Tuesday, October 24, 2006

why light rail to the stadiums? why not Oakland?

the following was submitted by writer Julie Mickens to our yahoo site in July 2006:

So, I know this question is gonna come up. Why the stadiums? Why
not Oakland?

Too often the reply is "it's not that simple ...," delivered in a
patronizingly dismissive tone. Actually, NOW it's not that simple ...
it would be a difficult (though not impossible) matter to change course.
But historically, it WAS that simple. Ten years ago, light rail to
Oakland was killed by a single decision of two guys.

Yep, TWO guys. Two guys killed LRT to Oakland plans in 1996. In the
1990s, the feds were funding very expensive light rail projects across
the country, because the federal transportation funding bill at that
time emphasized transit more than in the past or currently. Here,
Larry Dunn and Bob Cranmer, the first Republicans to be elected to
head county govt in decades, decided that "Spine Line" plans to take
light rail to Oakland and to Allegheny General Hospital on the N Side
(much further than the stadiums) should be killed. They stacked PAT
appointments and got their way within months of taking office. Little
public explanation was given, although in one PG comment, they
objected to the fact that the light rail would be contained within the
core of the city, not pass through the suburbs.

The stadium-tunnel bit is a remnant of the earlier, more ambitious
project. It was revived in one of Tom Murphy's great acts of stadium
visioning in the late 90s (Plan T, let's call this). He convinced the
Allegheny Conference and the rest is history. Despite current
arguments that the tunnel is to expand the system, go to the airport,
etc, it is worth remembering that it was originally pitched
*unashamedly* as a "North Shore," not North Side, tunnel, with none of
those other justifications.

(The tunnel's gonna help in going to the airport? Do people even look
at MAPS??? How gullible can we be? After crossing the Allegheny, you'd
have to swing back and cross the OHIO to go to the airport -- not easy
or cheap.)

Now, after the fact, some in PAT and city govt say that the original Spine
Line proposal was so expensive that it would've foundered eventually,
even if Dunn and Cranmer hadn't killed it. Possibly, especially given
the change in politics in Washington after 2000. (After all, even our
current tunnel dig seems not-totally-secure right now.) However, I'm
not convinced that Spine Line was doomed: Look at the many expensive
light-rail projects built across the country in the 1990s -- they
weren't cheap, either. It's sad to think that Pittsburgh could've
perhaps had a good light-rail project, too, if not for two guys.

So ... I won't do this with any of my other writings on
transportation, but I really want to pass on this article I wrote in
the CP last year on this topic, "Lost Tracks." To my knowledge it's
the only comprehensive account of this issue that places the North
Shore Connector
in the context of recent history. Some of the
government-required reports that I read in the Pennsylvania Room
seemed never to have been touched.

In response to: "It never could've been built, anyway," we received
this letter the week after the story:

One-track minds:
I read the "Lost Tracks" piece [Main Feature, Sept. 28] with interest,
as I was the project manager for Kaiser Engineers for the Spine Line
study. Writer Julie Mickens did an excellent job.

I've worked on successful public-transit projects in Dallas, Miami,
New Jersey and Turkey, and less successful ones in Seattle, Milwaukee
and Houston. The successful ones overcame comparable problems to Spine
Line's, but each was in a community where the commitment to public
transit was unwavering. The unsuccessful projects resembled Spine
Line, with a region wanting public transit but not committed to
supporting it.

The Port Authority needs a firm public commitment in terms of having a
dedicated revenue source. It is unfortunate that many in this region
still do not understand that a well-funded and extensive
public-transit system would enhance the region's image, support its
workers and employers and leverage substantial new growth. If "car
towns" like L.A., Houston, Dallas and even Las Vegas can see that, why
can't we?

-- Michael Lambert, Morningside

Two footnotes on the story:
The print version contained cool maps, not in the online version.
Including a great image of the proposed 1908 subway system.

Also, someone wrote in to say that the NSC wouldn't be the *first*
underwater tunnel. Apparently there is/was a tunnel under the
Allegheny near Verona that served a nearby coal mine.


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