Monday, June 06, 2011
The Character(s) of Camp Horne Road
For a week last month when Leslie and I were sharing one car, it became necessary for me to occasionally take the bus to work, or at least as close to work as it would take me. This required walking Camp Horne Road from the intersection with Route 65 to the intersection with Ben Avon Heights Road, a distance of about 2 1/4 miles. The walk was fine - I'm quite comfortable with the distance - and I observed some interesting things that made me think about the nature of our roadways and transportation systems.
This photo always made me chuckle while driving past it, but I really didn't get a second thought from me until I stood in front of it. Why would the road be named one thing by local jurisdictions, and another by the County?
Fortunately, Allegheny County's Public Works Department appears to be an accessible and professionally operated agency. One call there got me my answer. Deputy Director Bernie Rossman told me that when roads are initially given an official name or designation, the county courts get involved, and once the court assigns a name, it's largely cut in stone. He mentioned at least one other road in the South Hills where the local and county names differ substantially.
Apparently, Horne Camp Road is the name the court approved as the official road name many moons ago. Despite the change by local jurisdictions, the county designation remains, perhaps as nothing more than an anachronistic reminder of the nature of government's many layers here.
Pedestrian Friendly...Well, not really.
My walks were conducted at two very disparate times in terms of the traffic flow the road experiences; early Sunday afternoon and late Friday afternoon, during the evening rush. The differences in traffic were obvious, as was the demeanor of the drivers. The berm of the road also fluctuates in width, narrowing almost down to nothing as the westbound lane curves around a hillside just before reaching the Willow restaurant, which sits on the former site of a little neighborhood bar called the Bantam.
I also found two full, unopened sports drink bottles, quart size, at different places along the roadway. I wondered why someone would toss these out of their cars, unless they were tossing them at somebody.
Seeking Shelter If Needed
Camp Horne still has a tenuously rural feel to it, even if it has become increasingly impacted by the development surrounding it. Should one get caught in the rain while walking (which I was concerned about on at least one occasion), there are ample places to stay dry along the route, along with some businesses and other locations that have been there quite a while.
Sunny Jim's, Custard's First Stand, and Mark's Tavern are all located in the small commercial area on the Emsworth side, all in proximity to the Carmel Office Suites, which occupies what was once the main building of the Otto Suburban Dairy.
Avonworth Community Park is centrally located on the route, and is very pretty with Lowries Run running right through it. If I had the time or need to stop and enjoy some scenery and quiet, this would have surely been the place.
As I approached the commercial development near the I-279 interchange, I passed Animal Friends, and noted with more detail the nature of what had to be done to build that impressive facility, including the nicely designed bridge over Lowries Run. Other impressive buildings in the area is the complex that includes the Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center.
As I started up Ben Avon Heights Road, I noted that the roadway into the Home Depot / Giant Eagle complex (built on the site of the former Camp Horne Drive-In) had little or no room for pedestrian access - curbing, about one foot of grass, and the large retaining wall on both sides. Fortunately, another direct route existed up a small ridge that led to the northeast corner of Home Depot's parking lot.
Walking this route was pleasant and uplifting, even if a little danger creeped in from the spectre of line-crossers in areas where there is little margin for error, or someone ready to chuck a full bottle of Gatorade at an unsuspecting suburban hiker. The most revelatory thoughts that came to mind occurred during my rush hour trek, and had little to do with the sights around me.
Where Have You Gone, Port Authority?
I knew from reading in numerous media outlets and blog posts that the Port Authority was going to be cutting services in the wake of a loss of state funding. In returning to the area, and having experienced numerous public transit systems in other cities, after my most recent experience I have to wonder out loud what is wrong with this organization.
If you're not a regular rider with a weekly or monthly pass, it's $3.25 each way across two zones between Emsworth and Leetsdale. My round trip commute is just under 20 miles, or about one gallon of gas. That makes driving my own car to work less expensive, since I don't have to pay for parking on either end.
I noticed Bus Stop signs in the area of Avonworth Park that indicated that at one point at least one bus route traversed Camp Horne to go somewhere. I did see at least 6 Port Authority buses traveling eastbound along my walking route - all with ROSS GARAGE as their destination. These were buses going out of service after the evening rush.
I wondered out loud why a loop-type route couldn't be established that would take passengers between Route 65 and the Camp Horne Interchange area. This could connect with the existing Park-N-Ride at the Perrysville interchange and serve as an express into town, and would perhaps generate some revenue while all those buses are using Camp Horne to get back to the Ross Garage.
I tried asking the Port Authority about this, through their Public Information department, which apparently didn't have the time to return my calls.
I did dig a little deeper on the Port Authority's somewhat informative website, and found that the routes that previously served this area, the 17B and 18B, weren't utilized enough (in a consultant's opinion) along the Camp Horne corridor to justify their continued existence in this area. Both routes seemed to anchor themselves in a routing pattern that included the North Boroughs, which led me to thinking along the lines of other routing options that would traverse major traffic corridors laterally, instead of always using Downtown as a focal point.
As was expected, I'm not alone in thinking about these things. In the Sunday Post-Gazette two weeks ago, long-time transit critic Bob Firth presented another in a series of annual articles detailing his take on the issues that make the Port Authority seemingly unable to provide the level of service required of a technology-savvy, growth-hungry urban center like Pittsburgh.
Seems that Mr. Firth hates what he calls "squiggly-line transit", and has presented several excellent examples of more efficient transit systems that use circulator routes in population centers to feed faster express routes on the major traffic arteries. His arguments are persuasive - hopefully they'll find a friendly ear amongst those that care about the viability of this region for all of its citizens.
In the meantime, as the summer continues to come in I might find it interesting to take some other walks in familiar places, if only to see what I've been missing. I know it will be worth the effort.
Have a great week ahead.