Millvale town hall meeting addresses lack of Port Authority busing in borough
Thursday, February 13, 2020 | 1:00 PM
Approximately 30 people gathered Feb. 12 at the Millvale Community Center for a town hall highlighting Port Authority’s long-range plan, fares, digital applications and customer service request processes.
Amy Silbermann, Port Authority planning director, explained the $225 million bus rapid transit – BRT – project.
“This project is really aimed at making transit more reliable and faster in the corridor between downtown Pittsburgh and Oakland and then points beyond,” she said during “Public Transit: A Community Discussion.” The series is ongoing through April.
More than a quarter of Port Authority users ride a bus in or around Oakland, according to Silbermann.
BRT, in partnership with the City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and the Urban Redevelopment Authority, aims to develop transit-only lanes on Fifth and Forbes avenues, transit shelters with guest amenities and protected bicycle shelters and racks. Traffic signals, sidewalks and crosswalks will receive upgrades as part of the plan.
It will comprise the following routes: P3, 61A, B and C and 71B, chosen due to rider volume and “places with slow connections to downtown,” Silbermann said.
Port Authority is seeking a federal Small Starts grant to cover $100 million of the program, which is nearing construction.
Attendees asked questions during two Q&A sessions.
“Do you realize you have come to a community that no longer has its own bus service, and what little service we do have is very meager and does not satisfy our needs?” Millvale Councilman Bill Stout asked. “And here you are presenting a $250 million project that’s going to go from Oakland to downtown Pittsburgh. What about Route 28? What about the river communities along the Allegheny? I think we’re just as important.”
Silberman is aware of the problem and explained some of the issues the Port Authority faces.
“Really the goal of that project is about reliability, we actually have too much bus service, and it’s moving really, really slowly in Oakland right now, so what that is not enabling us to do is to give bus service to other communities who may need it and we know that there are other communities who used to have it or who have never had it,” Silbermann replied. BRT is projected to save Port Authority several million dollars annually in operating costs, which may enable the future expansion of routes, she said.
Representing the Etna Pedestrian Alliance, Thomas Hill Jr. presented survey results related to residents’ transit usage. He found that 6.5% of Etna residents take the bus, which runs hourly.
“That number would get a lot higher, I believe, if we had more services. And they’re spending about $1,300 a year on these fares in and out where they need to go. A startling piece of information is residents of Etna spend more than the national average on transportation. We spend 15.3 % of our annual income on transportation — Cars, through the bus system and other modes of transportation. The national average is 13.6%.
We’re not Shadyside; we’re not Squirrel Hill. We don’t have the resources that a lot of other communities do, and for us to get from one spot to the next is 100% an equity issue for us.”
Zaheen Hussain, Millvale sustainability coordinator and New Sun Rising sustainability director, said that residents often ask why there isn’t a bus line crossing the 40th Street Bridge.
“There are emerging job clusters across the river, and we see the 64 come all the way from Homestead, come down 39th street, take a break, and then it goes back up 40th street. And there have been a lot of questions about what it would take to bring it across the 40th Street bridge.”
To send the 64 over the bridge would require the addition of at least two vehicles to maintain the Port Authority’s scheduling frequency, according to Phillip St. Pierre, service development director.
Effective March 15, weekend service will be available between Millvale and downtown via the Strip District on the 2.
“The Initial step is to at least get weekend routing through the Strip and connecting that community, and I have a feeling that we’ll start seeing more requests for the weekday,” St. Pierre said.
State Rep. Sara Innamorato spoke about the importance of bus access to Millvale’s senior citizens.
“They do talk about the lack of service and also safety concerns when it comes to crossing roads like Evergreen, which I know is a state-run road, that’s kind of a Sara problem. … I know a lot of the residents have access, but they would much rather prefer to walk out their front door and catch the bus. So that’s something that comes up time and time again. I am a willing and able partner in that conversation,” she told Port Authority representatives.
Port Authority’s presentation and discussion schedule is posted at: portauthority.org/GetTogether.