Moving Pittsburgh’s transportation future forward was the topic at Thursday night’s MOVEPGH meeting at the Brashear Center, where pedestrian and bike route conditions and improvements were discussed at length.
Part presentation, part workshop, the meeting was one of five held last week during MOVEPGH’s public comment period. According to the MOVEPGH team, the purpose of each gathering was to present its prioritized transportation system projects to Pittsburgh residents and stakeholders and to glean community input on the candidate plans.
During the first part of the meeting, Paul Moore, principal at Nelson/Nygaard, and Jeff Olson, partner at Alta Planning and Design, shared the floor. In turn, they presented MOVEPGH’s assessment of current transportation conditions and the ways the team hopes to improve those conditions by adopting and implementing those of its 300-plus plans that stand up both to public scrutiny and to the team’s internal analysis of each plan against its goals.
The team’s goals were fivefold, Mr. Moore said. Balancing the city’s transportation options; diversifying the economy; improving individual and community safety, health and accessibility; strengthening communities; and providing easy approach to Pittsburgh’s natural and cultural resources are the team’s goals.
These goals, Mr. Moore explained, were set after the team took a thorough look at Pittsburgh’s existing transportation systems and identified apparent problems and concerns, including road congestion, population density in asset-rich areas and terrain issues.
Linking pedestrian and bike systems to Pittsburgh’s premium transit system are integral elements to optimizing MOVEPGH’s goals, he indicated.
“Pedestrians are the foundation of mobility,” Mr. Olson said, noting approximately 15 percent of the area’s population lives within walking distance of Pittsburgh’s premium transit system, and roughly 11 percent of the population walks to work.
Compared to other U.S. cities, these stats show Pittsburgh has the highest rate of pedestrian traffic to and from job sites. This, Mr. Olson said, is something MOVEPGH wants to tap into, to have Pittsburgh achieve a “walk-friendly community” designation.
Another designation MOVEPGH would like to help Pittsburgh achieve is a boost to its present “bronze level network” cycling status, Mr. Olson said. Underlying this objective, he continued, is one basic question: Going from one level to another, how far do residents and stakeholders want to take it, and how quickly?
Silver, gold or platinum—which level would Pittsburgh like to achieve? It is this question, Mr. Olson proffered, MOVEPGH would like to see answered by the public input gathered from discussions during the workshops it held last week, and from the comment forms there distributed.
If public opinion shows a desire to take things to the highest level, Mr. Moore noted, with a first-class bike system in place, 85 percent of the population would be more easily linked to the city’s premium transit routes, a figure which would cast Pittsburgh’s cycling system on the same level as innovative peer cities like Denver, Chicago and Cincinnati.
Both Mr. Moore and Mr. Olson said such an accomplishment, combined with pedestrian route enhancements, would make Pittsburgh a model city when it comes to linked transportation routes. Pittsburgh could become, said Mr. Olson, a leader for other cities to follow.
On a higher cycling network designation, among other things, bike lanes would be expanded; cycling would be a compulsory skill taught in elementary schools; vehicle driver education on bike laws and routes would be mandated; and police training would include bike law enforcement matters.
The cost of realizing these possibilities, as well as of repairing and replacing pedestrian paths, complying with American Disability Act requirements and enforcing pedestrian laws, presents several budget considerations, Mr. Moore said. Street and bridge maintenance and traffic signal upgrades are also on the list of potential expenditures.
Mr. Moore speculated an anticipated $270 million could be spent on transportation projects over the next 25 years. As far as where that money would come from, he said funding possibilities included taxes, public-private partnerships, and transportation assessments and fees, such as bus fares and tolls.
The thing all of these options have in common, Mr. Moore noted, is at the bottom line, the funding would come from money out of citizens’ pockets—the issue would be how and why Pittsburghers would pull that money out of their pockets.
Increased transit fees are not feasible, Mr. Moore said; and certain types of taxes, such as city taxes on fuel, are prohibited by federal law.
Taxation, he said, is a viable option, citing Denver’s implementation of a sales tax to fund transportation as a potential prototype.
Another viable option referenced was public-private partnerships, where funding would come from interested private stakeholders who would somehow benefit from improved and linked transportation routes, for example a business with the desire to increase traffic to its front.
Over that same 25 year period, Mr. Moore said it is expected roughly 100,000 new residents would come to live in Pittsburgh and its surrounding areas, 30,000 of which would reside inside the city, while the remaining 70,000 would reside outside of it borders.
Looking at demographic data and analyzing possibilities resultant of more attractive transportation systems, he predicted of those 100,000 new residents, 60,000 would live inside the city and 40,000 would live outside.
This, Mr. Moore explained, would result in a lessening of city congestion, as people wouldn’t have to drive, or drive as far, to work and could instead use the proposed transportation lines.
At the close of the presentation portion of the meeting, he projected MOVEPGH will have completed a community review of priority projects by December and anticipates to thereafter compose a draft of plans to be adopted in early 2013.
For the workshop portion of the meeting, the MOVEPGH team invited those in attendance to convene and confer around tables in the back of the room which featured maps, metrics and other information on a few of the candidate projects.
Such metrics, which Mr. Moore also referenced in his presentation, indicated bridge replacement and road widening projects did not do well when held against the team’s goals.
Other projects, however, did do well against the team’s goals, such as the Troy Hill bike lane project, which was prioritized by the team.
To learn more about the MOVEPGH City-Wide Transportation Plan, go to www.planpgh.com.