Stocks & Pedestal, Fall 2012

On a pedestal:
Traffic 21, a brilliant idea
Illustrations by Ted Crow Stocks & Pedestal, Fall 2012
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Early four years ago, businessman and philanthropist Henry Hillman called Carnegie Mellon University President Jared Cohon with an idea. With the wealth of information technology experts at CMU, why not apply some of that brainpower to regional transportation issues? Improving transportation-​related technology could improve the lives of regional residents, build Pittsburgh’s reputation as a “knowledge” region, and create new companies and jobs.

Six months later, on July 1, 2009, Traffic 21 was launched at CMU’s Heinz School of Public Policy. Under the direction of former Allegheny Conference leader Rick Stafford, Traffic 21 has assembled a team of experts who are working to revolutionize traffic management and put Pittsburgh on the world map in intelligent transportation systems. And the progress had been rapid.

The Port Authority is a partner, and now riders can use an application called Tiramisu on their smart phones to learn where nearby bus stops are and when the next bus is likely to arrive. And if they press another button when they’re on the bus, their phone becomes the locator of where that bus is for other riders.

A pilot study of developing a network of smart traffic lights in East Liberty has resulted in a 40 percent reduction in traffic wait time there.

Working with Alco Parking, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, the Benter Foundation and others, Traffic 21 created ParkPGH, which helps visitors find and reserve parking spots Downtown.

And in the offing lies the stuff of science fiction come to life, including the promise of autonomous vehicles that will be able to drive perhaps better than their human counterparts — using sensors on roadways and in cars and cameras in vehicles. We’re putting Traffic 21 on the pedestal as an example of a homegrown Pittsburgh idea that is making life better for Pittsburghers and possibly creating a new industry here. And true to Henry Hillman’s entrepreneurial business reputation, the Hillman Foundation’s grants of roughly $2 million have generated nearly $10 million more in additional investments, not to mention winning national competitions. Our hats are off to the Hillman Foundation and Traffic 21 for this exciting contribution to the current and future Pittsburgh.

In the Stocks: The Pittsburgh Sports and Exhibition Authority, missing the bus

Perhaps you or your family and friends have taken the Megabus since the company came to town in May of 2010, offering excellent customer service and bargain fares to 11 other cities for as low as $1. It’s a great deal and a welcome addition to the options available to Pittsburgh travelers.

This summer, however, the Sports & Exhibition Authority wanted to oust the Megabus from its boarding and unloading spot at the Convention Center, citing garbage left behind and too many requests to use the Convention Center bathrooms. The City of Pittsburgh proposed that citizens stand outside in the weather at Gateway Center. How hospitable is that? When an attorney for Gateway opposed it, the matter was put on hold.

We believe that the space at the Convention Center is the perfect spot for Megabus. It’s covered and out of the weather. It’s off to the side of a road that seldom has traffic problems. And it’s at a public building.

This last item is the key. Public. The public built the Convention Center with public funds. Is it too much to have citizens standing on the sidewalk outside this public building? Is it, in fact, too much of an annoyance to have citizens ask to use the restroom in a building their tax money built?

It seems as if leaders at the SEA and Convention Center have forgotten that their jobs are essentially public jobs. We believe they should be happy that the public is using the space outside the Convention Center. Given the high cost of using the space inside, this is the most use many members of the public ever get from the facility.

Douglas Heuck

A journalistic innovator, Heuck has been writing about Pittsburgh for 25 years, as an investigative reporter and business editor at The Pittsburgh Press and Post-​Gazette and as the founder of Pittsburgh Quarterly. His newspaper projects ranged from living on the streets disguised as a homeless man to penning the only comprehensive profile in the latter years of polio pioneer Dr. Jonas Salk to creating a statistical means of judging regional progress that has led to similar projects across the country. Heuck’s work has won numerous national, state and local writing awards. His work has been cited in the landmark media law case “Food Lion vs. ABC news.”

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