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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pittsburgh's $6 million subway system

While doing some research on Pittsburgh's transportation history I found a reference to a report from 1925 titled "Report on a recommended subway in the first and second wards of Pittsburgh: Or, Proposed first step in a rapid transit program"

The reference was found in a report in the American City Planning Institutes's archives:

For Pittsburgh, there is a report published by the Traffic Commission, prepared by
Messrs. Turner and Haydock* on Recommended Subways in the First and Second Wards,a
proposed first step in a rapid transit program. In 1919, $6,000,000 was voted by the
citizens of Pittsburgh for such a subway, and in 1924 a Traffic Commission becoming
the Bureau of Traffic Relief was named to determine the character and route. The
Report strongly recommends construction with a sub-street to care for pedestrians
and such a route as will spread the business district out from the over-concentrated
"Triangle". The plans and diagrams to show the advantages of through-routing are of
particular interest.

So we could have had a subway system for $6 million back in 1925?
(roughly $73 million in today's dollars - still a bargain!)

Who is responsible for not implementing those plans?! Well, according to the City
Paper story, the Port Authority screwed it up! So we have something to add to the
list of terrible decisions during the Port Authority's reign over the region's
transportation system: the East Busway, the SkyBus fiasco, the rejection of the
Spine Line plan, and last but not least, today's North Shore Connector aka the chunnel to nowhere.

From the 2005 City Paper story titled "Lost Tracks" :

Reworking concepts first proposed in 1917, city engineers Daniel L. Turner and
Winters Haydock offered up their 1925 Report on A Recommended Subway in the First
and Second Wards of Pittsburgh, or Proposed First Step in a Rapid Transit Program.

They proposed a rail system beyond the imagination of T riders today. It would have
joined East Liberty to the Central North Side, Squirrel Hill to the South Side,
Beltzhoover to Perry Hilltop -- and all of them to Downtown. Such a system could
have made Pittsburgh the Manhattan of the Alleghenies.

Turner and Haydock's top priority? A route they called the "Fifth Avenue Line" --
a two-track subway line with 17 stops connecting the Central North Side to Downtown,
Soho, Oakland, Shadyside and East Liberty.

Future lines could be built later, they noted. But "this line will furnish a rapid
transit connecting link between East Liberty, the Oakland center, the Triangle
District and the North Side business area." Taken together, the Golden Triangle,
the North Side and East Liberty made up the city's largest commercial engine;
the planners sought to "weld such separate centers more nearly into a single

If money were scarce, the engineers urged, at least go from the North Side to Oakland.

That dream persisted for decades. And the year 1964, when the Port Authority was
formed, might've seemed a good time to begin work on it. Instead the transit agency,
built from the merger of dozens of struggling private bus and trolley companies,
hung its hopes on a scheme that was even more ambitious: Skybus.

Proposed to replace old trolley lines in the South Hills, Skybus was a novel system
featuring rubber-tired, driver-less coaches that would run on elevated guideways.
Controversial from the start (some objectors preferred rail while others were
spooked by buses that drove themselves), arguments grew so feverish that by 1974,
funding for Skybus was suspended by the federal government. One year later, the
Port Authority decided to give the South Hills light rail instead. The rest of the
city -- particularly the East End, home to the region's largest number of transit
users -- had to content itself with bus service.

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