Below is PCRG’s official position on Port Authority’s Bus Rapid Transit project.
PCRG has created an official statement regarding the current Bus Rapid Transit proposal. These positions were created through multiple engagements with our members and key stakeholders determining that the Core+2 option is most ideal. We acknowledge that City Planning is to be involved in as so much of the infrastructure implementation as the other partners and is reliant upon solid, proactive partnerships between the both entities – Port Authority and City of Pittsburgh. We appreciate the partnership we have with Port Authority and stand ready to explore any of these points in further detail if necessary.
PCRG’s GoBurgh group has been involved in the Oakland-Downtown Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project since its inception. Over the past seven years, we have held numerous discussions with the most directly-impacted members within the corridor – OPDC and Uptown Partners – on issues and needs for premium transit. Similar conversations have been had with GoBurgh stakeholders and key policymakers over that time as well.
The release of Port Authority’s most recent plan and options required that our engagement reach beyond Oakland-Downtown, and into the East End, due to the reach of the design alternatives. To that end, PCRG convened our East End member hubs on March 22 to discuss the BRT options and create PCRG’s consensus policy position on BRT. All told, PCRG has spoken with the following members regarding the proposed BRT project:
- Lawrenceville United
- Oakland Planning & Development Corporation
- Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition
- Uptown Partners of Pittsburgh
- Hill District CDC
- Highland Park CDC
- North Point Breeze CDC
- Highland Park Community Council
- Baum-Centre Initiative
- Operation Better Block, Inc.
- Wilkinsburg CDC
- East Liberty Development, Inc.
- Friendship Community Group
Below is a summary of that position, as well as items PCRG and its members hope Port Authority, the City, and other actors consider going forward.
Overall, members and stakeholders are generally positive about the proposed BRT project. The project reflects the community and economic development needs and opportunities gaining consensus in the groundbreaking Uptown EcoInnovation District plan, for example. Members and stakeholders are also in agreement that the Core+2 option is the most preferable alignment. However, there have been several concerns presented as we surveyed our members that we feel should be considered by the City and Port Authority, as the proposal continues to move forward. These are almost entirely focused on the service model and operations, not the infrastructure (which people are generally positive about):
- Members are generally positive about the infrastructure recommendations including:
- Dedicated bus lanes
- Stations in Uptown, Downtown, and Oakland
- Dedicated bike lanes in Uptown, Downtown, and Oakland
- Floating stations in Uptown
- Transit signal prioritization
- Queue jumping in on-dedicated lane areas
- Members also prefer the Fifth/Forbes alignment through Oakland
- Members have slight concerns about the following issues. These are not major issues however, and are merely points for consideration as the project moves into engineering:
- 1/3-mile stop spacing (too far)
- Curb access for emergency vehicles and paratransit needs
- In the Core+2 service model, members and PCRG also feel strongly that station-like infrastructure should extend for the full length of the Squirrel Hill and Highland Park branches, even if dedicated lanes do not. These facilities will help BRT become more prominent and attractive, and create a sense of permanence that can lead to more car-light development in the future.
- Members and stakeholders concur that the core+2 option is preferable as it benefits the most existing riders.
- With the 61D route proposed at ending in Greenfield, there is a concern that there will be fewer and less frequent bus routes to reach the Waterfront (61C to Homestead, 64) from Oakland or Squirrel Hill. Considering an extension of the Squirrel Hill branch to the Waterfront or increasing the frequency of the 58/64/93 would benefit these surrounding communities.
- Members and stakeholders strongly support off-board fare collection to reduce travel time, make headways more consistent and make boarding/exiting less cumbersome.
- The stated reduction in headways – especially for the remaining non-BRT routes – concerns our members, as these are already oversubscribed. They are also concerned that this could erode ridership as service is less frequent and more crowded.
While not a focus of this project per se, PCRG and members hope that East Busway station upgrades – including off-board fare collection – could be pursued parallel to the BRT project. This could make stations feel safer and more attractive, as well as to attract new ridership.
Economic Development Opportunities
- Beyond more legible and attractive transit, little discussion has been had about the economic benefits, or resultant economic development opportunities, of BRT east of Oakland. PCRG and our members would like to understand what these economic development opportunities look like and if development opportunities will be targeted to certain neighborhoods as a result of this BRT investment.
- City Planning is currently undergoing an effort to create more community plans and have those adopted. A long-time lacking component of community plans, beyond bike and car parking, is transportation. Especially in future BRT communities, PCRG and members would like to understand how neighborhood plans will reflect BRT and non-auto mobility and the opportunity to leverage those for economic development.
- Currently, there has been limited discussion around establishing a parking strategy – particularly for the Oakland-Uptown corridor – but also creating a strategy for the branches of the BRT system. PCRG and our members feel that with a parking strategy in place, this will help to create a balance between better transit service that will lead to reduced reliance on single occupancy vehicles while also considering the needs of users of the street and determining off-street parking solutions, appropriate for the given neighborhood.
Unaddressed Neighborhood Connectivity Needs
- Multiple plans – by the URA and communities– have called for rapid/premium transit connections between Lawrenceville/Strip/Polish Hill and Oakland. Demand is increasing as both population and job clusters here rapidly grow, and no truly viable multimodal rapid transit connection to the region’s #2 economic center exists. While members recognize that this is outside BRT’s scope, they and we hope that future discussions about such service can be undertaken soon.
- Early in the process, improving Hill District connections to Oakland and Uptown were used to sell BRT to this community. However, in this current model, it is unclear how BRT benefits the Hill. Transportation equity is a key concern to PCRG’s Hill District member groups. Approximately 48% of the Hill District’s households do not own a car. Yet, at best, a trip to mid-Oakland is a 15 minute bus ride on a bus that comes every 30 minutes if it’s on-schedule; the two Hill routes which access Oakland directly are in the bottom third of the bottom third of PAAC on-time performance – 63.5% (83) and 62.5% (81) respectively (PAAC Service Annual Service Report, 2015). The other options are a 10-15 minute walk down/up Dinwiddie to Forbes, or the 82 (65.1% on-time) to Downtown (Sixth/Fifth) or eastern Oakland (Centre/Craig) – both requiring transfers and longer trips. Better, more reliable and frequent Hill connections must be made a priority for mobility equity reasons, if nothing else. If direct Hill BRT service is not an option then others must be explored soon.
PCRG and its members are supportive of the BRT project and recommend the Core+2 service model. We feel that it achieves many community and economic development goals of the Oakland-Downtown corridor, and has the potential to extend those opportunities throughout the entire East End. It also helps move the City closer to an attractive car-free/car-light lifestyle. While we and our members have concerns which we will continue to monitor, we also stand ready to assist Port Authority and the City however possible in raising awareness of the project and making it a reality. Mobility access is a right, and public transit is a public good that should serve as many as possible – especially those who are the most vulnerable among us. Thank you for your time and please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions.