Port Authority reroutes in East End


TPN file photo

The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County applied for $98 million in capital investment grants on Sept. 7 to reroute several buses and create bus-only lanes throughout Oakland.

By Jon Moss, For the Pitt News

Port Authority’s plans to create a faster, more consistent and more reliable bus service between the East End and Downtown Pittsburgh came to a screeching halt in May 2017 after it received public backlash for including service cuts to some routes.

Following community debate, including several town halls and active participation from advocacy groups, a new, shinier, proposal for a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system has been rolled out.

The proposal, created jointly with the City of Pittsburgh, the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA) and Allegheny County, entails adding bus-only lanes throughout Oakland with fewer stops to speed up transportation. The URA, on behalf of Port Authority, applied for approximately $98 million in capital investment grants from the Federal Transit Administration to cover half of the expected budget of $195 million on Sept. 7. Construction is expected to begin late next year and finish in late 2021.

Under the plan, the 61A (North Braddock), 61B (Braddock/Swissvale), 61C (McKeesport/Homestead), 71B (Highland Park) and P3 (East Busway) routes will be redesigned, with 25 new electric buses on the roads and 81 new high-tech bus stations added across the city. Also, the 61D (Murray), 71A (Negley), 71C (Point Breeze) and 71D (Hamilton) will turn around on Craft Avenue to head to the East End without going Downtown or Uptown.

Jim Ritchie, the Port Authority’s chief communications officer, said in an email the BRT branch routes will maintain largely the same schedule once the plan has been rolled out.

“The frequencies of these routes will operate similarly to today’s schedules, generally every 15 minutes during peak periods and 20 to 45 minutes off peak, 7 days a week, for 22 hours a day,” he said.

He added that BRT buses on Forbes and Fifth Avenues will arrive every three and a half minutes during peak periods.

BRT buses will make stops at 11 different streets in Oakland along Forbes and Fifth Avenues. Stops will be implemented at the corners of Craft Avenue, Semple Street, Oakland Avenue, Schenley Drive, Bigelow Boulevard and Craig Street on Forbes Avenue, and the corners of Robinson Street, Chesterfield Road, Atwood Street, Tennyson Avenue and Craig Street on Fifth Avenue.

The plan includes two 120-foot-long “transit centers,” twice the size of a usual BRT stop, serving as core, high-volume stations in the BRT system. These will serve as transfer points for the routes that will no longer go downtown.

Other bus routes passing through Oakland will exclusively use the BRT bus-only lanes and only stop at the more limited number of BRT bus stations.

However, according to the Port Authority, these routes’ post-BRT stopping patterns are not set in stone.

“As this is an operational decision this could change based on traffic modeling and projections for the project,” Ritchie said.

The City will also reconstruct major roads in order for BRT buses to move more efficiently and to accommodate increased bike traffic in the area. One lane on both Forbes and Fifth Avenues in Downtown, Uptown and Oakland will be a dedicated bus lane, leaving only two of the current three lanes for regular traffic. The existing contraflow bus-only lane on Fifth Avenue will become a new two-way bike path.

BikePGH, a local advocacy group making streets and communities more biking- and walking- accessible, is eager for construction to begin.

“It’s key that bike infrastructure is included in the BRT plan,” Eric Boerer, the group’s advocacy director, said. “The BRT bike lane plan will help bring it all together, creating a seamless and intuitive route.”

Pittsburghers for Public Transit, a local grassroots organization advocating for access to safe, affordable and environmentally-sustainable transit across Pittsburgh, has also expressed support for the plan’s current iteration.

PPT was a leader of the backlash to the earlier version of BRT in which only three routes converted to BRT, and nearly halved service — with no direct downtown service — on the A, C and D branches of the 71, and the A, B and C branches of the 61 routes. PPT director Laura Wiens recently spoke at a University Honors College Community Café event about the harm the original plan would have caused for certain commuters.

“There was a built-in penalty for people living in low-income areas,” she said. “And the communities that were going to see these cuts weren’t even a part of the conversation.”

Amy Silbermann, the Port Authority’s manager of data and evaluation, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in September that the revised plan will only affect a small portion of riders, and alternative bus routes to Downtown are available in the affected East Liberty, Point Breeze, Homewood and Homestead neighborhoods.

Without direct service to downtown, riders would have to change buses, as well as pay either a $1 fee if using a ConnectCard, or a second, full $2.75 bus fare if using cash.

“We haven’t created a situation where anyone is forced to transfer,” Silbermann said.

The Port Authority is approximately 60 percent done with the design phase for BRT, and hopes to finalize its plans in February of next year, Ritchie said.

Ritchie also said that the Port Authority will continue to reach out to the community for feedback as they work to finalize the new BRT plan.

“Following this, we anticipate another community engagement phase to gather input and ideas on details of design surrounding stations, lane structures, parking and loading plans, and other details,” Ritchie said.

Do you have comments or suggestions regarding BRT? The Port Authority is accepting public input at brt@portauthority.org or https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/DCTM3ZF.

A previous version of this story referred to BikePGH’s advocacy director as Bill Boerer. His name is Eric Boerer. The article has been updated to reflect this change. The Pitt News regrets this error.

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