Transit justice needs to be top of mind for the candidates running to be Pittsburgh’s Mayor.
The City of Pittsburgh and the Mayor’s administration is responsible for many of the critical infrastructure and policy investments that can make public transit effective and safe. That person needs to be a champion for public transit.
The most recent census numbers tell us that more than 50,000 Pittsburghers use public transit to commute to work every day – more than 17% of our city’s population. This ranks Pittsburgh as the 9th highest % of transit commuters in the country. We know the number of people who ride public transit is actually much higher. People who ride public transit who are unemployed, in school, or who aren’t riding it for commuting purposes are not counted in that number.
We also know that public transit is key to economic mobility and racial equity. Our city suffers from huge income and racial disparities– and some of the worst air quality in the nation. And nearly 25% of Pittsburghers do not have access to a private vehicle.
But there are huge gaps that make it difficult for riders to take transit in the City: a lack of bus shelters, disconnected sidewalks, few bus-only lanes, and no policies ensuring affordable housing access to good transit, as a few examples.
With all of the benefits that transit presents for climate, racial, gender, and economic justice, it should be a no-brainer for the Pittsburgh mayoral candidates to throw down for transit and good land use policy in the lead up to the May 18th primary election.
Pittsburgh’s mayor needs to support faster, more affordable, dignified and connected public transit throughout our region.
So what are we hearing from the mayoral candidates on public transit? The answer is…not enough. But here are a few interviews and forums where candidates have given some information on where they stand on public transit:
From the CityPaper’s interviews on mayoral priorities, including questions on transit and land use:
With Mayor Peduto:
“One of the areas that we’re looking at in the future is reimagining the parking authority as the mobility authority…Through the Rockefeller Foundation, we were able to conduct a study with a German tram car company, looking at the potential of cable cars in the city of Pittsburgh where they would be most efficient, but also where they would also provide greater equity in which communities could be connected that aren’t connected today by roadways. We toyed with the idea for decades of having marinas and water taxis. We have been looking into tram cars and to be able to connect those with the Port Authority bus system.”
With Rep Ed Gainey:
“What can be done to, what can we do to create a better public transit system? And that’s when we begin to advocate because we want to demonstrate that we’re growing jobs in providing people with the opportunity to go work. And what does that look like? And how do we have a better-connected system that gets us again from an urban corridor out to Robinson? That’s a great example. We know that doesn’t exist right now. We know that. So we have to be advocates for it.”
With Tony Moreno:
“If you go anywhere in town, anywhere in the city, you watch buses that go by that have one or two riders. And then you go to different areas that have lines and lines and lines of people that are waiting to get on a bus… So what I would do…you put those bus routes on a circular pattern around those same four streets that I said (Grand Street, Stanwix, Boulevard of the Allies, and Fort Duquesne) and make those run on a steady basis with the police officers they’re allowing those buses to go through and creating a bus lane that is a true bus lane only. Making sure that people use their crosswalks, and they don’t turn against lights or stop traffic at intersections. You get those buses flowing and then take our smaller buses and use the smaller buses to go inside of town — that are handicap accessible and also bike accessible. That’s a big deal when those buses stop, but you got to throw a bike on that bike rack, it takes up a lot of time and that creates a traffic problem.”
With Michael Thompson:
In time and again once what happens, they’re removing not adding bus shelters, and that is something we should do, that is something that the city can fund, even if the Port Authority doesn’t want to. And then the city can provide shelter from the rain. We need to provide shelter for our residents, shelter for people who are waiting for the bus in an accessible fashion. This is not a huge expense. It is something we could do.
Pittsburgh United’s Mayoral Candidate forum included a question about support for public transit. Check out the video to see candidate’s responses to the question: “How would you prioritize funding for different forms of transportation, keeping in mind any climate or environmental goals that the City might have?” Answers start at 1:08.30.
Our friends at Just Harvest recognize that transit justice is a vital food access issue. Check out their voter guide to see candidates’ answers to the question: What will you do to improve Pittsburgh/Allegheny County residents’ access to healthy, affordable food? Should [public transit] play a role? If so, what should the city government do to strengthen it?
What actions do we want to see the next Mayor of Pittsburgh take to further transit justice?
1. We want a commitment to support public transit over venture-backed private mobility companies.
Year after year, we’ve seen the City bend over backward to provide staff time and our public streets to self-driving car companies; they have offered our parks and neighborhoods and over $23 million dollars to fund the Hazelwood Green Mon-Oakland Connector shuttle roadway; have turned over our sidewalks for private sidewalk delivery robot companies to make their profits; and are laying out a red carpet for private mobility companies to profit on our public resources.
The truth is that scooters, ride-hailing, and other micro-mobility schemes primarily benefit upper-income, able-bodied white men. They also cannibalize public transit riders and critical transit agency funding. It’s time for our City to prioritize people over corporations by investing in transit as a human right.
Instead of spending limited city-staff time on these tech-based projects, we want to see the city to hire a full-time sidewalk program manager, a transit program manager, and to hire people with disabilities to consult on infrastructure projects and ADA enforcement. Public works can also be directed to clean sidewalks and stairs, and clear them after a snowfall.
2. We want a commitment to connected, comfortable, accessible, and safe pedestrian and bike connections to transit.
If pedestrian connections to transit are inaccessible, then public transit is not, in fact, a viable option. The City of Pittsburgh can use its Capital Budget to improve transit facilities and maintenance. A City Administration can make transit-accessible and dignified:
- With covered bus shelters with benches
- Connected sidewalks and accessible curb cuts
- Safer pedestrian intersections with signals and traffic calming
- No Parking signs at bus stops
- Bus bump-outs
- Wayfinding and signs to point to transit and key destinations around transit
- By paving existing bus lanes
- With more protected bike lanes
- Non-slip crosswalks
- Street lighting
- Shade trees by transit
- Public restrooms and water fountains, situated near transit
- More Healthy Ride stations co-located with transit, bike sheds and bike parking.
3. We want effective and faster transit.
Buses carrying 40-60 passengers should get priority on our streets over gas-guzzling single-occupancy vehicles:
- With bus rapid transit (BRT) lanes in more parts of the city that are outside of the East End. Neighborhoods in the Northside and South Hills have been calling for better transit connections for years.
- Traffic signal priority for buses, to keep buses from idling at traffic lights
- Increase speed & safety with a switch to far-side stops: reference, study
- Peak-only bus lanes, could be used in tight spaces like Carson Street, & Butler Street : reference
4. We want legislation and zoning that supports transit use.
Zoning is one of the most powerful tools that a mayor has at their disposal, but candidates often overlook it when thinking about improving transit.
Transit riders are being displaced out of the City of Pittsburgh everyday. Without funding and policies to ensure that our City has affordable housing located near quality transit lines, riders will be pushed away from their access to basic needs. Moreover, there’s nothing preventing the City of Pittsburgh from funding transit directly– in fact, almost all cities invest money into transit operations– nor from purchasing transit passes for their employees, at a minimum. The City should
- Develop requirements or incentives for developers to build affordable housing by good transit
- Stop making developers build parking lots next to good transit, and establish parking maximums for these transit-rich neighborhoods to free up funding for more affordable housing.
- Encourage density and affordability – eliminate single-family zoning
- Provide bus passes for all City employees
- Make incentives or mandates for employers or developers to purchase bulk bus passes for employees or renters – buy a bus pass instead of building a parking spot
- Enforce the No Parking rule at bus stops without using armed police
- Increase maintenance of bus stops and sidewalks, including snow removal
- Give operating money directly to Port Authority
- Provide free or reduced transit for PGH residents, like NYC
- Implement congestion pricing
These are just a few ideas that were generated by PPT members at a recent Monthly Meeting. And they’re relevant for Council Members, Department Heads and other City of Pittsburgh Staff.