In Like a Lion: Chuckling over our prospects

If you haven’t read “Is This Good Enough for Pittsburgh?” yet, start with that!

It’s a good question to ask about the Uptown Redevelopment Busway proposal. The short, premium bus rapid transit spur would need to win a serious dose of federal money earmarked for mass transit. Is this the best we can do with the opportunity? Peduto and Fitzgerald insist, yes it is. Some organizations are “exploring it”.

In Ferguson, the United States Department of Justice has come down hard on the local police department and not at all on the involved officer.

In the Pittsburgh Public School District, the teachers union has endorsed candidates for School Board seats. Now, for many, there is an unavoidable internal logic to the notion that “Whoever the teachers’ union endorses, we should support the opposite.” But not really in this case. Above all, you want to pick somebody who 1) knows what they’re talking about, and even 2) has something to add. With those as your thresholds, it’s possible this election that even a typical liberal might want to vote for a conservative or unorthodox candidate, merely so that there is one conservative-sounding voice on the Board — and thereby all his/her colleagues will actually see, hear and realize what needs fighting. “A dose of reality.”

Speaking of labor, the City and its firefighters came to terms on a new contract. Is it good enough for Pittsburgh? Please advise.

Speaking of finances, Pitt economist Chris Briem (who has a blog) says that since we don’t know what industries will drive growth in the next generation, we have to “be a region agile enough to attract and retain investment across a wide range of industries and to do so long into the future.” I’m pretty sure this is educated-progressive code for increasing human biodiversity, or becoming more accessible and advantageous to outsiders, immigrants, ambitious pioneers and students. What strikes me however is that Prof. Briem for once is not writing about the City’s budget woes or pension problem — which fills me with dread that he has concluded that the City’s only prayer for really conquering its pension problem is to grow, and I mean really boom, its way out of it.

And finally, newly elected Democratic PA Governor Tom Wolf just drew up a budget, months in advance of his deadline, and the publisher of our newspaper of record was like “How dare you?” because everywhere, major things are owned by our wealthy old suburban cousins.

34 thoughts on “In Like a Lion: Chuckling over our prospects

  1. infinitebuffalo

    While in general I support Wolf, as a lifelong lower-middle-income renter I do question how lowering property taxes and raising income and sales taxes is in any way progressive. The likelihood of my landlord passing on whatever property tax break he receives i suppose is non-zero, but not by much. Meanwhile, given PA’s unfortunately flat income tax, any rise in it affects me or someone making less proportionately significantly more than it does someone making twice as much as me.

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  2. Anonymous

    One person who definitely has no intentions of fixing the pension problem is Bill Peduto. He gave up on that years ago. He wants the state to sort it out. That would be nice…but it will take a lot more than cozying up to Jeep’s brother and handing Jeep a job. State politics are much trickier than happy hour at Cappy’s, hopefully that is understood. Meanwhile, when he scuttled the parking privatization plan, and said it would be made up by increased parking revenue (which no one has the political will to truly obtain), he kicked the can as hard as he could down the road…to himself. Time will tell if that gamble will pay off.

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  3. Anonymous

    Meanwhile those of us who live in the City just wish he’d plow the [language] streets. Remember when the local bloggers used to raise holy hell about that and put it all on the mayor? How times have changed. …

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    1. Anonymous

      hilarious. This is the best comment ever. The streets have been a disaster and potholes are everywhere. But not a peep….It is truly comical for everyone but the 5 people who support this blog how much it goes to great lengths to change positions, twist and turn to fit a square peg into a round hole to support Peduto and anyone allied with his team.

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    2. infinitebuffalo

      Does anyone have any actual hard data showing the streets are in worse condition (or, for that matter, better) than under the previous administration? Oh, that’s right, nobody does, because the City never bothered to collect any before.

      I seem to recall Ravenstahl got several years–and multiple elections–to [Language!] things up before he was shown the door. Funny how people expect everything to change at the drop of a ballot, without regard to the state the City was left in by the previous administration.

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      1. Anonymous

        Yes, funny…and funny how the expectation of rapid, sweeping change was exactly what Peduto ran on. I thought all of those years in Council had prepared him with a model for change…why does it seem like they are still stuck in the discovery process? What happened to the 100 policy papers, or the stacks of paper submitted by the Transition Teams?

      2. Anonymous

        Are you serious with “data”??? The roads weren’t touched last Thursday and Friday. If you live here, you just know. Data. This is hilarious. And P.S. This snowstorm was forecast too. They all are. Data!!!!!!

      3. bramr101 Post author

        On data: the immediate effect of collecting and working off of data is the kind of thing you can see come mid-April to May Day, when it will be proven how well in the end Pittsburgh managed its freeze-thaw cycles, those swallows of Capistrano. If we did well, we’ll have more DPW manpower to spare on larger-scale infrastructural repairs and new works.

    3. bramr101 Post author

      I don’t see that streets are being plowed any worse… and I don’t remember raising any commotion about Peduto’s predecessor when it came to plowing, either. Except when it came to the highly-forecasted superstorm known as “Snowmaggedon”, but that had more to do with 72+ hours having passed before things happened like chains being ordered to go on DPW trucks.

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      1. Anonymous

        Ok let’s get specific. If you live in sq hill or point breeze after it snows and you have to go to work downtown, you know your only hope is the parkway because it will be cleared. But just getting through the city streets and the hills to drive the 1 mile or less to the bottom of Forward takes a half hour and scares the crap out of you because the city streets – like Wilkins, beechwood, shady – will not be touched. You drive home after 5pm, they’re still not touched. But the parkway is perfect. We pay 3% income tax. Last year Guy Costa ran out of salt. That’s why I find it so patronizing and condescending to say “well look you can track it online with GPS!” Track what? It’s like a “let them eat cake” for the high tech people who are his base. It’s really the same thing that happened with Luke when he started, all these outsiders and media types couldn’t stop singing his praises, and many of us who own homes here didn’t really see what the big deal about the guy was. Pretty much the same thing with Bill. I don’t see this as zero-sum, you have to hate one guy and love the other one. Pittsburgh’s incredible revitalization was pretty much complete by the time Bill took office and maybe has nothing at all to do with who holds the office? If so, then let history take its course with the “reurbanization” or gentrification going on in cities all over the world, because Bill you did NOT invent it, and do a little something for the people who already live here, like keep up with salting and plowing. Alternately, maybe he’s just banking on there being enough beard-and-bike votes by 2017 in all the new condos and new apartment buildings that he can completely forget about people who lived here in 2012 and earlier.

  4. MGG

    A couple days ago Peduto announced an all out offensive on potholes, starting Tuesday (http://pittsburghpa.gov/mayor/release?id=4186). People can be ridiculous about snow. I read a comment recently on a PG story that said something like, “I was out at 7AM and only saw one snow plow on my street!” Seriously, if you want your street parking space cleared at the moment it crosses your mind, do it yourself.

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  5. Anonymous

    When it comes to street maintenance and snow removal, personally I think there is little difference between mayoral administrations past and present. They do the best they can to deal with 1,200+ miles of road surface…and no effort will ever be enough. The folks who support Peduto were among the ones who squawked the loudest before, and now they are the ones nodding sagely in understanding at the enormity of the task. It’s a little bit sickening, frankly. Apart from the brief Kaz reign, Costa and Gable have been at the helm before and after the 5th floor power switch…we’re not really looking at any difference in how things are done, not that any difference would ever be enough.

    As for the new folks collecting data…BFD. The important data about potholes is that there are a massive amount of them out there. Tweeting doesn’t change a darn thing about that. Just get the trucks out there and work at it. Assigning a 311 person to monitor twitter doesn’t really affect the way things work…the road crews know about the nightmarish situation out there. Wringing our hands about the numbers is just a bloody waste of time.

    If anyone wants to talk about waste and inefficiency…what about the $100k flushed down the toilet to print bad tax bills? Even if your preference is to blame PPS for that mess, which is only partially accurate, you have to admit that money might have been better spent to fill cavernous potholes in…heck, you pick the neighborhood.

    Let’s see these data superstars do something about the flaming crap show that is our city tax processing. Maybe if we had something better than Jordan Tax Services (no profanity will ever come close to properly describing that mess) it would be possible to view your tax bill online and pay it there. Solve that ridiculous, laughable situation and then you’ll have something to tweet about.

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    1. bramr101 Post author

      “The folks who support Peduto were among the ones who squawked the loudest [about potholes] before…” Again, no I don’t think so? Road conditions were never a progressive complaint unless it had to do with overly fine road conditions on certain officials’ streets or relatively crummy conditions or slow repairs in the districts of less obedient councilors. So pothole “equity”, maybe — asphalt depoliticization. But if you recollect any griping over Luke or Kaz simply being unable to patch enough potholes, it must have been the Lambanistas, Wagnerians or O’Connorim… so if you feel sickened you should try some Rolaids or Mylanta.

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      1. Anonymous

        I think where this grip comes from is not so much a policy position of the Peduto team in the campaign. It came more from Bill and his supporters FB’s and tweeting constantly during snow storms about streets not being plowed and too many potholes. they would drive around and complain and put it all over social media.

      2. Anonymous

        Absolutely correct. If you think road conditions and snow removal are not issues leveraged to disparage sitting mayors, and done so along partisan lines, then you haven’t been paying attention, or you’re sitting in a faux-beatific deflection cloud. Methinks you’ll ultimately find the vapors a little too thick in there.

      3. bramr101 Post author

        Anon 7:57 – Were they “complaints”, or were they pothole reports, and yes public ones like what politicians as well as regular people have to do for accountability to get constituent services sometimes? We might have each heard or read them differently, I absolutely grant you.

  6. Brian Tucker-Hill

    BRT as a set of technologies has pluses and minuses that makes it suitable for some transit situations and not others. Applied in the right situations, it has been “good enough” for cities like NYC, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul . . . and, of course, Pittsburgh (in the form of the Busways).

    The question then is not whether BRT is the right sort of technology for Pittsburgh, but rather whether it is the right sort of technology to address the Oakland/Uptown bottleneck in the Downtown/East bus system. I think it probably is, and while there are other possible projects which may be equally worthwhile, it has more than enough merit and is far enough advanced to be worth moving along through the federal funding process.

    By the way, people like Randal O’Toole (quoted for no apparent legitimate purpose by the Tribune Review) will oppose any significant public transit investment whatsoever. If people who are not similarly ideologically opposed to public transit nonetheless also attack any public transit investment which would not be their absolute first choice, you will end up with inadequate support for all public transit proposals as you rotate through them.

    That doesn’t quite mean you have to support every public transit proposal exactly as it is proposed. But generally speaking, if you want to see more public transit investment in Pittsburgh–or Pennsylvania, or the United States as a whole–you will need pro-transit people to have at least some flexibility about exactly what gets done next.

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    1. bramr101 Post author

      This news is related. Basically nationwide, rail use is up and use of busses is down, so Port Authority is a little down. PA spokespeople quite right to say years of service cuts discouraged ridership, so they need to invest in transit. But is the Uptown Redevelopment Busway going to have the field effects of a transit project or a redevelopment project?

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      1. Brian Tucker-Hill

        As an aside, there are not good statistics available for BRT ridership specifically. Which is unfortunate but makes sense, since BRT is really just a set of different technologies which can be implemented in a lot of different combinations and to different degrees.

        Anyway, I believe they are working on new studies, but previous studies have suggested a Squirrel Hill to Downtown BRT corridor would reduce trip times for a large number of riders and increase system ridership substantially. How much would depend on exactly how they did it, which in turn depends a bit on exactly how much they invest in the system.

        As for development, as a matter of basic logic it would be a bit of a mystery if a BRT project had strong development effects without any transit effects, since presumably it is the improved transit service that ordinarily allows a transit project to have development effects.

        And in fact studies of BRT and development have suggested you really need a combination of factors to see a strong development effect, including non-transit factors like there being available developable land and local support for development, but also transit factors like the BRT system providing improved access to major employment centers. It is also important to note that the development effects of BRT can be more diffuse than for, say, LRT, at least in part due to the local/express hybrid possibility (ala the PXXs).

        Applying all this to a Squirrel Hill to Downtown BRT corridor, it is certainly possible it could have some significant development effects both immediately along the corridor and in other areas benefiting from local/express hybrids. Again, though, that would only be possible precisely because it could provide improved service from those areas to major employment centers, most notably Downtown and Oakland.

      2. bramr101 Post author

        I guess technically the line would reach the northwest tip of Squirrel Hill North, but the usual “Downtown to Oakland” nomenclature seems more descriptive (busses would turn around at CMU or/ and UPMC Shadyside).

      3. Brian Tucker-Hill

        Downtown THROUGH Oakland, maybe. “TO” Oakland would seem to imply it stops approximately at the Uptown/Oakland border, rather than continuing all the way through Oakland to Morewood.

        Regardless of the semantics, this is a very important point if you want to get a good sense of the possible transit benefits. If you are on a bus that ends up travelling through Shadyside or Squirrel Hill and then through Oakland before finally heading into Downtown, then the time it takes you to transit THROUGH Oakland can be a significant chunk your trip. In fact, the time to get through Oakland is usually quite a bit more than the time it takes you to then transit through Uptown. So emphasizing the part between Oakland and Downtown rather than the part between Squirrel Hill and Uptown actually gets it exactly backwards in terms of where the largest benefits would occur.

      4. Brian Tucker-Hill

        Oh, and if they go with either the “overlay” or “modified collector” approach, then many buses will not turn around at all when reaching the eastern ends of the BRT corridor, but rather they will continue on to final destinations throughout the eastern part of the Port Authority system.

        Again, it is pretty misleading to think of this as just supporting a service like the P1 along the corridor, when it could also support use like all the PXXs as well.

      5. Brian Tucker-Hill

        There is an article in the P-G pointing out some nuances in those Port Authority ridership statistics, including:

        “The American Public Transportation Association reported this week that Port Authority ridership was down by 1.26 percent last year, but the data showed that all of the decline came in the first three months of 2014, when bitter winter weather interrupted work schedules. . . . On Aug. 31, the authority made changes to 22 routes, including extra trips on 12 of them, to ease overcrowding that followed the 2011 service cuts. . . . Ridership on those routes rose 6 percent after the changes and helped to fuel a systemwide bus ridership gain of 1.8 percent in the last three months of 2014, the authority reported.”

        Some of the routes experienced big ridership gains from extensions, but there was also this:

        “Last year’s changes included added trips on the 61 series routes that travel on Forbes Avenue through Oakland. The routes, which are among the most heavily traveled in the system, all posted ridership gains in the last three months of 2014. Ridership on the 61A North Braddock was up 6.4 percent; on 61B Braddock-Swissvale, 4.5 percent; 61C McKeesport-Homestead, 11.4 percent; and 61D Murray, 3.3 percent.”

        Those 61s are among the main routes that would benefit from the proposed BRT corridor, and those ridership increases are suggestive of what might be achievable with service upgrades along that corridor.

      6. Anonymous

        There needs to be a very serious about BRT generally. BRT is not a progressive idea, it is regressive. BRT still uses rubber tires and parts from major auto manufacturers. If you did deep, that is exactly who is funding the BRT movement across the country. BRT still maintains roads and tires and gas and auto parts as the primary mode of transportation. Not good.

      7. Brian Tucker-Hill

        I’d suggest that pretty much all public transit is “progressive” relative to the alternative, which is to force people who can’t live within walking or biking distance of work/school/crucial amenities to rely on their own car. That can particularly be a burden on lower-income households, and is also bad for the environment, public health, land-use policy, and so on. From that perspective, increasing ridership by improving service on any public transit route, including bus routes, is very likely to be a big win for progressive policy goals.

        That said, there are ways of making buses “greener”. Natural gas buses are generally much greener than diesel buses, as are hybrid buses. Natural gas hybrid buses compound these benefits and are greener still. Potentially greenest of all are trolley buses, which can draw electrical power from overhead wires. You can even do multi-mode buses which run as trolley buses for some of their route and use internal power sources for other parts of their route.

        Aside from technology, there are operational factors that can make buses greener. The biggest operational factor is just to try to target buses running closer to full more often. But you can also look at things like reducing idle time, reducing congestion effects, and so forth.

        BRT done well tends to immediately help on the operational side precisely because the transit benefits (higher ridership, faster route times, and so on) also coincide with greener operations. But it can also be conducive to adopting greener bus technologies, because it can allow higher capital investment in buses. And trolley or multi-mode buses in particular are likely to be faciliated by higher-end BRT corridors (meaning BRT that includes busways and other dedicated bus rights of way), because you can potentially string overhead wires along that corridor.

        The bottom line is that there is not a transit system in any major city in the world, no matter how progressive, that doesn’t make ample use of buses as part of their technology mix. Accordingly, and given the inherent progressive benefits of public transit, it doesn’t make sense for progressives to be against buses in all cases. Rather, it again becomes a question of fit–buses are the best technology for certain transit applications, and BRT specifically (in various forms) can be the best technology for various transit applications. So progressives should typically support bus service and BRT respectively at least when it is the best technology for the application in question.

      8. Brian Tucker-Hill

        Some quick numbers. There are not a lot of cities in which rail ridership exceeds bus ridership. The cities that meet that mark are very large, very dense, cities with extensive rail networks, places like New York, Paris, and Seoul. And even in those cities, bus ridership is still around 30% (give or take). Moreover, there are other cities fitting that general description, like London, where bus ridership is still in the majority.

        Although interesting to contemplate, those cities are not necessarily rational targets for a city the size and density of Pittsburgh. I’d suggest we should be more looking at cities like Portland, Oregon, or Vancouver, Canada, which are more similar in size but have had many decades of far more progressive transportation policies. Those cities tend to be around 60% bus ridership, again give or take.

        In short–again, it doesn’t make much sense to be categorically anti-bus if you are progressive, and interested in Pittsburgh specifically achieving more progressive goals.

      9. Anonymous

        Doesn’t matter how much “greener” you make the bus, it is still a bus. It is a conversation that then tips in favor of more roads and rubber. The conversation stops being about rail and light rail. No one even talks about that in Pgh anymore. See what I am saying? The BRT funders (big auto) has won. rail is dead. And when we focus on investing in fossil fuels and roads and auto parts we only strengthen that hand and the scale tips exponentially in favor of more cars and buses. This is a terrible route we are taking and our leadership fails to see it. We need leaders, not followers here.

      10. Brian Tucker-Hill

        Again, more people riding buses versus driving cars is a very big win for progressive policy goals. Meanwhile, it is not feasible for rail to be the only transit mode. So insisting on rail or nothing is in fact going to lead to a lot more people driving cars who could be riding buses instead, which will be a lot worse world by progressive measures. That doesn’t mean BRT is the only useful rapid transit technology, and indeed there are cases where some form of rail is a better technological fit. But rail doesn’t always make sense, and in such cases it then makes no sense from a progressive perspective to insist if it isn’t going to be rail then people should just drive cars.

        As for politics, rail advocates in the United States don’t so much need more fervent leaders as they need more votes. And there will be more votes for capital-intensive transit projects in the futue the more transit riders there are in the future. In that sense, the rail advocates’ best allies are often bus riders who think they would benefit from investments in rail. So again, even from a political perspective, it is very short-sighted for rail advocates to turn up their noses at bus projects that would increase total transit ridership, because such projects are adding to your future political strength.

        So yes, it always makes sense to have a discussion about what sorts of transit needs are your area’s highest priorities, and then what sorts of technology would most efficiently and effectively address those needs. But if your idea of such a “discussion” is to start with the axiomatic position that “Rail=good, buses=bad!,” and never budge, then that isn’t really a discussion, it is just an ideological statement. And unfortunately, that is the sort of simplistic ideology that people who are anti-transit in general are all too wiling to exploit to help kill transit projects that could have done a lot of good, and could have built a larger constituency for future transit investments.

  7. Anonymous

    With regard to Snowmageddon, which you like to hold onto from 2010. If the roads under Peduto were terrible last Thursday when we got 6 inches, isn’t that a bigger failure than the roads being terrible when we got the 2+ feet associated with “Snowmageddon?” In other words, if he can’t handle the mundane everyday type of snowfall, God help us if anything ending in -mageddon comes our way. So people having to risk their lives to drive to work is not a “progressive” concern???

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    1. Anonymous

      The city can’t handle a massive snowstorm. Those circumstances would have defeated Ed Chadwick’s Pittsburgh in exactly the same ways. We can hold on to meaningless tidbits like the above recollection of tire chains…but when we do, we are just poking at the edges of the larger picture of those days. There is too much road, too few trucks and workers, too little patience and interest in reacting to the real circumstances of an event like that…that’s the real truth. People wrapped their frustrations at Mother Nature into snowballs with Luke’s name on them. It comes with the territory…no mayor of Pittsburgh will ever be exempt.

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      1. MGG

        Funny that 30-year-old Corey is facing a youth movement challenge (she’s two years younger than Corey when he first ran, but six years older than that Pollock guy who ran for mayor). When do the 13-year-olds take over? Anyway, I think a number of local elected officials could use a personal stylist on staff (click on the “meet the team” link).

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