Monday, November 02, 2009

Something About Where the Choo-Choo Goes

The city's newspaper of record finally caught up with its not-being-sued-by-Mylan rival and published a story about last week's East End Rail proposal to Council, which can be found here in all of its sic transit gloria.

This proposal is appealing in that it seeks to do with 80 million bucks what the North Shore connector is trying to do with a zillion-bagillion bucks, which makes the calculations so much easier for those of us that don't have advanced degrees in hyper-imaginary accounting. There's a couple of problems in the proposal, however.

First (and this is kind of addressed in the presentation), this proposal seems to be a bit like renting out a semi in order to haul a credenza a block and a half to your new apartment -- heavy rail is sort of overkill for such a short service area. Now, if the line went all the way up north to Indiana County or south to the Mon Valley, maybe these stops would make sense, but it currently seems a bit much. In the proposal's defense, it does say that the line should link up with other proposed lines, which makes much more sense. Indeed, if you're going to have this type of system, we should be thinking about using other heavy rail lines to create a network of suburban commuter opportunities, use light rail as "high speed intra-city connectivity," and use buses as local connectors. Heavy rail, however, doesn't seem to be the right tool for a relatively small service area with frequent stops.

Of course, this gets to the second critique: the proposal isn't easily connected into the existing systems. If you want to get Downtown, you need to jump off and take another mode of transportation. While Oakland may be "bursting at the seams," Downtown is still the major commercial nexus for the region. Perhaps this criticism is a moot point, as it's fairly easy right now to get from Oakland/Lawrenceville/Hazelwood to Downtown anyway. Without expansion, however, I wonder if it makes sense to add in a fourth public transportation option into the mix, with all the extra overhead costs that may entail.

Then there's RIDC's Bill Widdoes' quote, "CSX is a tough negotiator," which has to be competing with "Water is wet" for the understatement of the year award. CSX, it is widely known, doesn't want to deal with anyone, ever. Even simple "rails-to-trails" project on defunct lines get tied up in years of legal morass. Cities, States, Authorities have no eminent domain powers over rail lines, so it's nearly impossible to get anything done on the local level without begging, borrowing, or stealing (although it's usually limited to only the first one). IF CSX signs on (and it's a big "if"), maybe there's something to the proposal, but right now I'm not holding my breath.

[This all sets aside the logistical nightmare of passenger rail sharing a line with freight rail should CSX actually agree to the proposal.]

And then there's the giant elephant in the room: the Mon-Fayette expressway. I can't imagine that Whitman, Requardt & Associates didn't notice that their proposed alignment runs right through where the folks at PennDOT and the Turnpike Commisssion really, REALLY want to lay their pipe dream down. (I mean, you can almost hear their angry, frantic, disappointing mutual masturbation when you get near the former LTV site, so much so that it causes cats to yowl.) Now, don't get me wrong: this is a great alternative to the MFX circle jerk, but with bureaucratic processes and political weightiness being what they are, I can see the whole process being stopped because somebody, somewhere wants to build a fifty-gazillion dollar clusterfuck along the Mon, goddammit!

Obviously, however, this is just a proposal, but it's probably one of the least insane proposals to come before City Council in some time and it would be a good first step in creating a high-speed, integrated regional transit solution.

Which means, of course, that the whole damned thing is doomed from the get-go.


Brett said...

I completely totally agree.

I feel like talking about improving transit without talking about extending the T to other parts of the city is like trying to fix the city's finances by taxing tax-exempt organizations.

Oh, wait...

MH said...

If I understood the proposal correctly, the Oakland stop would be close to CMU and the museums, but a long, long walk from the UPMC buildings that are where most of the jobs are. So, I'm hoping the PA's plan to upgrade the Squirrel Hill to Oakland route works. If they agree to paint the trains to look like Thomas, it might attract enough interest.

Anonymous said...

How many people need to go from Lawrenceville to Hazelwood?

How many people need to go from Hazelwood to CMU's basement?

How many people need to go from Lawrenceville to North Oakland?

I'm guessing 4. 4 people combined. $80 million, 4 users - seems like a good idea to me!