Tuesday, October 15, 2013

if by "Bus Free Zone" they meant, "Street Flow Renaissance 2014" ...

by Vannevar Bush

My previous post examined the misbegotten public rollout of a backroom plan to remove 48 bus stops from a core downtown area defined by Liberty Avenue, Stanwix Street, Blvd of the Allies, and Grant Street. The plan was publicly declared to be motivated by business concerns about queues of transit users on public sidewalks. Whether it was also motivated by cost savings through service reductions, implicit racial bias, or class bias to keep the streets clear of lower classes - who can say?

Let's put aside the botched rollout and consider what might have been, even what could have been their best intention? What jewel might the ChangeMakers have hidden within their rhetoric of satisfying downtown merchants?

Suppose when they said, Bus Free Zone, they meant Street Flow Renaissance 2014? Suppose their mantra was, Safe Sustainable Streets but they wrapped it up funny to sell it to the downtown chamber of commerce? Maybe Fitzgerald isn't crass and PAT hasn't caved and they're just very shrewd in the way they've packaged a very wise and courageous vision.

The vision would be the next Renaissance for Pittsburgh. Instead of focusing on real estate development, on buildings or riverfronts, this would focus on establishing a modern safe street flow - in other words, on implementing a downtown Complete Streets program.

This would make downtown safer for pedestrians with traffic calming. The downtown core, so aptly identified in the early proposal, would see traffic calming, a 20-mph speed limit, some lane reductions, an HOV-2 policy and restrictions on truck traffic during office hours.

The lane reductions would have two effects; the downtown core would become less attractive to through-traffic, saving downtown streets for downtown traffic, and opening lanes for downtown walking plazas and bikelanes (remember, bikeshare debuts in 2014).

(click to embiggen)

Some streets within the Ren2014 core that are currently two lanes would become a single lane plus a segregated walking plaza, or a single lane plus a segregated bike lane.

Street congestion in the designated core would be also be reduced by enforcing an HOV-2 policy on privately owned vehicles, and restricting large vehicles (other than public transit) between the hours of 0600 and 1800.

StreetFlow Ren2014 would see more mass transit, and a re-designed transit flow. There probably would be a downtown circulator route, somewhat like San Francisco's cable cars.

Persons departing the Ren2014 Core via mass transit would get transfers for their complete trip to their destination, and their travel home is free - hence, "bus free zone". Sunday mornings, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the Ren2014 Core streets would be closed to vehicular traffic for a Ciclovia.

If that's what they meant by their proposal for a smarter downtown street flow, then by cracky I am all the way behind them, and why wouldn't they do such a thing - why shouldn't they do such a thing? Make Pittsburgh a livable city, a safe city, a walkable city? If that's what they mean to come out of this process, I compliment them. Huzzah!

edit to add: spoiler-explainer

Monday, October 14, 2013

If by "Bus Free Zone", You Mean...

by Vannevar Bush

On October 4th, the Post Gazette's wonderful Jon Schmitz wrote an article which performed a significant public service by shining light on a previously undisclosed process to change the nature of downtown public transit. The headline answered the what question: "Proposal will make Downtown Pittsburgh core totally bus-free" and the subhead answered the why question: "Overcrowding at bus stops frustrates business owners".

The article is really worth reading; it provides direct quotes from elected officials, and identifies the reasons for the changes. We note that Allegheny County Executive Fitzgerald talks about removing stops and removing queues from sidewalks in front of businesses; the presumptive next mayor, Peduto, talks about changing routes and implementing a circulator system. The business advocates talk about removing stops. The passenger in a wheelchair says, please don't remove my stop.

The response was a hue-and-cry. This post will address the article and the proposal as described in the article, along the lines of Noah Sweat's 1952 If By Whiskey speech; the next post will address the other side of the coin.

Focusing on the article is appropriate because it's written by a responsible journalist in a reputable paper; although some have said "there's more to the plan", nobody has offered a public view of the plan, and nobody has disputed the veracity or accuracy of the quotes or content; PAT has not released any documents related to the plan; and finally, there clearly is something underway that has been disclosed by the reporter and newspaper. So let it be said: well done, Mr. Schmitz and P-G.

The article, and ACE Fitzgerald's own words, suggest that the problem is clusters of people standing outside of downtown businesses on the sidewalk. Let's take that a bit further, let's extend that by asking: who is waiting outside in the rain for the bus, and who owns the downtown businesses?

Personally, I end up concluding that wealthier business interests don't like having queues of people of color standing outside their establishments. They'd like them to stand elsewhere, and guess what - moving the bus stops further out would accomplish just that.

And to me, that's exactly what that article reads like.

So those old people, the folks with a bum leg, the people carrying groceries home, the cleaning lady that's tired after a long day - they can walk another four blocks in the rain and the snow, because we don't want them lining up for their bus in front of the jewelry store or the boutique. Mind you, we want them to work, but do they have to stand here? Why can't they get cars, anyway, like everybody else?

This is racist and classist. Cities everywhere are adding public transit into downtown core areas. Not Pittsburgh - no, Pittsburgh is moving the bus stops out of downtown, because of the lines of people waiting for the bus. Unbelievable.

Fun fact1: The County (PAT, but in this administration the ACE) chooses the bus routes, but the City (Peduto) gets to set the bus stops, so it's a dance. Fitzgerald can change the route, but if Peduto doesn't agree then the busses can't stop.

Fun fact2: How many bus stops does the proposal remove? This is a map of downtown bus stops, the boundary of the bus-free zone as identified in a subsequent Post-Gazette article, and each stop that would be lost is numbered; all 48 of them. That's right; they intend to remove 48 bus stops.

If this proposal was driven by congestion - if that was the problem we were solving - the answer would be traffic calming, restrictions on trucks and large vehicles between 0600 and 1800, and more (rather than less) public transport. Each bus is 60 cars. We note that the proposal makes no impact on suburban bus stops (and their Anglo riders).

Eight days after the first PG article, a second article reported that the Bus Free Zone project has been underway for eighteen months, and although channels exist for public input none has been sought. Implementation is now on hold until the new mayor is seated in January.

So - if by "bus free zone", you mean moving queues of tired, poor, black and brown people away from the sidewalks in front of businesses, or away from the blocks where the comfortable walk between their conference rooms and their Starbucks, then this plan is dead in the water, and the people that advised you to do this are idiots.

On the other hand, if by "bus free zone", you meant something else - more about that in the next post.