Port Authority has begun working on a plan to remove buses and bus stops from the heart of Downtown Pittsburgh.
The plan, backed by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and the city's presumptive mayor-to-be, Bill Peduto, would relocate routes and stops toward the edges of the Golden Triangle, creating what Mr. Fitzgerald called "a zone in the core of Downtown that is bus-free."
Details have not been worked out and Mr. Fitzgerald said the changes aren't likely until sometime next year. "We don't want to rush into it and not do it right," he said.
Mr. Peduto said he envisions a circular route pattern using wider streets toward the edges of Downtown rather than having buses coming from four different directions and turning around in the middle of town.
"If you're doing that you can actually make it so that all destinations in Downtown would only be a few blocks away. You could actually get people closer to where they are going," he said.
Mr. Fitzgerald acknowledged that some riders might have a longer walk to their destinations. "Bus service into Downtown Pittsburgh is not going to be a door-to-door operation. You may have to walk a couple of blocks. Downtown is very walkable," he said.
A revised routing system would also seek to take advantage of the Light Rail Transit system, which is free Downtown, to move bus riders from the fringes to their destinations.
Mr. Fitzgerald said Downtown building and business owners have been pushing for relocation of bus routes and stops for years to ease traffic congestion and eliminate crowding on sidewalks in front of their buildings. "It's not just the buses, it's the bus stops" that are perceived as a problem, he said.
The proposal has broad support in the Downtown business community and is backed by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and Allegheny Conference on Community Development, Mr. Fitzgerald said.
Ken Zapinski, a senior vice president at the Allegheny Conference, said bus circulation Downtown "has been an issue of interest for the conference for 20 years."
"This is the right time to find the most efficient and effective way to move bus traffic Downtown," he said. "It's our belief that the existing circulation pattern is not optimal."
At the city's direction, Port Authority in 2008 removed 22 bus routes from Forbes Avenue in Market Square. Two years later, it eliminated a stop at Fifth Avenue and Market Street because of complaints about crowding on the sidewalks.
A complete overhaul of Downtown bus routing will be a much more complicated undertaking. Hundreds of buses enter and leave the Golden Triangle each day.
An estimated 38.4 percent of Downtown workers, or nearly 50,000 people, take the bus to work. The unique configuration of the streets adds to the challenge.
Port Authority board member John Tague, an advocate for disabled people, said any route reorganization must address the needs of riders with mobility issues. Just the elimination of the Fifth and Market stop "caused some issues in the disability community," he said.
The authority had planned to revamp its routing as part of a systemwide reorganization that began in 2010, but the Downtown phase was postponed when funding problems forced the authority to prepare for possible service reductions.
More recently, the plan was revived, with the authority hiring a consultant and convening a working group that includes government and business leaders.
Input from riders also will be solicited as part of the process, Mr. Fitzgerald said.
On Thursday, the concept got mixed reviews from people at Downtown bus stops.
"That might work. It sounds good," said Leo Campbell of Braddock, waiting at Fourth Avenue and Smithfield Street. Asked whether he would mind a longer walk, he said, "I wouldn't, but there are a lot of people who might."
"No, let it stay right here," said Bertha Brown of McKeesport, waiting at the same stop in her motorized wheelchair.
"Do they realize it's going to stop people from shopping in town?" asked a woman from East Liberty, who declined to give her name. "People are not going to want to walk four or five blocks."
"I think it might be a good idea, cutting down on the people standing and waiting for buses," said Kimberly Bluming of McKees Rocks, as she waited for a bus on Fifth near Smithfield. She said she wouldn't mind a longer walk, "but there are people who are unable to walk who depend on the buses."