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Steelers Steelers urge fans to walk, take mass transit to Heinz Field

Wednesday, August 01, 2001

By Joe Grata, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The journey to the North Shore has changed as much as the Steelers' playground.

With the completion of a relocated Fort Duquesne Boulevard and repairs to the bridge carrying I-279 across Point State Park; with the completion of PNC Park earlier this year and a new grid of North Shore roads; and now, with the opening of Heinz Field, football fans can look forward to some stability in access and parking.

"The last two years trained our fans in getting around," Steelers spokesman Ron Wahl said. "By comparison, this year should be easy."

PNC Park, the Pirates' new baseball venue located several long touchdown passes away, has helped set the precedent.

"More people have learned to park Downtown and walk or use alternate transportation to and from the North Shore," Wahl said. "It has become the popular thing to do."

To accommodate the movement, the Clemente/Sixth Street Bridge will be closed to vehicles several hours before Steelers and Pitt kickoffs as it is for Pirates games. Because of so many pedestrians, the new Art Rooney Avenue just east of Heinz Field also will be closed, along with a new block of General Robinson Street closest to the stadium.

"The construction is gone and the parking situation has improved greatly," Wahl said, although spaces in public lots closest to the stadium are reserved and cost up to $24 a game compared to the first-come, first-served policy and $3 cost at Downtown garages operated by the Pittsburgh Parking Authority.

About two-thirds of 65,000 people expected to attend Steelers games will be season ticket holders who show up game after game, despite weather, traffic, team record and opponent.

It's a new transportation playbook the fans must learn and a new parking strategy they'll have to develop for their traditional tailgate parties.

To prepare for Heinz Field, the Steelers hired an engineering and traffic consulting firm to develop a transportation management plan. The result is an 11-by-17-inch document with 35 pages of narrative, plus nine tables, 29 pages of maps and figures, and a thick appendix so detailed that you can look up how many people were aboard each bus to each game at Three Rivers Stadium last year.

In addition to walking from Downtown, the Steelers want more fans to use public transit. The Beaver County Transit Authority and Westmoreland County Transit Authority each operate three buses to the games. The Port Authority will run 11 suburban routes and four shuttles -- the same number as last season, and all along the same routes.

The buses carried an average of about 2,600 people to and from Three Rivers Stadium for each game last year.

Ridership numbers for the light-rail system serving the South Hills were almost insignificant -- about 105 people per game -- although that is where, studies showed, 40 percent of season ticket holders live, more than anywhere else.

"We're working hard to advance a North Shore connector," an extension of the T to a station close to Heinz Field, Port Authority Chief Executive Officer Paul Skoutelas said. The proposed project appears to be at least several years away from construction, however.

"What's good about Heinz Field is we're able to provide door-to-door service," with a drop-off and pick-up point for buses along North Shore Drive near the stadium, Skoutelas said. Using orange traffic cones, one westbound lane of North Shore Drive will be blocked off for exclusive use of buses before games. All four lanes will be open westbound following games.

For Pirates games at PNC Park, Port Authority buses are required to drop off riders on Fort Duquesne Boulevard; buses are not permitted on the North Shore as they will be for Steelers and Pitt games.

Here's information that may help you develop your own strategy for getting around, or at least let you know what's happening for football games at Heinz Field:

*Because of the tailgate crowd, which starts arriving up to six hours before Steelers games, less than 30 percent of traffic arrives during the one-hour time period preceding games.

*On average, 50 charter buses bring fans to Steelers games, carrying about 50 people per bus, although games with the Cleveland Browns generate an additonal 30 to 40 buses.

*Approximately 21 percent of the fans, or 13,640, will come to the North Shore in transportation other than cars, including about 7,000 on Gateway Clipper Fleet boats.

*On average, each car coming to Steelers games carries four people, a high degree of ride-sharing that Steelers officials will promote to reduce the parking demand.

*Parking areas on the North Shore have been grouped, numbered and color-coded to encourage people converging from different directions to park in the most convenient and accessible parking lots.

*The Steelers have pre-purchased about 350 parking spaces for their own personnel, including players and coaches, NFL executives and the media. About 400 parking spaces within a short walk of the stadium will be for stadium game-day employees. Employees of Aramark, the stadium concessionaire, will park at Mellon Arena lots and be shuttled to the stadium.

*While 9,700 parking spaces are available on the North Shore, the Steelers expect fans to use about half of 14,000 spaces in the Golden Triangle. Also, ample parking exists around Mellon Arena, the Strip District and Station Square.

*The Pittsburgh Police Department will provide up to 30 officers for the arriving crowd and 40 officers for departing fans after games. Off-duty officers will control parking lot access and the boat landing area inasmuch as more fans are expected to arrive by water.

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