Sunday, May 31, 2009

Is the Airport a Money Pit?

For all the griping about the North Shore Connector, how come no one gripes about the Pittsburgh "International" Airport. This money pit has been attempting to sink the county since 2001 when a series of unfortunate events finally conspired to yank the title of major airport hub from this mid-sized city airport. It was inevitable. Yet, in 1992, the airport was expanded??? After years of awful unemployment and folks leaving in droves, someone thought it'd be a great idea to expand this airport? At the time, the new airport buildings were "also being seen as a way to lift the economy." Talk about a boondoggle.

Nowadays, we've enticed (read: spent lots of money on) Delta to operate a non-stop flight to Paris and the powers-that-be have spent millions of dollars attempting to link this mediocre airport to the city instead of actually building a viable downtown to Oakland transit connection. If they were really concerned about inter-city travel, $1 Billion would have been much better spent on having more than one train per day to cities like Cleveland, Philadelphia, Harrisburg and New York.

Pittsburgh needs an airport, but *gasp* I agree with Onorato. Sell off the airport parking garages, make the airport solvent, and let's get the hell out of dodge.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Port Authority Endangering Lives?

Another day, another Port Authority accident.

When will there be some accountability for bus drivers in the city of Pittsburgh? Today, "Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie says the 77B Penn Hills bus was rounding a bend in North Oakland when the driver lost control and the bus jumped a curb." Several passengers were injured. My guess is this driver was driving recklessly because I have seen that happen too many times in Oakland.

May 21? Port Authority bus hits bicyclist.

May 19? Cars rear-end Port Authority bus.

May 8? Port Authority bus rear-ended.

January 19? Woman killed in car / Port Authority bus accident.

And these are all the results of a brief google search. Add to this the countless stories of friends and myself almost or getting hit by buses. A few years ago, my brother's car was hit by a Port Authority bus. He told them, and they just sent him a check for the damages. No questions asked. How commonplace is this? How are these accidents handled within Port Authority management? Is there a regular process of firing these reckless drivers which endanger pedestrians, riders, bicyclists, and other drivers?

In case, you like many other people in Pittsburgh are at the losing end of an encounter with a Port Authority, there is a due process to follow as outlined in the Post-Gazette way back in 2006 which vents the frustrations that existed back then.

Bike-PGH sets the steps out plainly:

If you’re ever involved in an accident (or incident) with a Port Authority be sure to:

1. Write down the four digit bus identifier number on the back of the bus along with the route number
2. Call the police
3. File a claim with Port Authority by calling 412.442.2000
4. Go directly to your Magisterial District Judge

So remember, if you get in an accident with a Port Authority bus, publicize it and report it. It is ridiculous that the people of Pittsburgh need to live in fear of the buses.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Hello World

I'd be remiss in not shouting from the rooftops that:

Pittsburgh is hosting the G-20 Summit!

The city appears to have been picked because Obama likes the Steelers of our great economic recovery since the Steel collapse. One of the highlights is that the meeting is taking place in the largest green convention center in the country. Let's have some true green initiatives in place by the time the summiteers reach here. How about a green triangle? Or strict LEED-certified building codes? Or LED streetlights rolling out throughout the city? The world will be looking at Pittsburgh. Let's get serious.

Welcome To Pittsburgh, Zimbabwe

Courtesy of nullspace, I learn that Ravenstahl officially has both the Republican and Democratic nominations for mayor.

Personally, I think attempting to get both nominations undermines our democratic process and shows that Ravenstahl has no respect for democracy and due process. Not too much of a surprise.

Was he really concerned that Josh Wander would mount a fight against him?? Josh only has 90 fans on facebook. Well, at least if someone accidentally presses the wrong button on the new-fangled voting machines, it won't matter. I'm really curious to see how many people vote for the Republican Ravenstahl versus the Democratic Ravenstahl? Is that a statement to make?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Handicapped by the State

First of all, it's not a 5-year plan if it depends on changing the state legislature. When is the last time the state legislature changed a law for the benefit of Pittsburgh? Has it ever happened? Yet, "many of its most controversial tenets couldn't happen without changes in state law that only the General Assembly can make."

4 Ways To Break The Law (by Act 47)

1. The Act 47 planners want the city to (currently illegally) not lower the parking tax this year. In 2007, the mayor smartly vetoed when the city council decided to keep the parking tax high, largely because it was against state law. But also because a 40% parking tax rate is ridiculously high.

2. Additionally, Act 47 are depending on major concessions from the fireman's and other city unions. Major concessions that are currently illegal in the state.

3. The Act 47 planners want the city to both tax non-profits (also currently illegal under state law) AND increase donations from non-profits. Not going to happen.

4. Another idea is asking the state to allow us to change the municipal services tax from $52 / year ( a pathetic pittance) to $145 / year. By the way, by state law, this $52 must currently be deducted evenly through paychecks throughout the year. Sounds like it costs more to implement than it currently collects.

So the state-mandated group is recommending time and again to change state law in a 290 page report. And doesn't have any other solutions for us. How about we cut the state budget by Act 47 planners this year?

But ultimately, this plan shows how the state has handicapped the city of Pittsburgh through years and years of enacting restrictive laws. Is it any surprise that the city is in a fiscal crisis when the city of Pittsburgh literally can't decide how much to tax people who work and live in the city? When they try to come up with creative and questionable ways around these limitations (i.e. raising the parking tax to 50%), the state once again puts the smack-down.

Since, I've been living in Pittsburgh, our glorious leaders Onorato and Ravenstahl have been making frequent trips to beg Harrisburg for solutions to their problems, and these requests have fallen on deaf ears. Do we have to file for bankruptcy before Harrisburg listens?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

On Scary State Taxes

I rarely talk too much about Pennsylvania state politics because they scare me. Our bloated and continuously corrupted state legislature is an indictment against democracy.

Today's recommendations being pondered by our esteemed state is raising the flat income tax from 3.07% to 4.07%. I have many reasons why I hope this idea is shot down as quickly as the suggestion to ban gay marriage. (ASAP)

1) Pennsylvania has a flat income tax. Any increase is an unjust burden on our poorer residents.
Only 8 states in the country have a flat income tax. 4% of your salary when you make $20,000 / year is a lot more important than when you make $100,000. Of course, in Pennsylvania, a graduated tax would require a change to the state constitution.

2) The Johnstown Flood Tax. If this year, the tax rate is increased to deal with a temporary problem, the tax will never be revoked. That's not a solution; it's merely a way to line state lawmaker's pockets in future years.

3) The reason that Pennsylvania (and every other state) is under budget this year is because people are making less money. And you want to tax them more? Now is the time to dig into a rainy day fund and make some cuts in programs that aren't necessary. How about those mandatory state legislature raises? Or how about some bloat in the legislature? I echo Brian O'Neil's call to reduce our inefficient state government long before increasing taxes on the populace. Or how about they sell all the state liquor stores as an infusion to the budget and privatize the selling of liquor? While they're at it, they can rename the Johnstown Flood tax to something that doesn't mock that tragedy.

Gas-Powered Rocket Science

Gas prices go up, we drive less. Gas prices go down, we drive more. Gas is averaging $1.50 less per gallon than last year and like clockwork, we Americans will be hitting the road and guzzling it up - though maybe with slightly older cars and slightly less SUVs.

At the same time, Rendell and company are beginning the fight for raising the gas tax and more tolls - as well as more standardized public transportation and roadwork funding. The gas tax hasn't been raised in 25 years and the 7,000 earmarks scheduled for this summer's transportation bill make Pittsburgh's repaving schedule look like a transparent, well-oiled machine. Clearly, this system of rewarding SUV drivers at the expense of bus-riders is broken. Finally, someone in power is seriously trying to fix it.

In the meantime, I implore you to continue thinking about the ramifications every time you fill up your car at the gas station, every time you drive to the nearby convenience store instead of walking or taking a bike, every time you're sitting in your car alone during rush hour. And maybe if you all can't be inspired to change your ways by retoric, some well-placed gas taxes will clearly help to deter your bad habits. Through education and taxes, cigarette smoking has sharply declined in this country over the past 50 years. Let's do the same with the vice of oil consumption.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Thank You to the Candidates

Congratulations to the winners of the Pittsburgh Democratic primaries.

To Mayor Ravenstahl: You have earned this victory through rampant spending and incumbency, but also through showing that you can work with Council over the last few months. I was very happy to see you parternering with Peduto and helping to institute some reform changes. Please continue to work with council. I'm sure that last night while you were at Hofbrauhaus, you made some flowery speech about the future of Pittsburgh. If you succeed in the general election this Fall, then I expect that in 4 years, we will have LED street lights, mandatory green building codes, the first tracks laid for a line between Oakland and Downtown, a manageable pension system, and real transparency in city contracting, city maintenance, and campaign donations. Please don't disappoint the constituents that have decided you are worthy of the Democratic nomination.

But most importantly, thank you to all that ran in this election. You make our election process respectable and responsible. Even if you didn't win, you are still contributing to the city by bringing new ideas to the forefront. I am glad that Dowd still has a position in the city as councilman. I hope that he keeps up hammering Ravenstahl when he disagrees with him. I also hope that he can work with Ravenstahl to make this city a better place. It is unfortunate that Carmen Robinson does not have a fall-back position in the city. I greatly admire her motivation and determination to become mayor of this city. I sincerely hope that Ravenstahl (or someone else in a position to do so) sees her connections with the community and initiative and can find her a position someplace in our city government. If not, Carmen Robinson, you must run for another position as soon as you are able.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Green Roof Request

A follow-up to yesterday's blog post. I mentioned Onorato's great new plan to have a green roof on the County building downtown. In a city that pride's itself on its skyline views, green roofs are the way to go. They improve views, help the environment, and lower operating costs all at the same time.

And where do we need a green roof the most? The South Side Giant Eagle. From above it is a giant bland box in the midst of old Victorian homes. My disdain for the Giant Eagle plaza on the South Side is large. It was planned before the age of pedestrian-friendly complexes and rivals Robinson Town Center for pedestrian unfriendliness. The crosswalks that do exist are inconvenient and where one wants to walk is where the cars have right of way. However, it's difficult to retrofit a shopping plaza. What is relatively easy to retrofit? The roof.

To be frank, Giant Eagle South Side ruins the view from my house and every other house on the South Side Slopes, so this is a partially selfish plea. But Giant Eagle has shown that they are willing to install green roofs in Shadyside. Let's see a green roof in an area where people will actually see it, and it will improve the lives of city residents. That's a lot more doable than windmills on Mt Washington and a lot more effective than one solar panel at a firehouse in a city known for cloudy skies.

What else is ruining views in the city?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Turning Over A New Leaf?

County Executive Onorato has been barking up the right tree lately. (Sorry, I couldn't resist the lame green metaphors. Maybe it has something to do with my recent visit to the Amazon.)

Onorato is moving forward with a Green Roof on the County Building while Ravenstahl is dragging his heals on plans to make the city-county building more energy efficient.

He is also touting the CCAC Green Institute - Preparing our workers to be "Green Collar" as well as educating county residents on making their homes more energy efficient are keys to continuing to succeed as a region.

And most importantly, Onorato is putting a renewed focus on transit projects for the region - especially Downtown-Oakland which could be a vital connector.


Tomorrow's my birthday, so how about as a birthday present the good folks of Pittsburgh vote for Patrick Dowd as democratic candidate for mayor?


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Screwing Around With Campaign Finance Reform

Just yesterday, I received a press release from Kevin Evanto detailing how Dan Onorato now supports the stricter campaign finance reforms that Pittsburgh city council has passed. Instead of just ignoring this issue, he's picking up the ball and following the city's lead. This is also in spite of county council members like Amanda Green who say: "It's not a priority for me. I'm not hearing from constituents that it's a priority for them either." I'm happy that Dan has decided that ethics are a priority for the county.

However, it's only fitting that within hours of making me pleased, I learn that precious Dan bursts my bubble by giving a "loan" from his campaign war chest to the war chest of precocious Lukey. Thanks to PGH Comet for pointing this out. Lukey, whose million dollar safety net had previously dwindled to around $350,000. If the way he's managing this campaign is indicative of the way he's managing the city, he definitely needs to be displaced by Dowd who is working with a war ottoman of less than $75,000. But more importantly, how can you take a "loan" from the county executive while both of you are claiming to support campaign finance reform? Am I sensing that a loophole to the new law has already been found? Or is this another thank-god-i-vetoed-the-campaign-finance-reform-bill-last-summer exception?

Maybe Doc Harris or another independent will have a chance in this race as poor Lukey will be out of money and all he'll have to show for it is a black and gold themed website built in North Carolina and some tired commercials.

Or maybe Dowd or Robinson (who both happened to use Pittsburgh design firms to build their websites) will pull out a victory in this David and David and Goliath race.

Whatever the case, Danny-boy is clearly rooting for Lukey, leaving us all to wonder why. Does Danny like posing with Luke that much? Is he afraid Dowd or Robinson won't issue nice soundbites with him? Is he trying to stop Luke from moving on to the Governor's race? (hahahahaha) Or maybe he just wants someone in his pocket when he reaches the highest office in the state? Whatever the case, it's another week of questionable ethics in Pittsburgh. But wouldn't Peduto be out of a job if everybody started playing by the rules?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Biking For Mayor

Even if biking is not your thing, it is still worth-while to peruse Bike-PGHs mayoral interviews. The candidate responses are classic.

Robinson: Terse and to the point, but I think most of us would like to see her giving some longer answers as she is still the unknown quantity in this race. Still, I agree with her ideas. Let's kick some cars to the curb and get some bike lanes on 5th and Forbes in Oakland.

Ravenstahl: Repetitive. Can he be more boring? In answering almost every single question, he manages to mention the bike coordinator and the 2 bike lanes that have been striped in the city. Good things yes, but I'm not satisfied.

Dowd: Well thought out answers. And he bikes to work on a regular basis. I especially like his idea of a city-run network of urban bike rental. How about some city bike lockers while we're at it?

Kudos to all the candidates for taking the time to respond to Bike-PGH.

Bike-PGH can't endorse a candidate because they're a 501(c)3, but I have a strong feeling that if this survey is any indication, the members of Bike-PGH will be voting for Dowd.

What's Going On In Fayette County?

Am I the only one wondering what's going on in Fayette County?

A Labrador puppy was killed and burned and a house cat was shot with an arrow?

That's your sicko Pittsburgh region news for the day (and hopefully the year.)

Note to sicko's: just because you can shoot deer in this region does not mean you can shoot beloved domesticated pets. You deserve to be punished under the full extent of the law for these heinous crimes. Maybe today, I'll be one of those 5% of atheists that's praying for these lost pets that may or may not have souls.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Keep Barking

Beer distributors continue to bark up the wrong tree. Wexford Beer Distributors is speaking out against the possibility of Giant Eagle selling six packs of beer at their "restaurant." They claim that it will hurt their sales. You know what hurts sales? Only being able to buy 24-packs of beer! We live in an antiquated state that insists that beer, liquor and wine must be doled out by the state (for a hefty profit) and instead of working for more freedoms, the beer distributors insist of fighting to maintain the pathetic status quo. I'm sick of my tax dollars paying for customer greeting programs and re-branding of our liquor stores, so that they can overcharge me even more for their limited, inconvenient selection. Obviously, anyone working in the state liquor stores with their pension and cushy state job doesn't mind the status quo too much, but beer distributors are fighting the fight for no good reason. In the end, Giant Eagle with its team of lawyers will win this battle and they will start to open up sales state-wide, and unless beer distributors jump on the progress bandwagon, I'll have a hard time feeling sorry for them when they fall by the wayside.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Changes to Port Authority

One of the good things about being out of the country for 3 months is that things seem to happen more quickly. For instance, when I was in Pittsburgh it was a slow waiting game for Port Authority to announce their new transit initiatives, but today relatively out-of-the-blue, they announced their preliminary findings and by the time I'm back (in June), they'll be well into the next public input phase and thinking about actually implementing these plans.

Things I'm psyched about?
  • Reducing the number of stops to somewhere below 16,000.
  • Reducing the mind-boggling route variations
  • Renaming/color-coding routes to reduce confusion and the steep learning curve
  • Direct route to the airport without stopping at Robinson
  • Bus priority at stop lights
  • Fare boxes outside the buses where you can buy tickets
What I'm disappointed about the process?
1500 people showed up at meetings to comment on this overhaul. Only 900 people commented on the website, including myself. Only in Pittsburgh do you have more people who are willing to drag themselves to a public meeting than surf the web. This speaks to 2 things. First a lack of publication by Port Authority in the right circles. If they had pushed their agenda at colleges or in the City Paper or perhaps online advertising at the Post-Gazette, they should have had thousands of online responses. Hopefully, they will work to rectify this lack of feedback in the next few months.

I have a few hooks they can use to get some more college student responses:
"Want to rename the 54C to the 'Drunk Bus'? Fill out this survey!"
"Want to be able to take the bus after you get your 3AM hot dog fix at the O?"
"Want a quicker ride to Giant Eagle, Ikea, or the movies? Fill out this survey!"

An extra bonus? Hold a raffle for the people who complete the surveys and give away a free month bus pass to one lucky winner to encourage the non-college student crowd. Good old-fashioned paper surveys distributed to the buses wouldn't hurt either. In the meantime, make yourself heard online.

On the flip side, kudos to the Port Authority for getting 1500 people to voice their opinions in person.

I am also a big fan of their seemingly new goal of increasing ridership and cutting per-passenger costs. It's about time someone had an actual plan for Port Authority instead of just ignoring it while it bloats along while regularly cutting service and increasing fares.