Brian O'Neill: What can 21st Century transit do for The Run?
May 8, 2016 12:00 AM
Four Mile Run -- a quiet slice of Greenfield sits beneath the Parkway East Bridge.
By Brian O'Neill / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Ray Gerard and I walked nearly a mile and a half along the railroad tracks, just as he had when he was a boy growing up in the quiet slice of Greenfield known as “The Run,’’ to see how the city might construct a special transit corridor linking the Oakland campuses with a 178-acre Hazelwood development site.
We were trespassing but, sometimes, it’s better to ask forgiveness than seek permission. We were working on the same puzzle the city has before it, which is how to build a limited-access roadway in Junction Hollow while enhancing, not harming, the quality of life for people who live in the neighborhoods at either end: Panther Hollow and The Run.
The Run is officially “Four Mile Run,’’ but as Mr. Gerard said, “You look at a map and there are no people on the maps.’’ To grasp a new line on your map, walk the community.
PG Map: High-tech transit corridor (Click image for larger version)
A freelance photographer who loves his neighborhood, Mr. Gerard, 55, has been a forthright critic of this project. The city is trying to manufacture consent with an “aura of inevitability,’’ he said, but is essentially asking, “How we gonna fit a size 13 foot in a size 9 shoe?”
I’m not as skeptical. The Panther Hollow stretch looks doable. Even allowing for 25 to 50 feet of right of way that CSX claims to each side of the twin tracks’ midpoint, there appears to be room for a 24-foot-wide roadway on the western side. Those tracks, where eight trains already run daily, are shielded by trees behind a parking lot across from the residences on Boundary Street.
If CSX sees the stretch the same way, there may be no harm, no foul, for the northern end of the transit run between Carnegie Mellon University and whatever high-tech jobs come to Hazelwood. Any shuttle buses should be able to stay largely out of sight and sound from residents to the west.
It gets trickier farther south as those tracks skirt The Run. Planning Director Ray Gastil nonetheless believes the city can parlay the “green” project planned for Schenley Park water diversion with this transit connection. That water piece is way overdue; anyone in The Run can tell you about its floods.
Moving water more safely to the Monongahela River may involve daylighting a stream or may involve a big pipe, and whether the transit corridor runs over or beside the water isn’t yet known, Mr. Gastil said. But if the route can stay close to the rail line it shouldn’t have negative impact on the neighborhood, and that’s the goal, he said.
The transit line would turn east into Hazelwood after it leaves The Run. Whether that eastward stretch is on the Almono development site or follows closer to Irvine Street isn’t known, but the entire route from Oakland would be over two miles.
CMU is partnering with Uber to develop a driverless vehicle, but whatever shuttle is used here shouldn’t be loud or dirty, Mr. Gastil said. He echoed Councilman Corey O’Connor, who represents the district, in saying the vehicles on this roadway must be publicly accessible.
The goal here is to give people an option besides their car as we grow the city, because there are so many times in any working day when that’s not the best way to get around it. Mr. O’Connor thinks there might be a mix of campus-operated and Port Authority vehicles, and “now’s the time to have this conversation.’’
There isn’t much traffic in The Run in the middle of a workday. Residents like that. Mr. Gerard introduced me to John and Ellen Gula; he grew up in The Run and she’s been there only the 44 years they’ve been married. Two of their three children live in the neighborhod, too, as do other relatives.
Ruska Dolina — the Rusyn Valley — is the neighborhood nickname and, before I left, the Gulas took me into St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church and its sanctuary of ornate iconography. There Andy Warhol once was an altar boy.
My mother always said that if you say three particular prayers after you enter a church for the first time, you get three wishes. I knelt, prayed and then wished that 1) this transit corridor is built 2) in a way that the residents of Panther Hollow benefit and 3) that The Run’s residents do, too.
It may not take an act of God to get this right but it can’t hurt.
Brian O’Neill: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1947
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