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October 29, 2015

Committee discusses Oakland transit woes

busEver-present frustrations with parking, coupled with Greenfield Bridge detours and new bicycle infrastructure that’s causing confusion for drivers and cyclists alike led to a wide-ranging discussion on Oakland’s many transit issues in a recent meeting of the University Senate community relations committee (CRC).

“We have a lot of surrounding construction projects that are going to make it even more challenging to get into Oakland and other areas,” said Mavis Rainey, executive director of Oakland Transportation Management Association (OTMA), suggesting that the time may be ripe to remind Pitt employees of their transportation options.

At the committee’s Oct. 20 meeting, CRC co-chair Pamela Toto noted that the Senate’s expanded executive committee earlier in the week discussed whether additional parking for faculty and staff may be warranted in light of lengthy waitlists.

Committee member Wanda Wilson, executive director of the Oakland Planning and Development Corp. (OPDC), said that parking and transportation are perennial issues in Oakland, but more parking isn’t the answer.

“It’s always a hot-button issue and it’s always a problem. And the answer is never to have more parking,” she said, labeling it a “short-sighted way of looking at mobility.” More parking means more traffic on the streets, which makes getting to the parking areas more difficult. “So it’s never a solution,” she maintained.

Although new Pitt employees receive information on commuting alternatives during orientation, it’s often forgotten, Toto said.

“I think people have to get exposed to it,” said community relations director Kannu Sahni, acknowledging that it took a car breakdown to prompt him to use public transit to get to campus. “After I rode the bus, I thought, ‘What am I doing driving from Monroeville every day?’ and I took the bus for two years after that,” he said.

“I think we’ve never asked our faculty and staff who ride the buses to talk to other faculty and staff,” Sahni said. “Maybe this is the time we ask.”

Alternatives to driving

Rainey noted that commuting alternatives include nearly 300 registered carpools, vanpools, Port Authority Transit and Pitt shuttle buses, adding that carpool and vanpool users are eligible to use the guaranteed ride home program, in case of an unforeseen need to get home outside their normal travel schedule.

In addition, OTMA’s Oakland Smart Commute program ( offers a ride-matching service. Users fill out a commuter profile and receive recommendations for transit, carpool, vanpool and, in some cases, bikepool alternatives that match their commuting behavior, Rainey said.

Rainey noted that OTMA has updated its Oakland multimodal resources map to include Pittsburgh bike share stations. The map is available online as part of OTMA’s 2014-15 annual report ( or copies can be requested by calling the OTMA office at 412/687-4505.
OTMA is promoting the Port Authority’s P3 East Busway-Oakland bus as an option for park-and-ride commuting to Oakland. “It only goes through Oakland and onto the busway. You’re not having to deal with Downtown or a transfer,” Rainey said.

Users can park along the East Busway and ride into Oakland, she said, adding that about 1,200-1,500 riders a day currently use the P3 route. “The East Busway is actually a lot closer than you think it is,” Rainey said. “You can get from Oakland to the East Busway in about 10 minutes.”

OPDC’s Wilson suggested that the committee explore ways to encourage University employees to live in Oakland. “It would help the Oakland community,” she said. “And if this committee could get involved in promoting Oakland as a place to live, then your transportation issues are pretty much solved for you. You can walk to work.”

OPDC currently has two homes for sale to owner-occupants, she said. “We’d love to be able to partner more with the University, encouraging homeownership in the neighborhood.”

Wilson noted as well that more people are cycling and increasing numbers of people don’t want to drive.

Rainey agreed. “There is a population that is moving into the urban core who don’t want to have cars. They want to see a more robust public transportation system — whether it’s a T, whether it’s the ability to access a trail to walk or bike, or use services like Uber or Lyft  — in place of a personal vehicle.”

Bike lane challenges

Several committee members expressed concern that the addition of bike lanes on O’Hara Street, Bigelow Boulevard and Bayard Street has turned the roadway into a slalom course for motorists. “There is a lot of confusion right now with how many different striped lines we have in one street,” Rainey acknowledged. The area near Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic has two travel lanes for cars, flanked by bike lanes, plus a parking lane.

Motorists are using the bicycle lanes as turning lanes, and cyclists are confused as well, unaware that each bike lane is intended for a single direction of travel.  “There’s a learning curve,” Rainey said, adding that a lack of signage makes it harder for travelers to know which lane they should use.

Drivers likewise aren’t familiar with the green bike box pavement markings, such as those that have appeared at the intersection of Bayard and Craig streets. Bike boxes create a visible space for cyclists to wait at a red light, enabling them to more easily turn left at an intersection and helping prevent collisions with cars turning right. Drivers are supposed to stop behind the green area, not in the bike box itself, when the traffic light is red.

“That whole corridor has been and will continue to be a major area of conversation regarding the multimodal focus of the city,” Rainey said.

“The plan right now is to have a conversation with the mayor and the director of city planning to reiterate the challenges and confusion that’s happening in that corridor before it becomes a citywide issue.”

Greenfield Bridge detours

Rainey noted that OTMA will serve as a clearinghouse for information on the Greenfield Bridge replacement project.

The crumbling bridge over the Parkway East was closed with a farewell party on Oct. 17. The structure is scheduled for implosion Dec. 28 or 29 to make way for a new steel bridge that will retain many of the decorative elements of the 1920s-era original, Rainey said.

Traffic is being detoured via the Parkway by way of Panther Hollow Road, the Boulevard of the Allies and Bates Street. Detours will remain in place until the bridge replacement project is completed in spring 2017.

The work also will necessitate three Parkway closures, including a weeklong closure surrounding the implosion. Outbound Parkway traffic will be forced to exit at Forbes Avenue and inbound traffic to exit at Wilkinsburg.

Project information, including turn-by-turn information on detours, is posted at

—Kimberly K. Barlow     

Filed under: Feature,Volume 48 Issue 5

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