Concerns about proposed transit connector between Hazelwood and Oakland

Pittsburghers for Public Transit has many questions about the proposed transit project, which would provide a connection between Oakland and Hazelwood. Jonah McAllister-Erickson, along with a few other PPT members, attended the public meeting about the project on December 7th. Here is his report of the evening, along with the questions we posed:

A standing room only crowd of at least 100 community members questioned city planning officials and councilperson Corey O’Connor about the proposed transit link between the ALMONO development in Hazelwood and Oakland, which would run through the neighborhoods of Four Mile Run and Panther Hollow, including the Junction Hollow Trail and park lands that connect the two communities.  Much of the initial outcry from both the community and Councilperson O’Connor was about the lack of previous communication about the proposed project. Attendees, both elected officials and community members, were outraged that they first heard about the project through a story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The evening started with a presentation from city planning director Ray Gastil that laid out a few different possible configurations for the proposed transit connector, with either a 12’ or 24’ right of way through Junction Hollow, which would use the current bike and pedestrian trail, and would therefore require bike and pedestrian paths to be shifted to the other side of the park next to the railroad tracks.

Possible benefits of the project include the construction of a pedestrian and bike bridge across the railroad tracks connecting the Junction Hollow trail to Panther Hollow lake, the restoration of the stream that historically ran through the park, and other storm water runoff management measures intended to prevent flooding that periodically inundates the Run. In one of the scenarios presented, an extension of the bike and transit only right-of-ways went all the way through Panther Hollow to (or at least near) the intersection of South Neville and 5th Avenue in Oakland.

Virtually all of the community members who spoke at the meeting opposed the proposed plan. The number one concern raised was the need for a permanent solution to storm water runoff and flooding, something the neighborhoods of Four Mile Run and Panther Hollow have been advocating for several years.

The next biggest concern raised was changing the character of the Junction Hollow Trail and park lands–from a quite green space to a much busier thoroughfare to Oakland. Community members mentioned the crumbling infrastructure in Panther Hollow and the Run, and the concern that running as many as 96 mini-buses through the neighborhood would only exacerbate existing problems. Others worried the connection would turn the neighborhood into a virtual park and ride for commuters working in Oakland.

Pittsburghers for Public Transit asked the following questions about the project.

Question: Private Road? What does that mean? Would the city actually own the road, and does private access mean it is a limited access road?

Is this going to be a private transit service?  And was the Port Authority asked about ways to provide additional or enhanced service between the 2nd avenue corridor that the proposed connection would serve? If yes, what did they say?  If no, why not?

Answer: The road would be a public right of way, and by private we mean limited access.  Who would provide the eventual service is an open question; it could be a private entity, or a non-profit, or the Port Authority.

Q: Have the labor market implications of using autonomous vehicles been studied? If so, what were the results. The grant application mentioned job creation as one of its benefits; it seems to me that having driver-less vehicles is the opposite of job creation.

A: No answer.

Q: Why is the projected ridership so small; 250 people/day is low for a transit project. For comparison, the 93 carries over 1,000 people a day, and a similar connector route the 89 hauls 400 passengers a day. It seems like a very large infrastructure expenditure to provide very little service.

A: They hope that as the service exists they will see increased ridership.

Q: How will the service be paid for

A: We are studying various options, but how the service would be paid for has yet to be determined.

PPT is also concerned about any development that happens near quality transit options. We insist that residential development include adequate affordable housing for both current residents in a neighborhood as well as low-income residents who would like to live in a place with good transit options.

Additional coverage of the proposed Hazelwood connector can be found here: