Tuesday, October 07, 2008

New Transport Center Links Us to the Outside World

Saturday afternoon, Alina and I met at the new Grant Street Transportation Center (on Liberty and 12th) to check it out from both a city dweller’s and a tourist’s POV. Perhaps I mean a combination of both: as an armchair urban planner, I wanted to see what the facility (particularly the Greyhound Station) was offering the travelers, passers-through, potential tourists, and even potential future residents. Remember, this is not merely one more random downtown building or 1000 new parking spaces. This is the small, daily chance for Pittsburgh to meet and greet outsiders and either reinforce, or overhaul, its stereotype of being a has-been, isolated, post-industrial town.

Let me put that another way. In Pittsburgh, we hear a lot of boosterism about the city. We hear a lot about winning The Most Liveable City Poll. But what do people outside the city hear, and what do they absorb? When I still lived in New York and I told my boss that I would be quitting in a few months to move to Pittsburgh, he looked at me in utter disbelief and genuine disgust and said, “PITTSburgh?” He could not believe it. This is only to point out that many, many people outside Allegheny County have heard nothing about the reinvention of Pittsburgh, and if they’ve heard it, they don’t believe it. If they believe it, they don’t yet understand it. (I don’t want to get all Philosophy of Branding on us here, but I do have a headline from the Pitt News hanging on my office wall that says, “City Lacks a Reputation.”)

The first time I ever came to Pittsburgh was, in fact, as a long layover on a Greyhound bus trip in 2000; the old bus station stood where the new bus station now stands again. Looking out at the canyons of Downtown, and later, when we drove up to Mt Washington or Mt Oliver and I could look down at the fabulous view of the bridges, skyline, and rivers, I was fascinated with Pittsburgh—my imagination was piqued. But there was nothing, nothing, to connect me from the Greyhound station to the city. The only place I wandered to was the Amtrak station, which still lived in its original, grand building—since privatized for condos and offices. It was one of the most beautiful train stations I’d ever seen.

So, the point I want to make here is that it’s a shame to waste the chance to welcome and re-educate a newcomer or a passer-through: Let the transit stations be a gateway to a Pittsburgh of the imagination, at the very least; and at best, a smooth gateway into the physical city itself. That long layover I had between Chicago and New York back in 2000 lasted something like five hours. I could have gone to The Warhol, I could have wandered the Strip District, I could have gone to the downtown library branch. (This is a luxury, for example, that airplane riders don’t usually get—the airports being located so inconveniently on the outskirts of their cities.) But there was nothing to inform me, nothing inviting me in. And doesn’t that seem more like the Old Pittsburgh than the New Pittsburgh? In this age of revitalized downtowns and networked everything, don’t we, Pittsburgh, care about being physically networked as well? Under Mayor Tom Murphy, for example, this Transportation Center was to be a true hub, with a T station, the Amtrak Station, and city bus stops all under one roof.

What’s right with the Pittsburgh Greyhound Station?

*It's right next to the Amtrak station, again after 3 years.

*Alina was the first to point out that they had installed bilingual signage, in Spanish and English. Impressive indeed.

*The signage is fairly well placed, though it’s slightly more visible walking through from the 11th street entrance than the 12th street side.

*Though it took us a long time, we finally found them: The last three pay phones in America. They were even installed at a low height, presumably to accommodate the wheelchair-bound. On the opposing wall, there’s a vending machine for phone cards.

*There's a Recharging Station for your laptops, cell phones, digital cameras, etc.

*There’s a modest snack shop that sells some hot food and some cold.

*There’s an office inside the station called Travelers Aid, or, Ayuda De los Viajeros.

*The interior is a pleasant blue and white tile, with a serpentine shape.

What would we like David Onorato and friends to know, in terms of changes or improvements to the Grant Street Transportation Center?

*Change the name? As a BikePgh blogger posted (December 25), the station is surrounded by 4 streets, none of them Grant Street.

*Add bike racks. Alina had to cross two streets to tie up.

*Fix the broken crosswalk light (!!) at Liberty Avenue, the only “connection” to the Amtrak station. This was a dangerous guessing game, getting across this busy street. Imagine if you didn’t already know that Pittsburgh drivers like to gamble with your life.

*Add signage that announces Amtrak’s location and proximity. You wouldn’t know it was there if you didn’t know. Even the “You Are Here” map on the wall inside Greyhound doesn’t mark the train station.

*Ditto for some of the closest bus stops. I still have no idea where to pick up the East Busway, though I know it's very near.

*Hopefully, in the not too distant future the links between transportation modes will be even smoother—a skywalk to Amtrak? A T station inside the Transportation Center? A stop for city busses, including the 28X?

*Stock city bus schedules on an indoor rack. (To be fair, a brochure rack is there, it’s just blatantly empty.)

*Install signs with cab companies’ names and phone numbers above the pay phones.

*Stock more newspapers than just USA Today at the gift shop. At least the Post-Gazette, the Pittsburgh Tribune, and what about the City Paper and the Trib PM? Pittsburgh Quarterly?


Anonymous said...

I think someone on our forums actually said that about the streets surrounding the Transportation Center. What I would recommend is for a bike cage or lockers to be installed so folks can ride to the station, get a bus, and not worry about their bike being stolen. It would make for a really nice multi-modal connection.

Karen Lillis said...

This is a great point, Scott. With all our talk about Green this and that, we need to imagine what this means in practical terms, especially when building a new facility. Riding a bike to the Greyhound to take a trip is a pretty Green way to go, so why not make that feasible, instead of making it virtually impossible? I did forget to mention the wall of lockers at the new station, but of course, they're not big enough to store a bike, if that's what you mean.