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.