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.