A Boring Future

With trepidation it seems obligatory to mention the debate over the North Shore Connector so much in the news of late. I figure I don't really need to write much else to get people riled up. In one form or another, both the Port authority and the county granted approvals for the tunnel that is the core of the project to move foward.

Transportation is one of those things that you really need to plan for the long long term. Highways, and tunnels for that matter, last a really long time. For that reason it is worthwhile to look at the transportation planning of the past. If you are interested, here is the seminal 1967 Allegheny County Rapid Transit Study(warning - large file), but also worth a read is this paper by Coleman, Houston and Muller: SKYBUS Pittsburgh's Failed Industry Targeting Strategy of the 1960s. Also relevant is the Spine Line Corridor Study from 1993. danger.. danger... someone mentioned Skybus: Duck and cover.

What ever happened to the idea of a tram from Mt. Washington to the North Shore? Just asking... not advocating ok.


20 Responses to "A Boring Future"

Anonymous said... 7/14/2006 10:37 AM

If they take the light rail from NShore, down the Ohio River bank and then over to the airport, within the next ten years, then this tunnel project will be OK by me.

If, instead, it takes thirty years (much more likely around here - have to been to the 31st St interchange with Route 28 during the last generation?) to get rapid transit to the airport, then this tunnel project is bull---t.

Anonymous said... 7/14/2006 2:30 PM

Dan Onorato used the phrase "Use it or lose it" to describe the situation we were faced with. And looking at the amount the county is paying (not the entire cost) for the North Shore Connector, it does seem like a bargain.

I understand the connector as the result of a series of unintended consequences -- perhaps due to lack of political will, and not due to the desire for a boondoggle project.

I hope, though, that further transportation efforts don't play out the same way. That is, we get whatever random project that fits various arbitrary constraints, and not what we want, or what is most useful.

Regarding the return of sky bus:

I was at the Young Voters Transportation meeting briefly last night. Dan Onorato did mention wheeled transport, and spoke glowingly of its use in Detroit and another place.

Mark Rauterkus said... 7/14/2006 3:40 PM

The light rail line on the North Shore, as it is going to be constructed, can't even pass around the north side of the WEST END BRIDGE. So, going down the North edge of the Ohio is just a false hope pipedream.

This plan sucks. It should be stopped.

To go to the airport with light rail, use the blasted airport bus way for goodness sake.

Anonymous said... 7/14/2006 9:02 PM

Rick Santorum is the #3 Senator of the ruling party and a close supporter of the president. He is also in a tough re-election battle---if we wanted to reprogram the money to connect the airport or Oakland he would get it done...there is no aggressive leadership in the region.

Anonymous said... 7/15/2006 3:18 PM

Okay, so you mentioned the debate. But exactly what issues are under debate and why? None of the links you provided give any indication of these things. Not everyone reading this lives there and is surrounded by the local news. And if it were that obvious, there'd be little point of mentioning it at all.

(A soon-to-be "boomeranger")

Jonathan Potts said... 7/16/2006 9:21 AM

Considering this monstrosity will cost about $2.5 million per year to operate, which will not come from the federal government, I say we gladly say thanks but no thanks.

C. Briem said... 7/16/2006 5:05 PM

Wow.. where to begin? The issue at hand seems to be whether the North Shore Connector (lets call it NSC) gets built or gets abandoned altogether. The NSC is a tunnel between Downtown Pittsburgh and the North Side to extend the mass transit (“T”) system. I would quibble with the idea that this is all some rube Goldberg consequence of bureaucratic machinations.. the project has been at the forefront of all transportation planning for decade(s?)… but since it has become so unpopular of late, you see lots of public figures running for cover.

I think this is coming from how the debate has evolved over the years. Like I said, the debate now is up/down on any project to extend mass transit to North Side. Until recently most (not all) did not argue with the need for getting transit going over the river but the debate was mostly about whether to do this with a bridge or a tunnel. Going back further the debate was over what was the way to begin extending mass transit to the airport.

But seriously, to understand all transportation planning in the region you have to start with the 1967 reference I have there. Lots of where we are today derived from thinking set in place at that time. One example: The East Busway is the vestige of what once was going to be light rail along the route that was conceived back then. The route was laid out then. Wabash tunnel: same.

I honestly think that at least some the NSC debate has become an emotional proxy for a lot of other pent up frustration over transportation planning in the region. Things like opposition to the MVE for one seems to have transferred into this debate. That and the lingering anger that seems ubiquitous over the funding of the stadia seems to have created a general opposition to all big projects. Beyond that it’s obviously expensive. Hard to get around that these days no matter how you expand mass transit. For some insight into incremental cost expansion of these projects, with an example made of the west busway see:


Jim Russell said... 7/17/2006 2:44 PM

I vote up on a project to extend mass transit to the North Side, but I think the public has soured on big transportation projects such as the MVE and the Big Dig in Boston (which is now more a nightmare than ever).

There isn't going to be a big pot of money for Pittsburgh to spend as it sees fit on transportation. If you want the federal and state dollars, you have to jump through their hoops and propose projects that they will buy.

Stonewalling the MVE or the NSC is stupid. You either get the money for that project or you don't get the money at all.

If we are talking about my billions of dollars, I connect Oakland with Downtown and then continue on to the airport. But if we are talking about intraregional connections, we would be wise to see the MVE and NSC projects as tremendous opportunities.

Anonymous said... 7/17/2006 7:10 PM

I agree with Chris that those who are following regional transportation issues might be served by knowing the history of past projects. For instance, how goes the West Busway?

This is worth a look:


The stadium projects have certainly mobilized people, or at least made people more vocal in their opposition to big dollar projects. Not all of it rational, but "those people are wasting my money," is a good rallying cry. So is "Fifty-four forty or fight." "Surface Infrastructure: Costs, Financing, and Schedules for Large-Dollar Transportation Projects," though, doesn't do much for me.

We can learn a lot from the past, but the public needs something to hang its hat on. The public debate, and at least there is a public debate not mass apathy, will depend on non-rational factors: trust-relationships between key players, the packaging of the project, and what I still see as arbitrary constraints.

I'm pretty sure, not totally sure, that the Oakland Downtown line should be #1 priority. But something out there should be the #1 priority. I doubt if it is the NSC or the MVE/MFX. If the people who oppose those projects could get behind the #1 capital spending priority and get others to do likewise, it will get built.

C. Briem said... 7/17/2006 7:43 PM

hey, someone has to read those GAO studies.. Without readers and some of those analysts will lose their jobs.

I gave a link for the last major attempt at the Spine line. The main selling point was that PAT estimated that something like 100K people moved down that route daily. Mostly not starting or ending in Oakland, but becasue so many other routes were funneled down that path. I think the plan was to make a transit hub out near oakland as part of this.

A couple things to keep in mind. That process was short circuited by a number of factors, a big one of which was the changeover in power in congress at the time which shifted federal transportation priorities. Same thing locally as county politics became something of a soap opera for a few years around then. I would also point out that if you mention "Spine Line" to most Hill residents who know what you mean and they no, no matter what. Most subway transit is built cut and cover these days and the last thing they want is to have their neighborhood torn apart for a transit system they themselves will not get much benefit from. If there is some neo-spine line project, it will have to deal with the concerns of residents on the Hill.

Amos_thePokerCat said... 7/17/2006 10:35 PM

The PAT board that voted 5-2 for this boon doggle (no tranference here, just based on the per mile cost, the huge added maintainence cost, and a $31.5M operating deficit for this year), is an appointed board. Note, they are not running for cover because they are not elected.

I know the regional transportation board in Denver is elected. I wonder what percentage of the nation's RTBs are elected? Voting on half a billions dollar projects and not being elected does not seem right to me.

Found this on the PAT Stats page:

Average Speeds
Bus - 12.9
Light Rail - 12.6
Monongahela Incline - 2.3
Duquesne Incline - 3.7
ACCESS - 15.5

Yup, light rail is slower than the bus.

I wonder if the speed of the inclines includes the vertical speed, or is that the speed along the tracks?

O said... 7/17/2006 11:14 PM


The acceleration of the inclines, bus, and light rail are all the same: approximately 9.8 m/s^2...

Assuming they were dropped from a plane.

C. Briem said... 7/17/2006 11:31 PM

which has the highest terminal velocity?

Anonymous said... 7/18/2006 12:26 AM

Light rail might actually be slower, but perceptions count. Why is ridership higher along the "T"? Is it a comfort thing? A class thing? An access thing? A groove thang? Granted the East Busway is popular. But it books. It takes about five minutes to get from Negley Avenue to the Pennsylvanian.

I'm no physicist but doesn't a PAT bus have the same terminal velocity as an incline, a trolley, or Steve Bland?

Anonymous said... 7/22/2006 10:58 AM

I know the NSC is a lot of money, but we might as well take it while it's offered. Pittsburgh doesn't get too many opprotunities like this, and it would indeed be a step in expanding to the airport. (see http://ridegold.com/grow/capital/MultiModal/multimodal.htm to find out how this works)
Also, if you want a line to Oakland and further eat (which I do a lot!) then get writing! Visit http://www.spcregion.org/ECTS/ and write them, write congressmen, etc, and tell them to do that. A major factor for deciding what to do is based on public opinion.
And, one of the reasons LR has a lower average speed in Pgh is becasue much of the route is on-street or slowed down by many road crossings, and is not a seperare right-of-way.

John Morris said... 7/22/2006 6:09 PM

I only lived in Dormont for a few months but i found the T pretty great. First it had a very high freqency. Trains seemed to come often. The main thing is that a train carry a lot more people. I would imagine that each car on the train equals a bus.

As far as which line should be built and which lines will be built are two different things. It's politics vs. reason. The line that should be built first is likely an extension past the convention center and into the Strip. That would likely be a fairly easy line to build and it's construction would enable the constuction of big apartment buildings and offices along the line.

The line that is likely to be built is some rout to an existing residential area.

This issue is tied to zoning and development plans. If one is putting low two or three storey sprawl and URA parking garages all over the place ,then the purpose of building the line goes down the drain.

John Morris said... 7/23/2006 9:17 PM

As, I said on other blogs, the main thing that makes the connector a qustionable thing is the Stadiums. If they wern't there or at least Heinz wasn't there then the are would be opened up to apartment costruction.The way it works now, it seems to be just something to get to the stadiums a few times a year.

I think this thing points out the harm that the stadiums did.

Anonymous said... 8/03/2006 3:52 PM

People keep saying this will only serve the stadiums, but that simply isn't true. What about the planned housing on the North Shore? The planned (and some already built) offices and hotels? The Science Center?

My take on this is that if we say no now, the federal money goes poof. It could be a long time before we get more federal money for light rail, and they may think twice before giving it to a city that pulled out of a project at the last minute.

I definitely want to see light rail to the east end, preferably through Oakland. But I think it's a mistake to make a false dichotomy out of this. This project is what it is, we either build it or we don't. It isn't like we could just change our minds and build to Oakland instead.

Anonymous said... 8/04/2006 10:06 AM

My take on this is that 1) people need to actually get informed before they start moaning about things, and 2) people need to stop moaning about this. Go and actually look at the Port Authority website for the project, go to a meeting about it, read the EIR, or something, because a majority of these negative comments about the project all over the media are based on some sort of armchair civil engineering that everyone seems to have a degree in.

Anonymous said... 8/04/2006 12:25 PM


Basically, I'm with you (see comment #2). Then again who's to say that PAT doesn't want to hear from the armchair civil engineers. As for the PAT website, it has everything. That is not necessarily a good thing. My browser hung for about a half-a-minute. And the site certainly isn't geared to addressing the latest hot topic. PAT, if you are listening, less is sometimes more.

I did find out that PAT is looking for a web developer. I wish I had the webskills to help, but I don't. If any of you grouchy folks out there have what it takes, let them know.

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at]gmail.com. Mike also blogs at Madisonian.net, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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