The Port Authority, through its Connect ’09 system redesign process, is developing a new transit vision for the region, one that best balances the contemporary development patterns and lifestyle trends with available resources. There are many different ways to provide transit service, and we have to find one that works for us.

Which brings me to a discussion I had with a veteran member of the Pittsburgh planning community last year when the Port Authority was trimming its existing route structure to improve the efficiency of the system. When I asked him what he thought, he told me: “They’re not cutting enough.”

After I recovered from my shock, he explained what he meant.

The Port Authority system spreads out all across Allegheny County, and, according to my planning friend, spreads service too thinly. (If the agency had a map of the network on its website, you’d see that bus routes touch nearly every corner of the county. But it doesn’t, so you can’t.) Nearly everybody has access to some service, but few areas have enough service to make it a robust, convenient, and competitive option to driving.

His suggestion was to eliminate routes traveling through most of the county and concentrate nearly all the service along the busways and two or three other highly traveled corridors. But make the service robust and frequent. So much so that if you lived in the neighborhoods and communities along those corridors, you basically wouldn’t need a bus schedule. You’d just walk to the bus route and something would be along in a few minutes to pick you up.

It’s a different kind of transit service model than what we have now. If you wanted to use transit, you’d be limited in the areas where you could live. But if you lived in those transit-rich communities, service would be so much more frequent and reliable.

There is not a single “right way” to design a transit system. It depends on what a community wants, the choices that it makes, and the amount of resources available. Something to keep in mind as the Connect ’09 process continues. It looks like Joe Grata might be preparing something about it for Saturday’s Post-Gazette.

Posted by: Ken Zapinski