Right now, Pittsburgh Regional Transit has 84 bus routes that pass through Downtown Pittsburgh using 26 different loops through the Golden Triangle.
But with construction to start later this year on exclusive lanes that the Bus Rapid Transit system will use as part of its service between Downtown and Oakland — and Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership aiming to make the business district more walkable — the transit agency is studying all of its Downtown routes. The goal of the process, which begins with a series of events this week, is to reduce the number of paths buses use and try to have them flow logically so that as many riders as possible who have to transfer only have a short walk to their second vehicle.
“Twenty-six different loops is a lot when you consider our Downtown is small compared to many other cities,” said PRT spokesman Adam Brandolph. “It’s a compact space.”
Agency staff has been working since the middle of last year to examine the existing routes and develop ideas for proposed changes. That preliminary work has included interviews with more than 400 riders to find out what they consider to be the most important factors in their Downtown transit experience.
The meetings this week are designed to hear from riders whether they like the agency’s preliminary recommendations. It’s a good time to look at routes, Brandolph said, because ridership is slowly growing again after the pandemic and riders may have different needs.
Brandolph wouldn’t discuss specifics of the proposals before this week’s events, but he did talk about the guidelines the agency has followed as it developed the recommendations. Planners went into the project with no set goal of how many different paths there should be, he said.
For example, other routes will work around the Bus Rapid Transit lanes, which have buses enter Downtown on Fifth Avenue to Liberty Avenue, Liberty to Sixth Avenue and Sixth to Forbes Avenue. And the routes likely will work around the Downtown Partnership’s plans to create more walking areas throughout the Golden Triangle, such as eliminating most traffic on Smithfield Street to encourage more outdoor dining and provide street space for public events.
Brandolph said planners started by selecting a square of streets in the Downtown area and then, with the rapid transit and walkability restrictions, designed proposed bus routes that each touch that square at least once. That means riders who have to transfer would be reasonably close to their connection.
“If they all touch there, there is the potential for less walking and improved transfer times,” Brandolph said. “We’re looking not just where buses are going, but where people are going.”
Riders can expect the biggest changes in Downtown routing in at least a decade, but they may not be monumental differences, he said.
“It’s our responsibility and our job to make sure it’s an improvement,” he said. “We don’t expect to change the world.
“We’re going to say, ‘Here are some options, here’s what we think.’ They are who we are planning for, so we want to hear what they think.”
The agency will continue public involvement through the summer and could have changes in place by early next year. Even before those changes are in place, the agency will begin reviewing where buses travel outside the Downtown area for a yearslong systemwide study of where all routes travel to determine whether population shifts require buses to follow different paths and serve different areas throughout the county.
The agency will have six in-person sessions at 625 Smithfield St., adjacent to the authority’s customer centers, and two online meetings this week to hear what the public thinks of the proposed changes.
Monday, 2-5 p.m.
Tuesday, noon-4 p.m.
Wednesday, 7-11 a.m.
Thursday, 3-7 p.m.
Friday. 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Tuesday, 5-6:30 p.m.
Wednesday, 12-1:30 p.m.
Anyone can walk into the in-person sessions, where staff will be available to answer questions informally. Participants can register for the online meetings at https://nextransit.network/events.