South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

Bring back the trolley in Allentown, maybe not


Last updated 8/29/2018 at 9:39pm

Back when I was a student living in Allentown I took the trolley everyday to Point Park College. Back then we called it a trolley or a streetcar, not a light rail vehicle.

A short walk to the corner of Arlington and Warrington avenues and I could be on a trolley and in downtown Pittsburgh in a matter of minutes. The 52 Allentown ran often enough and regularly back then so if I missed one there would be another before I would be late for class.

The trolleys were smaller and didn’t hold quite as many people as the “T” does today. Especially when you consider the double length cars that seem to stretch for half a block.

One particular year the Port Authority’s transit tunnel was closed for an extended period, sending all the trolleys over Warrington and New Arlington avenues. Although it may have caused some minor inconveniences for commuters coming in from the south suburban communities, it was a bonus for me…I could take any streetcar to or from Downtown. All the trolleys stopped in Allentown at every stop, but this was the 70s.

This particular school term on Tuesdays and Thursdays I would have a mid-morning class and a mid-afternoon class with several hours of free time in-between. On days when I didn’t have darkroom lab work or studying to keep me busy during the free time, I could hop on any trolley and be home for lunch within ten minutes. The return trip was just as quick.

Even with the extra trolley traffic on Warrington, I don’t recall traffic backing up through the Allentown business district. Things were simpler then with fewer opportunities to slow traffic, instead of three traffic lights in Allentown, there were only two with the third light added at Allen Street much later.

Occasionally a parked car would stick out into the travel lane causing a Port Authority vehicle to quickly show up with an employee in a clean white shirt to just as quickly jack the offending car up and nudge it out of the way.

Unfortunately, in today’s world, the 52 Allentown was renamed the Brown Line and was discontinued with Port Authority service cuts in 2011. The “T” and its bigger, longer sometimes double-car configurations no longer stops in Allentown, even when the cars are detoured over the Hilltop; even when the cars are stopped at a red light; even when they have traffic backed up the length of Warrington Avenue and no one is moving; even when they are returning with few if any passengers.

The Port Authority says they don’t pick up passengers on detoured routes. Unfortunately for Allentown and Beltzhoover, the Brown Line people, are on the only possible detour for the “T” when the South Hills transit tunnel (or in this case the Station Square stop) isn’t available.

While it’s understandable the Port Authority doesn’t want to inconvenience their suburban riders anymore than they have to, they seem less concerned about inconveniencing Hilltop residents.

Things should be back to normal by now with the light rail vehicles back on their regular routes and no light rail service on the Hilltop. The next time the Brown Line is used as a detour, perhaps the Port Authority could consider picking up passengers along the way.

Not only would it build goodwill in the neighborhoods they are inconveniencing, but could serve to quantify whether light rail service on the Hilltop is a viable alternative to bus service or to prove the number of riders doesn’t support the cost of the service.

The number of riders on a renewed Brown Line isn’t the only consideration in wishing the route would be renewed. As was demonstrated in during this last round of detours, today’s larger light rail vehicles as compared to the old trolleys or streetcars, are much bigger and heavier. The vibration and noise are noticeable when the LRVs travel by.

Delivery trucks along the route can also provide a challenge along Arlington and Warrington avenues when they stop to load and unload at their clients.

Before deciding to push the Port Authority for a new Brown Line, Hilltop residents would be better served being able to test out the service during detours with certain cars, something more on the schedule of the old route, picking up passengers only on designated cars. This could give the residents an opportunity to try the service to see if it suits their tastes and the Port Authority an opportunity to see if a return to service would be justified.

— Tom Smith


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