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Pittsburgh Regional Transit gathers public input about new East Busway stations

Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh Regional Transit is considering a plan to relocate some bus stations along the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway, in an effort to improve the agency’s operations and add amenities. But first, the agency is soliciting public opinion about how best to accomplish those goals.

In the first of two meetings Tuesday, PRT hosted a Zoom session to discuss moving the Wilkinsburg bus station closer to the borough’s business district, while adding a new station at Brushton Avenue in Homewood.

Planners argued that moving the Wilkinsburg station south toward the busway and Penn Avenue intersection would make it more accessible to pedestrians. Currently, the station is in the middle of a park-and-ride lot near North Avenue. The agency said the move would also position the station alongside much of the upcoming development in Wilkinsburg.

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The agency will work through a planning process until early next year before moving forward with the relocation. The total cost of the project is estimated at $7.8 million, for which the agency received $5.4 million in federal grant money. A spokesperson told WESA that the remaining $2.4 million is expected to be covered by state and county aid.

Planners hope to place the new station near Brushton Avenue, about a half-mile from the new Wilkinsburg station. According to consultants hired by PRT, adding the Brushton station could significantly improve commute times for riders who live in the neighborhood. PRT’s data suggests that those commuting to Downtown could get there as much as 45 percent faster, while those riding into Oakland could get there as much as 50 percent faster.

According to Patrick McDonough, a senior transit planner at design consulting firm HDR, the new station would add about 40 seconds to the route’s total run time, a minimal impact on those who board at earlier stops.

A map of the potential new bus station locations along the East Busway. PRT will hold future meetings about stops in Shadyside and Larimer.
Courtesy of PRT
A map of the potential new bus station locations along the East Busway. PRT will hold future meetings about stops in Shadyside and Larimer.

During Tuesday morning’s meeting, riders stressed the need for improved accessibility at all PRT bus stations, but particularly in Wilkinsburg. Members of the public noted the proposed new location sits higher than street level, which could create a new hurdle for those who use mobility aids such as wheelchairs and walkers.

Deborah Cherry noted riders must use steps to get to the area where buses depart the Wilkinsburg station from where her bus drops off. Cherry, who uses a rollator walker, said that instead, she commutes to Downtown by taking a bus headed in the opposite direction to Swissvale, so she can board an inbound bus there

Using the Wilkinsburg station, she said, would require her to walk up the busway ramp, which is steep and not designed for pedestrians.

“The one time I tried it, I practically passed out before I got to the bus,” she said. She also stressed a need for more signage to help riders find where to pick up their next bus.

PRT agreed with accessibility as a top priority.

“Accessibility is critically important here,” said Elijah Hughes, an associate and urban design project manager with evolveEA. He noted that PRT is early in the design process, but was committed to crafting a plan that considers wheelchair users and other mobility aids.

“I don’t believe that anything is off the table in terms of achieving a high-quality and accessible experience,” he said, suggesting elevators or ramps could play into the final design for the stations.

Hughes stressed that the public would be able to weigh in further as PRT progresses through the design phase of the stations.

The agency will host a second meeting Tuesday at Hosanna House in Wilkinsburg. No registration is needed; the meeting begins at 6 p.m.

The agency said that other concept meetings for stops along the MLK Busway, including in Larimer and Shadyside, are being scheduled. Final plans are expected to be completed by the spring of 2023.

Corrected: September 15, 2022 at 9:19 AM EDT
This story was updated to correct Elijah Hughes’ name and job title.
Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.