Fast and affordable: Could Bus Rapid Transit become an option?

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Pittsburgh is well served by its light-rail transit system, which carries passengers through Downtown, the South Hills and to major destinations on the North Shore.

Even before LRT, Allegheny County had streetcars that rolled on steel rails and were powered by electricity. If those lines had remained, Pittsburgh would still be enjoying a classic form of transportation that some cities -- San Francisco, New Orleans, Dallas and others -- have managed to preserve in certain neighborhoods.

But in an age of tight public budgets and tight-fisted taxpayers, the transit choices of the future could turn largely on cost.

That's why Bus Rapid Transit -- BRT -- could play a role.

Pittsburgh and three other cities will split a $1.2 million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to teach the public about BRT. That's a good thing, because although BRT has been a success in places such as Cleveland, Los Angeles and Kansas City, it is little known or understood here.

Port Authority Transit's East Busway has elements of BRT, which make it fast and effective, but other features define the 21st century versions of Bus Rapid Transit. Among them are exclusive bus lanes, traffic signal priority for buses, fare collection at passenger platforms and not on the bus, loading platforms level with the bus floor, and large and spacious vehicles that look and feel like light rail.

Get There PGH represents more than 30 community stakeholders that are exploring BRT, particularly along the key route between Downtown and Oakland. Among its members are Sustainable Pittsburgh, Allegheny Conference, Allegheny Labor Council, University of Pittsburgh, UPMC, the city, the county and the Port Authority. The public can learn how BRT might work here by checking the group's website:

Although we still see light rail as the transit of the future and a nostalgia for streetcars still tugs at our hearts, there's nothing wrong with Pittsburghers learning and investigating what Bus Rapid Transit could do in getting us from point A to point B.



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