*UPDATED: Oct. 9, 2017 at 4:18 p.m.
Braddock residents crowded into a meeting Monday night to express their concerns with the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) plan. It was the first of three meetings the Port Authority will hold in outlying communities whose service could be affected by the $200 million project.
Downtown Pittsburgh and Oakland are the biggest job centers in the region. They’re continuing to grow, but that expansion depends on transit, said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.
“We’ve got to grow in a way that transportation doesn’t--that the roads don’t just choke off the growth that we can have,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to move people through the corridor of Downtown to Oakland in a much more reliable way.”
Right now, bus service is inefficient and congested: the 61 A,B,C, and D buses and the 71 A,B,C, and D buses comprise eight of the top 10 overcrowded routes in Port Authority’s system; buses running through Oakland are late more than one-quarter of the time, and they move 31 percent slower than the average bus. Fitzgerald told the room BRT will fix that, and more people will want to ride the bus. More people means more money in the system, which hopefully means rebuilding transit in Pittsburgh, including Braddock, he said.
“We want to connect this community to the universities, that’s where the jobs are growing in America right now, including Pittsburgh,” he said.
But BRT would cut bus service to Braddock by 45 percent. Buses would run every 30 minutes during peak hours instead of every 15 minutes, and between 40 and 60 minutes during off-peak hours instead of every half hour. Riders would also have to transfer in Oakland in order to travel downtown, instead of having a direct route.
Braddock Police Sgt. Guy Collins said it sounds like the plan benefits people who already have good bus access.
“Everything you’re saying is all about down there, it’s really nothing about Braddock,” he said. “I don’t care how you spin it, you’re eliminating service up here.”
The room exploded with applause.
The proposed BRT route would run buses on dedicated lanes from Downtown to Oakland, and then mingle with other vehicles on their way to Highland Park and Greenfield. BRT will also connect to the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway in Wilkinsburg.
Residents stressed they need transit to get to work and to access healthcare. Many accused officials of valuing white collar workers over the working class.
The Port Authority scheduled meetings in Braddock, Duquesne and McKeesport to hear and learn from people’s concerns about the BRT plan. But Braddock resident Jim Kidd said it felt like everything was already decided.
“Honestly, it was just a presentation. And part of it is the expectation, is that we accept whatever it is,” he said. “It’s the same old thing: we will tell you why you will benefit from this, why it will be good for you. We didn’t ask you, but we’ll tell you why that’s the case.”
Braddock Council President Tina Doose questioned why extending the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway wasn’t advanced in tandem with development of the BRT proposal.
“A lot of these problems would be alleviated,” said Doose. “If you want to look at us growing our communities and doing better throughout the Mon Valley, Braddock, East Pittsburgh, what have you, expand that busway.”
A feasibility study on the busway extension to East Pittsburgh or Turtle Creek was recently completed. A Port Authority spokesman said it should be made public soon.
Port Authority officials said they’re considering a number of ways to offset service losses in Braddock.
Two more meetings on BRT will be held: An Oct. 11 meeting in McKeesport was cancelled, then rescheduled for Oct. 16. A meeting in Duquesne will be held as scheduled Oct. 18.
*This post was updated to reflect that the McKeesport meeting was cancelled and then rescheduled.