Monday, December 29, 2008

Trains, Trains, and Train-a-mobiles

OK, and there's this:

Tomorrow, Mr. Peduto plans to introduce legislation to spend $9,000 to study turning a freight line that runs from Hazelwood through Oakland to Lawrenceville into an artery for people. The study would lead to a proposal, submitted to U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, in the spring, for federal funding for the project...

That new economy, he said, is causing Oakland to bulge at the seams. A study drafted within the Allegheny Conference on Community Development in 2006 predicted a need for 3 million square feet of buildings in Oakland, and room for just 1 million square feet.

Already, many of the community conflicts in Shadyside, Bloomfield and Friendship stem from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's expansions.

A rail line operated by the Allegheny Valley Railroad cuts through the heart of Oakland. One end is conveniently near Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center in Lawrenceville, and the other is right by the brownfields of Hazelwood's former LTV Coke Works site, now owned by a development entity backed by four local foundations.
Five complaints from this article and its cursory description of the plan:

First, this isn't a new idea. I'm pretty sure that either CMU or PAT still has the conceptual drawings from the 80s showing where a subway line was supposed to connect to Wean Hall.

Second, OK, it's great that someone is trying to connect Larryville to Hazelwood and all, but you'll have what amounts to a third public transit system (after buses and light rail) that you'll have to maintain. That doesn't seem all that efficient to me. Wouldn't it be better to integrate the system so that you could get from, say, the Northside to Oakland via Downtown without having to change buses/trains (I mean, without getting on any of the 500s)?

Third, what about that bane of Hazelwood's existence, the Mon-Fayette Excessway... er... Expressway? Obviously, the right-of-way of the Mo-Fo is going to impact the any existing or proposed rail right-of-way. Now, this may be a silly point, but until PennDOT and the Turnpike Commission crap or get off the pot, transportation development (and indeed any real development in the neighborhood) is a non-starter. Otherwise, you're going to end up sinking millions into a rail system, only have it ripped out for the Mon-Fayette... or not.

Fourth, no rail company is really going to want to share their line. Seriously. They're bastards like that.

Fifth, and this is my big point, as nice as it is to connect across the City, the line, it seems to me, doesn't really serve people the people that serve Oakland. Sure, you'll be able to get Doctors, Professors, Students, and Investors from one "New Economy" site to another, but you're not getting Janitors, Secretaries, Maintenance Workers, or even Phlebotomists from where they live to where they work. My sense is that those people are either coming from outside the City or from other neighborhoods that are not Lawrenceville or Hazelwood. Anybody who rides any of the 61, 71, or 100 bus lines would understand this.

Moreover, from what it sounds like, you're providing the residents of East Liberty, Homewood, Wilkinsburg, Swissvale and Rankin with the busway, but providing Lawrenceville, Oakland, and Hazelwood with heavy rail. That seems to be, well, discriminatory to me: one system for one set of neighborhoods, another system for the other.

[And, of course, Uptown, West Oakland, and the rest of the Hill District, all of which would seem to be logical places for the universities to expand into, are completely ignored.]

So, don't get me wrong: an integrated system that services Lawrenceville, Oakland, and Hazelwood is a good idea, however, a more foresighted approach would integrate the existing busway and the downtown lightrail systems, expand to include areas out towards the Turtle Creek Valley, and provide a non-highway alternative to the Mon-Fayette Expressway, possibly taking the line as far as the airport.

Or, alternatively, we can run a water taxi service to Oakland... but only during heary rain periods.


smallstreams said...

With jobs that pay less than 30k, wouldn't it be better to live in Lawrenceville, Polish Hill, Greenfield, or Hazelwood, than to commute from West Deer or Hempfield? I don't mean for this to be patronizing either. With the advent of the Junction Hollow commuter line, these communities will become more vibrant.

In fact, I can see how these neighborhoods can become exceptional in terms of commercial and cultural exchange. Not to say people will like it. You're going to have pierced janitors with their side businesses in Japanese knotweed furniture and secretaries with blogs touting iPhone apps. Change is difficult, but inevitable.

Sherry said...

i really do not know who owns what train tracks but there are trains that run all the way from "way up river" thru harmerville and blawnox, aspinwall, sharpsburg and millvale thru the northside.

we have always had transportation grief but i swear it started when the trolleys died or were hunted down and slaughtered, when when i was a bitty kid and cars were pushed as being a sign of upward moblity.

pittsburgh, you just CAN'T get there from here!

MH said...

As a former (and future if gas prices go up again) 61c rider, I couldn't agree more. As near as I can tell, the 61c is evidence that local government thinks of me and my neighbors as sardines that don't need to make it to work on time.