July 2, 2001
Public Transportation = Good; Buses = Bad
I've been thinking about buses lately. Not sure why, but it probably has to do with being stuck behind them in traffic on a daily basis. Anyway, I realized that while I'm in favor of public transportation, the buses have got to go. Not just because PAT drivers are maniacs (although that's part of it), but because of what they do to traffic patterns, just by the nature of their existence.
Because of how buses and bus routes work, they're always stopping and starting. This causes congestion where there should be smooth traffic flows. Also, Pittsburgh buses are too big to turn efficiently on the small streets here. It's not uncommon to sit through one green light while a bus loads and unloads, then sit through the next while it attempts to make a right turn.
In the Sunday Post Gazette, there's a section called Getting Around. Basically it's a way to keep informed about local construction to the roads. In the June 17th edition, people were complaining about the discontinuation of a bus route up Route 28 on the north side of the Allegheny. The problem isn't that PAT discontinued a route, it's that nobody's building a non-road-based system of getting around the area.
Any other major metropolitan area has a rail system of some kind -- Washington DC's Metro, Chicago's elevated train system, etc. -- except for Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has the T, which is just a shuttle to get suburbanites from the South Hills to their jobs in the USX and Mellon towers. There are three (count 'em, three) stops on the "mainland" between the rivers, the main part of Pittsburgh. To be blunt, it isn't enough.
Now, I'll admit that the topography of Pittsburgh makes a rail system difficult. The trains would have to be propelled up the hills, and slowed going down them. But that difficulty is made up for by the fact that more than a third of the city is mined out underneath. (When it was a steel town, Pittsburgh was also a coal town -- the hills here used to be loaded with coal.)
So next week time I'm stuck in traffic, I won't blame the bus drivers, or the people who ride the bus -- after all, they are using public transportation while I'm not. Instead I'll blame the short-sighted politicians who never bothered to install a real public transportation system. It won't make me fell better, but at least I've found the root of the problem.