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Why we’re excited about Rail~Volution 2017

by Elijah Hughs

Rail~Volution returns to Denver in 2017 and in the short time since 2000, Denver has been transformed from a car-required public transit desert into a car-optional multimodal public transit leader.  Rail~Volution is an annual gathering of public transit advocates, thought leaders, and decision makers and is an opportunity to share ideas and learn from experts from across the country and evolveEA is attending the conference for the second year in a row.

At this conference, I am especially interested in sessions that focus on the intersection of Infrastructure, Operations, and Psychology because effective transit is a careful balance of these three elements.  Good quality infrastructure makes transit operations more efficient and the transit experience more pleasant and engaging.  Well considered operational regimes provide capital initiatives with long range strategic planning and give users a reliable and predictable experience.  And positive perception of public transit helps to provide agencies with a consistent revenue stream and enthusiasm for public investment.

 

evolve-transit-diagram

 

But this conference is about something more.  Rail~Volution 2017 arrives back in Denver just as RTD opens three new rapid transit lines with two more on the way.  Denver effectively leveraged Rail~Volution 2000 as an opportunity to cultivate interest and investment in its own public transit vision.  By 2004, Denver’s Regional Transit District (RTD) had articulated a compelling vision and voters approved  the FasTracks transit expansion program.  The FasTracks program includes an ambitious 122 miles of light and commuter rail plus 18 miles of highway based Bus Rapid Transit and has invested more than $5 billion into the region’s economy.  FasTracks also proactively aligns development policy with infrastructure investment, deliberately emphasizing Transit Oriented Development system wide.

 

rtd_map-fastracks-2017

 

This year nearly two dozen Pittsburghers will descend upon the conference, our City’s largest informal delegation to Rail~Volution.  We’re there because our region is at a critical turning point.  Years of economic decline are now behind us but to achieve the vibrancy we desire in an equitable manner, Pittsburgh needs to invest in quality public transit.  And in 2018 Pittsburgh will be hosting our own Rail~Volution conference.

We all have a lot on our minds as we travel to Denver this year.  In March of 2017, the newly formed Regional Transportation Alliance of Southwestern Pennsylvania (RTA) released its Imagine Transportation 2.0 vision for the Pittsburgh metro area.  In Summer of 2017, the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAAC) released a carefully considered on-street Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) plan that the public felt was compelling enough to overwhelmingly support the full expansion option.  In September, the Allegheny County Airport Authority approved a $1.1 billion Terminal Modernization Program.  Uber’s self-driving car pilot is now over a year old and will transform mobility in dramatic ways we have yet to fully predict.

 

portauthority-system-evolveea

 

At evolve, we’re looking forward to showing how Pittsburgh is charting a course for its future.  With the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group and Delta Development Group we’re exploring new realities for one of the country’s first BRT lines, the Martin Luther King East Busway.  With the Port Authority of Allegheny County, GAI Consultants, and Brean Associates we’re developing a community-guided Transit Oriented Development vision for key fixed guideway stations.  With the Municipality of Mt. Lebanon, we’re re-imagining the Transit Oriented Uptown streetscape.  And in the Borough of Wilkinsburg, we’re helping to realize their development plans through a Transit Revitalization Investment District Study.

 

evolve-penn-station

 

There’s a lot to be excited about at Rail~Volution 2017.  But for the Pittsburghers at the conference, its just a hint of the excitement we have as the host city for Rail~Volution 2018.