Sunday, November 28, 2010

On Transportation (On Donner, On Blitzen)

And so while I was hung over from turkey (and about three bottles of Bordeaux), Jon Schmitz wrote a nice little positive article on the North Shore Connector in the PG. I wouldn't go so far to say that this is a fluff piece, but it is comparable to what I regularly find in my bellybutton.

It's not that I have a problem with the North Shore Connector, in concept. Indeed, high speed dedicated mass transportation should be provided to as many Pittsburgh neighborhoods and outlying suburbs as possible in order to enhance interconnectivity between communities. The NSC (as I will now call it after a further bottle of Bordeaux), however, goes about it in a rather ham-handed way.

To the points raised in Senor (because my computer won't let me put a "~" over the "n") Schmitz's article:

(1) Is this a subway train to nowhere?

Schmitz argues no: this is a line that complements development already underway. While this may be true, the NSC seems to half ass it.

First, while the line does reach into the North Shore, it doesn't reach into the North Side. The City has already invested many millions of dollars in the adjacent neighborhoods of Manchester, Allegheny West, and Central North Side, but they don't get to appreciate a T-stop unless they walk under a highway, down a cavern, past the river Styx, fight a legion of rabid monkeys... etc. While they train doesn't go nowhere, it doesn't exactly go *somewhere*.

Second, if you look at the flyover ramp next to the casino, it seems very difficult to imagine how this line will eventually go *somewhere*... like, say, to the airport. I mean, if it went underground, paralleling the Northshore Expressway or event the CSX lines, servicing Manchester, Marshall-Shadeland, Brighton Heights, etc., I could see opportunities for future expansion, but it sort of stops and runs right into the casino. And, while I am no expert of Real Estate acquisition, I would think that this would be a problem.

It's like PAT is planning on a 100 year time horizon in which the Morlocks have risen from under the earth and have destroyed everything in their path, at which time the Port Authority can extend light rail service to Findley Twp. Unless you're a forward thinking Morlock, this doesn't make a lot of sense.

(2) Can they afford it?

The question is wrong. It isn't really "Can PAT afford it" but rather, "does it provide a net benefit to the region?"

I would say no.

Rather than connecting, say, the two of the most commercially developed areas in the state (Downtown and Oakland), PAT has decided to connect the 2nd most commercially developed areas in the state with a slight outlying area to the 2nd most commercially developed area in the state.

That doesn't make a lot of sense to me, especially considering that the East Busway was designed to be eventually converted into light rail and could relatively easily be repurposed to that end.

Now, I may be completely hammered on a mixture of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sam Adams, but it doesn't really seem that the Port Authority is really keyed into the long term economic development plans of the City of Pittsburgh. While service to the Northshore is nice and all, (as built) it doesn't really serve a long term economic development strategy. Rather it seems to advance a bureaucratic fetish to build stuff because money is available and stuff needs to be built.

I mean, I hope that I'm proved wrong and that come April Steve Bland will announce an multi-billion dollar project to connect the airport to Oakland. I will not, however, be holding my breath.


East Busway Blogger said...

First of all, I love your blog. It's smart and hilarious. Always nice to see someone around Pittsburgh has a sense of humor about all the nonsense that goes on in this city.

Your points about the North Shore Connector are certainly valid, few people would argue that it's really what the city needs. The T should be half way to Squirrel Hill by now.

The question I have is, when will the hand wringing stop?

People can and will come up with a million reasons why the project shouldn't have been started, and they'd probably be right on the mark. Here's the problem; not only has it started, but it's almost done.

To mothball it now would be an expensive endeavor, and talk about zero benefit. Two abandoned tunnels under the river (which would still cost money to maintain) provide even less benefit than 1.2 miles and two station stops.

Additionally, the Port Authority is doing their best to polish the turd that is the NSC. However, this turd isn't theirs. It was handed to them by City and County politicians over the last 17 odd years. There's a great article about that specifically in the City Paper from a few years back.

Bottom line, at this point there is little to gain by hindsight. The NSC has little to no effect on PAT's funding troubles. We might as well just accept that it's already built and use it for what it's worth, going to the North Shore.

O said...

Oh I'm totally with you on that EBB. It's here and we might as well get used to it.

Knowing this, however, do we think that we're benefitting from lessons learned, or are we just advancing the same old crap.

I mean, if it were up to me, I'd (1) redo the East Busway as LRT, (2) connect Downtown & Oakland, (3) Connect Downtown and the Airport (via Robert Morris University), (4) Connect Etna to the Mon Valley (via the AVR right of way), and (5) connect the Western Neighborhood to Downtown.

Now, I'm an amateur transit buff with pie-in-the-sky dreams, but I don't see anything even half as ambitious being put forward.

So, did we learn anything from the NSC, or are we doomed to the 28X forever (or is it the G2 now?)

East Busway Blogger said...

To answer your question, no I don't think we (our political leadership that is) learned anything. The Spine Line in some incarnation has been talked about forever. The more we talk, the more the price tag goes up, and the less political will there is to do anything.

And I'm right there with you on everything else.

MH said...

Rather than connecting, say, the two of the most commercially developed areas in the state (Downtown and Oakland)

I also enjoy pretending Philly is in another state, but that's because I can't spell the full name.

YinzerBoy said...


You make a lot of valid points, and the Port Authority is not without blame for the half-assed approach to something that really could have worked well. But I think one of the lines missing from this is that the Port Authority wasn't the ultimate 'decider' in this route.

Murphy, Roddy, and the former Commissioner heads wanted NSC to serve the development - and only that development - we're seeing on the North Shore. Yes, PAAC planned it, drew it, and so on. But largely at the direction of the County and City (there was talk about it following the NS alignment, thereby going between the North Shore and the neighborhoods. Barbara Burns was against that, though I don't know how much weight she pulled).

Again, I am not saying PAAC is without fault here. One of their biggest faults is not trying to garner community support for a better idea. But let's not put this all at the feet of one agency. Because, with this kind of money, it's never just one entity.

(as for getting to the airport, there are ways to do that that are less expensive than you mention. And could return some land to neighborhoods).

O said...

Errant "the" in the post, MH. Spelling and gramatically errors are par for the course.