Almono

The Mystery of the Old MOC Funds

When Mayor Ed Gainey announced an end to the Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) shuttle road at the February 17 Greater Hazelwood community meeting, residents of affected communities applauded. They immediately requested basic improvements like safe street crossings, sidewalks and facilities for after-school programs. Officials offered no specific plans for redistributing MOC funds, but early reports focused on building a biking and walking trail that follows the same MOC route.

Five months after the MOC’s formal demise, as the bike/pedestrian trail project moves forward piece by piece, details on leftover MOC funds remain murky. 

When we contacted Emily Bourne, communications specialist for Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI), she said in a June 10 email that $6.7 million remains in the budget for the MOC, which she referred to as the Four Mile Run project.

“All of the funds are still in Four Mile Run named capital accounts,” Ms. Bourne wrote. “Any movement would require council action unless spent on something connected to the Four Mile Run project.”  

However, Pittsburgh’s 2021 capital budget reported the project had $7.7 million in “unexpended/unencumbered prior year funds.” This figure aligns with the one provided to us by DOMI’s chief engineer Eric Setzler in late 2021. He said in a phone call, “I am seeing about $8 million [of City funds].” 

Peering inside the magic bag

Some of the $1 million difference between the 2021 and 2022 figures can be explained by money that was diverted from the MOC budget.

In December 2020, City Council passed a budget amendment introduced by Councilman Corey O’Connor that moved $4.15 million out of the MOC. Those funds were divided among affordable housing programs, support for small businesses throughout Pittsburgh, and infrastructure improvements in Hazelwood. This should have left around $3.85 million in MOC funds.

But Ms. Bourne, when asked to confirm this, emailed that the diverted money was “not actual funds.”

“Had the budget been passed as introduced they would have been, but they were moved before the budget was adopted,” Ms. Bourne wrote. “There could have been other budget moves but nothing with actual obligated funds.”  

“The only transfer was from December 2021 when Council moved $575,000 from Mon-Oakland ‘Four Mile Run’ to Street Resurfacing,” she added.

Indeed, Councilman O’Connor did introduce a budget amendment to remove $575,000 from the MOC funds. Of those, $550,000 went to new lights for Bud Hammer Field in Greenfield and $25,000 went to repair steps around Burgwin Field in Hazelwood.

It is unclear how the Bud Hammer Field lights and Burgwin Field steps are related to street resurfacing, and where the $4.15 million in the 2020 budget amendment originated if not from MOC funds. Also unexplained is the $4 million shown in the 2021 capital budget as going back into the MOC for 2022. 

Asked to comment during a June 10 phone conversation, Councilman O’Connor said, “People at DOMI are not very intelligent. Whoever you were talking to does not know what they are talking about. We always make amendments before a budget is passed. Only the final draft of the budget matters.”

The 2022 capital budget contains no mention of the MOC. Councilman O’Connor explained this by saying the project “would not have to be listed in the capital budget if the funds have already been allocated,” and no new funding was being requested. 

About 7% of the $8 million in the fund last December is unaccounted for by our reckoning. This could be a calculation error due to rounding, or it might actually be missing. But the funds still exist and are being spent on lights and steps, at the very least.

Table showing known expenses or allocations and remaining balance calculated, compared against DOMI's reported MOC budget as of June 2022
Table showing known expenses or allocations and remaining balance calculated, compared against DOMI’s reported MOC budget as of June 2022

When will our money fund our solutions?

One fact has become plain over the past five months: The project and its funding will continue—minus Almono Partners’ proposed shuttles and the MOC name.

This slow-walked continuation of the project formerly known as the MOC raises concerns among members of MOC-affected communities. Residents and community organizations created Our Money, Our Solutions (OMOS), an alternative plan listing needed improvements that cost less than the MOC’s original $23 million budget.

Some OMOS priorities have come to pass, such as weekend service on the 93 bus line and Second Avenue/Irvine Street sidewalk repairs in progress. But critical items—such as traffic-calming measures on Hazelwood Avenue and lower Greenfield Avenue and those discussed at the February 17 meeting with Mayor Gainey—remain unaddressed. Why is bike trail infrastructure being prioritized over needs like these? City parks already have a dedicated source of revenue from taxpayers, while neglect has destroyed existing infrastructure in these communities over decades.

“We said at the February 17 meeting that we are looking to put in a request for money for repairs and improvements for Burgwin [Recreation Building],” Councilman O’Connor said, explaining those funds would not come from the MOC budget.  

He added this is the first year City Council will have park tax funds to work with, and they have not yet finalized the process for distributing them.

Meanwhile, explorations into the mysteries of MOC funding continue. In a May 27 email responding to inquiries, City Controller Michael Lamb said his office will soon release their performance audit of several city departments. The audit included a review of the MOC that helped inform Mayor Gainey’s decision to end the project.

Mayoral Candidate Visits The Run, Hazelwood

On May 6, Pennsylvania State Representative Ed Gainey met 30-40 community members in The Run. Rep. Gainey, who hopes to win the Democratic primary in the race to become Pittsburgh’s next mayor, heard Run residents describe the severe flooding that plagues their neighborhood. They also discussed the city’s plans to widen Swinburne Bridge with a dedicated lane for shuttles between the Hazelwood Green development and the Oakland universities, a controversial project known as the Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC). One small business and several families located near the bridge have received letters from the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure invoking eminent domain.

“The [Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s (PWSA’s)] stormwater project is designed around the MOC,” said Ziggy Edwards of The Run. “Their design doesn’t fix the flooding, and [PWSA] won’t show us a model without the MOC.”

The crowd made its way to the neighborhood’s recreational facilities beneath Interstate 376, which include a recently reopened basketball court and a dilapidated playground that was partially barricaded after a child was injured. Several parents from The Run mentioned a 2018 playground closure due to concrete chunks falling from the underside of the highway. Crews have since installed netting under that section of 376.

As the group continued toward the Junction Hollow section of Schenley Park, Rep. Gainey asked questions about the MOC, for which DOMI plans to build a new road through Schenley Park. Residents peppered him with information, describing the lack of genuine community support for and involvement in the project. For example, Run residents described how they learned of the plan from a 2015 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“There are certain people in Hazelwood… organizations who knew or heard about what’s going on and that support [the MOC],” said James Cole of Hazelwood. “But the people IN the neighborhood, FROM the neighborhood, live, sleep, breathe, interact with the people in the neighborhood… nobody’s for it.”

The Hazelwood Green development is owned by Almono Partners, which plans to operate the proposed MOC shuttles.

“I’m not against new people coming to Pittsburgh; as a matter of fact, we want that level of growth,” Gainey told the group. “But it shouldn’t be at the expense of people who’ve been here forever and a day. If you want to know what’s going to bring this city together in a unified way, it’s because you’re fighting that power. It’s [saying], ‘I’m not gonna be removed. I’m NOT gonna be removed.’”

Rep. Gainey continued his walkthrough in Hazelwood. As the group re-formed at the corner of Hazelwood and Second Avenues, he spoke with Pastor Lutual Love, Sr. of Hazelwood about development of the 4800 block of Second Avenue.

“We were expressing our disapproval of the current design [for the proposed development],” Pastor Love recounted. “We’re trying to influence the City to change the current RFP to include retail space—such as a grocery store, high-tech laundromat, or credit union—that offers services to lower-income people, that’s more family oriented. There’s a lot of one-bedroom housing being proposed.”

Rep. Gainey mentioned his visit to The Run and Hazelwood during a May 10 meet-the-candidates Q&A session hosted online by Voter Empowerment Education and Enrichment Movement (VEEEM) Pittsburgh. “I would not be for the Mon-Oakland Connector,” he said. “I was down in The Run, I was down in Hazelwood, and I was in Greenfield… They don’t want the Mon-Oakland Connector; they don’t feel it’s going to benefit them.”

All three candidates challenging Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto—Rep. Gainey, Tony Moreno, and Mike Thompson—said they would reallocate the $23 million of capital money to more urgent neighborhood infrastructure needs and prioritize flood mitigation.

Photo from Gainey mayoral campaign social media post

The Secret of the Shuttle Route

It seems like a question with a simple, straightforward answer: Where does the proposed MOC shuttle go after it leaves Schenley Park and enters The Run?

Junction Coalition sought the answer by emailing director Karina Ricks and project manager Michael Panzitta of Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI). We got more (in terms of material for this post) and less (in terms of the answer itself) than we imagined in our wildest dreams.
***

February 22, 2021

Good Afternoon Ms. Ricks and Mr. Panzitta,

We are writing to request a detailed, clearly marked map of the proposed Mon-Oakland Connector route between the Schenley Park soccer field (by the railroad overpass) and Saline St. at Greenfield Ave. This information is missing from the presentation at your October 2020 public meetings, which you described as the “final” opportunity for public input.

In slide 11, the green line representing the proposed route ends abruptly as it enters The Run from Schenley Park. Slide 37, presented by a representative of Almono Partners, shows a vague illustration that includes an almost uniformly straight line through The Run as if there are no streets, buildings, or recreation areas in the path of the proposed route.

Confusion on the topic of MOC’s exact route occurred at a recent community meeting. One attendee insisted the route had been changed and now will not enter the neighborhood, but instead follow the “Swinburne Connection” route shown in slide 22 of your presentation.

Please provide clarification on this issue and eliminate the confusion by sending DOMI’s proposed route per the specifications above. As public servants, you have an obligation to be transparent concerning DOMI projects and their effects (potential or otherwise) on Pittsburgh residents. Residents have a right to full and complete knowledge of all plans for their communities.

Sincerely,

Junction Coalition
***

March 10, 2021

Hello Again Ms. Ricks and Mr. Panzitta,

More than two weeks have passed since we sent our previous email requesting a detailed, clearly marked map of the proposed Mon-Oakland Connector route between the Schenley Park soccer field (by the railroad overpass) and Saline St. at Greenfield Ave. We are following up with you for clarification on the proposed MOC route through The Run. We expect a reply within the next 24 hours along with the detailed, clearly marked map we requested. This information is missing from the presentation in your October 2020 public meetings, which you described as the “final” opportunity for public input.

As mentioned in the earlier email, those who are working on behalf of the public and funded with taxes have an obligation to be transparent concerning proposed DOMI projects and their effects (potential or otherwise) on Pittsburgh residents. Residents have a right to full and complete knowledge of all proposed plans for their communities.

Our request for this information is not unreasonable. The information requested should be straightforward by this point in the process. We’d prefer to not be forced to file RTK requests, but will if necessary in order to be clear on the exact path and scope of the proposed route. The Run needs to know how it would affect our community.

Sincerely,
Junction Coalition
***

March 15, 2021

Hello Junction Coalition

Attached please find the requested roll plot with call-outs to specify the details of the two trails.

·       The mobility trail terminates at the parking lot near the soccer field. At this point, trail users join the shared use of the public streets.

·       The Three Rivers Heritage Trail (aka Junction Hollow Trail) follows largely the same path it does today – continuing along the east side of Boundary street under the rail underpass, crosses Boundary Street and then continues adjacent to the rail embankment to the Saline Street cycle track, up an improved curb to and through “The Chute”.

When the “Swinburne Connection | Chute Bypass” is established (see slide 21 of the presentation), the mobility trail would split would have altered the route of the Mobility Trail will skirt around the parking lot and instead climb the embankment below Swinburne, connect to the Swinburne Bridge and provide two options: either crossing the bridge and connecting directly to the Sylvan Trail or continuing straight down Swinburne Extension for a direct connection to the Jail Trail.
***

March 17, 2021

Ms. Ricks and Mr. Panzitta,

Thank you for the reply. There is still a bit of confusion regarding the illustration you provided and the message in your email, Rather than make assumptions, we are including these few questions for clarity:

  • Your Mon-Oakland 4MR attachment shows the path of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail through the neighborhood, which as you stated appears to be largely unchanged from what it is today. But it does not show the path of the “mobility trail” through the neighborhood. Some people are interpreting this map as though the 3RHT route is showing the path of the shuttle through The Run. Can you clarify whether the shuttle will be taking this path shown in orange for the 3RHT? If not, can you please answer the original question: On what streets in The Run neighborhood will the shuttle travel?
  • Why is a “Swinburne Connection” being discussed when you previously stated in an email: “The mobility path is to be an exclusive pathway suitable for both light shuttles and other e-powered vehicles such as e-bikes and, when categorized, e-scooters and other such vehicles as may evolve over time. There is insufficient width on Swineburn to provide this dedicated path. The street cannot be widened due to the fragile soil conditions.” (emphasis added)?
  • For whom does the “Swinburne Connection” provide two options–cyclists or shuttles? Will shuttles be permitted on the Jail Trail?
  • What did you mean by “slivers” when you said you might need to take “slivers” of our neighbors’ properties on Acorn Street to accommodate the shuttle route on Swinburne Bridge?

~JC
***

April 26, 2021

Hello Again Ms. Ricks and Mr. Panzitta,

It has been more than a month since the previous email and we have not received a response. We wanted to give you another chance to respond before we publish an article on this topic. Do you have answers to any of the questions in our March 17 email?

Thank you,
JC
***

If we ever receive a response, we’ll be sure to post it here. In the mysterious world of the MOC, questions only lead to more unanswered questions.

55M More Reasons to Defund the Mon-Oakland Connector

The COVID-19 emergency has shone a harsh light on Pittsburgh’s funding priorities. One glaring example is the Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC), a controversial luxury microtransit project that primarily serves the Hazelwood Green development and has earned distrust from residents of affected communities.

The foundations that own Hazelwood Green imagine it as a second campus for CMU and Pitt. In a 2009 report, the Remaking Cities Institute of Carnegie Mellon University called a dedicated connection between Oakland and Hazelwood “the singular most important gesture that will ensure the success of the ALMONO site’s redevelopment.” (emphasis in original)

“What was problematic before the pandemic became unconscionable in this climate,” said Laura Wiens, director of Pittsburghers for Public Transit. “Funding this project would mean that other critical needs aren’t being met right now.”

Pittsburgh, like many cities, was hit hard. “Our tax revenues cratered, and there is still no clear path forward to replace them,” Mayor Bill Peduto stated in his 2021 budget speech. Pittsburgh faced a $55 million operating budget deficit at the close of 2020, and is depending on federal aid to avoid $25.6 million in personnel cuts starting in July 2021. About 634 city employees stand to lose their jobs.

A unanimously-approved budget amendment proposed by Councilman Corey O’Connor, whose district includes two MOC-affected communities, moved $4.15 million from the MOC. Those funds made up the 2021 budget for the MOC. They were redirected to the Housing Opportunity Fund (this citywide program received $1.9 million—$750,000 of which is earmarked for the Flats on Forward development in Squirrel Hill, leaving a little over half for Pittsburghers struggling to stay in existing housing), support for small businesses, and infrastructure improvements in Hazelwood.

Yet plans move forward to build the MOC shuttle road through Schenley Park and adjacent neighborhoods. Almono Partners spokesperson David Caliguiri said the foundations “believe the Mon-Oakland Connector remains a critical economic development effort for the City of Pittsburgh and the entire region” and are committed to funding the shuttle service. MOC may have lost 2021 funds from its total price tag of $23 million, but it’s still flush with an unknown portion of $14.5 million already granted in the 2018 and 2019 budgets.

The MOC has a long, shady history (its most recent chapter began with a fraudulent grant application to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development) and continues to function as a magic-bag project with components and costs that morph according to justifications needed for it at any given time. For example, Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) claimed in a January 2020 memo that Irvine St./Second Ave. sidewalk repairs in Hazelwood—a key component of the community-generated Our Money, Our Solutions alternative plan—was always part of the MOC. By October, DOMI’s commitment to fund those repairs had vanished from the MOC budget.

For some neighborhoods—especially Panther Hollow and The Run—harm from the MOC goes beyond diverting limited resources. Two groups of residents in The Run are at risk of being displaced by the shuttle road: those who live near Swinburne Bridge, which DOMI has decided to replace rather than repair so the bridge can be widened for a dedicated MOC shuttle lane; and those who live in flood-prone areas near Big Jim’s.

The first group has already received letters from DOMI implying the City may use eminent domain to take property for the bridge replacement. The second group is some or all of the “affected properties” listed in PWSA documents concerning their Four Mile Run Stormwater Project. These internal documents, obtained through Right-to-Know requests, also reveal that the stormwater project was designed around the MOC and will not adequately protect people’s homes. One proposed solution involves a “discussion regarding property acquisition and other discussions that will not be widely popular.” The stormwater project, for which the PWSA secured $40 million, was billed as a solution to The Run’s flooding problem. But less than half of those funds are being spent on stormwater work in Schenley Park. According to PWSA acting senior manager of public affairs Rebecca Zito, “The remaining funding can go towards future projects in the upper portions of the watershed, provide opportunities to collaborate with the universities and other community organizations on future stormwater projects, or revisit some of the original green infrastructure projects planned for Panther Hollow Stream and Phipps Run.” (emphasis added)

Besides forcing families out—some of whom have lived in The Run for three generations—the legally questionable use of eminent domain to serve a development project also removes affected properties from the tax rolls. About 40% of land in Pittsburgh is already tax-exempt because the government, universities, and other non-profits own it.

A lack of accountability and transparency surrounding the MOC has allowed DOMI to plan at will behind a screen of public-facing gestures since the department’s inception in 2017. But signs point to a reckoning for the MOC. According to the TransitCenter organization, “PPT is working with the city auditor to assess options for formally moving the money, and to make recommendations about how that money should be spent.”

In past years, City officials have answered public calls to defund the MOC by saying those capital budget funds can’t be applied to other areas of need like the operating budget. This position becomes harder to maintain now that $1.9 million has been moved from the MOC to the Housing Opportunity Fund, decidedly not part of the capital budget.

There is no shortage of ways Pittsburgh could reallocate $14.5 million to meet critical needs of residents. Keeping those funds in reserve for an unpopular, top-down project like the MOC is a disgrace in today’s austere climate.

8 Urgent Questions for PWSA Board of Directors Re. Stormwater Project

On February 26, 2021, Ziggy Edwards of The Run addressed PWSA’s board of directors at their monthly meeting. She brought concerns from her neighborhood that the design and implementation of PWSA’s Four Mile Run (4MR) Stormwater Project suffers from skewed priorities. The project, which will include major construction on the only road into The Run, focuses on accommodating the Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) rather than fixing severe flooding.

The following questions, which PWSA also received via email, are based on information in the Right-to-Know (RTK) request documents we have received so far and independent expert analysis of the plan submitted with the permit application to the PA Department of Environmental Protection and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

1. Why did the Heinz Endowments pay Howard Neukrug (past Philadelphia Water Commissioner) to review the PWSA stormwater project? (source: PWSA/CEC 4MR Weekly Meeting Minutes, April 16, 2019)

2. How much of the $40 million for the PWSA stormwater project did not come from the Heinz Endowments and/or other foundations that own the Hazelwood Green development?

3. How can the three new PWSA board members, who all have ties to entities with vested interests in the Hazelwood Green (HG) development, oversee the stormwater project in a fair and impartial manner that doesn’t benefit HG at the expense of Schenley Park and residents in The Run? For that matter, how can the other board members be fair and impartial in this project when they were all directly nominated by Mayor Peduto (a longtime proponent of the MOC)?

4. As you may know, the proposed MOC adds at least 0.80 acres (34,850 square feet) of paving to Junction Hollow. With the types of storms Pittsburgh has had in the past 10 years, a year with 50 inches of rain would generate an additional 1 million+ gallons of runoff to The Run. Why does the plan in the permit application propose to pollute this stormwater runoff by directing it from the MOC to the existing combined sewer system and not to the new stormwater network that flows directly to the river?

5. Did any consultant not funded by HG owners evaluate the impact of this stormwater project design on The Run? What did the consultants say about the absence of stormwater inlets of pipes along the proposed MOC road? What did they say about the absence of stormwater runoff from the road to the daylighted stream?

6. Is it true that the PWSA stormwater project’s construction plan calls for 4MR Field across Alexis Street from Big Jim’s to be used as a staging area for construction equipment and materials?

7. Because the “Parkway side” of the 4MR watershed is excluded from PWSA’s stormwater project, residents of The Run are still likely to see stormwater arrive in our neighborhood from that side of 4MR—even after this highly disruptive project is completed. Any flood water that enters the combined sewer network above The Run will still be in the combined sewer pipes running under the neighborhood. Therefore, if the volume of stormwater entering the combined sewer pipes above The Run is greater than those combined sewer pipes can handle, we are still likely to see raw sewage come to the surface from the remaining combined sewer inlets and/or manholes. Why is none of the $41 million earmarked for this project, which was billed as a solution to flooding in The Run, being spent on remediating the “Parkway side” of 4MR?

8. Is the PWSA board of directors aware that PWSA was ordered by the Office of Open Records to complete a review and provide the rest of its documents responsive to our RTK request? The deadline was yesterday [February 25, 2021]. At 8:52 p.m. we received a link to a zip file with a password that doesn’t work. Will the board encourage PWSA Attorney Samuel Hornak to resolve this issue as quickly as possible, since PWSA effectively missed the deadline?

Suddenly Swinburne

Schenley Park, Swinburne Street. Why don't we have both?

Proposed shuttle expansion route threatens homes

Developers of the controversial Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) aren’t deterred by years of setbacks—including widespread community opposition and City Council passing a 2021 budget amendment that shifts funds away from building the new shuttle road through two Pittsburgh neighborhoods and Schenley Park. If anything, plans presented by the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) and Almono Partners at their last public meeting show a stronger resolve to eliminate all obstacles in the MOC’s path.

Slide 11 maps the proposed phase 1 MOC route, which ends abruptly as it enters The Run from Schenley Park. Residents were left in the dark about the path of shuttles through their small neighborhood.

Slide 11 from October 2020 MOC meeting

Although this meeting marked the first time an Almono Partners representative was on hand to answer questions about the shuttle service they plan to run on the road, they did not show The Run in their presentation, either (see slide 37).

Slide 37 from October 2020 MOC meeting
Slide 37 from October 2020 MOC meeting
The slide refers to “trails” (plural) and “public streets” with no indication of which streets in The Run will be used.

The “Swinburne connector” (slide 22) climbs a landslide-prone hillside and merges with Swinburne Street for access to Swinburne Bridge. An FAQ on DOMI’s website says this additional road would “have a path width of 16 feet with 2-foot buffers on each side.” Longtime followers of the MOC debacle and Run residents find this phase 2 plan equally troubling for several reasons.

Slide 22 from October 2020 MOC meeting

For context, we revisit a January 2018 public meeting DOMI organized to “share the potential alternative routes” for the MOC. Run residents had no trust after learning of the plan from a 2015 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article touting an already-submitted grant application that turned out to be fraudulent. DOMI, created in 2017, claimed they were pushing the restart button on the MOC concept and seeking input from affected communities.

Michael Baker Corporation presented six routes at the meeting, including five community suggestions that left Schenley Park undisturbed. Attendees reported that the exercise seemed designed to herd them toward a conclusion that only the Schenley Park route could work. Alternatives included Swinburne Street.

DOMI director Karina Ricks later expressed a preference for the Swinburne route, but said it was not feasible because of landslides. Landslides have plagued Swinburne Street for decades; one in the 1980s caused damage in Junction Hollow that led the city to close Boundary Street to motorized vehicles. This section of Boundary Street eventually became a popular bike and pedestrian trail through Schenley Park that forms a critical link in the only car-free path between Oakland and downtown.

Given the ongoing landslides, MOC critics questioned Ricks when subsequent designs showed the inevitable Schenley Park shuttle route running along the hill beneath Swinburne Street. How could Swinburne be deemed unsuitable for small shuttles yet frequently accommodate cars, trucks, UPMC shuttles, emergency vehicles, and school buses? And since Swinburne must be stabilized to prevent a collapse onto the proposed road, why not make Swinburne the route instead of spending millions of additional taxpayer dollars to build a new road?

Ricks responded via email, “The mobility path is to be an exclusive pathway suitable for both light shuttles and other e-powered vehicles such as e-bikes and, when categorized, e-scooters and other such vehicles as may evolve over time. There is insufficient width on Swineburn to provided this dedicated path. The street cannot be widened due to the fragile soil conditions.” (emphasis added)

Swinburne Street is 19.8 feet wide on average at its narrowest point. This is significantly wider than the proposed road, which forces cyclists into close contact with shuttles. But the width is still insufficient to accommodate both existing traffic and a new “exclusive pathway” that is “16 feet with 2-foot buffers on each side.” Whatever happened to the fragile soil conditions that prevented Swinburne Street from being widened?

According to minutes from a February 2019 meeting in Mayor Bill Peduto’s office, Ricks “noted the mobility trail can’t support future traffic loads so additional transportation alternatives would be needed for future traffic loads.” DOMI first proposed widening Swinburne Bridge to accommodate a dedicated lane for MOC shuttles in February 2018, presenting an option that featured a vehicle elevator from Four Mile Run Park below. Since then, serious consequences of the Swinburne route have come into view.

2018 DOMI illustration of vehicle elevator concept
Owners of houses near Swinburne Bridge received letters referencing eminent domain.

In August 2020, several Run residents who live near Swinburne Bridge received letters from DOMI implying they may lose their homes and businesses through eminent domain. The bridge has been neglected over many years and needs repair, so residents are required to allow surveyors on their property. Although repairs could be completed with no need to acquire properties, replacing Swinburne Bridge allows DOMI to widen it for the purpose of accommodating a dedicated MOC shuttle lane.

Ricks addressed resident concerns by stating, “It is a letter written by a lawyer and, unfortunately, they do reference the right of eminent domain. The City has absolutely no intention to take properties [as part of the bridge construction]. There is a possibility there might be some slivers that will be needed to create new footings for the bridge.”

Within a week of property owners receiving the letters, an AWK Consulting Engineers team arrived in The Run. One affected property owner noticed a surveyor working in Four Mile Run Field (The Run’s only community green space). Asked why he was so far from the bridge, the AWK employee said it was because they might need to widen the bridge.

Residents throughout The Run face harm from still more asphalt surfaces and permanent tree canopy loss upstream from their homes. Phase 1 of the MOC has already compromised the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s stormwater project in the area because accommodating the shuttle road is a design requirement. The stormwater project enjoys nearly universal public support because it was sold as a solution to The Run’s chronic flooding problem. But building the half-mile road through Schenley Park would generate about 295,000 gallons of additional runoff.

DOMI calls the MOC a “mobility trail” to avoid admitting it is a road—and if the MOC can be called a trail, its shuttles can run on any trail. An additional leg of the “Swinburne Connection” extends into the UPMC shuttle lot toward Second Avenue, which also happens to link to the Eliza Furnace Trail, another crucial part of Pittsburgh’s car-free network.

The MOC is a reiteration of an old idea. And it continues to shamble forward, powered by $14 million from previous budget years. The “Swinburne Connection” reveals MOC planners deceiving residents yet again, feinting away from an “alternative” route they planned to use in addition to rather than instead of Schenley Park. Communities should not be asked—let alone forced—to sacrifice themselves for the sake of a development project that serves private interests.

Our Neighborhoods’ Problems Are “Connectored”

The adjoining communities of Hazelwood and The Run share more than a ZIP code: They are the two neighborhoods most directly affected by the Hazelwood Green development and its most controversial feature, the proposed Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) shuttle road through Schenley Park.

Hazelwood Green owner Almono Partners commissioned the road, funded with $23 million of Pittsburgh’s capital budget, primarily to link its development to university campuses in Oakland—but says its shuttles will improve mobility for Hazelwood residents. (Almono Partners has voiced no interest in improving anything for Run residents, except perhaps their odds of moving away.)

Getting in and out of Hazelwood can be a major problem, partly because the three streets that serve as entrance/exit points suffer from decades of neglect. The stretch of Irvine Street between Greenfield Avenue and Hazelwood Avenue is a prime example. It contains just about every dangerous condition imaginable for pedestrians, cyclists, and even motorists. A fatal car crash in January 2019 involved frozen seepage from the hill above the east side of the road. This same water helps create year-round hazards on City-owned sidewalks that have disintegrated beside speeding traffic. Vehicles often block other sections of the sidewalk, forcing travelers into the road.   

Only the bravest/most desperate walkers and bikers consider Irvine Street an option—and for people using wheelchairs or pushing strollers, it’s not an option at all. Nor is the long way around through Hazelwood Green accessible to them because it involves navigating steps or crossing Second Avenue.

Irvine Street offers the most direct connection between Hazelwood and The Run. The one-mile distance would be easy to cross if not for the serious risks involved. Residents of Hazelwood could safely access Schenley Park without a car. And Run residents would find it much simpler to reach their nearest post office, library, and shops in Hazelwood.

Fixing this dangerous stretch of sidewalk has been identified as a priority by everyone involved. The Greater Hazelwood Neighborhood Plan lists sidewalk construction and improvements as a key strategy to give residents and visitors access to Hazelwood. Our Money. Our Solutions., a community-driven alternative to the MOC, calls for an “Irvine/Second Avenue sidewalk audit and replacement/install to ensure ADA-compliant width and curb cuts, from Greenfield Ave. through the Hazelwood business district.”

Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI), which is responsible for building the MOC, listed “2nd Avenue sidewalk” as a component of the MOC project in a January 2020 memo to City Council. DOMI committed $700,000 to the sidewalk (to be matched by a potential grant from the state of Pennsylvania). The memo marked the first time DOMI publicly identified certain components (including the sidewalk) as part of the project and broke down costs.

However, in DOMI’s latest budget presented at their October public meetings concerning the MOC, the sidewalk funding has disappeared. It’s unclear whether DOMI will receive the state grant they say they applied for.

Compare the ill-defined, will-o’-the-wisp accounting of the Irvine Street sidewalk funding to the single-minded focus with which the MOC has been pushed over the past five years. Even in the midst of a pandemic that has left Pittsburgh with a $100+ million budget shortfall, the MOC is the city’s single largest transportation corridor investment.

Some say budgets are moral documents. At the very least, Pittsburgh’s budget represents a statement of its priorities. Building a road through a public park for private shuttles in no way reflects the priorities of Pittsburghers, who are being asked to fund this project.

Irvine Street/Second Avenue is only one glaring example of community needs unmet in favor of funding the MOC. As members of these communities, we still have a chance to come together and advocate for the money to go toward improvements we’ve been requesting for years.   

It’s high time for City Controller Michael Lamb to audit the $14.5 million already budgeted to the MOC in 2018 and 2019. Please join us in encouraging him to do so by calling 412-255-2054 or emailing City_Controller@pittsburghpa.gov.

Furthermore, City Council must demand a line-item listing of the additional $4.15 million requested for 2021 to make sure these funds are directed first to fixing existing infrastructure—rather than creating new infrastructure of questionable value to existing communities. Our public money should prioritize solutions to our problems, not developers’ wishes.  

Pittsburghers Speak Out Against Shuttle Road

As promised, we are gathering statements from DOMI’s public meeting concerning the proposed road through Schenley Park. Below you’ll find quotes from residents of affected communities, activists, transit advocates, university students, and others—along with links to their full statements. We’ve also included those who didn’t get a chance to speak or could not attend the meeting. If you fall into any of these categories and would like us to publish your statement here, please email junctioncoalition@gmail.com.


“As a campus spiritual advisor I often talk with students about their responsibility as members of an institution that wields considerable power and influence over the neighbors who make their homes here. That they should amplify the voices of neighbors whose opinions and needs sometimes been cast aside for the sake of development.

And in this case I have yet to hear from any Hazelwood, Greenfield, or Oakland residents who are demanding a private shuttle between Oakland and Hazelwood Green. What I do hear loudly from my neighbors is a need for increased bus service.”
Mike Holohan, The Run
Read more »

“No matter what you would offer in money for my business, it wouldn’t be enough to start over somewhere else.” —Dana Provenzano, Zano’s Pub
Read more »

“Who’s going to really benefit if the capacity is 1,000 riders a day—if that’s the ultimate capacity and you’re going to displace 20,000 cars a day? The math does not figure…When I say this, I say this as an 81-year resident of Hazelwood. I get calls every day from gentrifiers who want to buy my property.”
Homer Craig, Hazelwood
Read more »

“During this fight, we have won some major improvements to the City’s original plan. These include a flood mitigation project in Four Mile Run, park enhancements, and bike and pedestrian improvements—none of which were part of the original concept. We also won weekend service on the 93 bus starting next month—connecting residents of Hazelwood and Greenfield to Oakland, Squirrel Hill, Bloomfield, and Lawrenceville—actually improving mobility for our communities while the City and DOMI have done nothing but waste millions in consulting and design fees.” —Barb Warwick, The Run
Read more »

“Our city is facing a massive budget shortfall and unless you live in Donald Trump’s fantasy world, you know it’s likely to get worse. But despite the clear need to redirect a vastly reduced budget to human needs, my city insists on spending almost $20 million on a boondoggle that no community favors.”
Mel Packer, Point Breeze
Read more »

“The project does not benefit the people who live here and is a blatant attempt to destroy our community and give the land to universities and developers.” —Susan Cohen, The Run
Read more »

“If I’m wrong and this is a mass transportation project, well, you guys should fund the Our Money, Our Solutions plan instead because it does everything that this could hope to accomplish—better, faster, cheaper and without any of the associated harms.” —Laura Chu Wiens, Pittsburghers for Public Transit
Read more »

“Every justification put forth for building the road has been proven false. Proponents are now at a loss for any argument other than, ‘We have to build it because we’ve been secretly planning this for years!'”
Ray Gerard, Lower Greenfield
Read more »

“The City recognizes the seriousness of Climate Change, does not dispute the science behind these issues, yet continues to adhere to the model of development that is driving these issues. The Climate Action Plan states unequivocally, ‘HALT the conversion of forest canopy to development’ and such a conversion is exactly what is being proposed here.”
Matt Peters, Hazelwood
Read more »

“These are not the actions of people with good intentions. If the MOC benefited those who live in the communities it affects, Mayor Peduto’s administration would not need to resort to duplicity and steamrolling.”
Ziggy Edwards, The Run
Read more »

Shuttle Road Slammed at Packed Meeting

Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility & Infrastructure (DOMI) hoped its October 21 public meeting on the Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC), the first in almost a year, would give citizens one final chance to feel useful arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. But they ran out of deck chairs: The virtual Zoom meeting quickly surpassed its original 100-participant limit and blocked many from joining. After about 20 minutes, meeting organizers solved the problem by expanding capacity to 200 and attendance nearly topped that limit as well.

For the first time, a representative of Almono Limited Partnership (owners of the Hazelwood Green development) was on hand to answer questions from the public. Earlier in the week, Almono unveiled their plan to operate shuttles on the proposed road that uses Schenley Park to connect Hazelwood Green with the universities in Oakland.

Pittsburgh City Council member Corey O’Connor, who represents the affected communities of Hazelwood and Greenfield, was frustrated by the presentation. “We are finally getting answers to some of our questions, which I think is the biggest joke of all time because we’ve been waiting six years for them,” he said.

Councilman O’Connor said the frustration “dates back to the first meeting when we showed up and we had five squiggly lines [representing potential routes for the shuttles] going different ways and we knew we were only going to use one line [the route through Schenley Park] at the beginning, and that was it.”

Alternatives to the MOC plan exist, although the City has failed to give them meaningful consideration.

Our Money. Our Solutions. is a “holistic mobility package” created by residents, community organizations, and others in the affected neighborhoods in cooperation with Pittsburghers for Public Transit. Run resident Barb Warwick said the plan “would provide our communities with faster, more effective, and more affordable bus service to many more locations than just Oakland.”

Richard Feder, an adjunct professor of transportation engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, spoke on behalf the Hazelwood BRT project proposal, which resulted from the 2020 Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission planning study of the State Route 885 and Second Avenue corridor.

“Even worse,” Councilman O’Connor continued, “and this is for my residents in The Run—and I hope this is not true, but the $41 million that we were promised for [the Four Mile Run Stormwater Improvement project] has now turned into 16 million…If it doesn’t stop the flooding problem and protect people, then it’s a bigger farce than it was at the beginning.”

According to PWSA’s own presentation from June 2020, the number is closer to $14 million. In their September 2020 presentation, PWSA tried to cover their tracks by adding costly items they remembered over the summer.     

Councilman O’Connor’s constituents responded in the chat with resounding support of his remarks.

David Caliguiri, the Almono consultant in attendance, characterized the proposed shuttle as “just one part” of “a suite of enhanced transit options.”

Jonah McAllister-Erickson of Pittsburghers for Public Transit responded in a comment, “The constant in the many many iterations [of the MOC plan] has been the shuttle. The idea that this isn’t about the shuttle is laughable. It is and has always been about some sort of shuttle.”

DOMI director Karina Ricks admitted the shuttle component is key because it aims to spur development at Hazelwood Green.

Many MOC opponents expressed concern about the lack of plans in place to protect renters in Hazelwood and Greenfield from the increased housing costs that such large-scale development projects always bring.

Run resident Ziggy Edwards said the City has a long history of deceptive actions related to the MOC project, and that several of her neighbors near the Swinburne Bridge recently received letters from DOMI citing eminent domain.

Ricks responded, “It is a letter written by a lawyer and, unfortunately, they do reference the right of eminent domain. The City has absolutely no intention to take properties [as part of the bridge construction]. There is a possibility there might be some slivers that will be needed to create new footings for the bridge.”   

“She just referred to our neighborhood homes and properties as ‘slivers,’” commented Run resident Justin Macey. “These are our HOMES.”

Hazelwood Initiative director Sonia Tilghman discussed foundation-supported programs in Hazelwood that have allowed her organization to buy 63 occupied units and keep them affordable.

“My concern generally,” said Tilghman, “is that as transportation and access improves to the [Hazelwood] neighborhood—which it absolutely has to—whether that’s through [the MOC project] or through the additional 75 or the 93 [bus lines], we will continue to feel gentrification pressures. And it’s not a fight that we can do alone, so we need additional affordable housing like Gladstone School—we have a partner in that. All of those units will be [for people with incomes] 60% or below AMI [area median income]—it’s not 60-80% where you could find a decent unit without the subsidy. So we’re working on that.”

No organizations or programs exist to provide similar protection to residents in The Run, who would experience the most direct and profound disruptions to their community from the MOC plan.

Earl Danielson commented, “I’ve sat here and listened to a lot of rhetoric … I understand the resistance and the ‘not in my back yard’ mentality of the Run residents but I just wanted to voice my opinion as a property owner in Hazelwood that, properly implemented, the corridor and the connector could be a huge net plus and address many of the issues on the dearth of employment opportunities and shopping and a lot of the other issues that have been hung on Hazelwood since the late ’80s.” 

Hazelwood resident Dylan Rooke responded to Danielson in the chat, “@earl do you live in Hazelwood, or just own 7 investment properties as DANIELSON FAMILY PARTNERSHIP LLLP? gentrification benefits investment property holders against residents, especially renters.”

Moderator Ivette Mongalo-Winston, owner of Mongalo-Winston Consulting LLC, chimed in on the chat, “Please keep this dialogue respectful- re: NIMBY discussion- this is not a personal issue.”

One might wish Mongalo-Winston had been referring to Danielson’s characterization of Run residents as NIMBYs rather than Rooke’s subsequent comment, but this was not the case. Although the comment contained information that reflected poorly on Danielson’s position, it was truthful and entirely relevant. Many MOC opponents went out of their way to display civility.  

Hazelwood resident Eric Williams commented, “@Earl. I disagree with you, but I respect you for representing the other side.”

A record of the meeting is available on the MOC (renamed the Mon-Oakland Mobility Project) website. The partial video begins after the Zoom limit issue had been addressed. Names of foundation and project representatives on the call were not repeated so they are not part of the record. The complete chat transcript includes discussion of the technical difficulties during the first presentation.

Numerous residents, transit advocates, and university students spoke in opposition to the shuttle road. We will devote a separate post to their statements, as well as statements from those who did not get a chance to speak.

City’s Mon-Oakland Plan Bulldozes Its Own “Mobility Goals & Objectives”

Ranking criteria for Mon-Oakland Connector from 2019 budget application

On October 21, 2020, Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) will hold what they say is the final public meeting on “phase 1” of their Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) plan. The project is so controversial, DOMI renamed it the Mon-Oakland Mobility Project—its third name in five years.

In slide 5 of their presentation for this virtual meeting, DOMI lists “Citywide Mobility Goals & Objectives.” When you consider these goals next to the MOC, which calls for building a road through Schenley Park to run 6- to 9-passenger shuttles at 15 mph between the Hazelwood Green development and Oakland university campuses, the controversy becomes clear.

No one dies or is seriously injured traveling on city streets

The Junction Hollow and Eliza Furnace trails together offer pedestrians and cyclists the only car-free route between Oakland, Downtown, and the South Side. The MOC eliminates this safe connection by putting motorized shuttles on Junction Hollow Trail—steps away from a playing field used by youth sports groups and others from around the city. On September 17, 2020, a UPMC shuttle ran over and killed a female pedestrian who was crossing an Oakland street.

Every household can access fresh fruits and vegetables within 20 minutes travel of home, without needing a private automobile

MOC’s planned shuttles run between Hazelwood and Oakland, neither of which has a grocery store. Both neighborhoods do have small, family-run shops that sell produce—Dylamato’s in Hazelwood and Groceria Merante in Oakland. But neither of those is on the shuttle route.

No household must spend more than 45% of income on basic housing + essential transportation

Major problems here. There is no guarantee that the cost of riding the privately-operated MOC shuttles will be affordable to low-income residents in the long term. The cost of running the shuttle service, which is designed for fewer than 1,000 daily riders, is extremely high. Yet successful development of Hazelwood Green will outgrow the MOC almost as soon as the road is built. Hazelwood Green expects 20,413 daily trips to their development by 2028. Most distressing of all, no plan is in place to protect renters in Hazelwood and Greenfield from the increased housing costs that such large-scale development projects always bring.

Walking, rolling, or biking is the most enjoyable choice for short distance trips

We rely more than ever on our public parks for health and recreation, but it seems even these crucial green spaces are not safe from developers. Cyclists who use the existing trail consider the MOC a degradation of the trail because they will be forced to share that space with shuttles. Building a new road that is primarily for shuttles through Schenley Park certainly does not improve safety or enjoyment for the cyclists the city says it wants to encourage.

Streets and public rights of way reflect the values of our City and community

If you’ve read this far, you can decide for yourself how the MOC stacks up against this “mobility goal.” Does the MOC reflect your values? City officials want to spend $23 million of our taxes on this project whether we like it or not. And—since the MOC is the single biggest transportation corridor investment the City of Pittsburgh is contributing to—they are making a statement that it’s our biggest transportation priority.

Residents of affected communities created an alternative plan called Our Money, Our Solutions (OMOS) that does a much better job of connecting more people to more jobs, grocery stores, healthcare, and amenities—all for significantly less money. The community-driven plan has led to weekend service on the 93 bus line and forced DOMI to claim that key components of OMOS were always part of the MOC plan. But MOC’s aim has not changed: Build a road through Schenley Park to accommodate shuttles that serve the universities and Hazelwood Green development.

The MOC reflects someone’s values, and those values are attached to dollar signs for a few at the expense of many. Our public representatives are lifting the goals of private universities, foundations, and developers above our needs.