The political coalition against privatization includes more than just allies of the union. For example, it also includes representatives of rural areas where private entities either would not locate a store at all, or would only locate a store with less selection and higher prices. In that sense the state store system is subsidizing those rural areas, and their local representatives do not want to give up those subsidies.
Giant Eagle and other grocery stores can use a certain type of license to sell beer and wine in an attached cafe. I believe all of Wegmans, Weis, Giant, and Sheetz have also done that in one or more stores, and more are looking at it. I believe the main problem, though, is that you have to allow in-store consumption, and that raises all sorts of cost and liability issues which serve as a practical barrier to more grocery stores wanting to do it.
We have really enjoyed this place since it opened, including the excellent service. And do not miss the rice pudding!
We had a pretty lively and interesting discussion of the reasoning behind this project in the comments to the prior thread linked above. Rather than repeating all that, I'll just note that I think the key to understanding the transit benefits this project could bring is realizing the large number of riders that funnel through that corridor every day, heading not just between Oakland and Downtown but also to points all along the corridor from a variety of other points outside the corridor.
Audrey, if you haven't already, you might want to check out this presentation:
It certainly doesn't answer all your questions, but Pages 18-25 in particular go into some of the things we have been discussing here. Page 19 has a chart of origins/destinations for the 61s and 71s which is pretty interesting. It doesn't really address how many of the Downtown/Oakland specific people are transferring in Downtown from other routes (like you, I assume that is a big part of story there), but it does show there are a lot of people funneling into this corridor from a bunch of other locations. Typically the biggest destination is Oakland itself, but there are also people looking to get through Oakland to Downtown, and even some looking to get to Uptown.
Anyway, for topographic and cost reasons it is going to be very hard to provide rapid, direct service to Oakland/Uptown from a lot of places where there is potential demand (unless perhaps we look into aerial gondolas, which is a whole other subject). That's a large part of why the Spine Line and this proposal have always scored well in project comparisons--not just because of Downtown/Oakland specifically being an important pair, but also because topography dictates that it will continue to be a shared route for many other riders.
Speaking of the Spine Line, the presentation goes on to look at three sorts of configurations. What they call "Main Corridor BRT", discussed on Pages 20-21, would be the closest to a Spine Line-type plan. But as is sort of implied by the next few slides, that approach would be missing out on what BRT can actually do better than LRT, which is allow a variety of bus routes to share the same rapid transit infrastructure without transfers. So Pages 22-23 discuss an "Overlay Corridor BRT" approach, in which a very large portion of the service in the corridor would be provided by through-routes very similar to what exist today. Finally the "Modified Collector BRT" on Pages 24-25 does a bit of both, with some routes serving the full corridor and also extending out much farther, and some just using it for service through Oakland. That Modified Collector approach appears to me most similar to Nelson/Nygaard's Rapid Bus plan, and you can see how it is being tailored to the origin/destination map on Page 19.
Anyway, that is all interesting material if you are trying to get some sense of how they perceive transit demand, and some different options for trying to serve it.
By the way, an extremely brief history on this concept may be worth reviewing. It was considered at least as early as the Eastern Corridor Transit Study, a multi-phase study conducted by the Southwest Pennsylvania Commission (our designated regional planning body). The ECTA was designed to study and compare a long list of possible major transit projects and winnow them down to a short list of locally-preferred alternatives, which could be the subject of further study and future federal grant applications. To make a long story short, a version of this BRT corridor made the final list in 2006:
In 2007-2009, PAT hired Nelson/Nygaard to perform a comprehensive system redesign, known as the Transit Development Plan. Nelson/Nygaard collected what is still to my knowledge the most comprehensive data set on PAT's system to date, and ultimately recommended a version of this BRT plan that they called "Rapid Bus" as a key component of their proposed new system. One of the distinctive things about their version is that it explicitly extended out well beyond just Oakland, although the farther reaches of the system would only get mild forms of BRT, at least initially.
Sustainable Pittsburgh then put together the Get There PGH group in 2010, which along with PAT has been overseeing the further study and advancement of the concept, including hosting community meetings and federally-funded planning studies. That coalition includes a variety of different transit stakeholders, and of course now has the support of the County Executive and Mayor of Pittsburgh:
So to summarize, this concept:
(1) Has been studied and selected as a locally preferred alternative by our regional planning commission;
(2) Has been further studied by professional consultants who determined it could be an important component of redesigning PAT's overall system;
(3) Has since been able to sustain broad stakeholder and office-holder support as it has been advanced through further planning stages.
That's actually quite a lot to be able to say in favor of a particular proposal. Again, by no means does that suggest people should not still be asking questions, but there have been a lot of people over the years looking at most of those questions, and the project has continued to advance.
On costs, I believe the estimated $200 million includes all of the lanes, new signals, new stations, and the mainline vehicles themselves. It is also worth keeping in mind that it would really be going from Squirrel Hill/Shadyside to Downtown, not just Oakland to Downtown. In other words, I think when people hear it is between Downtown and Oakland, they are imagining something about the length of Uptown. But when you realize it is also supposed to go all the way through Oakland to beyond its eastern borders, you then have to imagine something over twice as long as just that Uptown-only corridor.
Downtown does in fact remain a HUGE destination for transit commuters. And particularly after the TDP was implemented, a lot of the popular commuter routes were extended earlier in the morning and later in the evening to accommodate more Downtown workers' schedules. The state funding cuts forced PAT to trim those extended hours back a bit, but hopefully with the new state transportation bill they can look at restoring some of those times.
In any event, study after study of the existing system has reached the same conclusion: by far the most pressing need is to improve service into Oakland. Oakland has become a regionally-important employment and service center, second only to Downtown, and yet it lacks any sort of direct rapid transit links. That costs many lower-income workers precious time, encourages many higher-income workers to drive and park, and indirectly devalues distressed neighborhoods that should be benefiting from proximity to Oakland.
Again, this is why it is crucial to understand that the proposed system would benefit not just riders BETWEEN Downtown and Oakland, but also riders INTO Downtown OR Oakland from a much broader network of points. It is in fact necessary to ask the sorts of questions Helen and Audrey are raising, but it turns out that given the full scope of what this system would accomplish, the answers to those questions are very likely to favor this project.
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