Experts say Pittsburgh transit system has potential
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Pittsburgh has the ingredients for a "smart" transportation system but a ways to go to get there, a panel of visiting experts said Friday.
Much more can be done to compile and share such transportation data as traffic volumes, transit schedules and parking availability, which can be valuable to city planners for big-picture development decisions or the average Joe trying to figure out the fastest way home on a Tuesday evening.
The panel, whose services were donated to the city as part of IBM's Smarter Cities Challenge, also recommended expansion of innovations that are currently in place but limited in scope.
For instance, the ParkPGH website provides real-time data about parking space availability in several Downtown garages, but not all of them, and could be expanded to include facilities like suburban park-n-ride lots, said Darin Briskman, visiting from Beaverton, Ore.
The smart cards that the Port Authority is rolling out for fare payments could be expanded to pay for parking and other transportation expenses. Someone who usually drives and uses his card for parking might be tempted to try the bus, he said.
One hundred thirty of the city's traffic signals are managed from a center but 480 haven't yet been added to the network, said Prashant Washimkar from Pune, India. The central hub can manage intersections better because it sees the big picture of traffic movements, while the police officer at a signal box knows only what's happening on that block, he said.
IBM selected Pittsburgh as one of 33 recipients of 150 applicants for a Smarter Cities Challenge grant-funded study. The experts came from Norway, Mexico, India, North Carolina, Vermont and Washington, D.C., spending three weeks walking streets, riding transit and interviewing leaders of key organizations.
While some of their suggestions were more general than specific, the theme underlying most of them was better compilation, use and sharing of data.
They even suggested setting up an umbrella organization to coordinate sharing of data among companies, organizations and the public. "Look at it as a system of systems, not just individual organizations," said Cindy Dalton, in from the nation's capital.
"Cities are becoming the dominant force in our world's economy," said Diane Melley, IBM's director of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs. Fifty percent of the world population lives in cities and that is expected to grow, she said, putting pressure on cities to develop smarter, more sophisticated transportation networks.
Mr. Washimkar said Pittsburgh has all the ingredients to do so, including passionate citizens, committed leaders, education and research institutions, insightful foundations, strong advocacy groups and engaged employers.
The panel placed Pittsburgh at the second of five levels of what it called "maturity" in developing smart transportation, meaning there is plenty of room for growth. It can be done inexpensively and significant improvements could take less than two years, Ms. Dalton said.
"Our city planners are hard at work finalizing the city's first-ever comprehensive transportation plan and these recommendations will help us prioritize our next steps," said Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.
First Published October 13, 2012 12:00 am