Monday, February 25, 2008

PATH: A Tunnel in a River Turns 100 Today

While the costs escalate for our new subway tunnel, Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) turns 100 today. Originally linking Hoboken, New Jersey and Manhattan, the sunken tunnels first operated for trolleys on February 25th, 1908. You can read the original New York Times story from the day after, 2/26/1908, here in PDF form. The system now includes stops in Newark, Jersey City, and on two lines in Manhattan. The trains serve 227,000 daily passengers and the trains run 24 hours a day. And to celebrate, the train is free until 11pm tonight.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The 1421ft Shuttle Bus? And Other T Musings

Just announced on Post-Gazette: Gateway Center subway station is going to close for two years in May of next year to build a new station for the North Shore Connector. The current subway station will be replaced by a new one in 2011, probably due to Gateway Center's lack of an outbound platform. The crazy part of the story is this:
Service will end at the Wood Street T Station in the interm. Shuttle buses will be provided for riders who want to continue their trips by transit instead of walking to and from the Gateway Center area.
I one time took a T from Wood Street to Gateway Center and then laughed at myself for waiting to take a minute long ride. The distance between the two stations? 1421ft. And they're going to run a shuttle bus for a quarter mile? A bus that goes 3 blocks? Really? Might as well install a moving walkway like they have at Pittsburgh International Airport. Heck, remove one of the unused ones since they have to close a quarter of the gates. I just hope that if they do make a shuttle bus they expand it a bit, like the old 96A Golden Triangle free bus that circled downtown when people still shopped there.

And again, why does Port Authority still put Penn Station (Or maybe it's called Penn Park...) on some T maps? No trains ever run there, and even if they did they usually only ran twice a day. They did use the Penn Park station during the All-Star Game due to its proximity to the convention center. Wait a second, didn't the Port Authority try to connect the T to the Convention Center as part of the NSC only to cut it due to costs? Meet Glen Walsh, local transit advocate who proposed a plan to link the Penn Park station to both the Mellon Arena and Convention Center using elevated walkways. The City Paper even did a story on it, but the idea was rejected by the Port Authority. The station now just sits there, as does the starwell leading to "Track 3 Penn Park" in Steel Plaza. The far left side of that photo is the Penn Park platform that is now mothballed.

And putting a "future extension" arrow toward the airport when there's no funding or environmental impact plan or acquiring of right of way? Genius.

CORRECTION: The 96A was a reduced fare route, not a free route.

2/23: Full P-G story here. I'm still confused, how will cars transfer from inbound to outbound if the loop at Gateway Center is closed? Will they just reverse? Wait, that's not possible, like two cars in the same elevator shaft... right?

UPDATE again: Turns out I deleted the oh-so-clever map that I created to accompany this story. I'll try to get it back later.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Pittsburgh Transit Blog Roundup

It's that time again to see what Pittsburgh bloggers say about transit...

25th Anniversary of the East Busway

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway, a dedicated transit-only highway between Downtown and Swissvale serving 12 communities and 26,000 riders daily on 32 routes. For scheduling information on those 32 routes, including the EBA, EBS, and EBO, click here. To celebrate, the Port Authority is holding a contest announced in this week's City Paper. Pick up a copy, answer the questions listed in the ad (look for it early in the paper), and you could win a $25 gift card for... the Port Authority. Aw, come on, they have money troubles.

I've ridden buses on the East Busway before, and you'll be amazed how quickly you can get home. As you can guess, I occasionally ride the 61C to McKeesport. If it's rush hour, the trip from Oakland to McKeesport can take 50 minutes. On the schedule. It takes about 65 minutes in real time since it seems it takes 30 minutes just to ride the length of Murray Avenue. And don't even mention the trouble to get on in Oakland due to overcrowding.

And then I found the 58C and 58P buses. They only run rush hours in the peak direction, but they can take me from Oakland to McKeesport in about 25-30 minutes. Yeah, it's ridiculously fast. The only problem? I have to catch it at Negley Station on the East Busway, which thankfully is served by the EBO, 71A and 71C. So it takes a transfer, but it's worth it in time and saving frustration.

The East Busway's quick connections to Eastern suburbs could be in jeopardy as the Rankin Bridge will be partly closed starting in May. The old bridge is rated "structurally deficient," so an upgrade is much needed. But traffic due to lane restrictions could slow down the buses which exit the busway in Swissvale. No word from the Port Authority whether buses will be rerouted.

And a little trivia: did you know city and county officials sometimes get busway passes? Former Port Authority board chairman and county executive Jim Roddey had one, until he gave it up due to controversy. A Post-Gazette writer rode with him right before he turned in his pass. Roddey even auctioned it off (voided) at a charity auction for $400.

Could other vehicles use the busway perhaps? It's been mentioned before, with Yellow Cab saying they'd pay for the privilege. It came up again during Onorato's wish list for transit between Oakland, Pittsburgh, and the Airport (covered here in November). The Post-Gazette was quick to say that the federal government might not be too happy using a busway as a turnpike though.

So happy 25th East Busway! You're not the T, but that's ok.

Oh, and P.S., if you enter the contest, just look at the first link in this post. All the answers are there. And if you're interested in more history about the busway, PAHighways has lots of info, including the controversy over the 2003 expansion.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Election 2008 - Where Obama and McCain Stand on Transit

Continuing our series on the 2008 Presidental Primary, it's time to look at the other major candidates: Democratic candidate Barack Obama and Republican candidate John McCain. For the position of Hillary Clinton and Mike Huckabee on transit, see my previous post.

And a note for any supporters of any of these candidates that may visit this site: if you believe I have portrayed a candidate incorrectly, please contact me with a quote or link to the candidate's website that states otherwise.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama, as an Illinois State Senator, has some history fighting for fair transit in his home of Chicago, for example this 2003 letter about conditions on a Metra commuter line serving black neighborhoods.

In his Energy platform, Obama discusses how to promote transit by offering the same tax breaks drivers have "to make benefits for driving and public transit or ridesharing equal." In addition, he states he wishes to "re-commit federal resources to public mass transportation projects across the country." In his specific Transportation plan recently released, he states the following objectives:
  • Support Amtrak Funding
  • Support Development of High-Speed Freight and Passenger Rail
  • Improve Transportation Access to Jobs
The final one seems to be the most emphasized part of Obama's plan for transit, which will "ensure that additional federal public transportation dollars flow to the highest-need communities." He also supports a $60 Billion National Infrastructure Bank, similar to a Senate bill proposed earlier this year.

Overall, Obama's plan has more of a social-justice bent to it, making sure that everyone can access a job no matter where they live or whether they can afford a car. Pushing this point further is Obama's Gulf Coast plan that involves improving bus and rail transit in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The idea of a infrastructure bank is shared by Clinton, who claimed Obama stole her idea. Oh well, I'd rather have stolen good ideas than bad novel ones. He does not give the concrete $1.5B number that Clinton gives to improve transit, but overall it appears he is dedicated to making transit and rail part of the infrastructure improvements this nation desperately needs.

John McCain

I keep searching, but I cannot find anything on his website John McCain has planned for improving mass transportation. The only significant thing I can present is John McCain's record on Amtrak: for privatization and against expansion. The "pork" McCain pledges to cut may be referring to federal funding for transportation projects.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Election 2008 - Where Clinton and Huckabee Stand on Transit

Tonight I want to finally begin my series of posts on Presidential candidates and where they stand on transit. Is transit a federal issue? It sure is: federal funding for transit projects is $9 billion dollars a year. So I searched around for what the candidates on both sides have to say about the role the federal government should play in mass transit and the role mass transit plays in our society. Note that this is based purely on the candidates' speeches, interviews, and platforms. Feasibility or sincereness of these plans is outside of my realm.

And a note for any supporters of any of these candidates that may visit this site: if you believe I have portrayed a candidate incorrectly, please contact me with a quote or link to the candidate's website that states otherwise.

Our first post is about Hillary Clinton, Democratic candidate for president and Mike Huckabee, Republican candidate for president. (To see my post about Obama and McCain, click here.)

Hillary Clinton

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has the most direct mention of transit on her website:

Increase federal funding for public transit by $1.5 billion per year. Increased public transit usage is arguably the best strategy for ameliorating the energy and environmental costs of transportation. As energy costs rise, more people will rely on public transportation. Today, only 5% of Americans commute by public transit, but doubling that figure could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 25%. Public transit is also critically important to people who live in urban areas and rely on buses and trains for travel to work and school. Moreover, as the population ages, an increasing number of people will need public transit as their ability to drive diminishes. Hillary will increase federal investment in public transit by $1.5 billion per year to ensure needed capacity expansions and service level improvements.

In addition, she proposes an investment of "an additional $1 billion in intercity passenger rail systems" such as Amtrak. This is all part of her "Rebuild America Plan" that was promoted in the aftermath of the Minnesota Bridge Collapse. This plan appears to be very ambitious, but I personally am glad to see mass transportation being mentioned in our infrastructure crisis.

Other links:
Mike Huckabee

Mike Huckabee also has a plan for renewing our infrastructure. Personally, I'll state I'm a Democratic voter, but his emphasis on the need for our infrastructure to be rebuilt caught me by surprise in a a recent interview. He makes the connection between jobs and economic stimulus with infrastructure expansion. For example, he has a plan to expand I-95 on the East Coast by adding two lanes. Unfortunately, I was watching the video and was waiting for any mention of transit as part of the solution. He does not seem to emphasize that as much as airport and highway expansion.

However, Huckabee does have a plan on his website for infrastructure, and does mention transit:

So we must also look at longer-term ways to grow local economies and our national economy by: first, easing congestion by emphasizing road expansion and mass-transit investment; second, funding strategic capital improvement projects to make more localities attractive to new businesses and workers; and third, rebuilding the infrastructure of our "tools for trade" such as improvements to and expansions of our seaports and airports.

We must link land use and transportation planning. It is folly, for example, to provide rail service to places that don't have the density to make it work.

Properly used, public transportation can reduce congestion and emissions, lower our demand for oil, and improve accessibility.

See also his statement on infrastructure from another debate. Further details on his transit plan are sketchy, but I see he does have some part of his vision for transit. I just personally think adding lanes to highways just leads to more congestion and does not solve any problems relating to the environment. Expanding high speed train service to all parts of the east coast? Now that would be something.

Friday, February 8, 2008

South Side Buses Rerouted due to Birmingham Bridge Closure

NOTE: The Birmingham Bridge fully reopened 9/6/08. This blog post is for archival purposes only.

A rider alert: South Side buses, including the 54C and 59U, have been rerouted due to the indefinite closure of the Birmingham Bridge. Apparently the bridge has dropped 8 inches due to a girder slippage. The bridge was closed this morning without incident, and has no definite date of reopening. This causes problems for some South Side buses (51E, 54C, 59U, 84A, 84B, and 84C.) You can read the Rider Alert from the Port Authority here. Here's the official detour routing also. This will cause problems for East Carson St. visitors on the 54C, since the bus will no longer serve 19th-22nd Street and Carson. Port Authority is not stating which stops have been added to the 54C, but I would guess that stops would be added between 10th and 18th Street. South Side Works service on the 59U should not be affected, but expect delays.

Here's the part where I'd say call the Port Authority (412-442-2000) for more information, but they're closed right now. Damn. They are open for calls 6am-7pm Monday-Friday and 8am-4:30pm Weekends and Holidays.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Public Transit... to Another Country?

A little trivia for everyone tonight.

Not counting a few Amtrak routes (Adirondack to Montreal, Cascades to Vancouver, and Maple Leaf to Toronto), are there any public transit routes between the United States and another country?

Ok, so if you know anything about current events, the border between Mexico and the United States is a hot topic. So I think a United States transit agency would be very reluctant to run service to Mexico even with customs control. San Diego comes very close to the border on their trolley service but does not cross it. El Paso Sun Transit does not go across the Rio Grande, and neither does Laredo El Metro.

But what about our neighbor to the north, eh? Yes, I found the Tunnel Bus. This service, run by Transit Windsor, connects Detroit with Windsor, Ontario through the submerged Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. Service is offered 7 days a week and costs $3.75. I was about to ask whether that was Canadian or American dollars, but I guess it doesn't matter much right now. Just remember the holiday schedule is based on Canadian holidays.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Bus Peeves Chapter One

Sorry for the lull in posts lately, but this weekend I hope to get out a review of the Presidential Candidates on transit issues. So I figured I'd tide everyone over with a discussion on some of what bothers me about transit in Pittsburgh. I bet these peeves are universal to most transit systems too. Now, the obvious responses would be to say more routes and more trips, but I'd like to look more at the riding experience itself that could maybe be fixed without large budget increases. Sadly, this looks to be first in a series. Feel free to join in.

The Buses
  • The schedules are never there! It's hard for a lot of people to acquire a schedule for a route. If you work downtown, you can get them at T stations or at the Port Authority Service Center on Smithfield. However, if you can't get to these places you might be out of luck. The racks on the buses are often empty. When they are filled, they often carry schedules for the rush hour routes probably used by the bus when it left the garage. Some buses I've been on just seem to be filled with random schedules running nowhere near Oakland. These seems like it could be solved easily be restocking the racks more often.
  • Some are really old. There's a lot of the old buses still out there. And not just the paint scheme is bad. The seats are broken, the bus is darker, and there's usually no digital destination sign that tells you what the next stop is. Those signs really help those riding transit feel less intimidated riding a new route, and hopefully more will be installed soon.

Schedule Information

  • There's no system map. The system map on Port Authority's website is woefully out of date and very confusing. Recent cuts are not on the map, which appears to be at least 5 years old (note the mention of the "Kaufmann's Clock", the lack of PNC Park and Heinz Field, and the old Ride Gold logo.) Printed system maps seem to be nonexistent. The closest I have seen are the "Way To Go Pittsburgh" maps which are a decent review of major routes that connect Downtown with Oakland and other parts of the city. Wait, see how none of that preceding sentence was a hyperlink? That's right. I can't find "Way To Go" maps anywhere on the website. Same goes for the "Ride Guide," a vague but somewhat useful pamphlet of which routes go where. Look for both of those at your nearest schedule rack I guess.

  • The telephone service number is understaffed and closes early. People would be less fearful to take transit if they knew they could call someone and ask if their bus is coming. Unfortunately, customer service closes at 7:00pm on weekdays and 4:30pm(!) on weekends. The weekend time is ridiculous, since it is too early for both workers and leisure riders. Also, the phone lines are jammed on weekdays, leading to long wait times. Usually the late bus shows up by the time you get them on the phone. Problem solved I guess.

The Riders

  • First, a preface. Some unsavory people ride transit. I don't know if transit attracts them or if transit is your only chance to see all walks of life. Unfortunately, I don't have many horror stories because I'm a guy, and the terrible stories almost always involve harassment of females. Instead of focusing on those creeps, I'll instead talk about rider etiquette that could be helped by driver (and even rider) enforcement. But please know, if someone is making you feel uncomfortable, tell the driver or call Port Authority Police at 412-255-1385. Drivers don't take crap, and riders do get kicked off and arrested.

  • Ok, here it comes. MOVE TO THE DAMN BACK OF THE BUS! I cannot stress this enough. Riders get passed up because you don't want to move to the back. Everyone is getting off at Forbes and Murray anyway. You'll get off too. Your friend sitting in the front will still be there when you get off. Move it. A little further back please. No, don't stop at the stairs at the back of the low-floor buses. Walk up them. There you go.

  • People who save seats or sit on the outside. Welcome to public transit. You're going to have to sit next to someone.

  • People who crowd the front of the bus when it's not even full. This is just weird and they deserve every rider getting on elbowing them as they try to make their way to the empty back seats.

  • People who don't pull the cord but expect the driver to stop by yelling "Hey I'm getting off here" as it rolls away. Come on. It's there for a reason. Believe it or not I've seen this.

  • People who don't move from the front seats for the elderly. I've seen two elderly people who were standing fall down. Don't let that happen. It just isn't cool to watch an 80-year-old man hang on for dear life while the college student sits comfortably in the front seats.

  • Did I mention people need to move to the back of the bus?

That's all I have for now, and know that with all of this, I still enjoy public transit. There's a real link to the people and the city when you ride a bus. You really do feel like everyone is in this together. We may be from different places and come from different backgrounds but we're all on the same route.