Using Existing Infrastructure
“Pittsburgh is a bus city,” said David Huffaker, the chief development officer at the city’s transit agency. It was also the first U.S. city to have bus rapid transit. Opened in 1977, the South Busway consists of four miles of road built exclusively for buses to circumvent high car-traffic areas. Its success inspired similar projects.
■ In 1983, taking advantage of unused railroad tracks, Pittsburgh built the East Busway, a longer bus-only highway that travels through several neighborhoods before ending in the middle of downtown.
■ These busways are completely separate from car traffic and mostly hidden away. Buses can enter and exit the dedicated roads, avoiding traffic-choked areas and improving service times.
■ A dozen routes from all over the city join up on the busway to downtown. “You can think of it as this branching tree,” Spieler said.
Before the pandemic, Pittsburgh was one of only a few metro areas in the U.S. where bus ridership was increasing. “The population of people who take the bus here is very diverse,” Huffaker said.
Now, with $150 million in grant money from the Federal Transit Administration, Pittsburgh is building a new B.R.T. line in hopes of bringing rapid, reliable service to the city’s busiest corridor.
The new project, called the University Line, will replace 19 bus routes on two parallel streets running from Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood to Downtown which move more people than any other form of transit in the city.
Light rail was considered for the corridor, said Amy Silbermann, the deputy chief planning officer at Pittsburgh’s transit agency, but “B.R.T. has just become an option that gets you probably 90 percent of the benefit, at a tenth of the cost.”
The choice wasn’t just about the price tag. A light rail option, Mr. Huffaker said, would not have gone into more distant neighborhoods. “This gives us a more equitable way of sharing the benefits of rapid transit to more of the community,” he said.
But when it comes to transit in the U.S., compromises are inevitable. The University Line will not have dedicated lanes along the entire route, and initial plans to branch out even further were cut because of the cost.
New York Times