IBM report: Transit key to future of Pittsburgh

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A good transportation network is vital to Pittsburgh's economic health, and several low-cost improvements are within the city's reach, according to a report prepared by IBM's Smarter Cities Challenge.

"Pittsburgh's successful renaissance into a technology-based, green community should not be stalled by a lack of transportation," said the report, which was made public by the office of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl last week.

"Active transportation options, such as biking or walking, high-quality transportation infrastructure, availability of parking and efficient public transit will empower citizens and visitors to contribute to the vibrancy of the economy," it said.

Key to the effort is better data collection and sharing, the authors said, noting that many agencies -- including the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Port Authority, Pittsburgh Parking Authority and police -- gather various types of data.

It recommended that the city create an "integrated transportation data and information service platform" to bring it all together and make it publicly available. It said the melding of the data "holds the power to transform the lives of citizens, businesses and visitors."

Ideally, the city should have a state-of-the-art traffic management center that controls all signals and responds to incidents like signal outages, it said, but such a facility "would be a strain on scarce resources." As an alternative, the city should develop what it called a "distributed traffic management center" that would provide information to help travelers plan their trips.

"The city should sponsor the development of a real-time journey planning and advisory tool that is widely available and accessible through multiple channels," including computers, mobile devices and vehicle navigation systems and at transit stops, parking facilities and bike stations, the report said.

The authors also focused on public transportation, recommending strategies to increase ridership by 10 percent to reduce vehicular traffic.

"The number of people in Pittsburgh's urban core doubles during each business day, with 52 percent of the people commuting into the city relying on public transportation," the report said, noting that Port Authority service was cut by 15 percent in 2011.

Some of its recommendations, including expanded use of fare "smartcards," are already being implemented by the authority. The authors also recommended that riders be given Internet access on vehicles; that transit vehicles have priority at traffic signals; that real-time information about bus arrivals be made available via mobile devices; and that bus stops be improved with shelters, seats and route information.

One recommendation was adopted by the city just prior to the report's release. A bike share program, with 500 bikes to be made available for point-to-point trips to any of 50 solar-powered stations throughout the city, was announced by Mr. Ravenstahl last week.

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Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at www.post-gazette.com/Roundabout. Twitter: @pgtraffic.


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