Courtesy of Pittsburghers for Public Transit.

Extending Pittsburgh’s East Busway into the Mon Valley and eastern suburbs has broad support, but little momentum — at least, until now.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission and the Port Authority of Allegheny County have all endorsed the idea in various forms in the last several years.

In their report released in June 2018, titled “The Rider’s Vision for Public Transit,” the advocacy organization Pittsburghers for Public Transit (PPT) listed the project as a top priority for stakeholders in both communities.

“Folks were really saying that an extension of the East Busway to Monroeville and McKeesport would be transformative,” says Laura Wiens, the director of PPT.

But the project continues to languish, so PPT is looking to kick-start the process.

Yesterday the nonprofit launched Beyond the East Busway, an online mapping tool that allows residents and stakeholders across the Pittsburgh region to design their own blueprint for the busway’s extension. Users can plan routes down to the level of choosing streets and placing bus stops on their map.

The site was designed in collaboration with the Swissvale-based software company CivicMapper.

To mobilize the public and help users navigate the tool, PPT is also launching a fellowship program dedicated to grassroots organizing around the issue.

Members of the first fellowship cohort. Courtesy of Pittsburghers for Public Transit.

“We’ve got eight people — four from the Mon Valley, four from the eastern suburbs,” explains Wiens, who will spend the next several weeks traveling across their communities to build awareness of Beyond the East Busway.

Users can submit their maps to PPT from now through the end of September via the website. From there, the public input will form the basis of a report from the local environmental consulting group, Evolve ea.

If all goes according to plan, Wiens says PPT will officially submit their findings to the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission in early 2020.

“We think it’s an important thing to have planning happen at the grassroots level,” says Wiens. “We don’t see this just as a vision. This is something we’re going to advocate for to actually be implemented.”

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.