Rethink the BRT

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Recent articles regarding the rerouting of buses in Downtown Pittsburgh as well as planning for Bus Rapid Transit to Oakland prompt me to write. Routing buses to the periphery of Downtown would seem to be in direct opposition to decreasing transit time between Downtown and Oakland. The solution to both these issues already exists and lies below the streets of Pittsburgh in the form of the Downtown subway.

Given the high costs of light-rail transit, and subway construction in particular, local leaders appear to have seized upon the concept of BRT to link Oakland to Downtown. The success of BRT in Cleveland has heightened interest in this mode of transportation. But Pittsburgh lacks wide streets such as Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, so success in that city does not automatically portend success here.

BRT also is impacted by weather and traffic congestion and necessitates a time-wasting/patronage-killing transfer to the existing subway. More important, it lacks the cachet of rail rapid transit service and is unlikely to attract the passenger volume or provide the level of service associated with an extension of the LRT to Oakland.

While the fiscal reality is that our region may not be able to afford a far more expensive extension of the existing subway to Oakland, an alternative analysis including light rail should be part of any BRT study concerning the Downtown-to-Oakland corridor. One cost-saving option that should be looked at is building light rail as a depressed surface line through the Hill District to reduce the costs of subway construction.

Finally, given the reversal of fortunes our region has recently seen after 50 years of decline, we ought to shoot for something better than a bus to link the two biggest economic generators in our region.


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