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Pittsburgh Planning Ambitious, Long-Term Transportation Effort

Thu September 30, 2021 - Northeast Edition
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


The Pittsburgh of 2071 could include transportation options that few have ever envisioned for the Steel City if a new Mobility Vision Plan released Sept. 23 by Mayor Bill Peduto and other municipal officials becomes a reality.

The Post-Gazette reported that the plan calls for a terminal in a central location of the city to handle a hyperloop system, vehicles for vertical takeoffs and landings, high-speed trains, aerial trams linking city neighborhoods and new bridges crossing the Monongahela River at Hazelwood for motorized vehicles and at the former Wabash rail bridge piers for bikes and pedestrians.

Those ideas might sound like science fiction, but they are among the concepts Pittsburgh must consider in its 50-year Mobility Vision Plan, according to Karina Ricks, the former director of the city's Department of Mobility and Infrastructure. She left the job for a position with the Federal Transit Administration shortly after the plan's release.

"It may be tempting to dismiss the 2070 Mobility Vision Plan as fantastical or audacious," Ricks said during a news conference, "but that would be a mistake. Fifty years is a long time, and a lot will change. Look back at how much has changed over the last 50 [years]. It is critical we have a plan to guide us."

It is only one of four strategies to improve the city's transportation infrastructure.

Under development for more than three years, the 2070 plan is designed to dovetail with a Downtown Mobility Plan released last spring by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, along with a regional long-range plan unveiled last year by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC), and the Port Authority of Alleghany County's 25-year NEXTransit proposal.

A Trip to Chicago in Under an Hour?

The Post-Gazette reported that a key need in the future could be a multimodal terminal somewhere near Pittsburgh's Golden Triangle, which could host stations for potential hyperloop, high-speed train, vertical vehicles and aerial tram systems.

The study noted the city is at one end of two possible hyperloop systems that would link Pittsburgh with Chicago: one through Columbus, Ohio, and the other via Cleveland. Hyperloop is a system that would send pods with passengers or freight through low-pressure tubes at more than 500 mph, making it possible to reach Chicago in less than 60 minutes.

Expanding high-speed train service is a key element of President Joe Biden's infrastructure bill working its way through Congress. Its passage could help Pittsburgh get improved service to New York and Washington.

Several Elements on Drawing Board

Travelers in Asia already are using vehicles that land and take off vertically, and they could be coming to the United States in the next few years.

In addition, the use of aerial trams could well be in the city's future, the Pittsburgh newspaper noted.

The Port Authority is considering such a system to move riders through a new transit corridor that would link the Strip District with the Hill District, Oakland, Hazelwood and Overbrook-Carrick. They could be located between the lower Hill and the Pennsylvanian train station, and from Mount Washington to the North Shore, according to the Mobility Vision Plan

The new bridge for motorized vehicles crossing the Monongahela River at Hazelwood was proposed in a SPC study released in February. The bike bridge would utilize the now-vacant piers from the former Wabash rail bridge to create what the study calls a possible tourist attraction and "a pleasant alternative" to the Fort Pitt Bridge for bikers and pedestrians.

Congestion, Pollution Need Reductions

Ricks explained that the overall goal of the plan is to ease congestion and reduce pollution by encouraging people to use transit, shared rides or bicycles rather than driving alone in a car that must be parked somewhere. Pittsburgh already has changed some planning and zoning requirements to cut down on the number of required parking spaces to encourage people to use other forms of transportation.

Extensive improvements in city sidewalks, an expansion of bicycle lanes and the installation of charging stations for electric vehicles throughout the city also are part of the 50-year plan.

Ricks told the Post-Gazette that the plan will be a "living document" designed to adapt to changes in technology and community needs over the coming years.




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