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Mark Rauterkus

Spoken like a real burgher. :)

Richard Layman

I don't agree with the Philly guy's characterization, which is why I wrote my own rules.

The "problem" with downtown Pittsburgh is that you need residents and neighborhoods around it to balance use throughout the day and night (a kind of derivation from JJ's concept of "mixed primary uses"). w/o that, you get big periods of deadness. And there just isn't enough convention business + tourists to help provide large additional segments to support these kinds of businesses long term (i.e., B&N bookstore).

Downtown is so close to other destinations (Strip District, East Carson Street, Northside, Oakland) that have residences and retail. (Although not so many in the Strip District.)

But you still need that charm as you say. Seed your own businesses. And open a great steakhouse in the Strip District.

This is what Boston does in underserved areas: http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2005/08/neighborhood-restaurant-initiative.html

But it's easier to attract chains than it is to build businesses from scratch. That's why cities focus on chains.

But I'm with you, I like places like Max's Allegheny Tavern or the place that sells bun dogs (I don't remember the name), in the Strip District.

Richard Layman

I don't agree with the Philly guy's characterization, which is why I wrote my own rules.

The "problem" with downtown Pittsburgh is that you need residents and neighborhoods around it to balance use throughout the day and night (a kind of derivation from JJ's concept of "mixed primary uses"). w/o that, you get big periods of deadness. And there just isn't enough convention business + tourists to help provide large additional segments to support these kinds of businesses long term (i.e., B&N bookstore).

Downtown is so close to other destinations (Strip District, East Carson Street, Northside, Oakland) that have residences and retail. (Although not so many in the Strip District.)

But you still need that charm as you say. Seed your own businesses. And open a great steakhouse in the Strip District.

This is what Boston does in underserved areas: http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2005/08/neighborhood-restaurant-initiative.html

But it's easier to attract chains than it is to build businesses from scratch. That's why cities focus on chains.

But I'm with you, I like places like Max's Allegheny Tavern or the place that sells bun dogs (I don't remember the name), in the Strip District.

Richard Layman

sorry about the duplicate listing. The thing about your downtown though is it might be more like the places that Gartner is talking about. My rules are more for neighborhoods like Strip District (transitioning); Bloomfield (emerging); Lawrenceville (emerging).

Richard Layman

Oops one more thing. The avg. office workers supports 2 s.f. of retail and 5 s.f. of restaurant. But the retail uses tend to be convenience and service goods (dry cleaning, wireless phone, drug store). As you can see you need a lot of workers to make retail work, and who says it will be good retail? Note the number of hospital workers at Allegheny Hospital and the level of retail on E. Ohio Street.

Paul

If you build it, they still won't come.

Why is it that city planners refuse to deal with the issues that keep their businesses from succeeding? Parking (lack of and cost) convoluted traffic patterns that discourage driving in and out of town and absence of any functional public transportation alternative.

I've had a thousand conversations with people over the years who share my opinion that Downtown, the North Side and Oakland are places to be avoided at all cost regardless what's available.

I just got back from a trip to the Northern Virginia/Washington DC area where we able to travel between several counties in different states and in and out of a metropolitan area far more heavily populated than Pittsburgh on relatively clean and efficient trains without giving it much thought as to where we going.

When Pittsburgh quits spending money on arenas, stadiums, unnecessary office buildings, condos and McMansions for millionaires and begins investing in the transportation infrastructure they should have started 30 years ago, when they finally wake up and realize that throwing up structural barriers to free movement (what transportation engineers nationwide call Pittsburgh's "Berlin Wall" approach to population loss control) isn't going to keep people from moving out of the city so they might as well start finding ways to make it easier to get people in and out of the city... maybe things will start to change.

Until that happens though, the best steak in the world at any price isn't going to get people to endure the pothole marked maze of one way streets and parking gestapo of Pittsburgh.

Jonathan Potts

For once you and I may be in near perfect agreement. I'm not convinced that we need more parking, but overall I agree with you.

There, is, however, a chicken and egg question with mass transit. Does good mass transit--and keep in mind Pittsburgh has fairly high usage of public transit--lead to density and development, or does density and development spark a need for mass transit. The example in LA is the latter; as the LA region becomes more and more dense, its public transit systems have markedly improved.

Trains are clean, yes, and efficient so long as there are plenty of people to use them. But the dirty little secret of mass transit is that light rail--which I don't think you refer to when you discuss D.C., since the Metro isn't light rail--for example, is often built as an inducement to get riders who refuse to ride buses. But a bus system is far more flexible than light rail. You can always change bus routes. Rail is a lot more permanent.

Paul

The problem with comments like "But a bus system is far more flexible than light rail" is that while that might be true in theory, how a bus system is implemented in the real world is far more important. In this region county managers operate completely at the behest of the bus drivers' union who many years ago were able to get their routes written into their contract and have refused to bend at all. The result is that for thirty years now consultants and experts have been telling PAT that priority number one in any reorganization needs to be a complete evaluation of routes that were first laid out in the 60's... still waiting.

What it means is that when my wife wants to go to her favorite Indian restaurant in Oakland (a total of about 7 miles distance from the North Hills) we have a choice; a little over two hours of travel time by bus which involves a transfer and wait downtown or a drive in and search for parking on the streets of Oakland - last time we tried we gave up after about 25 minute of circling the neighborhood.

Whatever potential buses have it's never been realized in the area and probably never will be and a trip from the most populace neighborhoods in the north, south and east suburbs to where the "action is" in the city is a herculean task most people just won't bother to undertake. We hear there's a great Ethiopian restaurant is East Liberty... might as well be in Ethiopia for us.

It's like that with everything thing in the area from regionalism to "public" transportation; there's theory and what it could be and then there's the reality of implementation by local "leaders" and these are always two different creatures.

Like it or not Cranberry, south Butler County and northern Allegheny County are expanding rapidly just as they have been for the past two decades. If city and county leaders don't figure out a way to make to make it easy for those residents to get to the restaurants and venues that are opening in the city, eventually those business will end up out there.

Jonathan Potts

My point, though, is that public transit--and in particular light rail--needs a critical mass of density before it approaches any kind of reasonable cost efficiency. Yes, Cranberry and the nearby communities are expanding, but is the population sufficient to justify the kind of infrastructure investment you suggest? Are there enough people like yourselves who would make use of light-rail from the North Hills into town? I'm not so sure.

You are right--the bus sytem's current route structure is outdated and inefficient. We need fewer buses routed into Downtown and more directly to places like the Strip, Oakland and Lawrenceville/Bloomfield. Some signs of intelligence are emerging. For example, the Port Authority is finally going to provide feeder buses to the T in the South Hills, ending some of the redundancy between buses and light rail there.

Paul

"Are there enough people like yourselves would make use of light-rail from the North Hills into town"

The answer to that will depend on how planners define town. Probably close to a third of the people I work with in Oakland live somewhere north of the city and we constantly bemoan the fact that there is no simple direct route in to work via public transportation. Another smaller portion of them live in the south hills and not so long ago were pretty pumped about being able to use the current T to get to work once the proposed spline train was completed...

If a light rail system is built that will get me from home to work in a reasonable amount of time I'd use it without hesitation and going by what co-workers say I imagine they would as well.

Unfortunately though the tunnel project and comments from Dan Onorato indicate that any future light rail system is going to be one that functions much like current bus routes do, taking north hills residents on a circuitous, Rube Goldberg inspired route through the scenic parts of the north side then to the west end, back through Barden's Casino development and deliver riders no further than DOWNtown and require anyone working, going to school or to a medical appointment in Oakland or Shadyside/East Liberty to transfer to a bus...

That light rail system is a train to nowhere and a failure before the first foot of track is laid. Nobody, including me, is going to trade 20-30 car commutes for 70 minutes or more of train rides and multiple bus transfers, not ever.

There is a clear, simple and logical way to build a light rail system that would server the needs of the county, but county managers have comitted themselves to using taxpayer funds to build systems that serve the interests of Stabile, Barden, Rhor, Burkle and the Piatts as their killing of the spline train in favor of the north shore extension tunnel clearly demonstrated. Choosing to extend the county's only existing light rail system west towards the north side in order to deliver residents to stadiums and casinos instead of east towards Oakland where much of the city's economic activity is taking place speaks volumes about the current leaderships intentions as well as their competence and intelligence.

Jonathan Potts

I can't argue with you over the North Shore Connector. And we definitely need more direct routes to Oakland. When I lived in Mt. Lebanon I rode the 44U to work. It was great.

I would add that making parking cheaper and more plentiful would reduce the customer base for the kind of a system you describe.

Sam M

"I would add that making parking cheaper and more plentiful would reduce the customer base for the kind of a system you describe."

This is where the rubber really hits the road, because a lot of people see this as the crux of the matter. And they argue you can't have both.

That is, if you make parking punitively expensive or impossible to find, you are going to see more people clamoring for public transit. But you are also going to see lots of people complaining about the parkign situation.

People also point out, on a realted note, that ample, cheap parking incentivizes people out of public transit and into their cars. Which increases the burden on local roads. Those same people argue that Pittsburgh has been doing this for years--and that there is already too many parking spaces downtown and in Oakland. Because if there weren't people would be taking public transit.

Others point out that Pittsburgh already has a pretty high transit usage rate. And that you can't just start demolishing parking garages until you fix the transit.

And then the other people say you can;t make the transit really work until people stop driving.

And then someone spends all the money by digging a tunnel under the river.

Excellent.

Jonathan Potts

Arguably, the only things that government can do--and I think we usually are only arguing over government policy--are lower the parking tax; buying up property and opening garages; lowering the rates of government-owned garages and metered spaces.

The second option is the worst, since it would presumably take good, privately owned land off the tax rolls for a (in my opinion) less than desirable use. An abundance of garages might make it easier to visit the city, but it reduces the reasons to go there by destroying street life. I'd rather see cheaper street parking than more garages. (Though I'm not arguing for garages to be demolished.)

I don't get too excited over the parking tax, in part because it seems like a good way to recoup maintenance costs of local roads and traffic enforcement costs. It's almost like a user fee.

Paul

"People also point out, on a realted note, that ample, cheap parking incentivizes people out of public transit and into their cars. Which increases the burden on local roads. Those same people argue that Pittsburgh has been doing this for years--and that there is already too many parking spaces downtown and in Oakland. Because if there weren't people would be taking public transit."

If there are people arguing this they are simply blind to what's going on around to them. Most people I know are not opting to drive to work because there's ample parking - quite the contrary I pay quite a bit of money for a parking permit and have spent many years on waiting lists to get into a lot that's within a reasonable walking distance to my office - I drive simply because there is no viable public transportation offering available to myself and my wife and as I've stated in other post, we only live 6 (me) and 8 (her) miles from work.

My son who recently graduated from college has never had a drivers license and he's finding it virtually impossible to take any job in the city because he can not get to and from work by bus, especially any that require weekend hours as many entry level positions do when even buses that might be part of some convoluted two hour commute during the week don't run at all on the weekends.

Most people I know would love to stop putting miles on their cars and make use of a clean, efficient and reliable public transportation system. If PAT ever gets close to putting one in place and people still drive then maybe we can seriously entertain their argument.

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We are all in the position of the farmer. If we plant a good seed, we reap a good harvest. If our seed is poor and full of weeds, we reap a useless crop. If we plant nothing at all, we harvest nothing at all.

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