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Commenters in this thread are making a lot of generalizations about tax structures and so on, but it important to keep in mind this is a special case at a number of levels. Pittsburgh has an unusually large number of bridges. These bridges were built during times of relative wealth when the local steel and related industries were doing well. Since the decline of American industry Pittsburgh has scaled way back and had to rebuild itself as a medical and technology center. This recovery is mostly a success story, but the infrastructure cannot be maintained. For example, the greater Pittsburgh area has some of the first suburban areas to be completely abandoned with services withdrawn, Penn Hills being a poignant example of this. Obviously no bridges should be coming down, but there is a real problem here of how to build and maintain a modern city that is smaller than the older one that it replaces.



The issue is not unique to Pittsburgh, even if the location has its own specific challenges.

More than 30% of US bridges are in need of repair or preservation work, and on rating bridges in either "good" or "fair" condition, the total bridge population has fewer than 50% rated as "good". [0] About 7-8% are rated poor.

[0] https://infrastructurereportcard.org/cat-item/bridges/


The issue isn’t unique to Pittsburgh, but the scale is. At ~450 bridges, it has one of the highest amounts in the world, especially for its size.

(I am from Pittsburgh originally and used to bike over this bridge quite often.)


I couldn't find ratings specific to Pittsburgh to determine what proportion of them fit into the Good/Fair/Poor categories. That's what would really be needed to assess the scale of the problem for Pittsburgh relative to the rest of the country. Although knowing what I do about the area I wouldn't be surprised if it is disproportionately worse: It's only somewhat recently that it's made a bit of an economic comeback from its downtrodden rustbelt days. I just wanted to clarify that, as much as Pittsburgh may be particularly problematic, its infrastructure issues were still replicated across most of the US.


So, I actually did look this up four days ago, but it seems that PennDOT changed their website? https://www.penndot.gov/ProjectAndPrograms/Bridges/Pages/def... Those excel spreadsheets don't seem to do anything when I click on them.

The note I took was "There are 25,437 bridges in PA. 9.59% of them were rated in “poor” condition last month, with only 34.37% of them being “good”". The original sheet was broken out by county, with Allegheny County basically being the same as the city of Pittsburgh in this regard.

> I just wanted to clarify that, as much as Pittsburgh may be particularly problematic, its infrastructure issues were still replicated across most of the US.

Absolutely, it is an issue everywhere for sure.


The bus was over bridge weight.

Before you go trying to fix the bridges, take the time to figure out what the problem was.


Citation needed.

Are you saying the bus driver deviated from the usual route? Did the driver allow more passengers to board than is normally allowed? Perhaps a passenger boarded with their collection of lead figurines. I don't see how the bus could have been overweight without someone knowing the risks. It's not an Uber, they know where that bus will be traveling every time it leaves the station.


Hard agree that this is "citation needed."

It is the normal route for that bus: https://www.portauthority.org/pdfs/112016/61B.pdf (you can check the map at the bottom) They run pretty often.


Oh wow, it was the 61B? I used to ride that bus route all the time (and 61A/61C) when I was in undergrad.



I mean in a sense it's clear, there's a collapsed bridge with a bus on it ...

https://www.gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes/1986/11/26

But if it was actually over the posted weight limit, that'll come out shortly.


> Are you saying the bus driver deviated from the usual route?

I didn't say anything like that, no, nor any of the other invented things you tried to add to my actual statement.

.

> Perhaps a passenger boarded with their collection of lead figurines.

Pew says the average American weighs 181 pounds.

I'm not sure why you think you need lead figurines. Two tons, 181 pounds at a time, is only 22 people.

PATransit busses are rated for 42 people plus two wheelchair bound people.

This bus is over weight at half load.

Please be less sarcastic. Thanks.

.

> It's not an Uber, they know where that bus will be traveling every time it leaves the station.

Yes, that's why I blame them.

.

> Citation needed.

Feel free to look it up.


> ... the 447-foot-long span is rated in poor condition and is restricted to vehicles of up to 26 tons ...

The weight limit was 26 tons, not 2 tons. My Chevy Volt would frequently brush up against a 2 ton weight limit.


> The weight limit was 26 tons, not 2 tons.

85% of PATransit busses are from the 1996 acquisition (Cummins ISL, ISB, IS9; Voith 864; Allison D) those busses weigh either 24 or 25 tons. Their other busses (except the 28x airport flyer) are heavier. Other than the flyers, SEPTA's lightest bus is 24 tons. Some of them, like the XE40 or the X12, are significantly heavier. About 1/5 of PATransit's fleet is over-weight for this bridge without a single person on board.

26 tons is so little of a load that nobody should ever have been sending a bus over it.

The 2 tons is for the human load, above and beyond the weight of the vehicle. The vehicle already accounts for 24 of the 26 tons, bare minimum by definition.

If it was an XE40, it was two tons over load without even a driver.

That is to say, "there's more weight here than just the human beings. You should also consider the bus itself."

I did spell this out, but it was in a different comment tree. I thought I had here too. Sorry; I could have been clearer.

Someone in a different thread pointed out that it was a three axle bus. I've been making this case based on two-axle busses being too heavy. PATransit's lightest three-axle bus is MAN SG 220 GAWR, just shy of 30 tons curb weight, which is nearly 4 tons over limit.

Look, if you're from Pittsburgh, the last thing you want to do is stand up for PennDOT.

But looking at the numbers, to me, this really looks like "too big bus," not "bridge go boom"

Not all infrastructure failures are the fault of the infrastructure. Many, maybe even most, but not all. It's important to differentiate.


I'm curious about this, where did you get the info about the fleet? Wikipedia suggests that the fleet is almost entirely Gillig, but has no citations. I couldn't find it on the Port Authority's site either.

> Look, if you're from Pittsburgh, the last thing you want to do is stand up for PennDOT.

Agreed, but "runs bus service every ~30 minutes where a single bus would make the entire bridge overweight" would be an entirely new level of "I can't believe it."


> Agreed, but "runs bus service every ~30 minutes where a single bus would make the entire bridge overweight" would be an entirely new level of "I can't believe it."

structural damage is incremental. situations where the trigger is dramatically smaller than peak load are quite common. consider the florida condominum: it collapsed in fair weather, despite that under rain load it would have hundreds of tons more support carry. you've seen many videos on youtube where a sinkhole opened up under a small car on a large road which carries freight.

this is one of the things you're taught very early in the relevant schooling.

you've tried to pull my card in fairly aggressive ways several times in this thread. it's making me somewhat uncomfortable.


I am sorry to make you feel uncomfortable. I am trying to make sense of something that happened to something very near and dear to me. Not trying to do anything to you.

I asked the question about the fleet not to "pull your card" but because I am interested and spent a bunch of time trying to find this information and could not, and am interested in how you came across it. You started off with "look up the weight of a bus" and I that's exactly what I tried to do, and what I found is not the same as what you're saying, so I asked for where you got your data to see if I found bad data or you did.

(And yes, absolutely structural damage is incremental, but that's not material to the claim that this bus weighs over 26 tons.)


You sound like someone who knows about this, and I'm just someone Googling [how much bus weigh], so I'm hesitant to keep posting on this topic, but I'm still really curious where you're getting these weights from.

All of my Googling keeps turning up weights in the 15-20 ton range for fully loaded busses, with city busses more towards the low end of that range, so I'm curious why these busses would be almost twice as heavy.

EDIT: Ah-ha, looking at the picture shows it was an articulated bus, and Googling [how much does an articulated bus weigh] gives weights in the range you listed. So yeah, you're right and that bus should not have been going over that bridge.


This seems like an easy excuse for what happened here. If you can't maintain those 450 bridges, then don't keep 450 bridges. Remove 150 of them and maintain the other 300. You can't just ignore 450 bridges and hope nothing goes wrong because you can't afford to maintain 450 bridges.


Oh yeah, just knocking down 150 bridges is a very easy decision that's going to go over extremely well with the local population, certainly not political suicide as well as a massive, expensive project in its own right. It's not like all those bridges existed for good reason, and just getting rid of them wouldn't have massive impact on an extremely large number of things about the city.

They absolutely need better maintenance. It's been a safety hazard for most of my life. But the solutions are not easy.


> Oh yeah, just knocking down 150 bridges is a very easy decision that's going to go over extremely well with the local population, certainly not political suicide as well as a massive, expensive project in its own right.

I knew this response was coming. However, doing nothing isn’t an option. I also never said it’d be easy. If you can’t afford 450 bridges, you need less bridges or more money. You can’t just ignore the problem.


It turns out not only is not doing anything an option, it’s the option that has been selected.


I'm amused that people are willing to contextualize this bridge failure within what is essentially the entire 20th century economic history of Pittsburgh; and then act like that history somehow excuses the complete failure of local governments over that same time period to either repair or eliminate unsafe infrastructure. It's honestly nothing short of absurd.

No one is honestly expecting the local governments throughout the Pittsburgh metropolitan area to eliminate 150 bridges (or some other arbitrarily large number) by 2023... They expected the local governments (and the state and federal governments) to behave competently and never let it get to this point. The decline of Pittsburgh as an industrial hub started over half a century ago... They've had plenty of time to address things like this in that context.

The fact that keeping infrastructure safe is "political suicide" or "costs too much money" is essentially the entire problem - and it's a problem that is not at all unique to Pittsburgh.


One can wish that the city spent less time and money building new sports stadiums, spent more time and money investing in infrastructure, yet still acknowledge that the political reality on the ground makes doing so hard to near-impossible.


I guess for me, the fact that the political reality makes infrastructure "hard" is profoundly obvious... And, while the specific details may change with the city, that reality is quite common throughout the US (even the relatively specific economic conditions discussed earlier in the context of Pittsburgh are not really that unique)...

Pretending like this type of infrastructure decline is somehow unique to Pittsburgh, which, at least implicitly, the top level comment does, does a great disservice to actually finding solutions to the problems with that "political reality on the ground" - and not just in Pittsburgh.


That's fair. I do also agree that it seems obvious, but given the number of the people in this thread and elsewhere suggesting that fixing it would just simply be so easy, it doesn't seem like that's the case for many others.

I didn't read the OP as saying "nowhere else has infrastructure problems" but "bridges are a particularly acute problem in Pittsburgh for these reasons." I would certainly agree that suggesting this kind of issue is unique to Pittsburgh would be misguided.


That's also fair. I think my initial reading of the top comment, and some of the replies, was overly assumptive; and my take on the nature of the cause was a direct result of my already pessimistic view of contemporary American political structures.


> The fact that keeping infrastructure safe is "political suicide"

Is this a good reason why politics should always include term limits? It would prevent anyone from NOT doing something that is in the good for the constituents, but is seen as "political suicide". Since no one can be in politics long term, you might as well make the tough decisions.


>"However, doing nothing isn’t an option."

Cynically, it actually is for a cash strapped municipality. If they lack the money for proper maintenance - but can afford the bare minimum amount of caretaking - they certainly cannot afford the cost to dismantle the bridge. They will go with bandaid solutions virtually every single time.


There's no need to dismantle, it can just be closed if it's deemed unsafe.


This particular bridge's condition was rated as poor but not unsafe.


And then get screwed with lawsuit costs and payouts. But that's a can they can kick down the road.


Yes, it is something that should be done, and yes, it won't be easy. Your comment reflected absolutely none of that, and even was arguing against me saying that it would be extremely difficult, so it did in fact seem like you were saying that this is a simple fix. Heck, you didn't even say "figure out how many bridges you can afford," but simply "remove 150 of them."


I think the other option is to just restrict the weight limit on these and change bus routes.


There is a lot to be learned from this. It’s contemporary to talk about the boom/bust cycles of fracking towns out west. Building a bridge or a nuclear power station is a much bigger commitment than simply building the structure and getting it operational. It outlasts political memory.

I lived in Pittsburgh and remember one way bridges (like a fast path for morning rush hour, but screw getting home) and lots of sort of ad hoc things. They never had a fire wipe the place out and allow for some replanning or long term planning. Worse, if you were to try to knock some things down, there is a huge emotional reaction to it (the out field walls to Forbes field are still there, two stadiums later) I remember the city tax being fairly high as well, in many places I think increased mass transit (usually costs taxes) plus some tolls or something to discourage use on some bridges (read: another tax to use the bridge you were taxed to build) would make sense. Probably a federal bail out or mass closing of bridges are the only options. You are right, it’s not easy.


Pittsburgh itself has actually knocked down quite a few bridges over the last 30 years. The suburbs have not as they just run out of money.


I'm from up route 28 before I moved into the city, PennDOT certainly is always doing quite a bit of work. 100% agree that there's been changes to bridges over the years. But nothing on the scale of "knock down a third of the bridges with no replacement."


I agree, I haven't lived in the 'Burgh for a long time, but its geography is basically, lots of little hills and a few big ones. Everywhere you look, you are staring at a hill. And you are on a hill. Plus rivers. A lot of bridges (and tunnels) are needed out there for basic navigation.


It could well be better to knock some down in an organized way. If the alternative is to have committees and referendums and posturing until nature decides which ones to take.


The devil is in the details. What's "an organized way" if not "committees and referendums"? Even just the traffic impact studies alone to figure out what would happen when taking out each bridge, let alone that very often they'd impact each other and so you'd also need to figure out what happens with traffic for combinations of bridges, seems like a daunting and expensive task to me.


Phase it. You don't have to nominate every bridge and start simultaneously. Like you say. Choose a few, remove those, then re-evaluate what traffic looks like now.


I wouldn't expect anyone, even the OP, to suggest undertaking 150 demolitions simultaneously.

That still doesn't help you decide which bridges.


When you go to Pittsburgh for the first time, you will learn that the city has 450 bridges because they're necessary, and you can't just go eliminating a third of them

They can, in fact, maintain the bridges. You might not know this from a brief look at a newspaper article.

What happened is that the bus was too heavy for the bridge. It's PennDOT's fault.

Look up the weight of a bus. Look up the average weight of an American. Look up PennDOT rider numbers. Do the math. They were three tons over on a 26 ton limit.


"Three‐axle 60‐ft articulated buses are the next most common transit bus in service [in the USA], comprising about 10% of the fleet. The curb weights for these buses currently range between approximately 38,000 and 50,000 pounds, and fully‐loaded weights range from approximately 56,000 to 65,000 pounds." (page iii)[1]

Fully loaded weights for 3-axle US buses from the linked report's executive summary are 28 to 32.5 tons, empty range from 19 to 25 tons. So a not-fully loaded 3-axle bus was very likely over the 26 ton limit.

Three axle buses should not have been on that bridge. Would be interesting to see if that route was changed recently from 2-axle to 3-axle service.

[1] https://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/tcrp/docs/TCRPJ-11Task...


From the Post-Gazette article there was a driver and two passengers on the bus, so it might not have been over limit this time but sounds like it would have been at other times on that route.

https://www.post-gazette.com/local/city/2022/01/28/pittsburg...

I used to walk under that bridge quite a bit, hopefully no one was under it when it collapsed (it doesn't sound like they suspect there was, but I guess it could potentially be hard to tell).


oh wow, i hadn't even noticed that it was a three axle

i've been making this argument on skepticism that a two axle bus should have been on that bridge. the standard patransit two axle fleet bus, a cummins isl (which is more than half their fleet) is 2 tons shy of max load when empty, and average american weight breaks load at bus half full.

that's the 61b. when i lived in pittsburgh it was often packed to the gills. i have a hard time imagining that that has changed.

you're right. if it was a 3 axle, that's very significant. hell, an empty three axle (i think they use man sg 220 gawr, which is ~30 tons curb weight) would likely be too much. i'm glad you pointed this out; thank you.


> i have a hard time imagining that that has changed.

Fun trivia, https://www.portauthority.org/system-map/ shows stats on this. It doesn't support deep linking, but I went to the outbound stop just after the bridge, and it says

In FY2021:

Average Weekday Ons: 0.32

Average Weekday Offs: 5.1

Pre-pandemic ridership for CY2019:

Average Weekday Ons: 1.00

Average Weekday Offs: 37.00

It has dropped by quite a bit since the pandemic. The 61A has a daily ridership of 1,643 and the 61B has 1,312.


those are indeed much lower numbers than i had expected

that said, the other person pointing out that it's a three axle bus makes me relatively confident that the fleet contains no domain-relevant busses that had any business going over that bridge in the first place

it's worth noting that when i was growing up, patransit tried to send heavy construction trucks across the larimer bridge. one of the crew members stopped them at the last minute when they saw the bridge and called it in (this is way before pocket internet,) and good thing - basically this would have happened, and in that case, it's a probably five or so story drop onto an active highway. would have been a catastrophe.


What was the limit when the bridge was new?


The limit has been 26 tons for almost 20 years now.

I don't know what the limit was originally, but PATransit should be able to accomodate bridge limits within two decades.


So, what do you propose? Knocking them down? Put fences? Which are you going to do that on? Are you going to fend off all the people using those bridges for destroying their commute? None of those options are cheap either. Even selecting the bridges to keep/not keep takes time and effort and thus money.


In the town where I’m from in Germany, exactly this happened: a major bridge was unsafe - one of two major roads leading to the crossing of the river rhine. It was closed and torn down, replacement will take a few years. In Berlin, one major river crossing was closed because it was unsafe, then torn down and replaced. Another was severely impacted and partially closed, it’s now replaced with a temporary bridge. Full replacement is expected in a decade or so. People adapt. Life goes on. It’s better than having the bridge collapse with people on it.


This very thing occurred in PGH with the Greenfield Bridge[0]. This caused significant disruption because the bridge spans a major highway to the eastern suburbs. Of course, the infrastructure issues with that bridge were rather obvious, since chunks of concrete would fall on to the highway (necessitating netting to be installed).

[0] http://greenfieldbridge.otmapgh.org/


Anything is better than people on a collapsing bridge, obviously. But you can only fence it off when you know its too bad. Checking that can be very expensive. So if you just don't know which of 450 bridges are bad, what do you do? Fence them all of and spark at least outrage? Safest option. Finding out what to do is already expensive


You can start off with warning signs. I doubt bridges would collapse if pedestrians or bicyclists use them but sings could fend traffic off.

Second, the size of the vehicle is important. Larger vehicles like trucks get these poor bridges lifespan shortened drastically. Trucks and busses could be rerouted on safe bridges and so on.

I generally am not afraid of bridges because they have convinced me that they're safe but if a bridge were to collapse under me and I'd make it out alive I'd probably have a bridge phobia.


Here's a tweet with a picture from December of 2018 of the bridge that collapsed today, showing a large steel beam rusted completely through.

So you could start with the lowest hanging fruit, the bridges that are in such bad condition that people post pictures of them on Twitter.


Here's the tweet you were referring to, I think: https://twitter.com/gpk320/status/1078885655634157569


How did people in that town pay for tearing down and replacing the bridge?

The problem Pittsburgh encounters is even demolition costs money. Can't squeeze blood from a stone.


The solutions are easier in a growing city than a declining one.


I know of a relatively small bridge in rural Ohio that simply has barriers placed in front of it. It's still walkable.


They did the same with an old wooden bridge near where I grew up. In the early 80s, you could still drive across it. Later they closed it and barricaded it. Eventually in the 2000s, they preserved it and built a park around it.

Of course, this bridge only carried about 10 cars a day, mostly as a novelty, prior to closing. It's an entirely different animal to close a bridge in a major city.


> It's an entirely different animal to close a bridge in a major city.

Minneapolis/St. Paul managed to adapt when the busiest bridge in the state collapsed.


I know of a couple of medium-sized bridges in upstate NY that have completely collapsed and the state has just abandoned them, with some barriers thrown in front and that's it. Funnily enough they still show up as routes on Google Maps, but OSM has them removed. I decided to leave it as is to fight the Google mapping monopoly power.


They could install micro-tolls ie ezpass and charge everyone a use fee.

Make some free. Let the communities who need them pay for them.


Some unsafe bridges have in fact been closed. Fetterman has a campaign video from 2016 of him driving around to several of them. https://twitter.com/JohnFetterman/status/1487099733978095622


Pittsburgh lost over half of it's population over a 40 year stretch starting in the 70s. Blaming them in the past for not being able to tell the future doesn't make a lot of sense.

When they built these bridges, it probably seemed pretty reasonable


If you can't afford to maintain them, how are you going to afford to remove them?

Can the value of the scrap pay for the cost of removal?


> At ~450 bridges, it has one of the highest amounts in the world

This factoid is repeated on many websites - but some hero has done the work, and maybe not:

https://nolongerslowblog.blogspot.com/2014/02/what-city-has-...

> especially for its size

Okay maybe.


Being fourth in total size still counts as "one of the highest amounts in the world."


It points out an issue, which is "defining bridge". If a walking path bridge in Venice collapses it likely will barely be news in Venice, whereas this one is bigger news because it's a bigger bridge.


Your link shows Pittsburg as number 4, which completely validates the statement "At ~450 bridges, it has one of the highest amounts in the world."


Without knowing anything, "needs some repair" and "unexpectedly collapses in broad daylight" are very different things.


Worth noting that these figures are according to the American Road and Transportation Builder’s Association, a lobbying and advocacy group for the construction and civil engineering industry.


The optics of minimizing their input aren't going to be good, even if normal "don't ask the barber if you need a haircut" skepticism is applicable.


Yep. There's a balance to be found here. On one hand, a group of construction groups and civil engineers likely know what they're talking about more than most people, on the other hand, massive infrastructure spending that they advocate for directly lines their pockets.

It's like when you hear all the engineers and geologists at the American Petroleum Institute talk about fracking. Maybe we should keep a grain of salt.


The American Society for Civil Engineers publishes this report. I’m sure they’re all great people, but I take with a grain of salt any information that comes from an interested party.


Indeed their report card is advocacy with no credibility and is a running joke on Capitol Hill (I'm a former policy staffer).


Is it possible you were part of the problem?


Do you happen to know if their dataset is available to the public?


> These bridges were built during times of relative wealth when the local steel and related industries were doing well.

This is a problem that needs to be solved everywhere. Governments build infrastructure with nothing but hope that future tax revenue will support maintenance. There should be something like a retirement plan for this infrastructure where a certain amount is invested at the time of construction to support maintenance ongoing.


The problem is that the entire car hyper-focused model is unsustainable. Cities are expected to maintain huge amounts of infrastructure for people who don't pay much, if anything, in taxes for it but since cars don't scale well there's a constant demand for even more expansion.

Recognizing that involves telling a lot of people that they need to switch from driving cars to using transit, biking, etc. and there are a lot of people who don't want to hear that, especially if most of their personal net worth is equity in a building which is too far away at anything less than freeway speeds. It's much easier just to keep pretending that a one-time tax or bond issue will solve it, and so we keep doing the same cycle over and over again.


I agree that this is the problem. But the problem is possible in part because governments are not forced to set aside funds for the future maintenance. If they had to fund an annuity to cover lifetime maintenance, then the budget would prove unattractive relative to public transit projects which suffer currently from the appearance of higher up-front costs (but most likely have lower total lifetime costs).


There's nothing about using transit that would decrease the number of bridges in a city like Pittsburgh. The transit needs bridges to cross rivers and hollows too.

An awful lot of these bridges started as footpaths and ox-cart turnpikes.


The question is twofold: how many bridges do you need with much better efficiency? A two lane bridge with buses costs less than the 10 lane car bridge you need to carry the same number of people.

If you go on a road diet your maintenance costs go down because you’re building fewer lanes, not having tons of bypasses and bridges which exist only to take pressure off of congestion at chokepoints, etc. Those reductions mean you can spend correspondingly more on the necessary core infrastructure.


Broadly-speaking yes, but none of that would have addressed this collapse. This was a two-lane bridge between two major neighborhoods. People need to get to those neighborhoods and they'd have to divert about a mile north to do it without this bridge.

Pittsburgh is built at the intersection of three rivers and atop the folded spine of the Alleghenies. Any way you slice it that city's gonna have either a lot of bridges or a lot of grumpy people who can't get anywhere.


Yes, the point was just that if you use infrastructure more efficiently your maintenance dollar won't have to be stretched as much. They'll still have plenty of bridges but if they focused maintenance on the things used by residents rather than people driving in from the suburbs that'd free up a lot of funding.


The people driving in from the suburbs are who work in the city. Taxes and a huge percentage of the land being owned by non-profits keeps residents to a minimum (not to mention most of what can be used for housing in city limits is rental, not ownable, and property in the county is still extremely cheap relative to rental rates).

They could replace the car bridges with train bridges or dedicated bus bridges (after knocking down a lot of houses, which if history repeats itself will be minority-owned houses), but this is a city with a small downtown and uptown where residents have always lived in the suburbs ever since the industrial revolution, well before ubiquitous car ownership.

Residents were using bridges to get to work in the days they walked there. There's sort of a lower bound on how many bridges a city of this geography will have.


> The people driving in from the suburbs are who work in the city.

This is true but that doesn't mean that the city should go broke catering to their whims — that could be putting tolls on the bridges, encouraging use of transit, etc. but they need some way to balance the budget.

> They could replace the car bridges with train bridges or dedicated bus bridges (after knocking down a lot of houses, which if history repeats itself will be minority-owned houses)

… or simply dedicate a lane for transit. It's not an iron law that the least efficient mode of transportation be given the highest priority.


Isn’t this bridge four lanes?


Two lanes on each side + protected sidewalk on each side, yeah.


This problem might be a subset of the entire premise of every current economic system: they only keep working if growth is assumed


It's a big challenge with climate change facing us, too: one of the best things we could do is continue lowering the average birthrate but doing so would break one of the fundamental principles that our economy is based on.


> Recognizing that involves telling a lot of people that they need to switch from driving cars to using transit, biking, etc.

The issue here is latency, availability, and comfort. Cars are great for these three. Can transit compete?

> and there are a lot of people who don't want to hear that, especially if most of their personal net worth is equity in a building which is too far away at anything less than freeway speeds

If you offer them a better investment, they will. But then, you will have to convince people who put most of their personal net worth into tiny cramped downtown condos that it’s ok for them to lose it due to the massive amount of housing you plan to build.


> > Recognizing that involves telling a lot of people that they need to switch from driving cars to using transit, biking, etc.

> The issue here is latency, availability, and comfort. Cars are great for these three. Can transit compete?

It's not that simple: cars are great for those when nobody else has them. When you live in a place with enough people to get traffic, they're terrible on the first two and the third is a question of how bad the outside is and how much you enjoy sitting for long periods of time without moving. Similarly, you need to factor in things like parking: car availability and latency both take a huge hit when you can't park in front of your destination, and comfort takes a hit if that means walking in uncomfortable weather, too.

That makes the underlying decisions more obvious: if you reserve lanes for transit or build separate right-of-way, taking the bus is a lot better than driving because the 50 people on the bus don't have to wait behind the 3 blocks of 50 people driving cars but if you focus on cars, the bus will be stuck in traffic as well.

> But then, you will have to convince people who put most of their personal net worth into tiny cramped downtown condos that it’s ok for them to lose it due to the massive amount of housing you plan to build

There's a lot of hyperbole in that sentence, and it's missing the key point that car travel is so inefficient that this pressure is always there even without overt public policy. Urban living is expensive because people like to live in places with fun things to do (i.e. which improves as a function of density) and they don't spend long periods of time stuck in traffic. Removing the public subsidies for suburban commuters will only make it more pronounced.


> the entire car hyper-focused model is unsustainable

I disagree. There's nothing magic about the car. What is unsustainable is not budgeting for real costs nor planning for the future. E.g. we install pipes that are supposed to last 100 years, which just means that everyone alive figures they can ignore it and let the people three generations from today figure out how to deal with it.


Cars aren't magic but they're very inefficient. Supporting the model where everyone owns a car and drives themselves around means that each person uses hundreds of square feet of road, buildings are usually required to maintain hundreds of square feet of car storage space per resident, business are often required to pay for storage as well (even if it's something like a bar which we really shouldn't have people driving to), and the high safety risks mean that beyond the basic road itself you end up with a lot of expensive dedicated infrastructure which is protecting people from cars or reducing congestion.

All of that adds up to a lot of built-in carrying cost that people don't see directly but requires upfront payment and ongoing maintenance. Owning a car isn't just the $10-12k average annual expense but also things like paying a double-digit percentage more for housing to get off-street parking, having all of the prices at local businesses be higher to subsidize the bundled parking, etc.


This viewpoint makes sense for dense urban areas where space really is at a premium, but most of the united states is sparse and land is relatively cheap.

> Owning a car isn't just the $10-12k average annual expense but also things like paying a double-digit percentage more for housing to get off-street parking

I'm very skeptical of these figures. $10-12K is more than I'll pay for my brand new Tesla, and it's a hell of a lot less than that when you amortize those figures over its expected lifetime. Yeah, there's also the cost of fuel and maintenance, but I'm very skeptical that these costs added onto the car payment bring the cost up to $10k on average. Moreover, the average cost isn't very useful--it's influenced by people like me and people even wealthier than me who can afford to splurge. It doesn't tell you anything about the actual cost required to own and maintain a car--chip shortage aside, a used Toyota Camry with decent miles probably costs about $10-15k total and amortized over its ~20 year lifetime including fuel and maintenance it's probably on the order of $2k/year. And of course, if we're worried about people who can't afford that, as with anything, the government can subsidize those people.

Similarly, off-street parking isn't an issue outside of large cities (virtually everyone else has a driveway, and the minimum viable cost of maintaining a driveway isn't anywhere near $1k/year).

Ultimately, this conversation illustrates one of the major problems with federalizing infrastructure. You get people from urban centers making policies based on incorrect assumptions about other areas of the country.


> I'm very skeptical of these figures. $10-12K is more than I'll pay for my brand new Tesla, and it's a hell of a lot less than that when you amortize those figures over its expected lifetime.

Here's the source:

https://www.aaa.com/autorepair/articles/average-annual-cost-...

The big things people forget is the cost of insurance in addition to consumables and depreciation.

> Ultimately, this conversation illustrates one of the major problems with federalizing infrastructure. You get people from urban centers making policies based on incorrect assumptions about other areas of the country.

Note that the vast majority of the population lives in areas where this is an issue. The number of people who are truly rural is a lot smaller than the number of people who live in cities or their suburbs and still end up paying for things like parking.

My position isn't that someone should _ban_ cars but that we stop heavily subsidizing them and start factoring in pollution, too. There a ton of problems which could be solved quickly by market pressure but we've been really resistant to that as a society because it means rethinking the dominant view of the American ideal from the 20th century. A suburban house costs more due to all of the infrastructure requirements amortized over fewer residents but a lot of policy decisions have allowed people not to see that until the maintenance bill eventually comes due.


> Here's the source

The headline stipulates "new vehicles" and the figure it cites is $9,282 (outside of the $10-12K range). The article isn't dated, but I assume it's referencing some time period during the pandemic in which car prices are unusually inflated due to supply chain issues--the figure for a normal year is almost certainly going to be lower than this (at least when adjusting for inflation). This is even less useful than the overall average car payment since it's even more biased toward affluent Americans.

> The big things people forget is the cost of insurance in addition to consumables and depreciation.

Yeah, I forgot insurance too, but that's $1200/year for my brand new Tesla in a major metropolitan city. I'm pretty sure full coverage for our hypothetical used Camry is going to be closer to $300/year, bringing the figure up to the ~$2300/year range (still a far cry from $10-12K).

> Note that the vast majority of the population lives in areas where this is an issue. The number of people who are truly rural is a lot smaller than the number of people who live in cities or their suburbs and still end up paying for things like parking.

Agreed that the majority of Americans are either suburban or rural; I'm skeptical that suburban land costs resemble urban land costs; however, regarding your claim that off-street parking costs upwards of $1000/year, according to Bloomberg the total cost of urban land for an average parking space is only $2000k (obviously there's costs for paving and maintaining, but I doubt the total costs come close to $1k/year averaged across the country). Ultimately, my point is: "your figures seem off by an order of magnitude".

> My position isn't that someone should _ban_ cars but that we stop heavily subsidizing them and start factoring in pollution, too.

Fully agree that we should factor in pollution, but why stop at car ownership? We should factor in the cost of pollution to everything, via border-adjusted carbon pricing.


Older cars in rural areas can be a lot cheaper to own.

But, ~10k/year is normal in a city. Don’t forget ~100$/month in insurance, 100-200+$/month parking, ~50-100+$/month property taxes, 100-200$/month in fuel etc. Not everyone needs to pay tolls but those add up extremely quickly.


That's the whole point--the economics of urban, suburban, and rural areas vary widely. It doesn't make sense to impose policies which assume urban economics on suburban and rural areas, but that's what tends to happen when you federalize things.


Every state has similar breakdowns so you can say the same thing at the state level.

Alaska is thought of as open wilderness with 1.2 people per square mile, but 40% of the state live in inside Anchorage and 54% live in it’s metro area. That’s quite similar to New York State with 44% living inside NYC.

So, I am not sure what you’re feeding about national policy here.


That seems like a good argument in favor of localizing. I do agree that urbanization is increasingly presenting challenges with respect to governance at the state and federal levels, however.

I think there are good reasons to push the responsibility up to the state level though—e.g., places with low density may lack the funds for even critical infrastructure and are too sensitive to small or short-lived fluctuations in population. But all states are collectively large enough to afford their own critical infrastructure.


> double-digit percentage more for housing

I'm skeptical. The most expensive housing in my city is in the urban core. Houses a few miles out are much cheaper, even if currently overpriced. Everything about living in the city is more expensive, too. Friend of mine has a 40 year old condo downtown and he pays more than a thousand bucks a month in building fees.

You might argue that this is just a sign that the suburbs are being subsidized, but I'd argue that it really just shows that the budget problem is real, we're not correctly budgeting for future expenses. If each homeowner also had to drop another 10K+ a year in maintenance, suburbia can be maintained indefinitely.


It does require care to compare true equivalents but consider what fraction of your house’s land goes to a driveway, parking, etc. and if you have a garage, shed, etc. how much you pay to build that, maintain the structure and roof, etc.

My point really isn’t that it’s innately terrible but that it’s mostly hidden so people think of it as free. Exposing the total cost makes it easier for everyone to reconsider, which is good because climate change means we’re all going to be forced to make changes.


That's just saying the same thing in a different way. It is unsustainable given our current model of taxation and government spending. Good luck convincing the populace to pay significantly more in taxes while the government "hoards" their money for some future expense beyond the average person's lifetime.


Georgia uses SPLOSTs for stuff like this.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special-purpose_local-option_s...

Here's an example of the result in this local interchange conversion from an intersection that wasn't designed for all the traffic going through it: https://www.google.com/maps/@33.9462412,-83.7533688,476m/dat...

It looks sparse in traffic now, but it used to take 5-30 minutes to cross!

Another underway closer to Athens: https://www.google.com/maps/@33.9400062,-83.7207463,3a,75y,2...

This is part of a years-long project to turn highway 316/University Parkway between Athens and I-85 into a controlled-access highway to handle the next few decades of growth as what used to be sprawl from Atlanta turns into major population centers.


My point is that switching to urbanized infrastructure isn't going to suddenly make the population more willing to fork out more in taxes. It just moves the problem.


They will, however, be seeing significant economies of scale. A suburban street with 20 houses on it has similar maintenance costs to an urban block but the latter expense can spread across hundreds of taxpayers and living in a city means they need less parking because many people don’t need a personal car to function.


I agree this is a good idea, but history has shown that if there is a pile of money sitting somewhere, governments blow it, just like many states have blown through public retirement funds.

The fundamental problem is that people running governments are spending other people's money and they never have a problem doing that.


> The fundamental problem is that people running governments are spending other people's money and they never have a problem doing that.

This wording makes that seem passive and that's a key gap in understanding the problem. Almost everyone has high expectations for government services — they want great schools, smooth uncongested roads, safe water, responsive police and fire departments, support for their elderly friends and neighbors, etc. The problem is that fewer people are willing to pay what it takes to actually provide those services, and an entire industry of people misdirecting attention for political reasons — e.g. you'll hear a lot about wasteful spending for stuff which is like 0.1% of the budget but trips someone's political agenda, and they won't mention that you could cut that entire program and it'd fund 2 extra prisoners in jail or a block and a half of street.

The other problem is that a lot of our taxes aren't indexed for inflation or have been actively cut. Things like the gas tax used to pay for a higher percentage of road construction, and the massive tax cuts given to rich people have removed a lot of general revenue, and that means that a lot of what was previously covered by that revenue now has to be paid for in ways which are very noticeable to the average voter: property taxes, use fees (as a Californian, the example I use is that the UC system had free tuition until the 1980s — that shifted the cost to the students which made it FAR more noticeable since it went from what you could do with a summer job to the price of a new car annually), etc.

All of that tends to mean that a politician who runs on a platform of needing to raise taxes to pay for the things we all use will likely lose to the one saying they can cut the mythical “waste & abuse”, and it has to get bad before that changes.


First, we get rid of stuff we don't need. If we don't need roads, we don't need as many cars. As Elon Musk said, the best part is no part. Cars was a luxury that became necessary to live in most places of America.

Then, we can talk about raising taxes and funding enough infrastructure.

What we cannot do is fund financially inefficient infrastructure.


>The fundamental problem is that people running governments are spending other people's money and they never have a problem doing that.

I would go further and state that voters are spending tomorrow's taxpayers' money and they never have a problem doing that.

As a politician advocating for paying for things today, you are not going to win elections against someone who promises to push cash flow into the future and lower taxes today.

Try replacing taxpayer funded defined benefit pensions (which can be pushed onto taxpayers decades in the future) with purchasing equivalent annuities from an insurance company today (which have to be properly accounted for and paid for today, requiring higher taxes today).


> I would go further and state that voters are spending tomorrow's taxpayers' money and they never have a problem doing that.

This is what happens to retail politics when the population is trained to think for the short term. After all (successful) politicians merely follow trends.


If there is a pile of money somewhere, some politicians will choose to cut taxes and "give back" that money for political gain as well. Both are a problem.


Isn't this a problem that the pile of money isn't ring-fenced from the general coffers?


New shiny projects win elections.

Maintaining existing things instead do not.


With some caveats. Suburban sprawl is impossibly unsustainable: https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2017/1/9/the-real-reason...


“Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.”

-Kurt Vonnegut


governments are going to face huge problems as the world de-populates. so much infrastructure and buildings to maintain and no one to maintain / use them


At the risk of seeming callous, I am not convinced it is obvious that bridges should never collapse. This is an unreachable goal that will just make bridges more expensive and create excessive regulation. No artifact of man is 100% reliable, the only rational goal is a certain number of "nines." The users of a system should decide how many nines they are willing to pay for. For me personally, A bridge with a 99.9% chance of not collapsing in a given year is good enough.


Nobody is advocating for object permanence.

People advocate for understood constraints of critical infrastructure. Engineers usually have knowledge about longevity and reliability of components.

There are examples of man-made systems which absolutely require 100% reliability, but those still have lifetimes and will be destroyed at some point to be replaced with something else[0].

A bridge can be destroyed, but it should not collapse without prior warning.

[0]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eY-XHAoVEeU


> Nobody is advocating for object permanence.

I am. People need to understand that bridges continue to exist when they're not looking at them.

(Edit: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Object_permanence)


100% reliability is physically impossible. "reliability" is defined to include resistance to abnormal situations. A bridge might be 100% reliable when winds don't exceed 100mph...an event that might have a 1% probability per year in its area of construction, which is clearly highly unlikely, but still something that is accounted for in reliability, uptime, and failure rate metrics.

I don't even know if you can achieve 100% reliability given a set of plausible situations/usage, because you'd have to imagine every single possible failure mode for the thing that you're building.

That is - the threat of "destruction" proper (which you contrasted with "collapse without prior warning") is included in the reliability metrics for a device.

The point stands. Nothing that humans build can be 100% reliable - the only thing you can do is asymptotically approach it.

Now, that said - three nines per year is way too low for me, personally. Five nines is more comfortable (and if it's cheap I'd like to go higher).


Did you watch this video? Tom claims in the video that the barrier is designed for up to a thousand year tide. That's essentially the same as the three nines standard I advocated.


> For me personally, A bridge with a 99.9% chance of not collapsing in a given year is good enough.

So you are ok if in a city with 100 bridges there is an average of one collapse every 10 years?


Yes one bridge collapse a decade would be acceptable to me provided it keeps the cost down. Other people may be willing to pay for more nines, the point is that infinity nines costs infinity dollars.


You are ok with a bridge collapse every 10 years? Do you understand how rare bridge collapses are today and that this would be a massive increase in the rate of failure?


They were just giving their personal comfort threshold.

I mean, technically, one would need to look at the reliability-cost curve. opwieurposiu would almost certainly be fine with eight 9's of reliability if it only cost twice as much as three 9's. The fact that they have a really high risk tolerance in this area don't really undermine their general point.


If a person’s risk tolerance on something is out of whack of what almost everyone else is comfortable with then there is a problem with that position. At least as it pertains to public policy. I’ll rephrase and say that I hope OP is not in a position to have his/her views in this area become policy.


Pittsburgh has well over 200 bridges. It’d be a failure every 5 years.

Ill stick to our current failure rate, thank you. IT “reliability” rates isn't that impressive in other fields of engineering.


Made a whopper of a mistake. Pittsburgh has over 2000 bridges.


> At the risk of seeming callous, I am not convinced it is obvious that bridges should never collapse.

Nobody is saying that a bridge should last forever. They're saying repair it as long as you can, then replace the bridge so that a collapse never happens.


A rope bridge with wood planks will last as long as someone maintains the rope and the planks.

Nobody is advocating that "the perfect bridge" be built. They are advocating that already built bridges receive regular maintenance.

Expecting that a bridge doesn't collapse is an entirely achievable goal. Expecting that a bridge doesn't collapse without maintenance is very unlikely.


> Penn Hills being a poignant example of this

Link? I'm interested in reading more, but quickly searching didn't turn up anything


I think GP is referring to this resort and not the still-functioning inner-ring suburb of Pittsburgh? https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/penn-hills-resort

Weird example, since it's in Eastern PA, despite sharing a name with that suburb.


An abandoned resort doesn't sound like a city abandoning a suburban area and withdrawing services?


Yeah but 40k people live in Penn Hills so…

EDIT: Maybe it’s this [0], but lol Pittsburgh is not unique in having some abandoned homes. Literally every municipality ever in history has an area with abandoned homes.

[0] https://archive.triblive.com/local/penn-hills/some-penn-hill...


It's been a while, but IIRC, Penn Hills (the one in Allegheny county) has seen reduced service from the Port Authority over the last 20 years, with many bus lines being outright discontinued/consolidated.


> Obviously no bridges should be coming down, but there is a real problem here of how to build and maintain a modern city that is smaller than the older one that it replaces.

If an area's population shrinks such that it doesn't need / can't afford all of its bridges, why not prioritize the critical bridges for maintenance and close the others as they become unsafe. Why is this always posed as a dichotomy between letting bridges fail and funding maintenance for each and every bridge?


The politics get nasty real fast. Nobody wants the bridge they regularly use to be shut down, regardless of whether the number of regular users is very small. In US politics, especially at the local level a fiercely-motivated vocal minority is very powerful (because hardly anyone else pays attention).


I'd say bad publicity. People are afraid of hard conversations and US politicians doesn't have any incentives to treat the voters are adults. Politicians treat ppl as children at best and cattle at worst. No one asks children what compromise to make: to buy bread or to buy milk if money are running low. This is the root cause of the problems from my point of view.


$250 million for public safety

$59 million for public works

2021 Amended Operating Budget:

https://apps.pittsburghpa.gov/redtail/images/15962_2021_Amen...


> there is a real problem here of how to build and maintain a modern city that is smaller than the older one that it replaces.

I'm nearly certain Pittsburgh itself, the city, and its immediate surrounding boroughs has grown in population pretty steadily (though not significantly) since the steel boom even while the population of it's suburbs (and PA in general) have steadily lost population, though some areas around the city have grown, like near the airport, property values have skyrocketed to the point that I see a real estate bubble (cookie cutter single family houses built in the 1960's are going for $250K-$350K now, a lot to pay for a 60yo house in the burbs), which contrasts the other areas that have been completely gutted in population and deteriorated (like Ambridge, Aliquippa).


The population of metro area Pittsburgh has declined in the last 20 years and is over 100,000 people less than it was in 1970 [1]. Pittsburgh’s population today is 10% less than it was in 2000 and is considerably smaller than it was at its peak [2].

[1] https://www.macrotrends.net/cities/23100/pittsburgh/populati...

[2] https://www.biggestuscities.com/city/pittsburgh-pennsylvania


Your near certainty is not justified by numbers which are publicly available and could have been consulted.

The population of Pittsburgh proper is half what it was in 1950. Here's a convenient tabulation:

http://population.city/united-states/pittsburgh/

You're equally wrong about the suburbs, which have grown as the city center shrank.


> You're equally wrong about the suburbs, which have grown as the city center shrank.

Nonsense. My mistake, but my math is at least good enough to know I was not equally wrong. That would be far too unlikely, but if so, some kind of bizarre coincidence.


Pittsburgh is having a rebirth in the last ten years.

Before that, it was bleeding population for 50 years


It's not just a "oh whoops the city shrank" problem, it's endemic to all American infrastructure. The problem is that local governments are permitted to de-prioritize public safety.


The media made it a show case for Biden's infrastructure plan, but it almost proves the opposite.

It was first rated poor in 2011, from Pittsburgh Post Gazette [1].

The collapse came in the wake of troubling inspections dating to 2011 that show the aging span has been rated in poor condition, according to the National Bridge Inventory.

Records from the inventory show that the bridge was consistently found to be in poor shape during inspections from 2011 to 2017, with estimated repairs at $1.5 million.

Mr. Gainey said the bridge was last inspected in September 2021. A statewide report from last year noted the bridge was still in poor condition.

The repair estimate was $1.5 mil in 2011. As someone posted in another comment, they spend 4 times more on public safety than on public works: $250 million vs $59 million. This seems like a failure of the city and state governments to prioritize. I know that Pittsburg has lots of bridges, but if they can't support it, then they should close some. This issue is neither unexpected, not a global or cataclysmic event. If the city needs constant maintenance help from the Federal government to maintain its infrastructure, then it simply can't afford it.

[1] https://www.post-gazette.com/local/city/2022/01/28/pittsburg...


What a tragic white elephant of a gift.


[flagged]


Could you please omit swipes from your comments here? You're making a good point and the swipe spoils it.

On HN, we want curious conversation in which people are thoughtful and respectful toward each other. The idea is to collaborate in figuring out the truth together. I know it often seems like other people don't care about that, but a lot of this is an artifact of the medium, because internet comments lack the out-of-band signals that we normally rely on to evaluate other people's intentions.

Also, it's easy to perceive (and/or imagine) bad faith in others, and difficult to perceive the equivalent in oneself. Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear (https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=true&que...).

If you wouldn't mind reviewing https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and taking the intended spirit of the site more to heart, we'd be grateful.


Doing god's work DanG, thank you. Re-reading some of the guidelines myself; it's good to stay familiar to keep HN the way it is.


Most bridges in Texas are less than 40 years old and 38% are less than 20 years old. This bridge was 50 years old and many bridges in Pittsburg are similarly old.

Coincidentally, bridges have a 50-75 year lifespan. It's probably on the lower end in areas with tons of cold weather, salt and ice. Texas has less deteriorating weather in general. Hence the whole "northern cars turn to rust buckets" meme.

Also, this corresponds to Pittsburg's heyday being 50 years ago.


The counting methods of "bridges" don't seem to match between the sites.

Pennslyvania's average age of a bridge is over 50 years old, where Texas lists only half of their bridges being over 40 years old.

https://www.penndot.gov/ProjectAndPrograms/Bridges/pages/def...

So Pennslyvania's clearly got a problem, but Pittsburg (and the state on the whole) gets more rain and far more snow and ice, so even if they were the same age, it doesn't really seem comparable.


Not saying I disagree necessarily but fwiw the weather in Texas is quite easier on infrastructure than in PA. Texas also hasn't seen the industry woes that other states have in the past century. And just because Texas has the most bridges of any state doesn't detract from the fact that Pittsburgh still has its own high number of bridges.


Pittsburgh weather in particular is harder on infrastructure than any other city I've lived in.


I'd also wonder about the level of diligence applied to detecting and reporting such problems in Texas. How many of the bridges in Texas are really in better than poor condition?


The GP's comment was specific to Pittsburgh, what is the narrative that you believe would unfairly catch Texas in its net?


Texas is also in a lot of places new build. They will face the same problems when oil for fuel is obsolete (probably within 15 years).


Especially when oil for fuel is obsolete because an awful lot of my home state’s prosperity and thus tax revenue is still tied to the oil industry.




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