Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Good news for Pittsburgh

Apparantly, the convention center IS getting more business then previously thought. Check out City to host 2 new large conventions. I'm still not sure whether or not we should build a hotel at the convention center though... It seems we're doing well enough attracting conventions without it.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Pittsburgh Spine Line

A while ago, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette asked several different people what they think should be done to improve traffic between Oakland and Downtown. SeePittsburgh Post-Gazette - Benchmarks. Apparently, an idea that was abandoned in 1996 was to have the Downtown "T" system connected to Oakland, either by an underground light rail line acting as a subway, or as an above ground line. The cost for this expansion that was floated around was around 1$ billion dollars. My guess is that this cost was for an underground line and that it was likely to be much less if it took an above ground route.

Anyway, let's think about this idea logically. Oakland is one of the biggest employment areas in the entire state. The downtown to Oakland corridor is one of the most heavily traveled corridors in the state as well. But lets think about the people who are making that trip...

Two obvious groups come to mind: students and workers. The students making that trip are going downtown for various reasons. However, from my experience as a student at the University of Pittsburgh Law School is that the only students who went downtown for any reason at all was to go to jobs in downtown firms. No one went downtown for any other reason. If people needed to go downtown, they typically would drive instead of taking the buses.

Ah, the buses! That's the current method of getting from Oakland to downtown on mass-transit. The heavily traveled "Fifth and Forbes" corridor takes buses down both of those streets in both downtown and Oakland. This is the spine of the "spine line" idea. The trip doesn't take that long. Additionally, the trip in reverse (downtown to Oakland) has the additional advantage of continuing onwards to points east of Oakland. Oakland is a major stop on the way for most of these buses, conveniently located between downtown and points east. Thus, there is a pretty good bus system already in place between downtown and points east.

That brings us to employment. Workers are the main people who use the "T" system as it is. Workers would probably be the primary ones to use the "T" system east of downtown. So, people who live in Oakland could take the T into downtown. Alternatively, they could take the already existing bus system into downtown. Additionally, the "T" system wouldn't be much of a benefit to Shadyside. Shadyside already has a direct route into downtown via the east busway. In fact, so does East Liberty, Homewood, Wilkinsburg, Edgewood, Swissvale and Rankin. All of these are points east of Oakland and Squirrel Hill which are served by the "T". Additionally, the EBO route serves the busway and connects directly into Oakland itself. Thus, Oakland is already connected to those commuters in "points east". Commuters in "points east" are connected to both Oakland and downtown via the east busway.

Because these commuters are already serviced by the east busway, you have to think that an extension past Oakland could service Squirrel Hill and ... well, and not much else. It could turn south maybe and head towards Homestead and the Waterfront development down that way. However, if the primary focuses is commuters into Oakland and downtown, serving a shopping area doesn't meet that goal.

Thus, an evaluation of the spine line extension of the T system must focus on servicing Oakland and Squirrel Hill. Could these two places use a T system? Maybe. Are these two places adequately serviced by buses? I'd have to say yes. The Oakland area is serviced by bus routes 100, 28K, 28X, 44U, 500, 501, 53F, 53H, 54C, 56U, 59U, 61A, 61B, 61C, 67A, 67C, 67E, 67F, 67H, 67J, 69A, 71A, 71C, 71D, 74B, 77U, 81A, 81B, 84A, 84B, EBO. That's 31 bus routes serving the area. Many of the bus routes (those with a U designation, are direct routes to Oakland and don't go downtown. Many of them do go downtown (the 61s, the 71s, the 67s). Squirrel Hill is serviced by 501, 56U, 59U, 61A, 61B, 61C, 64A, 67H, 69A, 74A, W, with the first 5 routes travelling directly from the universities to the heart of Squirrel Hill. 67H is a direct route from Squirrel Hill to downtown. 64A and 74A service other areas then Oakland and downtown.

My point being is that at present, there are many opportunities to commute by bus from both Squirrel Hill and Oakland. Commuters aren't going to want to walk the extra distance to the Squirrel Hill T station if they can just walk to the corner to take the bus. Thus, unless there are drastic cut-backs in the number of bus lines which service either Squirrel Hill or Oakland, people are going to go for what is convenient to them.

In the end, if it were built, I think it will end up to be the unfortunate case of an expensive system being built to service a rather small number of people. Any projected estimates are likely to be off by many many people per day. Alas, this is the norm for projects in the southwestern Pennsylvania area. Other examples include the recently opened Wabash Tunnel, the HOV lane north of the city, the Beaver Valley Expressway, the Greensburg Bypass, and the Mon-Fayette Expressway, not to mention the famous "Bridge to Nowhere" which is now the Ft. Duquesne Bridge.

Building an extension of the T system to Oakland and beyond would end up being a waste of money. A giant project that politicians can point to with pride...until the actual ridership numbers come in. Then, they'll find someone else to blame; they'll blame us, the citizens for not riding the public transit system.

After all, when was the last time you saw the mayor of Pittsburgh on the bus?

Sunday, March 27, 2005

North Shore Connector Project

My current interest has to do with the North Shore Connector Project, a proposal by the Port Authority of Allegheny County to extend Pittsburgh's tiny subway system (Part of the 25-mile long "T" system) to service the two stadiums on the north side of the Allegheny River by tunneling under the river. A second project would extend the subway to reach the renovated convention center. Are these projects worth it?

The convention center probably isn't. This part of the project adds a .3 mile extension to the system to reach the convention center for all of the convention guests that Pittsburgh supposedly has. For what purpose? First, if convention center guests want to walk to the T station at Steel Plaza, the distance is only .3 miles. That's prety close if you ask me. I used to walk further then that from my bus stop at Forbes and Wightman in Squirrel Hill. Besides, this particular route is in the downtown "free" zone meaning that no one using this extension would be a paying customer. Visitors would ride the T to Steel Plaza for free. Then they would probably have to get off and change trains to go anywhere else. Thus, they save the inconvenience of having to walk .3 miles, but the time waiting for the train to arive would probably be longer then it would be to simply walk the distance. Additionally, where would they go? The only probably place of interest of convention center visitors is to go to Station Square on the south side of the Monongahela River. Station Square features a bit of night life and shopping that the rest of downtown doesn't have. However, even the Station Square "T" shop isn't very convenient (being across the highway from the entrance to the area, and I just don't see it as a major draw for tons of convention visitors. Further south on the "T" lines, there is nothing to appeal to the convention visitor to Pittsburgh. Not to say that there isn't anything; the line services places like the South Hills Mall and Mt. Lebanon. However, I think that the service is more of a commuter route than it is a route for visitors.

Additionally, the convention center itself hasn't had the kind of visitors that were promised to the city when it was built. We have a fine facility. However, there are no hotels at the site and no one wants to build a hotel there. "Build a hotel!" the developers cry. However, I just don't think that there is the demand for a hotel there. It's a catch-22 situation. Without a hotel, there is no demand for the convention center. No one wants to build a hotel unless people are using the convention center. Either way, I just don't see many events happening there and to spend x number of dollars to extend a subway line to the convention center is a waste of money.

On the other hand, I think the extension to the stadia is a good idea---maybe. The Gateway center station, the last station on the T line would have to be rebuilt in order to accomodate the additional traffic as currently it only has one platform for both arrivals and departures. The route would go north from there and tunnel under the Allegheny River where it would make a stop near the parking lots between PNC Park, where the Pittsburgh Pirates play, and Heinz Field, where the Pittsburgh Steelers play. Why service a park? Why not service PNC Park directly (the route goes right by the park). Well, I think there is a three part goal here. The first is an effort to get more commuters to use the parking lot between the two stadia in an effort to reduce traffic downtown. The second is that supposedly the land between the two stadiums is supposed to be developed with shops and an ampitheater. Third is that the station would be near the Community College of Allegheny County. I'd rather move the station to be closer to PNC Park personally. They have the room for it but I have no idea why they're not doing it.

The second stop at the stadiums is on the northwest corner of Heinz Field. This stop services the stadium pretty well and ensures that people will use the entrance on that corner (currently the "main entrance" is on the south side of the stadium by the river).

Why service places that will only be used a few times a year? Because as opposed to the expansion to the convention center, we know that these lines will be used. Currently, thousands of people ride the Gateway Clipper ships from Station Square to the stadium. It would be much more convenient for these thousands of people to take a quick subway trip to the same place. Additionally, we're talking about 60,000+ people for a Steelers game and probably 20,000+ for a Pirates game (of which there are many more games through the year). This will definitely reduce traffic around the stadiums as more people will be able to park downtown and at station square to go to the games. Additionally, people on the south side of Allegheny County can use the Park and Ride lots and take the T system all the way in to the city and provide them with direct access to the stadiums. This will further reduce traffic in the area. After all, isn't the reduction of traffic a desireable goal for everyone?

On that last sentence, there are people out there who never use the "T" or ride a bus and they can't stand the idea that some of their tax money is going to subsidize those service. Here is my argument... If 50,000 people commute by bus each day, aren't you benefiting? Can you imagine what the traffic would be like if there were 50,000 additional cars downtown? Can you imagine the backup through Pittsburgh's various tunnel systems if we didn't have projects like the West End Connector to allow buses to use their own tunnels to access the city? Public transportation benefits everyone, even those who don't use it.

Next time, more on public transportation and the proposed "Spine Line" to Oakland.

pittsburgh webloggers | Write here in Pittsburgh...

pittsburgh webloggers has a link to many blogs that are written by Pittsburghers. I don't know why I'm not listed, but I guess it's because I don't write on Pittsburgh often enough. I'll have to keep my eye out on Pittsburgh things about which to write. My next entries will thus be about the Port Authority and the "T" system.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Receive updates by email

I installed a new mechanism that can allow you to receive updates by email whenever I change my blog. It's called "ChangeDetection". I use the service myself to keep track of various websites.

In the box on the right, under the Archives section, there's a place to input your email address. You'll be taken to a different screen to confirm your enrollment for this particular page. Click next. You'll need to confirm your email address to make sure that others don't sign up on your behalf. Then, it's done. You'll get an email when I update my blog.

The emails look like this:
Note: Do not reply to this email!
This message was automatically generated by,
your page change monitoring service. To UNSUBSCRIBE, or for
assistance see the information at the very end of this email. Thanks!


At your request we have been monitoring the following page for

A change was detected at:

Thu Mar 24 02:19:26 PST 2005

To be directed to the page, click (or double-click) here:

If you wish to monitor another web page for changes, use this link:

Thanks for using!

- The Team

Note: if the above links do not work, try the alternate links
at the very very end of this email.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Little Shop of Horrors

Heather and I went to see "Little Shop of Horrors" tonight at Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh. Neither of us really cared for the stage production. I felt that the movie version was far superior, in quality if nothing else. Heather felt that the songs were neither memorable nor moving. We both felt that the plot was so basic and simple that it left a lot to be desired. Needless to say, we were disappointed.

On top of that, Heinz Hall is probably the worst place to see a production. The accoustics sounded muffled which is really odd considering that Heinz Hall is where the Pittsburgh Symphony plays.

PS - The Post-Gazette wasn't nearly as harsh. See

Updated "States Visited" map

Click to create your own personalized map of the USA

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Mt. Lebanon House

Mt. Lebanon House
Today, Heather and I put an offer on a house which was accepted. The house is in Mt. Lebanon, PA, about 5.5 miles south of downtown Pittsburgh. We're really excited about it as it was a really good value and will give us a place which we can call home for the long term. We love our current house, but it really isn't big enough for the two of us as it is now, much less if we have children running around. Anyway, you can see some of the pictures I took today on my website here. Let me know what you think!

Saturday, March 19, 2005

U2 Tour in Pittsburgh | Tours

Heather and I were among the lucky few to get tickets to the U2 concert to be held this October here in Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh. We paid an arm and a leg for the tickets, but it's something we're really excited about. I last saw U2 in concert when they came to Birmingham in Fall 1992. Heather has never seen them in concert.

This will only be the fourth concert I've ever been to. The first was the U2 concert in 1992. The second was a Hootie & the Blowfish concert in 1996. The third was a Simon & Garfunkel concert with Heather last year in Cleveland. Four times a charm!

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Radio Information Service

I have recently started volunteering with the Radio Information Service here in Pittsburgh. The RIS is a reading service that broadcasts the reading of print material for people who are blind, visually impaired, or have difficulty holding standard print material. If you are eligible, you can receive a special radio receiver which allows you to receive the broadcasts. Among other things, the service gives print impaired persons the means to "read" daily newspapers, magazines, and books of interest.

I had volunteered for the Radio Reading Service in Birmingham, Alabama for two or three years in high school, until I left for college. In Birmingham, I was a substitute reader for the Birmingham News, the afternoon paper.

Here in Pittsburgh, I started as a substitute reader. I started substituting for a program called "Heritage". Last week, I was asked if I would continue on as the normal reader for "Heritage". I'm excited about the opportunity!

Heritage is a one hour program featuring historical news and notes, profiles of people and places, personal accounts of historical events, restoration, historical culture. Basically, I choose several articles to read from magazines such as The History Channel, American Heritage, and Smithsonian on these topics, cobble together a one hour program, and record it at the RIS studio. My program airs twice a week, Thursdays at 5 PM and Sundays at 11 PM.

Do you want to hear what I sound like on the radio? It's pretty easy! Go to Then, click on "Listeners" at the top. Next, click on "Web Archives and Live Stream" on the left. Choose a media player appropriate to your computer, either WinAmp, Windows Media Player, or Real Player (I like WinAmp). Scroll down to "Heritage" and click it. The last five or six programs will start playing in your player with the most recent one playing first. If you do decide to listen in, send me an email with your thoughts! I'm always interested in ways of improving the program.

Davis and Sacramento, California

I recently posted pictures on my website of my recent trip to Davis, California to help out with the installation of the University of California-Davis Colony of Theta Tau. The pictures include a meeting with the colony, hanging out after installation, a formal dinner, and a day trip to the state capitol building in Sacramento. Check it out at