The first thing Steve Bland, CEO for the Port Authority of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh, Pa., warned his wife when he met her was that in transit, there’s only one company in every town. So they’ve lived in their fair share of towns.
And with moving around to different systems, he says it’s important to bend over backward to spend time to understand the fabric of a particular community and what makes it work.
“Once you sort of get a handle on that, it’s pretty common threads,” Bland says. “The principles are the same, the general rules of the market are the same. People will use or not use transit for a lot of reasons, whether they’re in Albany, New York or Pittsburgh, or Gloucester, Massachusetts.
“But you do have to find out what that fabric is to figure out how to get the right things done.”
As Bland puts it, he’s one of those rare animals that went to college to study transit and has never done anything else. “I went to the Indiana University of Bloomington,” Bland says, “Got both my bachelor’s and my master’s there.” His master’s degree is in public administration and he went to Dallas for a management training program for post-graduate folks.
“To kind of date myself,” Bland says, “one of my assignments there was not with DART, it was with the old Dallas Transit System; the pre-DART phase. “Actually DART had been formed at that time, but they hadn’t yet taken over the city bus system.” He continues, “So I worked for the city of Dallas under Dallas Transit in the vehicle maintenance area.”
Dallas was a one-year internship and then after that he worked at a number of agencies in Boston, Syracuse, Yorth and Albany. And then he came to Pittsburgh. As for how long he’s been here, “In Port Authority years, about 24,” he says with a laugh. “I’m wrapping up my sixth year here.”
Bland talks about how every community is unique, and the same goes for Pittsburgh as he explains. “My wife was born and raised here,” he explains. “From the time I met her I said she’s always had the worst sense of direction of anyone I’ve ever met. “Then I moved to Pittsburgh and I had to apologize profusely.” He continues, “There’s no such thing as north, south, no such thing as a street grid. You look at a map, think you have a direct shot and then you run into a hillside that nobody could traverse.” For the routing structure, he says they really have to take into account the terrain.
“One of the biggest advantages we have, we have a pretty significant mode share, particularly for a city this size,” says Bland. “One of the big advantages here is you really have limited options if you’re trying to get to downtown Pittsburgh and Oakland, which are the two dominant economic generators in our region.”
There’s also not a lot of parking which equates to high parking prices. “All of that is a real advantage for transit, that people really have a reason to try it,” he stresses. But then on the flip side, he says that when they’re looking at a busway project or a light rail project, if it’s more than a mile, chances are they’re going to be building a bridge or digging a tunnel to get it done.
North Shore Connector
The North Shore Connector is a 1.2-mile extension of the Port Authority’s light rail system, the T. It goes from downtown Pittsburgh to the North Shore area. And, as Bland said about projects requiring bridges or tunnels, the connector included the boring of twin tunnels under the Allegheny River.
Central to that redevelopment was a new baseball stadium and a new football stadium and it also tied into an entertainment complex, office and hotel development. It is also adjacent to the Community College of Allegheny County and there was a casino that located out there.
As for lessons learned from the project, Bland says laughing, “First thing is always have a back-up plan. “When the project kicked off, when the project started in the planning stage in the mid to late 90s, it coincided with the city’s master plan of doing a huge redevelopment of the North Shore area.”