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.

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