The romance of Pittsburgh with streetcars and streetcar lines

Good things come to an end. But sometimes in Pittsburgh they’re replaced with better things – better defined by the generations that bestow those things on the world – which ultimately aren’t necessarily more environmentally friendly, just more efficient.

Streetcars, the fictionalized predecessors of the Port Authority buses much hated by today’s motorists, were a big step forward for Pittsburgh when they first saw the light of day.

They were so popular that overcrowding was a frequent complaint brought to the attention of the Pittsburgh Railways Co. which operated the streetcars. Social germs in the winter, drivers and passengers smokers, ladies exchanging the latest gossip, vendors pushing their wares – you might find it all on a Pittsburgh streetcar. Scoring a siege was a feat, attempts to get out of the crowded wagon have been compared to assassination.

In 1918, at its peak, the Pittsburgh Railways Co. operated 99 streetcar lines over 600 miles of track.

They were appreciated for their convenience and affordability, they were signs of progress in the city at the turn of the 20th century. They were sometimes luxurious… At one point there was talk of double-decker streetcars, but after a failed experiment with a double-decker motorized streetcar, this experiment was abandoned. They didn’t quite work here, because – as the caption of the photo we found says – they made the passengers dizzy and some of the tender hearts even “flew to the front” of the car. as the driver got stuck during breaks.

They were hated. Hated by car owners, by thugs, by people who have never used them, a familiar feeling we see with PAT buses today.

Wars between streetcar and car operators were frequent and heated. In 1934, streetcar drivers channeled their anger into the pages of the Post-Gazette because they were fed up with those occasions when it was necessary to reroute streetcars to avoid parked cars blocking the tracks. There were traffic jams that lasted for hours. These violations… and these strong complaints were well documented by the Post-Gazette, but the Pittsburgh Police Department had no way of enforcing the rules.

“The machine blocked the lanes used by the Crosstown-Bedford and Charles Street lines, the former one of the busiest in the city,” a Post-Gazette article detailed.

“The driver of the first streetcar to attempt to use the tracks called a nearby traffic cop, but he said there was nothing he could do. Then an inspector from the Pittsburgh Railways Co. rushed to the scene to see why the traffic was blocked. He couldn’t do anything either.

“Meanwhile, the streetcars were rerouted on Liberty Avenue to Fancourt Street to Duquesne Road to the Sixth Street Bridge, with operators reporting that they were delayed for 15 minutes by the change. . An emergency team from the Railway Co. fixed the problem by attaching chains to the sedan and pulling it off the tracks with their truck.

But while the auto industry was booming across the country, Pittsburgh was no exception. More and more Americans could buy cars, afford a house in suburban areas. And Pittsburgh has fallen in love with its streetcars. Congestion has become a big, big problem.

In the 1940s, two New York engineers and traffic experts, Robert Moses and WS Menden, discussed what was best for Pittsburgh. They conducted investigations and wrote reports. The Menden report insisted that “efficient and rapid mass transport to and from the Golden Triangle of Pittsburgh must be based on a modern high-speed streetcar system”.

In contrast, the Moses Report concluded that carts were the reason for Pittsburgh’s traffic difficulties.

“Streetcars are obsolete in most of the country’s major cities. Buses are replaced almost everywhere …

“The trams are clumsy, relatively immobile and greatly obstruct traffic.

Unless there is something quite extraordinary about the streetcar situation in Pittsburgh that is not immediately obvious and which we have not been able to fathom, it would seem advisable to prepare for the permanent abandonment of the vehicles. trolleybuses in favor of buses and immediately re-study the possibility of partial consolidation of lines and of what are called “short loops” in the Triangle… ”

In the end, Moses and the buses won. Twenty years after the reports, the Port Authority started adding bus lines. The trams were gradually phased out.

But as it often happens, sometimes good things come back or, better yet, are reintroduced in their new iterations. Today, the people of Pittsburgh are once again getting closer to intra-city rail lines. Today the T service is known to be a success because of the demand. Maybe we will see more tram lines in the years to come, especially when gas prices go up?


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