Rapid transit proposal gets positive reviews at sessions
April 5, 2017 11:55 PM
Jason Baguette, a civil engineer with "SciTek" talks with Matt Barnes, a grad student at Carnegie Mellon University, about one of the Port Authority's proposals for the Bus Rapid Transit system on Wednesday at the University of Pittsburgh's Alumni Hall in Oakland.
Transportation planners will have two meetings with the public on Wednesday to discuss their plans for the Bus Rapid Transit system in Oakland.
By Ed Blazina / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald is pleasantly surprised at the mostly positive public response to the proposal to set up a Bus Rapid Transit system between Oakland and Downtown Pittsburgh.
The response to this project, developed jointly by planners for the city and Port Authority, is in sharp contrast to the public outcry over the last major transit project in this region a decade ago — the North Shore Connector that extended the T system from Downtown to the North Shore, Mr. Fitzgerald said Wednesday. He made his comments after opening remarks Wednesday at the first display of the bus system proposal at the University of Pittsburgh’s Alumni Hall, where about 200 people attended two sessions.
The general sessions followed about 20 meetings with neighborhood groups since the project was unveiled last month. The system will put electric vehicles on dedicated lanes to cut travel time in half between Oakland and Downtown, two of the top three job centers in Pennsylvania, at a cost of $200 million to $240 million.
“Everybody hated the North Shore Connector until it was built, but now it’s used a lot,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “They seem to love this idea from the beginning.”
Right now, 19 bus routes move 61,000 people a day between Oakland and Downtown. The goal is to end those routes in Oakland and have riders transfer to the Bus Rapid Transit system, which will have additional benefits of reducing air pollution and completely rebuilding Fifth and Forbes avenues between Oakland and Downtown.
“This should be called People Rapid Transit,” Mr. Fitzgerald told the audience. “When this gets built, there’s going to be a lot more riders. It’s going to look like a train on rubber wheels.”
Planners are using the meetings to find out which route should be used through Oakland — all electric vehicles on Fifth Avenue or inbound on Fifth and outbound on Forbes — and whether to continue the system through priority lanes and smart traffic signals to other neighborhoods such as Highland Park, Squirrel Hill and Wilkinsburg. They expect to make those decisions by the end of the month.
Wednesday’s meeting wasn’t a formal public hearing with testimony, which upset some visitors who wanted to vent about Port Authority service cuts several years ago, but visitors could post comments on a map of the project area. Most of the comments were positive, such as how much thousands of transfer riders would benefit Oakland businesses, but one speaker called the project “a solution in search of a problem.”
Paul A. Supowitz, the university’s vice chancellor for community and governmental affairs, said Pitt hasn’t taken an official position on which route it prefers. The university wants to hear from students and business operators first, he said, although the university would be happy to see the contra-flow bus lane on Fifth Avenue eliminated for safety reasons.
In a news release Wednesday, Pittsburghers for Public Transit generally praised the project but called for more information on the location of stations, whether there will be a charge for transfers and how the new system would change scheduling for other routes into Oakland.
Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchey said those details will be discussed through another series of meetings over the summer, after planners decide which extensions, if any, will be pursued and which configuration will be used in Oakland.
“A lot of that detail is still to come,” Mr.Ritchey said. “I get the point, but that’s the next step.”
The project is expected to be submitted to state and federal officials for funding in early fall. If it is approved, the system could begin operation in 2021.
Ed Blazina: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1470.
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