Moving buses from the heart of Downtown Pittsburgh raises concerns

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A group that advocates for public transit riders has raised questions about a proposal to remove buses from the center of Downtown Pittsburgh, saying it puts the interests of a few businesses ahead of "the greater good of the entire community."

The group, Pittsburghers for Public Transit, also is demanding public involvement in any plan to reroute buses, community organizer Helen Gerhardt said Tuesday. "We're going to make sure that we are very vocal and very involved every step of the way," she said.

The group is concerned about a proposal embraced by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and the likely next mayor of Pittsburgh, city Councilman Bill Peduto, to create a bus-free zone in the center of the Golden Triangle. Bus routes would be moved out toward the fringes of Downtown.

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.

Mr. Fitzgerald reiterated Tuesday that planning for such a change is in its very early stages.

"There are some discussions about how to put a plan together but there is no plan," he said. "There will be public participation, absolutely. I think people are getting the wrong idea that this is going to happen imminently and they'll have no input."

Pittsburghers for Public Transit, which says it has nearly 6,000 supporters who have signed up for email and phone alerts about transit issues, said in an email that "precedence should not be given to the few businesses that have called for removal of bus stops in front of their establishments, when the greater good of the entire community should be our first public priority."

The email had statements from a lawyer who represents disabled people; the head of the transit workers union; and others who raised concerns about shifting bus routes.

Paul O'Hanlon, member of the Committee for Accessible Transportation and staff attorney with the Disability Rights Network, said "any proposed changes must work for everyone, not only a few, not o nly the able-bodied."

"These kinds of changes started with the fancy shops at Fifth and Market upset about the young (and often mostly black) bus riders waiting in front of their shops," said the transit group's Mel Packer. "And so the stop was eliminated ... Is this the kind of 'progressive' city that Fitzgerald and Peduto envision?"

Steve Palonis, president of Local 85, Amalgamated Transit Union, said drivers should be consulted about any changes.

"We've seen too many past attempts to validate such proposals with 'outside consultants' in the name of 'efficiency,' without consulting the highly trained drivers who know the operation of the system the best," he said.

Mr. Fitzgerald said removal of buses from Market Square in 2008 has succeeded in increasing the square's vibrancy. "I think most people would concur that the Market Square model has been successful," he said.

Addressing the allegation that the latest proposal is being driven by a handful of business interests, he said: "Nothing could be farther from the truth. This has huge support across all sectors -- riders, people who work in town, a cross-section of people."

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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. First Published October 8, 2013 8:00 PM


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