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A Will, A Way, Now Pittsburgh's BRT System Just Needs $233M

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA
A Port Authority bus rolls down East Carson Street in the South Side. Nearly half of PAT's riders would be served by the selected BRT route.

After years of initial planning and study, a route has been selected for the Port Authority of Allegheny County’s proposed Bus Rapid Transit system, or BRT. The route will connect 24 neighborhoods and serve 31,000 people.

The chosen “Core+2”route will allow electric buses to travel in dedicated lanes from Downtown to Oakland. From there, the main line continues on to Wilkinsburg, while two other branches split off, using regular lanes to travel to Greenfield and Highland Park. Those buses will be given priority at stop lights so they don’t wind up mired in traffic.

Pittsburgh has been studying how to improve transit options in the Downtown-Oakland corridor for years in order to spur economic development and revitalization. While there’s currently an “incredible amount” of service between Downtown and Oakland, and through to other east end destinations, it’s not reliable, said Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie. 

“Because they’re fighting traffic, [buses] face the challenge of staying on time. When they’re not on time, the buses tend to bunch, so you get two or even three buses from the same bus route arriving,” he said, which means some buses run near-empty, while others are packed.

The selected route will help iron that out, said Ritchie, while also serving the most people, making it easier to get to jobs, universities and cultural centers.

“We think that’s going to bring about a lot of improvement in the areas this system is going to serve,” he said. 

The project, still years away from completion, is expected to cost $233 million. The price tag covers building the BRT system, but also “sidewalk to sidewalk” improvements in the Uptown corridor, said Ritchie.

“How you move all modes through that area including ... bike lanes, motor vehicles and pedestrians. So the plan for the BRT corridor accounts for all those modes in one way or another.”

Pittsburghers for Public Transit, or PPT, an organization that advocates for equitable and sustainable transportation, supports dedicated bus lanes, but does not endorse the current BRT plan. Director Molly Nichols echoed the concerns of city residents with disabilities, who are worried about ACCESS pick-up and drop-off.

“It’s door-to-door service, not curb-to-curb service,” she said, which a dedicated bus lane could make difficult. But, she said, “other cities have had to figure out how to do this, it’s not a reason to say we shouldn't have dedicated bus lanes...we just need a plan to address the concerns.”

Additionally, Nichols would like to see detailed breakdowns of how different neighborhoods, and bus service to those neighborhoods, will be affected by BRT.

“We heard a lot about that during the public process,” Ritchie said. “So, our service planning department’s already looking at the kinds of modifications that we might want to propose to work in conjunction with the BRT to help people get to all the places that they need to go.”

Officials will begin applying for federal and state funding in the fall, after holding more public meetings and conducting an environmental impact study.

Update: This story was corrected to show that Pittsburghers For Public Transit does not support the current BRT plan.