Wednesday, January 21, 2009

On Population and Transportation

How many of us have invited out-of-towners to visit and had them be shocked about how nice Pittsburgh actually is? How cool the bridges and museums are? How sweet all the old architecture and stained glass is? How funky all the coffee shops and art galleries are?

For me, it's the never-ending story. (To which I respond, why else do you think I would have moved here??? Masochism???)

So maybe we should be focusing on getting more people here? It's a noble goal of VisitPittsburgh and the ever-green convention center. However, we all know those organizations are pretty pathetic and clearly they aren't getting the message across on a broad scale. Plus, it doesn't solve the actual getting-here problem.

The New York Times and Forbes are attempting to deal with the attitude problem.

So we're left with the problem of accessibility.

It's hard to get a non-stop flight here unless you're coming from Baltimore, NYC, or Boston - places that already have a gazillion non-stop flights. We can't even fly non-stop to Harrisburg.

The interstate and intrastate train and bus situation is horrendous. Either you transfer 3 times to get anywhere worthwhile or take about 3 times longer than the equivalent car trip. The brand-new Steel City Flyer is the one exception to the rule. And now we're tolling the hell out of people who dare to take the turnpike. Interstate 80 is barely holding on as the one bastion of free-riding left in the state.

Heck, we haven't even actually finished the Great Allegheny Passage, the bike route between DC and Pittsburgh.

Unfortunately, we are inconvenient and out of the way of every major tour itinerary around the country. How do we fix that?

I don't know. But it seems to me that intrastate and interstate initiatives are a good start. Why don't we start working with Cleveland or Philadelphia? Instead we're fighting Toledo's population count, and all these mid-size cities are fighting for their own pieces of pie instead of realizing that Toledo is a stop on the future high-speed train to Chicago. These are the big nation-changing projects that I'd love to see Obama's stimulus package devoted to.

This is a recurring theme on the Burgh Diaspora who loves the term Cleveburgh. And I'm coming around to the idea. Let's think bigger. Pittsburgh has a great central location. Let's stop Pittsburgh from being the end of the line.


Schultz said...

I want to see Pittsburgh become the start of a east coast to midwest superduper high speed rail line. That would be badass. Good post.

Schultz said...

BTW, you are right about people being surprised at how beautiful the Pittsburgh region is once they finally visit. I was just in DC and I was telling someone from the southeast that there are indeed great things in Pittsburgh other than the Steelers. Her friend concurred, and said how surprised she was at how nice the city was, with its hills and rivers, when she finally visited the city a few years ago.

Bram Reichbaum said...

One thing I will say in Jim Ferlo's favor: he has often been highly, publicly suspect of Visit Pittsburgh and its ha.

To an extent, for him, the whole Pittsburgh 250 thing was an attempt to get another think-tank going in regards to marketing Pittsburgh.

Anyway: I'd like to see Pittsburgh to Columbus added to this thing. No sense at all making the western side of the Great Lakes region have to go through Cleveland all the time.

EdHeath said...

There is a certain irony here. Pittsburgh became an industrial center in part because its position on the Ohio made it a great place to make (or mine) heavy things like steel and coal, and float them down the river. Now it is getting difficult to get to Pittsburgh easily. You can still get here, you just need to like to stop in Charlotte.

n'at said...

To pick up on Ed's comment, late 19th and early 20th century pittsburgh was a primary node of commerce. Yes, because of the industry, but also due in large part to the means of transporting labor, goods and other services by rail and barge.

Many people believe the inability to construct an interstate beltway around pittsburgh played a large part of the difficulty for the city to adapt and grow, but I believe not building the interstate decelerated the population and commercial decline. We're declining regardless of transportation options, the lack of interstate access softened the blow.

I'm not worried about the airport. It's a fad at worst and a niche market at best.

High speed rail FTW.

Schultz said...

There is already an initiative underway for a high speed rail linking the major cities of Ohio with one another - with connections to Pittsburgh and Erie, which would connect to Philadelphia and Buffalo, respectively. I think these high speed rail connections between all of the midsized cities are capable of creating some sort of regionalopolis, like a Clevburgh, which would allow us to better compete with the sunbelt and west coast regions that have been taking away all of our jobs and population.

There has been talk about Pittsburgh and Cleveland joining forces in the biotech and healthcare spaces. I know we have high speed internet connections, but nothing can compete with face to face interactions, and so we would need high speed rail between the two cities that would permit a commute time between cities of less than an hour. That is the key to establishing that link. That, and Steeler fans living with the fact that they must work with and make peace with Browns fans, and Browns fans getting over the fact that their team is the Steelers you know what.

Jermaine said...

Great post! Seems like the seeds of change are already on the way. Hopefully they grow into something we actually need, want, use, and like!

EdHeath said...

One more thought. On Null Space Chris posted a link to a piece of Census bureau gossip about Pittsburgh and Phoenix. Turns out 18% of commuters use public transportation, compared to five percent nationally. So in our daily lives within the City we use transportation somewhat wisely.

old man neill said...

great post. :)