Wednesday, November 26, 2008

PAT Officials Are People Too?

I am surprised to learn it as all of you. PAT officials make mistakes, drink coffee, and can actually come to a tentative agreement with transit unions.

Asked how the authority and union leaders were able to accomplish in Washington what they were unable to accomplish in more than a year of negotiations in Pittsburgh, he [Bland] said: "Hard work and lots of coffee."

In good news, there does appear to be a tentative agreement, potential bus stoppage has been averted, and there will be no nasty court battles ensuing after imposed contracts. We will just have to wait to find out the terms of the agreement. Hopefully, they will satisfy the enigmatic Onorato enough to disburse the $28 Million and more that the county owes Port Authority. Who is asking tough questions about this? Is it a professional paid writer? Or is it a blog? Yes, I stooped to that level.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Waiting with Bated Breath

4 days of transit negotiations have now occurred in Washington, DC. Perhaps a recent record for the transit union and PAT officials?

In the spirit of the season, we can countdown to potential strike day.

5 days left.

Maybe that's when our County Chief Executive will step in?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Smart Cards Need More Funding

"But county officials say they can't afford to give the transit agency the extra money for the new fare cards."

It must be true because I read it un-refuted in two sources. Thanks to Channel 4 and the Trib. Can we have some journalistic integrity that at least asks the following questions:

Where is the money from the 10% drink tax is going? The drink tax that was created to pay for Port Authority? The drink tax whose proceeds have still not made it to Port Authority after 10 months of being collected? Interest earned on $28 million at 4% over one year is $1.1 million - exactly how much Port Authority is asking for.

I know I just can't stop beating this dead horse...

I just want to get on a bus and wave a card and ride in peace - no fumbling, no questions about how much I owe, more speed when I'm driving behind a bus, no more former Pitt students abusing their expired school IDs.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Smart Cards Dumb People

And in more news of the maniacal moron who controls the County...

Remember that 10% drink tax that was supposed to be dedicated to the funding of mass transit in the county??

Remember how that drink tax brought in about $8 million more than was needed?

Remember how that maniacal evil-doer Onorato decided he didn't need to spend that extra $8 million on Port Authority?

Remember how he hasn't actually given ANY of that drink tax money to Port Authority yet and will force a shut-down in the next month by continuing to withhold the money?

Imagine smart cards. Imagine that Port Authority has lined up 96.66% of the money needed to implement smart cards in 2010. Imagine walking on the bus and waving a little card and NOT fumbling in your pocket for exact change.

"If the authority can somehow provide the $1.1 million local share over a two-year period, officials said, installation of 1,100 fare boxes could begin on buses and trolleys by August and the system could be operational by January 2010."

Where oh where would they find $1.1 million? Wonder why I voted for Mickey Mouse in the last County Executive vote? Can someone please run against this man in the next election?

Round and Round

"Highmark is among companies encouraging workers to consider alternatives [to public transportation]. Of its 4,000 Downtown employees, about 2,400 use public transit, said company spokesman Aaron Billger."

Some people say that public transportation is non-existent in Pittsburgh.

Some people say that the buses don't run often enough.

Some people say that the drivers get paid too much.

Some people say that...

2,400 out of 4,000 = 60%.

60% of the employees at one company use Port Authority.

Sure, public transportation in this city isn't as convenient as you'd like. Sure, it doesn't run enough at night. Sure, whine whine whine.

But public transportation is NOT convenient.
Even in New York City, the paramount of public transportation in this country, "on average, those commuting by public transportation spend 18 more minutes commuting, each way, than those traveling by car."

So why do people in New York City take public transportation? Because insuring and parking a car in New York City is exorbitant. I've slept in New York's Port Authority terminal because I missed the last bus. "I pity the person who gets stuck in Port Authority over night." I've complained a gazillion times about the travesty of Boston's T shutting down BEFORE the bars close.

The bus system in this city exists not to cater to tourists, not to cater to those who'd prefer not to drive. It caters to those who CAN NOT drive. It caters to those who work downtown and don't want to pay exorbitant parking fees if they can even find a parking space. And it caters to those who don't mind a little inconvenience for saving some moola and not driving drunk or having to sit behind the wheel in a traffic jam. Period. Just like any other city in this country.

Yes, the buses can do a better job, and I hope they will. Yes, everyone have a right to complain and a responsibility to voice their complaints. Yes, I have a right to rant. On my blog.

Most importantly, though, there's a little issue of a contract that is plaguing every union in the country and in particular Port Authority. Pensions and health insurance will drive us all to bankruptcy slowly but surely. What will you do on December 1?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

One More Piece of the Puzzle

If you've looked at a Bike PGH map, you often feel like you're putting together a puzzle. We have a potential amazing bike trail around this city, as long as all the pieces fall into place.

There are 3 major pieces that I'm watching right now:
1) Connecting the Point and the Mon - scheduled for late 2010 as part of the point state park work.
2) Connecting the Point and the Strip - construction potentially starts next summer with the new Convention Center park pending more money.
3) Continuing the South Side trail all the way to Homestead/Waterfront - waiting on a deal between Sandcastle park and Dan Onorato. Supposedly they're "near accord". Perhaps since he's ignoring the Port Authority plight, he can focus some more energy on this issue.

Whatever the case, after a few months of trying out the Community Bike program, I'm on the verge of getting my very own bike - my first since my pink and purple middle-school Huffy. Maybe I'll take a hand-me-down from my parents, maybe I'll stop by the FreeRide program at Construction Junction, maybe I'll splurge at one of the specialty bike stores in the city, but I'm doing it. I'm an official convert of riding bikes on the river.

Thanks to the Friends of the Riverfront who seem to be the main organizers for a lot of this incredible trail work. I can't wait to see it fully unfold in the next few years. In the meantime, you'll see me crossing back and forth over the Hot Metal Bridge.

(Photo courtesy of kordite at flickr and the creative commons license.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Au Revoir, PittGirl

We'll always remember your hatred of pigeons and your silly football captions.

I only recently discovered PittGirl in the grand scheme of things, but I definitely enjoyed reading her. Now she's gone.

If a particular vindictive smarmy asshat decided to rat her out, realize that you have succeeded in hurting PittGirl, but you hurt Pittsburgh, too. One word: Karma.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Art and My City

What is your definition of art?

Is it a world premiere musical?
Is it a movie festival?
Is it a street with a view?
Is it a museum opening?
Is it a 92 year old building lit up with flowers?
Is it a giant transformer?

It's all happening in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh, like many cities, is a city that can not be easily defined. The next out-of-towner that comes up to me and lets me know that "Pittsburgh isn't that bad" will be hearing an ear-full. They won't deserve it. They'll mean well. They'll be complementing the city in their own way. But would you walk into someone's home and say: "Gee. This house isn't that bad."? I didn't think so. Pittsburgh is my house, my home, my life. I chose to be here. It's definitely not "that bad." And it pisses me off that people think it is.

And I promise if I ever make it to Cleveland or Youngstown or Buffalo or Topeka, Kansas, and I go to a hip coffee shop or watch a band in a funky venue or admire some striking piece of public art, I won't say: "Gee. Your city actually doesn't suck." Instead, I'll inwardly appreciate it and let my friends at home know: "Wow. Clevetowno is a fun place to visit."

For the record, rural Arkansas is that bad, and Nashville is a fun place to visit.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Up Or Down

When I go for a walk in my neighborhood, I decide on a direction - up or down. That's life on the South Side Slopes. My sidewalk is stairs. My street is deadly with a dusting of snow. This dead-end motorist trap intersects with two sets of stairs headed down to the South Side Flats and one trail headed up to Allentown.


Today, I'm taking the trail since others will say more about the flats than I can. On election day, I took the trail and saw two bucks, two turkeys and a squirrel. Who says you have to go as far as the Laurel Highlands to be in the wilderness? I was only accompanied by squawking birds on this cold morning.

At the end of the trail is a potential park. Or maybe the next Grow Pittsburgh location. Now, it's a vacant lot with a great view.

Heading into Allentown proper, I look for signs of life at the future police station.

I may do some last minute shopping at Schwartz Market. "Downtown" Allentown has Chinese take-out, a florist spanning 3 storefronts, a video store complete with DJ booth in the window, Paisano's where the man stacking pizza boxes waves at me, a hardware store, a pharmacy which somehow hasn't been taken over by the Rite-Aid-Walgreens-CVS bonanza, multiple hair salons, and a professional photographer. Yet it somehow feels like all of these places are on the verge of going out of business with their hand-painted signs and aging workers.

If it's Friday or Saturday, I buy some meats and cheese at Michelle's Diner. The old-fashioned diner feel is alive and well at Michelle's with overflowing amounts of Pittsburgh and Coca-Cola paraphernalia and a long bar with shiny ruby-red seats waiting for you to sit. They serve a mean cheeseburger.

After my downtown stroll, I take the "urban" route back home and enjoy a view of my "neighborhood". With the leaves continuing to fall off the trees, this view gets better every day. In truth there are many more stories to tell and pictures to take before you can get a grasp of this one Pittsburgh neighborhood. Who can explain the gleaming white geeses littering the well-manicured lawns? Or the graffiti plaguing the old houses? Theresa's crib is flying a new flag for Thanksgiving. A hawk circles above while church bells ring in the distance. This is my neighborhood.

This post is courtesy of Rust Belt's neighborhoodwalk day.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Silver Linings

As of the latest city budget pronouncement, our city pension fund contained $330 million at the mid-year instead of the necessary $890 million. The market has since plummeted. What's the silver lining here? Let's assume a standard 20% level of loss. That's $66 million. If we'd had the necessary amount, we would have lost $178 million instead.

As Warren Buffett has said: "Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful." The market is fearful right now.

I encourage the city to take Warren Buffet's advice and invest as much as possible in the pension fund right now. The market is most certainly not at its bottom, but it is at a relative bottom. If we can invest now, and the market recovers over the next year, we'll be in a better position than we've been in a decade. It hurts to lose money in the stock market. It hurts more to just continue to keep losing because of poor planning.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Oui Oui!

Delta is going to announce nonstop flights to Paris starting in the Spring from Pittsburgh. Being a regular international traveler, this makes me very happy.

Hopefully, I'll still be able to take the 28X Airport Flyer in the Spring.

Hopefully, other bus routes around town will have sensible names instead of being referred to by their antiquated trolley routes, too! Okay, I'm getting a little ahead of myself.

Seriously, though, in a city where a high percentage of the bus-riding population rolls over every 4 years, should we really call their most popular bus route, the 54C? Should Port Authority have to put full-page advertisements in the City Paper every week in September just to drill in the 54C to incoming freshman? Can't we just call it the "College Crawler" or "South Side Drunk Bus" or "Happy Hour Hauler" or perhaps the Port Authority can pay some professional creative-types to come up with more accurate names?

Back to Paris, it's only fitting that Paris and Pittsburgh will become partners in crime this Spring. Their ridiculously extensive public transit system almost rivals our own for spaghetti lines. At least theirs is color-coded though. We could take some tips. No, Steve Bland, you do not get to take a "business trip" to Paris.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Bus Stops Here

With the Port Authority's on-going labor negotiations and cost-cutting measures, I wasn't surprised to learn that buses are being reduced on the far-off traffic-congested route to the Century III Mall. Personally, it's a route I avoid because of the traffic.

Unfortunately, the reason the bus connections to the mall are being reduced isn't to save money, it's to reduce "number of people who basically loaf and spend little money." Naturally, malls are privately-owned for-profit companies that care about their bottom line. They can choose who they want on their premises unlike public property. However, this mall also serves as a branch for the Armed Forces Recruiting Center, a Goodwill store, and Phase 4 Learning Center - an alternative high school diploma program for at-risk youth. Maybe some of these loafers are kids who are walking around debating whether to join the army. Or maybe these loafers are looking for jobs. Or maybe these loafers are working on their homework. Whatever the case, these service-oriented organizations probably won't last long at the mall anyways. I'm sure the rent will get raised to make way for the new American Eagle Aerie. Hopefully, their new locations will be more bus-accessible. Shame on Port Authority to bending to the wishes of the mall.

Let it be known: Loafing at the mall is a time-honored tradition practiced by millions of teenagers every Saturday. If loafing was going to be the demise of mall-dom as we know it, it would have happened a long time ago.

In the meantime, if Century III Mall wants to increase the quality of its patrons experience and the likelihood of their patrons spending money, I suggest an entry-fee, more security personnel, and/or incentives to spend money.


Monday, November 3, 2008

la la land

Maglev from the airport to downtown. It would be sweet, wouldn't it? I'd also like a subway from Oakland to Downtown. I'd also like a more regular train to Cleveland, DC, Harrisburg, and New York City. I'd also like a subway from Oakland to Downtown. Oops. I mentioned that one twice. In my dream list of public transportation extensions and improvements, Maglev makes it on the list for me in the year 2108 - unless I can get to DC, New York, or Philadelphia on it. The Post-Gazette and the Trib have gracefully ignored the latest potential grant money for Maglev support. Instead, you'll have to rely on the journalism of WPXI for your Maglev gossip.

The federal government just found $45 Million of overlooked Maglev dedicated money for which they're accepting applications. Of course, it would be stupid to not apply for free money from the government, but let's be honest with ourselves. It's living in la la land to focus our attention, high hopes, and potential billions of dollars on Maglev. Let's finish the North Shore Connector while envisioning a perfectly viable light rail solution to the airport. And at the same time, let's put some serious focus on making the buses better (giving PAT money and assisting in union negotiations would help there) and having a real public transportation system that actually connects Downtown to Oakland. I'm personally a fan of this plan for public transportation in Pittsburgh.

Am I living in la la land, too? Sure, but I do have high hopes for public transportation in Pittsburgh after we get past the current union crisis. I hear Sophie Masloff was heavily involved in ending the last transit strike. Maybe if she doesn't win the presidential election, she can step in again locally. Personally, I'll vote her in for County Executive.