Letter to the Mayor
Mayor William Peduto
414 Grant Street, 5th Floor
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
April 18, 2019
Dear Mayor Peduto,
We are writing to inquire about our community petition delivered to you via Change.org in 2016, to which you have yet to respond. The almost 500-signature petition concerns the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)/private partner-proposed roadway through Schenley Park and adjoining communities, previously known as the Oakland Transit Connector and now called the Mon-Oakland Mobility Plan or Mon-Oakland Connector. A screenshot of the petition appears at the end of this letter. We have filed Right to Know requests with several City departments and are now officially reasserting our demands for a complete accounting of costs and details regarding the Mon-Oakland Connector—including a list of all individuals and corporate entities involved in the genesis of this plan—as well as an immediate halt to development activities
As you know, residents of Panther Hollow and The Run—along with supporters throughout the region—adamantly oppose this project. We are committed to protecting our communities from being colonized through predatory land speculation and gentrification. We are also concerned about our neighborhoods becoming park-and-rides for those wishing to use the connector. We are equally committed to protecting Schenley Park, which belongs to all Pittsburgh residents. The proposed plan would convert what is now primarily a bike and pedestrian path into an essentially private roadway.
We refuse to be a sacrifice zone for development of Hazelwood Green and used as guinea pigs for an experimental technology in its infancy.
Secrecy has been one of the hallmarks of this “public-private partnership” since its inception. Residents of the affected communities (and even City Councilman Corey O’Connor) first learned about the proposal in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after the URA had already filed a grant application with Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development. Community members have not forgotten that the URA responded to their 2015 right-to-know request by providing a redacted copy of the grant application.
The secrecy continues, despite repeated statements from Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) director Karina Ricks affirming a commitment to transparency: “To ease concerns, Ricks said she has emphasized transparency in the public meetings.”
DOMI filed a grant application for the Mon-Oakland Connector on April 13, 2018, bypassing consultation with either neighborhood. They did not mention their application at all during the last public meeting about the roadway on May 22. When the grant was approved in July by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, DOMI still did not inform affected residents. Additionally, residents had to pressure Councilman O’Connor to look into the information being withheld.
DOMI and others involved in the proposed roadway have not provided sufficient information at community meetings to meet the standards of transparency. Considering this ongoing absence of transparency, we add the following to the original demands of our petition:
- Any meetings tied to this roadway must be open to the public, including those associated with PWSA, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, DOMI, and any other agency or organization—governmental or private. These meetings must be posted with a minimum of 14 days’ notice to allow working people to arrange their busy lives to attend and have their voices heard.
- Any meetings regarding this project must include a Q&A session where every attendee is able to hear all questions asked and all answers given. No more “breakout” sessions where attendees are divided and thus denied the opportunity to receive all information equally.
- By the next such meeting, answer our existing demand to reveal the total amount of public funds spent to date on developing and selling this plan—as detailed in Right to Know requests filed on December 5, 2018, with The City of Pittsburgh, the Department of City Planning, Department of Public Works, DOMI, and the URA. Because the costs of this project will continue to mount unless all spending halts immediately, we expect an honest cost-keeping record to be provided to the public on an ongoing basis.
We have additional concerns about the proposed micro-transit’s multiple safety implications. DOMI’s current ridership projections show 394 weekday riders from The Run—a community with only 172 households, according to the City of Pittsburgh’s count. That means a reality-bending 102% of Run residents using the micro-transit on an average weekday. DOMI’s projections certainly allow that most riders would come from elsewhere. This will lead to increased vehicular traffic in the area and increased dangers to pedestrians and cyclists—as well as further decreasing air quality. Furthermore, autonomous vehicles have more safety issues than advertised, according to recently reported information.
The Four Mile Run Stormwater Improvement Project is the top priority for Run residents. The current plan to force the connector on top of the $40 million stormwater project will inevitably compromise flood control, as well as access to and enjoyment of Schenley Park—all to benefit real estate speculators, developers, and the anonymous private partners.
Over the past three years, your administration’s intention to seize public park land with blatant disregard of community objections stands in direct contradiction to your statement: “You should never use government in order to take somebody’s property. The precedents that that would begin would be devastating to democracy.”
Pittsburgh’s recently released Amazon bid (which you fought in court to keep secret) promised a publicly financed autonomous shuttle system through Schenley Park—the Mon-Oakland Connector! We want to know why you make deals with private interests at the expense of your constituents. Pittsburgh’s citizens have been harmed enough by public-private partnerships that choose profit over people. Mr. Mayor, which side are you on?
We expect a prompt and truthful response to all our demands. We expect the press to question you until you respond. We ask public employees and others to do what’s right rather than participate in this duplicity, which will stain everyone involved. And we invite everyone reading this open letter to join us in demanding the accountability we are owed by our local government.
Sincerely,Residents of The Run and supporters Pittsburghers for Public Transit Penn Plaza Support and Action Coalition Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org