verbal abuse, tried to force me into line of parked cars.
Perry Hwy in Perrysville, barely 1.5 miles from my house. I'm wearing orange vest, taking lane bc there's nowhere else TO be. Wish I could have gotten today's idiot on video. Blared on the horn repeatedly, then pulls alongside me to chew me out for not riding on the shoulder. Good trick, with 15 parked cars along the curb. PA plate JYJ-6028. White male, 35-40ish. As usual, only 1.5 miles from home. Perry Hwy in Perrysville, between the 7-11 and the fire station.

21 Dec
EFT-8510, do I know you? Long horn, directed at me, but going the other dir on an empty 4-lane road. (Perry just S of HOV Lane entrance.)

28 Dec
KBZ-3566. Arrest this asshole and take away his license. I had to bail so as not to get hit at speed. No attempt at all to pass me. Video!
KBZ-3566 is going to get a call from the authorities. This is me, bailing, because the car you see at left made no attempt to change lanes to pass me. The left lane was empty. It's a four-lane road. Broad daylight. I'm wearing a blaze orange vest with a blinking light on my bright yellow helmet.

28 Dec
KCG-8367 inches away pass starting from light. Video.

* * *

Take note how many of these are on
  1. Perry Highway between Pines Plaza and my house, a distance of about a half mile.
  2. Then another set within the next mile, down to the hamlet of Perrysville.
  3. A third clump is along Perrymont Road, within 0.9 mile of my house.
  4. Along Babcock Blvd in Shaler, near the Shop'n Save

Both in quantity and quality, most of the trouble I face is within a mile or so of my house. I don't face nearly as much grief inside city limits. * * *

I have been keeping track like this for years. I only dug back through 2016 because it's a lot of work to assemble this list in this format. What I really want to do is see if there are any repeat offenders. What else I want is to know if anybody else in metro Pittsburgh has had bad encounters with any of these. If anything truly bad happens, this could be very useful in showing that there is past history, particularly if there is intentionality involved.

Expect no apologies for language or tone. If my life is being threatened, I will use whatever language is appropriate at that moment. If you feel you are in some way offended, YOU owe ME the apology for valuing some absurd decency standard more than my life and safety. And you can bet I will call you on it. I don't care who the hell you are, or how long I've known you. Grow the fuck up, and understand that language has a purpose, and some words are there to convey feelings, and being mortally threatened tends to bring out various words. If you're offended, YOU need to change, not me.

Friday, January 13, 2017

My input to PennDOT on self-driving car policy document

Yesterday, 12 January 2017, was the deadline to submit input to PennDOT on their proposed policy document for guidelines for R&D concerning self-driving cars, a.k.a. Highly Automated Vehicles (HAVs). A good many of us in the transportation community only found out about this on the last day, so had zero time to do much analysis and still attend to our day jobs.

Nevertheless, I took a few minutes to scan through the 96-page document, study who put it together, and employ a search tool to look for text strings like "bicycl", "horse", "motorc", and "wheelchair". They mention motorcades, but not motorcycles, I noticed. The developing board kindly included General Motors, but everyone there saw the world through a windshield. That was all I needed to know. So in a mere 10 minutes, I composed the following:

As preface, I am an ordinary citizen who commutes about 10 miles each way to an office job in downtown Pittsburgh from a single-family residence in the suburbs. I regularly make this trip by bicycle, and have many times encountered one of the Uber vehicles in traffic, often directly behind me.

In short, I have had no trouble at all with the Uber vehicles in Pittsburgh. I wish I could say the same for human operated cars.

My concern with the policy document is that bicycles get only a single mention, in the introductory paragraph. Nor is there any representation on the developing board of anyone from the at-risk communities: motorcycles, scooters, bicycles, horseback, motorized wheelchairs, among others. I was hoping for a more direct inclusion of those communities in the development of a policy document.

With regard to bicycles, Pittsburgh has a well defined cycling community, both at the representational level in Bike-Pgh, and various members who communicate with one another both in social media and in real life, and whose input could be helpful to anyone analyzing HAVs. Some mechanism to reach out to either or both for their input would be worth a mention. Ditto for other well populated areas of the state. If you did have this, and used that information, it would be a bragging point after all the work is done and these get official recognition. Not having it is opening yourselves to future criticism.

I have no serious objections to the rest of the document. I just want to make sure you are including all road users in your policy development, not just cars.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

100% car dependency

It is not too often that I am totally reliant on a car to get around. Today was one of those days. Not only did I not bike or bus anywhere, I don't think I so much as saw one. Yet I traveled most of 100 miles.

The occasion was a Toastmasters event at Westmoreland Community College, some 45 miles from Pittsburgh. I got a ride there and back with other attendees. This was actually fun, as it would have been a boring ride going out solo, had I had my own wheels available. For them, they each had a radio of some sort to listen to, had I not been there to converse with.

I am not against car use. I am against 100% car dependency 100% of the time. I would not have been able to attend this event without a car.

I actually got to previous events of this type by motorcycle, even in January, but even that was fraught with trouble: 2016, wrecked on ice. 2014, got there (actually, Zelienople, that time) but couldn't get the bike started when leaving. 2013, got there but fog covered up my glasses so badly I was temporarily blinded at times. So the m/c is not necessarily a worthy option for the winter trips.

Other years, like today, I've been able to catch a ride with one of the many other attendees coming from the metro Pittsburgh area. We all benefit, as we get to discuss matters of common interest. In turn, I've done favors or assisted people, not that either of us feels indebted to the other, just more of that karma I mentioned in a post last week. We all help one another.

Nor is there a concern that the event is in an inaccessible location. Like it or not, while it is quite a haul from Pittsburgh, it is central to the larger District 13 Toastmasters, which stretches from State College PA to Morgantown WV to Salem OH. WCCC is only a couple of minutes from several major highways, so is not difficult to get to other than distance.

What would be bad, for me, is acquiring a car for the sole purpose of driving twice a year to an event 50 miles away. That's what rentals are for. I would sooner drop $100/day for a car I need only sporadically, than $10K/year for the same purpose. Sure, I can use that car for other purposes, but that is justifying the huge cost from the avoidable 100% daily dependency, which to me seems just nuts.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Autonomous bike path snowplows

Attention Mayor Peduto, PennDOT, Uber, Google Robotics, Bike-Pgh, and others with a stake in winter cycling in the city:

All this talk about autonomous cars and taxis and so forth is missing an important boat. Cycling after a snowfall in Pittsburgh is darn near impossible because the city, or PennDOT, or whomever, does not ever, it seems, clear the bike paths. This needs to happen hours after a snow, not days or weeks or not at all. I myself am the proud owner of a busted shovel, accomplished by chopping ice off of the ramp from Second Avenue to the Hot Metal Bridge in February 2010. Nobody even tried to clear that ramp between the Feb 6 storm and the Feb 20 shovel brigade. To this day, if it gets done at all, it is long after a snowfall.

The solution is to have a set of brush trucks traverse the bike paths, in the middle of the night if necessary, anytime it snows. If humans are not available to make this happen, it should be done by automated driving, like the Uber cars. Imagine, snow starts to fall at midnight, but at 3 a.m., the automated plows come to life, and begin their routes. By daybreak, the paths have had at least one good pass. If it's stopped snowing, they return to their sheds (or a fueling station), but if not, they repeat their routes.

This will require some figuring out. Unlike streets, bike paths do not follow the same rules of pavement markings or lane widths. Still, it's a solvable problem. For example, if cutting through deeper snow, it may not be possible to discern where the path is at all, relying exclusively on GPS coordinates.

But high-tech aside, even if a human was available to do the driving, it's still going to take a fleet of these to handle clearing our many miles of bike paths, bridges, ramps, and other infrastructure. Fuel, routine service, and longer-term repairs, all seem like the sort of thing that has already been figured out for other applications, say PennDOT keeping the grass trimmed along highways, or street sweeping equipment owned or contracted by any of the above. This shouldn't be that difficult to plan and execute, provided the money is available. (Separate discussion.)

Can we, sometime this winter, develop a plan for getting this done? Give each machine a range of, say, eight miles to clear, so four miles out and back. Some that come to mind:
* Eliza Furnace Trail and Smithfield Street Bridge. (route)
* Bottom of Boundary Street to Hot Metal and its ramps to the end of South 18th. (route)
* 6th, 7th, 9th Street sidewalks and bike lane, if present, plus ramps to river level (route)(only about 4 miles, but many street crossings, plus heavy usage)
* Fort Pitt and Fort Duquesne Bridges (incomplete route)
* Penn Ave bike lane, starting at Point State Park, looping at north end of 16th St Bridge, and Spring Way out to 31st Street (route)
* North Shore Trail, from Alcosan to Millvale (route)
* South Side Trail, from Duquesne Incline to South Side Works (route)(SSide works is about 4 miles of the 9 shown)
* Strip District Trail, and along the city side of the river from Convention Center to Point State Park (route)

That's eight paths, just off the top of my head, and I'm sure there are plenty of others. I didn't try to optimize this, just sketched a few ideas. We should come up with a more scientific approach to this, complete with actual humans with appropriate equipment, to perform a full sweep after a couple inch snowfall. Get some data, figure out what it's really going to cost to acquire and run this service. Put it out there when we get a stronger storm, say 6" or more, see whether or where it gets bolluxed up.

If we care enough to mow the grass in our parks in the summertime, we should care enough to sweep the bike paths in the wintertime.

This idea gets bandied about every winter, yet nothing happens. How about this winter, we finally do something about it?

Friday, January 6, 2017

About a bike lane advisory committee

A current news story in Pittsburgh has Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith proposing a bike lane advisory committee to review any proposed new bike lanes in the city. Ignoring the rather obvious problem that her district is devoid of any bike infrastructure -- there's hardly a bike rack to be found, let alone a lane -- the bigger problem is that it adds a layer of red tape where none is necessary and the equivalent functions are already covered by other departments' responsibilities.

If we are going to spend political capital on bike lanes, whose purpose is to get more people on bikes, then let's tackle what really needs to be done.

I like the idea of an advisory committee. I just don’t think I’m the one who should be on it. Aside from the fact I am not a city resident, a more salient concern is that I’m not a fan of bike lanes. I would rather we tackle the larger problem of intolerant motorists, something the idea of bike lanes addresses by separating motorists and cyclists for much of the time, except for when they do have to interact, and then the unsolved problem becomes a real-time problem.

In short, rather than worry about bike lanes and how and where to put them and what they should look like, I would rather we focus on the 99.8% of the lane-miles in the city that do not now and likely will not ever have a bike lane, but can be expected to have bike-car interactions. We accomplish that by:
  • Enforcing speed limits, particularly on streets cyclists should be able to use
  • Prosecuting drivers who endanger cyclists
  • Assisting cyclists with the knowledge necessary to video and report dangerous drivers
  • Establishing laws, at the state level if necessary, for a bounty system to reward cyclists for bringing dangerous drivers to justice
  • Educating law enforcement, magistrates, and others relevant to the justice system, to what the law truly means concerning best-practices cycling (so cyclists don’t get pulled over for taking the lane, as one example)
  • Forcing state, county, and city planning and engineering entities to design streets that make it less possible for drivers to have a chance to mow down cyclists and pedestrians
  • Getting road maintenance departments at municipal, county and state levels to address road surface hazards that endanger cyclists, such as diagonal rail crossings, longitudinal drain grates, unswept shoulders which cyclists are expected to use, etc.
Somehow, I do not think it is envisioned that a bike lane advisory committee would have the charter, let alone the teeth, to bring that about. But that is precisely what we need to get us to the next level of bicycle usage for routine transportation in both the city, and by extension, the metro area.

So, while I will not stand in the way of setting up such a committee within the city, I do not think its purpose is all that useful.

I cannot say it often or loudly enough: Make it possible for the average person to do anything other than drive.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Back to having an annual pass

As of 1 Jan 2017, I again own an annual bus pass. Starting in the mid-1990s, I opted to get an annual instead of monthlies to save money. At the time, you paid for 10 months yet got 12. It's a little less generous now, 11 gets you 12, but still a deal. If you're flush enough to cough up a grand-plus for a single transaction, do it.

The winner for me, though, was elimination of the second zone. I had previously gotten a two-zone annual, which cost over $1,600. With the one zone, that's about a $530 savings. I stopped with the Zone 2 annual when I realized that all my biking meant I was only using maybe $1,200 in real bus fare, so I pocketed that money. But I'm biking less, so need a cheaper, more reliable method of getting myself around. This is that method.

How great it would be for everyone to have an annual pass! What fare to pay and when to pay it become non-issues, as are the annoyance of having to either swap out paper passes or remembering to re-up the electronic one in time. Of course, it takes some self-discipline to set aside the cost of a monthly pass each month all year so that you have that grand-and-change for the annual purchase. Not everyone can do that, but every alternative costs more in the long run.

For me, having the pass is more a form of insurance against getting stuck. I generally don't go anyplace the bus can't get me home, so if the weather is too rotten, or some other reason makes the bike not an option, I can always get where I'm going.

If you don't use transit at all, taking the plunge to drop a stack of C-notes may seem bizarre, but consider your own alternatives. Cars cost money, big money, if you're using them, and even when you don't, they still have ongoing costs -- insurance, registration, inspection. Those latter items alone likely exceed the cost of an annual pass, never mind any actual operating costs.

Sum total, next to a bicycle, the most cost-effective form of transportation is the annual pass. $1,072.50 of your hard-earned money, and you can go just about anywhere transit can take you.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

UPMC-induced traffic, and a modest proposal for funding transit

As one of the area's largest employers, UPMC is also one of the area's largest generators of traffic. In employees alone, over 50,000 people travel to jobs daily. In people traveling to receive medical and related services, I do not have figures readily available, but an easy assumption is to triple that figure. Some use transit, but tens of thousands drive.

It is not unreasonable to think that 200,000 of the cars on Pittsburgh roads on any given day are related in some way to UPMC business. If someone has better numbers, let's see them.

Being able to provide the capacity for those employees and customers to choose to or are required to drive is a large part of the overhead of state, county, city, and municipal road departments. At the same time, Port Authority has a hard time making ends meet, and its mid-day service, when people need to travel to appointments, is often the thinnest in places where service remains at all, following major cuts in 1993, 2002, 2007 and 2011.Nearly everyone working evening or night shifts needs to drive, since evening service is minimal, and 24-hour service ended almost 20 years ago.

If UPMC sees fit to pay the salaries of its people to pay the $10,000 per year per car cost of providing their own, private transportation fleets, it seems reasonable to ask it to pay $1,000 apiece for those 50,000 people, to help fund the transit system fully. A solid, stable income would allow Port Authority to put in place the Transit Development Plan devised in 2009, at the service level that, at the time, we decided we needed. It never did get done, because the last of the TDP service changes took place in the same March 2011 service pick that cut 15% of the routes.

Port Authority's funding issues always stem from Harrisburg not wanting to pick up the nearly 70% of local operating costs. Getting fifty million from UPMC, along with comparable amounts from other big players, would do just that. Continuing the thought, if all these health plans from UPMC included a complimentary annual bus pass, that would help assure that anyone covered under the plan would be able to travel to an appointment without the hassle of driving, or the cost of parking.

UPMC spends millions on advertising and promotion. If that money was instead put into transit fare, then the plans would sell themselves, and we would have a more sustainable funding source to run the transit system we already decided we are supposed to have.