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Baldwin residents campaign for return of bus route

| Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Sissy Edelman of Brentwood (back left) and Mitzie Biertempfel of Baldwin Borough, look on while Cathy Szemanski of Baldwin Borough (front left) and Louise Weil of Baldwin Borough sign a petition to bring port authority buses back to Baldwin.
Randy Jarosz | For Trib Total Media
Sissy Edelman of Brentwood (back left) and Mitzie Biertempfel of Baldwin Borough, look on while Cathy Szemanski of Baldwin Borough (front left) and Louise Weil of Baldwin Borough sign a petition to bring port authority buses back to Baldwin.

Each winter, Terry Breisinger would board a Port Authority of Allegheny County bus with his four children and headed downtown Pittsburgh to see the holiday lights and buy their mother a Christmas present.

All of that changed in 2011, when the Port Authority eliminated the 50 Spencer bus route, which Breisinger, 50, could catch within 100 yards of his home, he said.

Now, Breisinger, a 24-year Baldwin Borough resident who is visually impaired, relies on friends or family to drive him to Brownsville Road in Brentwood or walks “down and up a hill” on streets without sidewalks. His wife now drives the family to purchase her Christmas gift each year.

“Port Authority is public transit. I am a customer of the public transit system,” Breisinger said. “Their services are provided to many other areas. When they cut the service in 2011, in my opinion, they made a mistake.”

A group of north Baldwin Borough residents are sharing their stories and rallying together along with the organization Pittsburghers for Public Transit in an effort to get their bus route back. They're holding town meetings that have drawn as many has 85 people, collecting signatures for a petition, meeting with Port Authority leaders and hosting a walk to show just how far they must walk to access public transit.

The “Walk a Mile in Our Shoes” walk will start at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Churchview Garden apartments, 3783 Churchview Avenue Extension and go to the Baldwin Borough municipal building, 3344 Churchview Avenue, with a rally at 11 a.m.

“As a grass-roots group, we believe that the most power comes from people working together,” said Molly Nichols, with Pittsburghers for Public Transit. “Just because you can't reinstate all the routes doesn't mean you can't reinstate some of them.”

The Port Authority once had more than 200 bus routes, spokesman Jim Ritchie said. Today, there are 102, with no plans to restore the cut routes, he said.

“The residents seeking additional transit service have been heard, and they clearly represent the high demand for public transportation that exists throughout his region. ... However, the funding does not allow for the restoration of the routes that have been cut in the last several years,” Ritchie said.

Pittsburghers for Public Transit began working with Baldwin residents because of the municipality's close proximity to the city yet “exceptional gap in service” between the north and southern ends of the borough, Nichols said.

Residents living in the Churchview Garden apartments must walk nearly two miles to Brownsville Road to catch the 51 Carrick, she said.

“It's hilly, and there are no sidewalks,” Nichols said.

More than 500 north Baldwin residents participated in a survey from Pittsburghers for Public Transit about their transportation needs, with 97 percent of the respondents indicating that public transit is important.

Karen Smith, 68, of Baldwin, has relied on public transportation.

Driving is too costly, with the price of parking downtown, Smith said, so she takes fewer trips to the city.

“I want to go. I'd love to meet my friends for lunch. I'd even love to go to the farmers market down there,” Smith said.

On Aug. 31, Port Authority made adjustments to several routes, including the 51 Carrick, which many north Baldwin residents now take in lieu of the 50 Spencer. The 51 Carrick travels more frequently.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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