Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Grinding up a dream

I should stipulate that this dream actually ended a long time ago, but still the announcement that the East Busway is going to be reengineered ends any real thought that rapid transit could ever be built into the East End and beyond.

The idea that there would be a transit rail heading out of Downtown along the route of the East Busway was a core vision for local transit strategy going back as far as the Early Action Plan which the region coalesced around (for a time) as far back as the 1960's.   Skybus miasma and other things would impede progress, but at the end of the day the foundation of the East Busway was engineered with the intent that rail of some sort could be built along the corridor. (you can read some of those plans yourself here).  The news that the foundation is going to be literally ground up is pretty symbolic in that it ends any real hope of passenger rail ever going in along the route. 

Yes, I know the Port Authority's vision is that the busway is somehow going to operate like a subway by bus or someting like that.  Sounds nice, but we all know that just does not really work anywhere... let alone here.  Once you take out folks who can't travel by car either because of income or for other reasons, folks who have a choice will take rail who won't ever consider taking a bus. 

Such is what counts as progress in Allegheny County.


Blogger smallstreams said...

I love light rail, but I still love the busway. Granted I only live five blocks away, and it doesn't serve as my daily commute, but it's still awesome.

I don't think ridership would grow if the busway turned into light rail. I'd estimate an East Busway conversion would attract about 100 more riders.

I can sympathize, though, that seeing possibilities die is a bummer.

I'm still rooting for an L'ville to Hazelwood commuter train. Judging from the upkeep on the line, it seems that the freight traffic along it has stopped.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010 9:35:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Arsenal said...

We don't have to let rail steal the white collar show. There are tons of coercive legislative things that can be done to encourage mass transit ridership short of modifying form factors. Toll roads, car registration levies, gas taxes, mileage taxes, workplace incentives. We just lack the political will to do any of that.

I like streetcars and rail lines better, too. But without significant behavioral targets stacked in it's favor, rail v bus isn't the pull most pundits presume.

Thursday, April 22, 2010 5:41:00 AM  
Blogger n'at said...

Rail!? Of all the routes at the Port Authority, which one is the most profitable? the most scalable? accessible to multiple transit agencies? open during all inclement weather events including this past snOMG? and *paid for itself*?

when the port authority was siting the corridor there were two options: thousands of individual property purchases/demolitions and new construction OR purchase a corridor which includes bridges and base media fit for rail or rapid bus.

My opinion will never change in believing that the port authority was thinking with their sliderules and not their hearts when choosing rapid bus for the east busway corridor.

How much was the LRT rehab project through the south hills? $65Million in the 1980s for 13 miles and $400Million in 1996 for another 12 miles? How often does one light rail car failure impact an entire route? why after nearly 100 years of rail service in Pittsburgh we still cannot eliminate snow and ice disruptions? Rail is incredibly expensive to build, operate and maintain and will never be a viable alternative to rapid bus in Pittsburgh, IMHO...

Thursday, April 22, 2010 8:18:00 AM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

My wife and I are daily East Busway riders, and I think it is great the way it is. I think our case is illustrative of why it works so well: our usual bus runs on surface streets through our neighborhood (about a block from our house), then hops on the East Busway for the run Downtown. You can do the same thing with shuttle buses to a train station, but transfers are a ridership-killer.

This ability to smoothly transition from mixed-use roads to a busway is also why the East Busway can have comparable ridership to the T with much less dedicated mileage: you only need the dedicated busway part where you are bypassing congestion, in this case from the other side of the Squirrel Hill tunnel to Downtown.

Conversely, the route of the East Busway really isn't ideal if you are thinking in terms of the ability of new rapid transit to spur development. On most of its route it is either already developed/developing, or it is running through ravines, next to cliffs, and so forth. We have lots more areas without any rapid transit at all right now that could really use the boost, and that is where I would like to see any available funding go.

In short, as a commuter-oriented line, the East Busway works great, and it doesn't really have a great route for anything else. The only thing I could see happening in the future is electrifying it so that you could use trolleybuses as well--although maybe natural gas hybrids will be a good enough solution in our area to make even that unnecessary.

Thursday, April 22, 2010 9:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone who thinks LRT is worth the investment along the East Busway cooridor obviously hasn't commuted regularly on both the T and the Busway. Despite a massive capital investment to build, the LRT is slow and inflexible to changing ridership patterns. Not to mention the factors that others mentioned about mechanical breakdowns and weather events affecting the commute for thousands. In contrast, the Busway cost much less to build and requires less in ongoing maintenance. It's fast and provides for the flexibility to reroute feeder buses in ways that capture changing ridership patterns. LRT would be much sexier, but given our state and local funding situation for public transit the Port Authority would be wise to continue expansion of bus-based cooridors and forget the LRT's just not going to happen.

Monday, April 26, 2010 9:32:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

A great argument, the only problem with it is that is that the actual riders don’t vote with their feet and agree.. like it or not the only way to get the marginal rider to use transit is with something other than a bus no matter how it is run. The argument of costs vs efficiency are the same exact arguments that would hold against building light rail virtually everywhere in the country in all circumstances.

Whether PAT is investing enough to keep the T from breaking down and why it might not be succeeding is a topic unto itself.. so hold that thought though.

In fact, ADB reminds us of something I had briefly forgotten when I typed that. The antipathy against the busway is not hidden or subtle. The communities of Edgewood and Swissvale conducted years of oppostition to extending the busway into their communities, including years of serious litigation… all aimed at preventing the busway instead of the LRT they thought they were promised when they first started cooperating. You may not understand or agree, not sure I do, with their arguments,… but in itself it makes the whole argument that the busway is so great everyone will ride it just not based in reality... or at least a view through the proverbial rose colored glasses.

So if you think LRT out the east busway in some form does not make sense then the order of magnitude (or much more) costs of a spine line would never approach being justified… nor any other LR project anywhere in the region. My point, or my starting point, for that post was that the foundation being ground up was built to hold a rail line. Man those folks must just have been dumb to have once planned on such a thing? That and I have never seen these numbers, but would bet the time series of ridership on the EBA since it opened is not exactly tracking growth. Would be interesting to see though if the port auth bothered to publish those numbers..

If the ridership argument does not matter and you are more of a bottom line $$ person. It is inconceivable that any TRID or transit inspired investment associated with any bus line would approach what a LR line could potentially inspire. That is a hard truth. I’d love to debate anyone with any examples in the US that would refute that… American examples please, no Curibita will save us analogies are just not relevant.

Monday, April 26, 2010 12:21:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Arsenal said...

Chris, what's YOUR goal here? That's something any transit or infrastructure argument has to start from. Not all goals require equivalent actions or policies.

If the goal is to make average middle class voters get to work as comfortably and quickly as possible, wider freeways and city erosion for the sake of private autos is what we need to do. This is the average politician's agenda coz they know who votes and keeps them in office and screeches loudest at tea parties.

If the goal is to save public money, strangling the system from all angles is best. No widening of roads, and cut all bus and train schedules and make no new investments.

If the goal is to serve underserved communities, bus transit gives the biggest bang (passenger mile) per buck. Make as many routes as possible, run them 24-hours and make them stop at as many points as possible. And make them super-cheap for users. Pay more attention to timeliness and frequency than clean buses or graffiti abatement. Don't worry about attracting people who already have cars.

If the goal is to have a slick sexy system that looks good to other city managers and creates resume fodder for bureaucrats, build slick sexy LRT systems and don't worry as much about ridership as with design, funding, and layout on a map. Hopefully it will be so sexy that middle and upper class people leave the BMW at home every now and then to impress their friends with how green they are.

Personally, MY goal is to equalize transit opportunities and outcomes, so I say we start with serving underserved communities and those who can't afford car travel with a good, dense, cheap bus network; then create a surface street system that makes riding a car unpleasant (frequent lights/stops, single lane per direction, parallel parking, no garages, a dense grid, mixed land uses) and create economic incentives and disincentives that get wealthy and poor people inside the same tin cans (congestion tolls, freeway tolls, high registration fees, low transit fares, a focus on serving denser housing areas). I don't care what form factor the tin cans have, as long as the poor people get where they need to go when they need to and the rich people feel a little scared.

Monday, April 26, 2010 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger JRoth said...

I don't understand Chris' contention at all. Have you ever ridden the EBA on a weekday morning? It's half-full of (presumably high-SES) white professionals! It's probably the most economically diverse room in Pittsburgh.

folks who have a choice will take rail who won't ever consider taking a bus

Well, sure, but why should we be so concerned about people who are so racist and classist that they would rather drive 35 minutes and pay to park rather than spend 15 minutes on the bus with "those people"? Shadyside and Friendship are full of "folks who have a choice" who choose the EBA.

It's certainly true that, were the EBA an LRT, it would have even higher (than its systemwide highest) ridership, but at what cost? And, as long as Wilkinsburg and Homewood are between Edgewood and Downtown, Edgewooders are not going to be very interested in riding mass transit in that direction.

Friday, April 30, 2010 2:58:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

At one point I rode it a lot.. not so much recently. and yes, it captures folks from the very immediate environs of it's stops in Shadyside which is what you are obseving for the most part.. but not much at all beyond that. No numbers I have seen indicate it does any more than serve those which it provides a very immediate convenience... but the Port Authority in the past would never provide me with any route specific time series data. But I would like to see any evidence that anyone leverages the EBA from any further distances.

The statement about LRT vs. bus is not just a Pittsburgh statement, but more generally in the US. It's very simple, if you want transit to be something more than a social service which many want it to be than it has to be LRT. Otherwise the example of it being a mode of choice here or elsewhere in the US are very very minimal. Not non-existant, but virtually so.

and again.. it's not just that the Edgewood and swissvale folks are not merely not riding, but that they fought tooth and nail legally to prevent the bus. Yes, I understand why they really were probably doing that, but what does it take to get a middle class suburb to want transit. I bet LR would overcome all those other objections.. though in some cases even that is not enough.. remember the original metro line in DC the folks in Georgetown actually didnt want a stop nearby.

So it's simple. If you see transit as a social service then yes, it makes no sense to invest any more than minimally necessary which would in all cases and all circumstances be buses. If you envison realistic expansion of transit then that just isn't going to be the case.

Friday, April 30, 2010 3:47:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Arsenal said...

Chris, I reiterate: we can easily increase ridership by decreasing the choice of those "with choice" via tolls, car taxes, gas taxes and decreased infrastructure funding. Why is this not making it into your calculation? it's the most underused method of getting the middle class out of their cars: you make cars a luxury the middle class can't afford.

You want US examples? San Francisco and New York. Sure they're huge transit systems with a large rail component, but the fact is, when the middle class is impoverished by external economic forces (in their cases housing) and the road infrastructure is such that having a car is a mildly insane behavior, you get the result you need.

All I'm saying is: we can create this environment if we really want to. Fact is, we don't.

Friday, April 30, 2010 6:08:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

Sure.. absolutely.. no doubt.. with some dollar plus (might need to be a lot more) increases in gasoline taxes or tolls there could be induced use of public transit. But that just realistically is not going to happen. Won't be much public transit left to save if that is what we are waiting for. It just isn't realistic politically in the US to count on that for at least a generation by which time it won't really matter.

NYC.. . when we have the density of NYC and even then it's not because people are riding busses in NYC of course!! Not sure that makes the case buses are going to attract new riders to transit??.. SF also proves my point. I just looked it up to be sure but if you add in BART and rest of transit in SF, buses make up a fraction of total transit ridership.

I just looked it up as well for the MTA in NYC.. looks to me like 22% of their riders use buses. Which does not even account for those using things like LIRR, NJtranist trains and others... SF looks to me quickly to be abot a third on buses. So you prove my point I think? Just adding labels in marketing calling the EBA a subway is superficial. If the port authority wants to show credible data with vast increases in east busway usage over the last decade or two I will stand corrected to a degree.

and I think I am again less than clear on the entire point of the post. The issue of cost in commuter rail is real. Yet on the EBA you have (had I admit since I am sure they didn't maintain it enough and why they want to demolish it now) a route already clear and a foundation built for rail... so you are not talking the scale of costs it takes to put in a new rail line in a city which has all sorts of costs needed to clear a path, buy poperty and more. I bet it would have been one of the cheapest new commuter rail lines in the nation. If we weren't willing to bear that cost, I bet the pre mile cost of spine line or elsewhere is many times higher. (I keep having a Dr. Strangelove moment to pull back from even mentioning Maglev costs per mile..)

Saturday, May 01, 2010 8:21:00 AM  

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