domi

Greenfield and Greater Hazelwood Pushed for Safer Streets in 2022

Greenfield and Hazelwood residents made progress toward safety improvements in their neighborhoods last year—but it wasn’t easy. As 2022 drew to a close, yet another accident on Greenfield Avenue highlighted the need to prioritize fixing dangerous traffic conditions in the area.

Uneven sidewalk prevents a New Year’s Eve tragedy

Around 7 p.m. on December 31, a westbound car jumped the curb in the 200 block of Greenfield Avenue. It balanced atop a steep hill and may have barreled toward houses in The Run, but its underside caught on the sidewalk’s edge. As tow truck operators on the scene struggled to remove the vehicle, police officers alerted affected residents.

According to Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI), Greenfield Avenue qualifies for the Neighborhood Traffic Calming program, but will not receive funds for construction this year. Despite increasingly frequent and severe accidents along the 200-300 block of Greenfield Avenue, nothing will be done until at least 2026, after the anticipated replacement of Swinburne Bridge. At a July 14 meeting about that project, project manager Zachary Workman said, “It’s definitely something that’s on DOMI’s radar for improvements in the future but it’s in the long-range plan as resources become available.”

When Mayor Ed Gainey held a community meeting in Greenfield last month on January 14, residents identified conditions all along Greenfield Avenue as a top concern.

DOMI promises traffic calming on Hazelwood Avenue

Newly elected District 5 City Councilperson Barb Warwick brokered a major milestone in traffic calming along Hazelwood Avenue. At a December 14 City Council meeting, DOMI director Kim Lucas committed to completing “spot improvements” on the upper part of this narrow, busy street in 2023.

In addition, Councilperson Warwick said during a January 6 phone call, “[DOMI] will do comprehensive traffic calming along the whole street long term.”

DOMI’s promise of larger-scale improvements shows they recognize hazards that have plagued residents and travelers along Hazelwood Avenue for decades. These include constant speeding, faded pedestrian crosswalks, and oversize trucks using the street as a shortcut.

However, DOMI only agreed to begin the work now in exchange for support of the Sylvan Avenue repaving project.

Adjustments to the Sylvan Avenue Trail project

This relatively quiet side street is slated for raised pedestrian crosswalks, repaving, and new sidewalks between Hazelwood Avenue and Home Rule Street. When DOMI introduced the project at an April 26 public meeting, attendees expressed concerns about its potential effects on Sylvan Avenue residents and its limited scope—especially considering neglected infrastructure and dangerous traffic patterns in the same area.

DOMI responded to these concerns by adding a pedestrian refuge island on Hazelwood Avenue at the Sylvan Avenue intersection, DOMI project manager Michael Panzitta said at a second public meeting on November 30. In addition, DOMI changed its plans for street markings to show bikes and cars are sharing the road. Instead of advisory bike lanes, this entire stretch of Sylvan Avenue will have a Neighborway design that may be more familiar to local drivers.

The project is part of a future pedestrian/cyclist trail along the route of the rejected Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) shuttle road. Landslides and water runoff issues complicate work on the next leg of Sylvan Avenue, which will connect Hazelwood Avenue to another busy, dangerous street: Greenfield Avenue.

A map of the area around Greenfield Avenue shows the location of the New Year’s
Eve accident. Image by Ray Gerard

Irvine Street sidewalks completed

Thanks to state and federal funding, an existing connection between Hazelwood and Greenfield avenues got long-overdue upgrades last summer. Replacement of Irvine Street’s disintegrated sidewalks wrapped up in mid-November, City of Pittsburgh press officer Emily Bourne confirmed in a January 17 email. Soon after, crews finished the signs
and signal work.

“Several minor, weather-dependent, pavement markings are outstanding,” Ms. Bourne added. “These are anticipated to be completed in the spring.”

A terrible loss draws attention to Johnston Avenue

After a 6-year-old Glen Hazel boy was hit and killed by a car on July 26, neighbors pointed out that they had been requesting traffic-calming measures such as speed humps for years.

Mayor Gainey held a community meeting on October 5 and later committed to safety improvements along Johnston Avenue. Crews finished some minor work, such as street markings, before winter. No date was given for speed humps and other uncompleted items. But municipal traffic engineer Mike Maloch said during the community meeting, “When weather breaks in 2023, [speed humps] will be implemented quickly.”

Working toward safer streets in 2023

It should not take a tragedy as horrible as the death of a child to get simple, even temporary, traffic-calming measures—especially in the midst of major construction projects improving access to the Hazelwood Green development.

In 2019, surrounding communities created the Our Money, Our Solutions plan to identify their needs. The plan prioritized traffic calming on both Greenfield and Hazelwood avenues, as well as safer pedestrian crossings on Second Avenue.

As Hazelwood and Greenfield residents continue advocating for traffic safety measures, the Gainey administration seems to be listening. Deputy mayor Jake Pawlak told attendees at the Greenfield community meeting that Pittsburgh’s 2023 budget includes increased funds for traffic calming, which is in high demand all over the city. This year should bring clarity on if and how the city will make these key improvements in 15207.

Hazelwood Families Organize to Get Kids to School Safely

A photo of the FaceBook post from Mifflin K-8 that announced the reinstatement of the Hazelwood route and advised families, “Please advise the students that transportation is a privilege and safe, kind and respectful behavior is paramount to continue riding.”

The 2022-2023 school year has brought transportation and safety challenges to Hazelwood students. Their families, along with community organizations, are stepping in to fill the gaps created by canceled bus routes and unsafe streets.

Filling in for a school bus

In late October, Pittsburgh Public Schools informed the families of about 40 students who are bused from Hazelwood to Pittsburgh Mifflin Pre K-8 that the route was canceled until further notice. The district blamed the national bus driver shortage for cancellation.

Amber Adkins, whose child rides the bus, told Channel 11/WPXI in an October 31 interview that service had become unreliable over the previous month.

The school district offered mileage reimbursement and bus tickets for Pittsburgh Regional Transit. But these didn’t help caregivers without their own vehicle or children too young to ride public transit alone.

Community organizations POORLAW and Praise Temple Deliverance Church teamed up with affected families and volunteers to organize carpools for Mifflin students.

“The most important part of Hazelwood is our children,” said POORLAW co-founder and CEO Saundra Cole McKamey during a November 7 phone call. She said the lack of transportation was “causing additional financial hardship and creating a burden for families.”

On November 9, Mifflin posted on its Facebook page that the bus route would resume the next day through a new carrier.

“Please advise the students that transportation is a privilege and safe, kind and respectful behavior is paramount to continue riding,” the post continued.

James Cole, who runs the Hazelwood Cobras youth football program, said during a November 11 call that parents told him it seemed like “they’re saying if kids don’t act right on the bus, they will discontinue the route again.”

Mr. Cole said the problem of unruly students is not unique to Hazelwood, and there are other ways to deal with it, such as hiring bus monitors from the community.

Ms. Cole McKamey noted that Hazelwood has no public non-charter school within walking distance because of the school district’s past decisions.

“It seems so disrespectful to me,” Ms. Cole McKamey said. “They closed our community school [Burgwin Elementary] to make all those kids go to Mifflin and get their enrollment numbers up.”

Burgwin shuttered in 2006. Pittsburgh Public Schools sold the building in 2014 to reopen as a Propel charter. Although students at Propel Hazelwood can walk to classes, they face their own safety concerns.

Navigating busy intersections

For years, residents along Johnston Avenue have been requesting traffic-calming measures such as speed humps and crossing guards during the school year. After her grandson, Jamel Austin, was hit and killed by a car in Glen Hazel in July, Desheiba Wilder made it her mission to keep his friends safe. She took on the crossing guard role herself, and a network of around 10 volunteer crossing guards has formed around her.

Mr. Cole is one of those volunteers. He said people have reached out with offers of help, including some from other neighborhoods.

“It was a beautiful thing to see people recognizing the problem and wanting to be part of the solution,” he said.

Ms. Cole McKamey reported improved lighting for night visibility in the area where Jamel was hit. She thanked Christina Spearman of MMS Group, the management company for Glen Hazel RAD’s nearby apartment building, for quickly arranging repairs to its lights.

Mayor Gainey promises safety improvements

On October 20, Mayor Ed Gainey announced neighborhood safety commitments stemming from the October 5 community meeting in Glen Hazel. These include eliminating the requirement for city-employed crossing guards to have a driver’s license. The mayor’s press release mentioned that two lights on Rivermont Drive were fixed. Mayor Gainey also promised the following:

  • Speed humps on Johnston Avenue, Mansion Street, and Glenwood Avenue.
  • Signing and pavement marking improvements including newly painted crosswalks and curb-painted bump-outs on Johnston Avenue, Mansion Street, and Glenwood Avenue. Marking improvements to Johnston Ave. have been completed.
  • Installation of a flashing school zone sign at Propel School.

No date was given for uncompleted items on the list. During the October 5 meeting, municipal traffic engineer Mike Maloch said of the speed humps, “Weather is turning so we are not going to have any more time to install this project. When weather breaks in 2023, it will be implemented quickly.”

Key Findings from the City Controller’s Audit of DOMI

speed humps in District 5 by ZIP code

Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb’s office released its performance audit of the city’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) on August 4. The 70-page document examines DOMI’s creation and functions, along with the department’s handling of projects identified as central to its mission.

In the executive summary section of the introductory letter signed by Controller Lamb, he notes that auditors could not assess DOMI’s progress toward some goals “due to DOMI and the previous mayoral administration being unable to furnish records” of DOMI’s early activities. But the audit has useful information for Pittsburghers. Of special interest to District 5 residents are the audit’s findings on traffic calming, distribution of resources, and the Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC).

Traffic calming works, but is applied unevenly

In areas where DOMI has installed speed humps and other traffic-calming measures, the number of drivers exceeding the speed limit has been reduced on average by 38 percent. The audit includes maps of where traffic calming has been put in place and where it is still absent. Figure 5 on page 31 shows a distribution map of speed humps across Pittsburgh’s nine council districts. Markers show speed humps in District 5 concentrated at the northern end, in Squirrel Hill South.

Figure 5 on p. 31 of the City Controller’s audit of DOMI
Figure 5 on p. 31 of the City Controller’s audit of DOMI

District 5’s two ZIP codes highlight the disparity. A closer look using the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center website shows that none of District 5’s 21 speed humps (18 shown, 3 so new they have not yet appeared in the system) are in 15207 (Greenfield, Greater Hazelwood, and the 31st Ward), although dangerous roads in these neighborhoods require urgent attention.

speed humps in District 5 by ZIP code
This map, created in the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center, shows District 5 outlined in blue with an additional blue line marking the border between its two ZIP codes. Speed humps, shown as yellow dots, are only in 15217. Source: wprdc.org. Accessed September 4, 2022

Street selection for repaving should be data-driven

Wealthier neighborhoods also enjoy better street maintenance, possibly for similar reasons. Before 2018, resources for streets in the worst condition (scored on an index) were split into Department of Public Works (DPW) divisions. DOMI’s director changed the method in 2018 so that money is split evenly among council districts.

According to recommendation 10 of the audit, “Before concrete and accessible data existed, it was arguably a good idea to tie paving projects in with council districts to ensure equity across the city. However, we now have more comprehensive data, and as a result, more data-driven decisions can be made.”

The audit’s findings call for a return to dividing this work into DPW districts. This would encourage paving streets in worse repair first instead of “dividing the budget by political boundaries,” as stated on page 41. They also suggest avoiding an over-reliance on calls to the city’s 311 system for input, which leads to a “squeaky wheel” approach that can elevate neighborhoods with many 311 callers above those most in need.

The MOC has deeper problems than its name

Although the audit points out DOMI’s lack of transparency, its discussion of the MOC relies on DOMI’s characterization of the project. As a result, the audit contains several inaccuracies about the MOC.

On page 24 it states, “The [MOC] project would also address flooding and stormwater issues and include the implementation of green infrastructure.” However, the MOC has always been a separate project from the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s (PWSA’s) Four Mile Run Stormwater Project. PWSA originally planned to work on their project in the same physical location as the proposed MOC; that is why PWSA submitted a joint application for both projects during the permitting process. But PWSA’s project received no funding until nearly two years after the MOC was announced. In fact, the original grant for the MOC sought by the city and its partners in 2015 stated in its guidelines that funding could only be used for the shuttle road—not to fix flooding in the area.

The audit continues, “The consensus from the second public meeting found citizens selected electric scooters, electric bike-share systems, and electric shuttles to be the ideal solutions.” This statement is not sourced, but seems to have come directly from DOMI. As the audit later notes, the MOC lacked community support from the beginning—partly because the project’s estimated $23 million budget should instead go to infrastructure needs outlined in the community-generated Our Money, Our Solutions plan. These include traffic-calming interventions.

Controller Lamb’s office makes no recommendations concerning the MOC project and their only finding is as follows: “The auditors found that multiple names for this shuttle program were used to reference it. This causes confusion to the public. For example, Mon-Oakland Shuttle, Mon-Oakland Connector Shuttle or just Mon-Oakland Connector were found to be used interchangeably.”

Even so, Controller Lamb stated in a May 27 email that the audit’s review of the MOC helped inform Mayor Gainey’s decision to end the unpopular project.

DOMI Has a Bridge to Sell Residents Affected by Swinburne Replacement

residents and friends gathered at Zano's for 7/14 meeting

On July 14, Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) hosted a virtual meeting about plans to tear down and rebuild Swinburne Bridge in lower Greenfield. The bridge, built in 1915 and rehabilitated twice, is in poor condition and had its weight limit lowered to 21 tons in 2014. According to the Swinburne Bridge project page on Engage PGH, it serves the communities of Four Mile Run (“The Run”), Greenfield, South Oakland, and downtown. The bridge connects Swinburne Street in South Oakland to Greenfield Avenue in lower Greenfield. DOMI said the city is working with the Federal Highway Administration and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) on the project.

About 65 attendees logged in to the meeting, plus an in-person “watch party” of 20 on the deck at Zano’s Pub House. Barb Warwick, who lives in The Run and is running for Pittsburgh City Council’s District 5 seat, facilitated questions from the group at Zano’s.

Representatives from DOMI, PennDOT, and private construction firm Alfred Benesch & Company all acknowledged that work on Swinburne Bridge will profoundly affect The Run. A significant portion of the neighborhood—and the only street providing vehicular access to it—lies directly beneath the bridge. DOMI painted a rosy picture of plans to minimize disruptions to the community while completing the project. But several aspects of the meeting fueled continuing mistrust among residents, who have years of experience with the city treating them as roadblocks to development projects that serve private interests.

A double standard for safety

DOMI project manager Zachary Workman responded with unequivocal commitment to unspecified comments in the chat about bridge safety concerns. “We are absolutely not going to have another bridge collapse,” he said, referring to the January 2022 collapse of Fern Hollow Bridge. “That can’t happen, and we’re not going to let it happen.”

Mr. Workman had more guarded answers to concerns raised by affected residents. He said DOMI is aware of dangerous traffic conditions along Greenfield Avenue that led to repeated requests for traffic-calming measures. “It’s definitely something that’s on DOMI’s radar for improvements in the future but they are going to be—it’s something that we’ll—it’s in the long-range plan as resources become available … It’s going to be a little while still and beyond the scope of this project.”

Project plans include a traffic signal at the intersection of Swinburne Bridge and Greenfield Avenue. When asked if a traffic signal could be installed sooner than the projected fall 2026 bridge completion, DOMI chief engineer Eric Setzler told residents, “Unfortunately, I think, it’s being constructed as part of this project. I certainly understand your desire to see it as soon as possible. I could definitely see that being beneficial, but it’s part of the project so it’s going to have to come at the same time as the rest of the project.”

“Property takes” not ruled out

Also in contrast with DOMI’s commitment to never let another bridge collapse, they went out of their way to avoid firm promises concerning homes and businesses beneath Swinburne Bridge.

Dana Provenzano, who owns two affected properties including Zano’s, asked, “You’re saying you’re not taking any properties, correct?”

“Our preliminary investigation into the demolition and construction is that this bridge can be demolished and rebuilt without taking homes,” Mr. Workman responded. “We’re in preliminary engineering, but that seems to be feasible.”

Mayor Ed Gainey emphatically promised residents that the city would not take anyone’s home (see video) at a February 17 meeting in Hazelwood where he announced an end to the Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) shuttle project. Affected communities including The Run heavily opposed the MOC, which lives on as a purported bike and pedestrian trail that still enjoys a substantial yet murky budget. DOMI has long envisioned Swinburne Bridge as part of the MOC shuttle route.

Asked whether Mayor Gainey’s promise changed plans for the bridge, Mr. Setzler said it “did help us clarify what we were doing for this project … Once we knew [the MOC shuttle] was no longer part of the equation we could home in on bikes, peds, and vehicles.” He did not specify what kind of vehicles.

Mr. Setzler explained that a couple of years ago, DOMI was considering new alignments that would eliminate the sharp turn on the northern end of the bridge. “However, as we were looking at it we realized pretty quickly that any different path for the bridge would require right-of-way, require property takes—by definition, because you’re going over a place where there wasn’t a bridge before.”

Pittsburgh’s 2023 capital budget includes $100K for right-of-way acquisition associated with Swinburne Bridge, but Mr. Setzler said that setting aside funds for this purpose is standard procedure on this type of project. “We believe we can avoid taking property, and that is our goal,” he added.

A shared-use path to nowhere?

Many MOC critics believe profiteers who dreamed up the plan are regrouping to use this bridge replacement as cover for an eventual revival of the community-erasing shuttle road.

Mel Packer of Point Breeze said he has ridden his bike across Swinburne bridge and appreciates “how dangerous it can be once you get onto the Oakland side.” Although he welcomed the “shared-use path” in DOMI’s presented design, Mr. Packer questioned why the path suddenly stops in that treacherous location.

slide 14 of DOMI's 7/14/22 presentation shows current and proposed sections of Swinburne Bridge
Slide 14 of DOMI’s July 14 presentation shows current and proposed sections of Swinburne Bridge.

“I’m old enough to remember we had a bridge to nowhere once,” he said. “I feel like this is the bike path to nowhere … What are you not telling me? Why would we build a path that wide across the bridge when it’s impossible to widen Swinburne [Street]? We know it’s impossible—I mean, it would cost many millions of dollars; you’d have to buy properties up on the hill, build a wall 50 feet tall. No one’s going to do that.”

Mr. Setzler responded, “The shuttle has been put aside; that is done. But we’re really looking at the bike-ped connection, and a couple of things we showed on the screen [slide 13 of the presentation]—just to be clear, they’re not part of this project.”

He described a desired off-street connection between the Eliza Furnace trailhead and Swinburne Bridge where the path ends. This could allow cyclists and pedestrians to travel “into the heart of Hazelwood” without navigating the five-way intersection at Greenfield Avenue/Second Avenue/Irvine Street/Saline Street.

Slide 13 of DOMI's July 14 presentation shows "future connectivity."
Slide 13 of DOMI’s July 14 presentation shows “future connectivity.”

An additional connection was not listed in the slide’s text. “There’s also a potential to maybe get on a trail on the other side of the road [where the path ends on Swinburne Bridge] and get back down into [Schenley] Park and go up through the park past the soccer fields and get into Oakland,” Mr. Setzler said.

This route corresponds exactly with the “Swinburne connection” referenced in DOMI’s October 2020 presentation as “phase 2” of the MOC. The projected 16-foot-wide road was to traverse the same landslide-prone hillside with fragile soil conditions that prevent Swinburne Street from being widened.

Slide 22 of DOMI's October 2020 presentation shows "Swinburne Connection"/"phase 2" of the MOC.
Slide 22 of DOMI’s October 2020 presentation shows “Swinburne connection” listed as “phase 2” of the MOC.

DOMI’s presentation on the Swinburne Bridge did not include a slide with ideas for future traffic-calming measures on Greenfield Avenue, even though residents must face speeding traffic every time they walk between their houses and cars.

Rushing past design, community input

Rob Pfaffman, a prominent local architect, called the Swinburne Bridge project “a hidden opportunity to celebrate the Hollow, the community, the natural environment, and the trail of course running through it.” But he said that based on what he saw in the presentation, planners are disregarding that opportunity.

“You can’t have a design process where you’re already through preliminary design and you haven’t engaged the community,” Mr. Pfaffman commented. “[Design is] integral to a great project, and right now what you’re showing us is not that. It’s a Fern Hollow Bridge—which is basically expediting a project as quickly as you can and saying screw the design.”

The next public meeting is not scheduled to be held until 2023 or 2024—during “final design.”

Pittsburgh “Community Engagement” Needs More of Both

bad governance and good governance

Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) held a public meeting on July 14 about the Swinburne Bridge project. Mayor Gainey’s neighborhood services manager, Rebekkah Ranallo, debuted as a co-facilitator.

Ms. Ranallo seemed genuinely excited to learn that about 20 residents of Four Mile Run (“The Run”) and their friends had gathered at their local pub to participate as a group in the Zoom-only meeting. “I think it’s great that folks are getting together for civic engagement opportunities like this,” she said.

During the Q&A session, attendees brought up a list of community demands (listed below) for a transparent public process. Ms. Ranallo assured them on behalf of DOMI and the mayor’s office, “We want to let you know that improving the way all of our departments do community engagement with our residents is a top priority.”

As the City of Pittsburgh begins “engaging” communities about this project, it’s important to understand why getting involved is a matter of survival for affected residents—and how they lost trust in local institutions tasked with serving the public interest.

A long history of deceit

Residents of The Run, along with their neighbors in Hazelwood and Panther Hollow, have so far prevailed in a seven-year battle against private interests’ attempts to erase existing communities in support of the Hazelwood Green development using city funds and authority.

In August 2015, Run residents learned of Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) shuttle plans from a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article touting an already-submitted grant application that turned out to be fraudulent. DOMI, created in 2017, initially claimed they were pushing the restart button on the MOC concept. But the restart got off to a bad start when DOMI organized a January 2018 public meeting to “share the potential alternative routes” for the MOC. Attendees reported that the exercise seemed designed to herd them toward a conclusion that only the Schenley Park route could work.

Over ensuing years, DOMI continued pushing the MOC on affected communities in a dishonest and non-transparent way. These are just a few examples:

  • On April 13, 2018, DOMI filed for a $1 million grant for work on the Sylvan Avenue trail, part of the MOC route, to make the trail suitable for MOC shuttles. At a public meeting the following month on May 22, DOMI did not mention the grant at all. When the grant was approved in July 2018 by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, DOMI still did not inform affected residents. Asked about the grant and why DOMI kept it secret from residents, former DOMI director Karina Ricks said, “Well… we could have handled that better” and “It’s not possible for there to be some conspiracy—we’re just not competent enough for that.”
  • In August 2020, residents on Acorn Street near the Swinburne Bridge received a letter from DOMI and AWK Consulting Engineers citing eminent domain. When asked about this at the October 2020 MOC meeting, Ms. 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.”
  • Residents obtained a 2018 request from DOMI to Pittsburgh’s Office of Management and Budget for funding. That document is mostly blank, but DOMI was nonetheless given $9 million of taxpayer funds. One section of the document DOMI did fill out was the section reading: Please identify the source of external funding and how the project adheres to the funding source’s rules and regulations. “Demonstrated support of the public” was a checklist item within that section. DOMI checked off this item and commented: Depends on which community!
Ranking criteria for Mon-Oakland Connector from 2019 budget application
A section of the City Budget form shows DOMI’s response to whether the project has community support. 

Additional information received through resident-filed Right-to-Know requests, sources in city government, and expert independent consultations revealed the true “vision” behind the MOC and the nature of Hazelwood Green’s relationship to surrounding communities. Private interests have a long-term plan that calls for erasing The Run off the map so universities can expand from Oakland campuses to Hazelwood Green. And it includes using eminent domain to acquire resident homes and business.

A 2009 study from the Remaking Cities Institute of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), Remaking Hazelwood, makes this intention clear:

“The urban design recommendations proposed in this document extend beyond the boundary of the ALMONO site. The end of Four Mile Run valley, the hillside and Second Avenue are all critical to the overall framework. Some of these areas are publicly-held; others are privately-owned. A map is in the section Development Constraints. The support of the City of Pittsburgh and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) will be critical to the success of our vision. The ALMONO, LP could try to purchase these sites. Failing that, the URA can support the project by purchasing those properties that are within the scope of the recommendations and making them available for redevelopment in accordance with the proposed strategy.”

Remaking Hazelwood, page 45

Unfortunately for existing communities seen by the authors of this report as “development constraints,” there is no evidence that underlying goals have changed for development in the area.

Another “restart button?”

Ms. Ricks left DOMI after Ed Gainey, who vowed to stop the MOC, won Pittsburgh’s 2021 mayoral race. Mayor Gainey announced the end of the shuttle road during a February 17 community meeting in Hazelwood, but DOMI has continued prioritizing MOC-related projects above longstanding infrastructure needs and dangerous traffic conditions in Greenfield and Hazelwood.

Public meetings about these projects have not shown improvement, either. DOMI originally scheduled the Swinburne Bridge meeting for June 16, but residents pushed back after finding out only 10 days in advance. The extent of DOMI’s outreach for that original meeting was a letter sent to a few residents, which those residents received on June 6. The rest of the community learned of the meeting through their neighbors who received the letter.

During a month-long lead-up to the rescheduled meeting, several residents asked DOMI to make the presentation (which they presumably would have prepared for the June meeting) available so the public would have time to review it in advance. None of the residents received a direct response from DOMI. About four hours before the start of the July 14 meeting, project manager Zachary Workman posted a statement in the Q&A section of the project’s Engage PGH webpage that DOMI would not honor the request.

Community demands shaped by experience

Residents have learned from years of MOC public meetings designed to check a “community engagement” box while minimizing the community’s effect on predetermined outcomes. The whole time, they were communicating ideas for better public engagement to DOMI—but DOMI ignored them. Residents have called for the following:

  • All 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. The meeting information must be widely advertised on social media, sent to email lists, and communicated by any means necessary to community members who lack internet access.
  • The meeting presentation must be posted at the same time the meeting is announced. The public must be afforded sufficient time to review and understand the information being presented so they can come to the meeting prepared with questions. If you do not yet have the presentation ready, then you should postpone the meeting to give people a chance to review the presentation after you have posted it.
  • All meetings must include a Q&A session where every attendee is able to hear all questions asked and all answers given. The Q&A session itself should be expected to last at least an hour, if not two hours. All answers to questions should be thorough and truthful, with a clear plan for following up on information DOMI doesn’t have. The Q&A session must not be curtailed because of time constraints, especially if the presentation has taken up more than half the allotted time for the meeting. There is no reason the presentation should require so much time, especially since the public will have already had a chance to review it. Dialogue with the community should be the main focus of all meetings. 
  • Meetings must offer an in-person option so that no community members are excluded. 
  • Meetings with a virtual component must provide space for at least 300 virtual attendees so that no one is unable to access the meeting at any time.
  • After the meeting, a recording of the Zoom meeting and the chat transcript must be made available on the Engage PGH website.

Ms. Ranallo said at the July 14 meeting, “While I can’t speak to each item on your list of demands, we do want to build trust with you … We have a new administration, we have new leadership at DOMI, and we ask that you give us a chance to try to earn that trust.”

The community’s demands were compiled as a road map the city can follow to do exactly that.

Car Wrecks on Greenfield and Hazelwood Avenues Highlight Need for Traffic Calming

car wreck on Greenfield Ave. June 23, 2022

Crumbling city steps. Disintegrating sidewalks. Bridges neglected for decades. As the project formerly known as the Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) moves forward without Almono Partners’ shuttles, residents of MOC-affected communities are asking why the project still takes precedence over fixing dangerous conditions in the same area.

Along Hazelwood and Greenfield avenues, the skewed priorities have become impossible to ignore after two serious car accidents in the past two months.

Flipped car on Greenfield Avenue

At approximately 1:20 p.m. on June 23, Greenfield Avenue resident Will Smith heard a loud noise. He told us during a July 5 phone conversation that when he looked out his front window, he saw a car that had apparently flipped over and was resting on its side in the middle of the street.

Mr. Smith rushed outside with his phone to document the accident’s aftermath. The car’s roof was crushed. A man and two women had stopped and were checking on the trapped driver. Police arrived on the scene and closed the block to traffic. Within 15 minutes, firefighters arrived to rescue the man from his car using Jaws of Life. The driver was unconscious when placed on a stretcher and driven away by ambulance.

Photo courtesy of Will Smith

A witness driving behind the car said she saw another car cross the center line as it traveled east up Greenfield Avenue, causing the westbound driver to swerve and clip the side of a parked car before flipping over.

At the scene of the June 23, 2022 accident on Greenfield Avenue. Video courtesy of Will Smith.

Mr. Smith commented on the accident, “This was inevitable.” He described speeding on the narrow lower portion of Greenfield Avenue as “ridiculous” and noted, “Every resident’s car parked on the street was just ticketed a few weeks ago.”

Mr. Smith and his neighbors received $114 citations in the early hours of May 9 for having their wheels on the curb. Parking this way is common on Greenfield Avenue and other narrow streets where residents try to protect their vehicles from speeding drivers. One recent hit-and-run totaled the parked car of a resident who is also a city employee. Residents’ only available parking is on the downhill side of the street. They have to cross through swiftly-moving traffic to reach their houses.

“The city needs to do something to make drivers slow down and pay attention,” Mr. Smith said.

Multi-vehicle crash on Hazelwood Avenue

Residents along Hazelwood Avenue face similar dangers. On May 22, Kevin Dole witnessed the immediate aftermath of an accident at the corner of Greenfield and Hazelwood avenues near his home. When we spoke by phone on June 30, he said four or five vehicles were involved—including his neighbor’s parked car, which was totaled. An ambulance transported one person away from the scene.

Photo courtesy of Greenfield Livable Streets

Mr. Dole said speeding is a constant hazard on Hazelwood Avenue, a narrow two-lane road with parking on both sides. He guessed the average speeder travels 45-50 mph in the 25 mph zone and “would not be able to stop in time if someone stepped out.”

“It’s common to see detached side mirrors on the ground and people parked a little up on the sidewalk,” Mr. Dole said. In addition, he described faded pedestrian crosswalks and oversized trucks using Hazelwood Avenue as a shortcut to Hazelwood Green or other construction projects.

“There is no infrastructure to encourage people to slow down and no enforcement of the speed limit,” he added.

Although it was the first accident Mr. Dole saw, being a relative newcomer to the neighborhood, he has personally witnessed “many close calls” and heard from neighbors about other crashes.

One neighbor, Abby Zupancic, suffered a broken neck and other severe injuries in October 2016 when a vehicle hit him in front of his house. Mr. Zupancic told us what happened when we spoke by phone on July 8.

“Me and my wife and kids came home from shopping. My wife and son went in the house, and my daughter and I were behind them. I told my daughter, ‘Hang on a second, sweetie. I forgot to put the [side-view] mirror in.’ I went back out to the car, put in the mirror.” Mr. Zupancic was walking in front of his car when the vehicle plowed into him. He flipped in the air and bounced off the vehicle, then the ground.

Mr. Zupancic underwent emergency surgery and a grueling recovery process. “It took about a year to get fully functional,” he recalled. Although he still deals with chronic pain, he was eventually able to return to his job as a highway construction worker.

Mr. Zupancic, who has lived on Hazelwood Avenue for 18 years, said he sees dangerous speeding on a daily basis. He has witnessed two accidents in which a car flipped over—“which tells you how fast they had to be going.”

As for oversized trucks, Mr. Zupancic pointed out that a sign at the intersection of Greenfield and Hazelwood avenues clearly shows with an arrow that the truck route is in the opposite direction from the residential part of Hazelwood Avenue. But truck drivers ignore the posted route, not only worsening dangerous conditions but using “jake brakes” at all hours.

“It’s loud, it’s obnoxious, it rattles your windows,” Mr. Zupancic said. “This is a residential street, not a highway.”

Conditions are no better at the other end of the street near Second Avenue, where Reverend Michael Murray has lived for 26 years. During a July 4 phone call, Rev. Murray said over the past few years he’s noticed an increase in speeding and oversized trucks “beyond construction vehicles—trucks with great big iron rolls on the back, trucks carrying cars.”

“Some of the trucks are so huge you feel vibrations when they’re passing the house,” he added. He has lost three mirrors from side-swipes of his parked vehicle.

Rev. Murray is concerned that the problems will get even worse once construction on the nearby Hazelwood Green development is in full swing.

But residents on both streets said that years of calls to 311 and direct appeals to city officials have changed nothing.

Qualified, but not prioritized for traffic calming

Some members of Junction Coalition participate in the Greenfield Community Association’s (GCA’s) Development and Transportation Committee. The committee was copied—along with District 5 city Councilman Corey O’Connor’s chief of staff Matt Singer—on email correspondence between Greenfield resident and GCA board member Catherine Adams and representatives of Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI).

A May 5 email from Cortney Patterson of the DOMI Traffic Bureau referenced an application for the Neighborhood Traffic Calming program. “Your street does meet the Neighborhood Traffic Calming requirements, however, this project did not rank high enough to be funded for construction this year.”

Ms. Adams responded on May 13, thanking DOMI for the information and clarifying that two separate requests were submitted—one for Hazelwood Avenue from Murray Avenue to Bigelow Street and a second, independent request for a study of Greenfield Avenue from Lydia Street to the Saline/Second/Irvine intersection.

She asked for more details on the studies conducted on both streets and what the results mean. Additionally, Ms. Adams wanted to know where Hazelwood and Greenfield avenues fall on the list of priorities so residents can anticipate when projects might be started and what to expect.

Ms. Adams sent a follow-up email on May 30, noting the accident on Hazelwood Avenue. She followed up again on June 26, but has not received a response from DOMI.

Major construction supporting Hazelwood Green

Several projects are planned or under way in the area—in some cases a few dozen feet from where accidents took place on Hazelwood and Greenfield avenues. But these investments seem designed to continue the former MOC project and improve access to the Hazelwood Green development.

Widening Greenfield Avenue at the Irvine Street/Second Avenue intersection. One block west of the June 23 accident described by Mr. Smith, construction is in progress to create a dedicated left-turn lane onto Irvine Street for traffic heading toward Hazelwood Green (as stated in the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s September 26, 2018, meeting presentation called “Hazelwood Green Phase I Mitigation”). To make room for the additional lane, crews are narrowing the sidewalk at this busy intersection.

Reconfiguring the residential portion of Sylvan Avenue. At DOMI’s April 26 meeting about the Sylvan Avenue Multimodal Project, residents expressed concerns that planned improvements along the quiet street fail to address problems with nearby infrastructure and dangerous traffic patterns at both ends of the finished trail. The Sylvan Avenue trail, part of the proposed MOC shuttle route, connects Greenfield and Hazelwood avenues.

There is no infrastructure to encourage people to slow down and no enforcement of the speed limit.

Kevin Dole

Replacing Swinburne Bridge. The 107-year-old bridge has long been in poor condition. In a 2018 MOC public meeting, DOMI proposed using the bridge as part of the MOC route. During an October 2020 meeting, former DOMI director Karina Ricks assured affected residents that “the city has absolutely no intention to take properties [as part of the bridge construction].” But in the next breath, she added, “There is a possibility there might be some slivers that will be needed to create new footings for the bridge.” As of July 11, DOMI had not posted a presentation for residents to review before the July 14 meeting about the Swinburne Bridge project despite repeated requests.

Safety of residents should come first

“Residents of Hazelwood and Greenfield have been crystal clear about the kinds of solutions that would make their streets safer and more accessible,” said Dan Yablonsky, director of communications and development at Pittsburghers for Public Transit (PPT).

PPT worked with residents and community groups throughout MOC-affected neighborhoods to create Our Money, Our Solutions (OMOS), an alternative plan listing needed improvements that cost less than the MOC’s projected $23 million budget. These include traffic-calming measures on Greenfield and Hazelwood avenues.

“Infrastructure like speed tables to slow down car traffic, better sidewalks, more lighting, more benches, and better bus stops would all help improve access for all,” Mr. Yablonsky wrote in a July 11 email. “But when the rubber hits the road, we see time and time again that the city ends up spending money on infrastructure projects to benefit the developers at Hazelwood Green instead of the people who have called these neighborhoods home.”

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” he added. “Residents have done the work to make it clear what investments benefit the community. It’s up to the city now to follow their lead.”

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.

Public Discussions Begin on Changes to Sylvan Avenue

On April 26, Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) hosted a meeting via Microsoft Teams to kick off public engagement on its Sylvan Avenue Multimodal project, presenting early plans and fielding questions from community members.

Many of those questions revealed concerns about the project’s limited scope, its priority level and timing, and its potential effects on residents along Sylvan Avenue.

A project within a project

The Sylvan Avenue Multimodal project is one part of a pedestrian/cyclist trail that replaces—but follows the route of—the controversial Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) shuttle road between Greenfield and Hazelwood avenues. The stretch of Sylvan Avenue between Home Rule Street and Greenfield Avenue (currently closed to traffic) is also part of the trail but considered a separate project.

According to DOMI project manager Michael Panzitta, the City of Pittsburgh received a $1.76 million state grant to restore the closed part of Sylvan Avenue for bikes and pedestrians only. Along with separate funding, work on the Home Rule-to-Greenfield stretch of Sylvan Avenue will come with its own set of public meetings.

Discussion at the April 26 meeting was limited to plans for Sylvan Avenue between Home Rule Street and Hazelwood Avenue.

That work includes reconstructing the sidewalks, repaving the street, and adding features to slow down traffic. Two of the biggest traffic-calming features are raised pedestrian crosswalks at two sets of city steps, and landscaping near the entrance to the trail.

In addition, Sylvan Avenue is set to be designated as a Neighborway street, meaning it is a low-traffic street designed for the needs of people on foot, bikes, or other nonmotorized vehicles.

A combination of city and federal funding

The City of Pittsburgh is funding the design phase and street repaving. Construction funding comes from a federal grant with Pennsylvania Department of Transportation oversight, explained Leon Jeziorski of Michael Baker International, the multimodal design firm for the project.

Mr. Panzitta was unclear on the source of federal funding. In a May 9 email, he referred funding questions to Emily Bourne, DOMI communications specialist. Ms. Bourne replied to emailed inquiries that she was coordinating her response with that of Mayor Gainey’s press secretary, Maria Montaño, who had been contacted separately.

Community concerns include parking, safety

During the Q&A portion of the meeting, residents raised concerns about pedestrian safety on Hazelwood Avenue and the limited parking available on Sylvan Avenue.

Pastor Tim Smith, CEO of Center of Life—located at the intersection of Hazelwood and Sylvan avenues—asked if the project will widen the road. He said people park on both sides at that end of the street, which leaves a narrow space for drivers passing in opposite directions. Mr. Jeziorski responded that the project would not address parking issues, and the east side of the street (across from the Center of Life) is currently a “no parking” zone.

A Sylvan Avenue resident who did not give her name said enforcing the “no parking” zone would prevent residents from parking near their homes.

Roy Simms, who said he’d lived on Sylvan Avenue for more than 50 years, asked if the city steps would be repaired as part of the project. Mr. Panzitta answered that the steps are also outside the project’s scope.

Why here, why now?

Several attendees wanted to know more about why this project was identified as a priority now. Despite being touted as a safe multimodal connection, it does not address issues with the steps, the decrepit retaining wall and railing near the future trail entrance (the project will use landscaping to block off the railing rather than fix it, according to Mr. Jeziorski), or dangerous conditions at either end of Sylvan Avenue.

“If you’re looking to increase bike accessibility in a safe way, there’s a lot of already-existing safety issues with Greenfield Avenue,” said Eric Russell, a Greenfield resident and daily bike commuter. “Especially if you’re dumping people onto Greenfield Avenue from Hazelwood.”

Catherine Adams lives on Hazelwood Avenue and said some of her neighbors have been hit by cars. They have been meeting with DOMI and District 5 Councilman Corey O’Connor about speeding and safety issues on Hazelwood Avenue for the past two years.

Mr. Panzitta said the trail is included in the Greater Hazelwood Neighborhood Plan. Page 96 lists “creat[ing] a bicycle route up the hill from and parallel to Second Avenue” as a way to “address gaps in multi-modal network throughout the neighborhood.”

Mr. Jeziorski defended the project, asserting that improved accessibility to this corridor will draw more residents and businesses to the neighborhood. The increased activity should help Hazelwood get grant funding to replace the steps. “So this is a building block that can help with other improvements in the future,” he said.

PWSA Fields Questions on Stormwater Project Delays

On Oct. 19, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) held a meeting via Zoom to update the public on its Four Mile Run Stormwater Project. The project, announced in 2017 as a way to address severe flooding in the Four Mile Run neighborhood (The Run), has come under fire from skeptics who say it is designed around the controversial Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) plan. The MOC, announced in 2015, calls for building a road for university shuttles on the same land as the stormwater project. During the Q&A period after their presentation, PWSA officials made several false statements related to the MOC.

Shuttle road more integral to design than previously shared

Asked if PWSA is providing space in its stormwater plan for the MOC, Mallory Griffin of construction firm JMT (which is involved in the PWSA project) answered no. Yet PWSA senior group manager Tony Igwe asserted that removing the MOC from the watershed plan would require PWSA to start over, which would cause significant delay and cost millions of dollars in changes.

“PWSA has always said the stormwater project will still move forward whether the trail is there or not,” Mr. Igwe explained. “But what we never said was how much additional cost and time would be required if the trail isn’t there… To suddenly shut down one piece of that project, take it off the table, and then ask us to do a project, the first thing that’s going to happen is now we have to redesign the project to take that Mon-Oakland [Connector] out of the equation.”

The public has been told repeatedly at public meetings that the watershed plan and MOC are “two separate projects.” PWSA’s own notes from its Sept. 2020 public meeting on the stormwater project state:

“We are going to do the stormwater project no matter what. If the roadway stopped being planned, we would have to amend our permit, which would result in a paperwork review for [the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP)] and some timing changes, but we would still do our project. For the stormwater project, the money is committed, the PWSA board has approved it, the design is essentially complete, and we are moving forward with it.”

In several earlier public meetings, former stormwater project manager and current PWSA Board Chair Alex Sciulli had assured residents that the stormwater project takes precedence and that removing the MOC would not cause a significant delay because they are two separate projects.

New mayor, MOC opposition portrayed as obstacles

Ms. Griffin said that the PWSA hopes to have the permit approved by this winter, but warned of consequences if the MOC is removed as residents have been requesting for years. Slide 21 of PWSA’s presentation reads, in part: “If the new City Administration changes or removes the Mon-Oakland trail design, permitting will need to start over causing significant delay.”

Outgoing mayor Bill Peduto introduced the MOC plan to advance university and foundation goals. Mayor Peduto became Pittsburgh’s first incumbent mayor to be unseated since 1933. Mayor-elect Ed Gainey, by contrast, has clearly stated that he opposes the MOC. According to his campaign website, “Ed will stop the buildout of Mon-Oakland connector and prevent the construction of other privatized or quasi-privatized mass transit systems designed to support luxury development at the expense of existing residential communities.”

Community members at the meeting reminded PWSA of this, but Mr. Igwe said, “Up until that is done officially, all we’re really dealing with is people giving us their ideas and opinions on where they stand, and until someone puts something in writing formally that says it’s from the office of the people who can make the decision, that’s where we have to assume the project is going until it’s absolutely clear that it will not.”

Run residents have suffered a total of 10 major 25- to 75-year flood events in the last 15 years. They say a 10-year flood event plan (per PWSA’s current design parameters) is dangerously inadequate and that addressing floods must be prioritized. Every flood in The Run is an illegal combined sewer overflow that contains raw sewage—not merely stormwater runoff—which independent stormwater management consultants have labeled a public health and safety crisis.

Budget numbers continue to fluctuate

PWSA will spend $42.65 million on the stormwater project, according to their latest presentation. In a June 2020 meeting, another public presentation revealed that only about $14 million is going directly to flood relief in The Run. Asked why, PWSA acting senior manager of public affairs Rebecca Zito responded in an email on Aug. 24, 2020, “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)

Excerpt from Nov. 10 PWSA letter in response to resident statement at Oct. 22 PWSA board meeting

Subsequent presentations between then and now have added items that were not previously considered part of the “core” project in the Junction Hollow section of Schenley Park. It is unclear whether the money set aside for opportunities to collaborate with the universities has been diverted to these new items, including “Construction Management / Inspection” (which presumably was always needed to complete the project).

In a letter responding to a resident’s statement at PWSA’s Oct. 22 board meeting, Mr. Igwe included the information from the budget slide and said the budget “does not contain $26 million ‘being held back for future projects.’”

Good news break: Sidewalks restored

The Oct. 19 presentation included photos of sidewalks in The Run that were dug up in the process of moving gas lines in advance of the stormwater project. One community member commented that the strip of rocks filling the trench down the middle of the sidewalk looked like “a tripping hazard.” A Run resident said they had been told the sidewalks would not be replaced until after the stormwater project is completed.

Ms. Griffin said the sidewalks were “100% in Peoples’ scope to replace” and pledged to “follow up with them tomorrow first thing to see what their schedule is for replacing the sidewalks.”

About two weeks after the meeting, construction crews returned to The Run. As of Nov. 12, they were putting finishing touches on the new sidewalks.

PA DEP concerns downplayed

PWSA received a technical deficiency letter from PA DEP dated May 27, 2021, in response to their permit application filed for the project in August 2020. Ms. Griffin and Mr. Igwe both mischaracterized this letter during the Q&A session, stating that the deficiencies identified were unrelated to the MOC. Ms. Griffin said that in a subsequent PA DEP letter “they had no questions on the trail’s impact to the flooding.” This point is debatable, but PA DEP’s concerns in the May 27 letter regarding the MOC are not incidental. Of 35 items listed in the 8-page letter, 13 specifically mention the MOC. For example, environmental comment 26 refers to additional permit requirements associated with the MOC:

Since PWSA is the applicant, will PWSA be responsible for the operation and maintenance of this section of DOMI’s project? Alternately, please consult with DEP, regarding additional permit requirements, if PWSA will not own or have primary responsibility for this section of DOMI’s Mon-Oakland Mobility Project.”

On Oct. 29, PA DEP sent PWSA a second technical deficiency letter. They identified remaining “significant technical deficiencies” and requested a meeting with PWSA to discuss and explain them. Comment 17 in this second letter asks PWSA to “confirm that the Mon-Oakland Mobility Project is the same as the DOMI trail” and clarify that the full scope of the project is shown in a drawing called the “Boundary Street Concept North of Junction Hollow.”

“If there are additional components and/or sections of the overall DOMI Trail/Mon-Oakland Mobility Project,” the comment continued, “please note that a Comprehensive Environmental Assessment may be requested.”

After the Oct. 19 meeting and before receiving word of the second letter, residents asked the PA DEP to delay their decision to approve or reject the dual permit until at least February 2022.

PWSA Pushes Ahead on Four Mile Run Stormwater Project Without Permit

Despite receiving a Technical Deficiency Letter from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) in response to their dual permit application for the problematic Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) shuttle road and Four Mile Run Stormwater Project, PWSA shows no sign of reconsidering its plans. The current stormwater project is inadequate to address the flooding issues, in part because it was designed around the MOC. On top of that, existing flood protection benchmarks do not account for worsening conditions caused by overdevelopment and climate change.

May 27: The PA DEP sent the Technical Deficiency Letter. Its engineering and environmental comments contained numerous references to the MOC and requests for clarification on its impacts. Here is a small sampling of problems from the 8-page letter.

Engineering comment 5d: Was the area as a result of the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure proposed trail and road incorporated into the flood analysis inundation limits study for proposed conditions. Provide evidence that the impervious area will not contribute additional flow increasing water surface elevations detailed in Figure 01 & Figure 02 of Project 2018-GI-102-0.

Environmental comment 25: Per Module S1, in the EA, “The purpose of the Project is to manageand/or remove direct stream inflow to the existing CSS within the Junction Hollow valley of Schenley Park and to improve the CSS system from Junction Hollow to the Monongahela River, by repair, replacement, and/or separation of the CSS and stormwater lines. The goals and benefits of the Project are to reduce CSOs; reduce flood risks and basement backups; reduce sediment transport; and leverage resources for regional benefit, including align with the Parks Master Plan.” Describe the relationship between PWSA’s project and the City of Pittsburgh’s project, in terms of the project purpose.

Environmental comment 26: The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) is identified as the applicant, on the application form; however, the Project Description identifies the Mon-Oakland Mobility Project as a City of Pittsburgh project, led by the City’s Dept. of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI). Since PWSA is the applicant, will PWSA be responsible for the operation and maintenance of this section of DOMI’s project? Alternately, please consult with DEP, regarding additional permit requirements, if PWSA will not own or have primary responsibility for this section of DOMI’s Mon-Oakland Mobility Project.

Environmental comment 29: Since this application only includes a section of DOMI’s Mon-Oakland Mobility Project, identify and describe, to the extent possible, any and all potential impacts to aquatic resources, including watercourses, floodways, floodplains and bodies of water, from the overall Mon-Oakland Mobility Project. Please note that based on your response to this item, that a Comprehensive Environmental Assessment may be requested.

The letter stated that PWSA had 60 days to respond to these comments, or the application would be considered withdrawn. The deadline was July 27.

May 28: At the monthly PWSA board meeting Ziggy Edwards of The Run urged the PWSA to create a model for the stormwater project that does not include the MOC. She also asked for a report PWSA commissioned from ms Consultants that provides great detail on the Four Mile Run watershed and was funded with ratepayer dollars.

June 3: PWSA chief of project management Alex Sciulli denied Ms. Edwards’ request for the report. Regarding the dual permit application, Mr. Sciulli said he “asked staff to prepare a response to the PA DEP letter and to provide additional clarification regarding the stormwater impact of the proposed MOC, including the specifics of the ms Consultants report and previous modeling.” He added, “At the appropriate time, we will be happy to share and discuss our response to your inquiries.”

Mr. Sciulli did not clarify how PWSA would be able to address in two months the fundamental shortcomings identified by PA DEP.

June 13: Intense storms caused flash flooding in The Run that totaled several cars, damaged a garage, and caused sewage backups in basements.

June 25: At the monthly PWSA board meeting, several Run residents spoke and/or submitted statements regarding the June 13 flood. Ms. Edwards again implored the PWSA to come up with a plan to address flooding that is not designed around and hindered by the MOC.

“We need answers on how much better PWSA could address the combined sewer overflows without [the road]. These answers have life-or-death importance to The Run,” she said.

Ray Gerard of lower Greenfield recounted the flood’s aftermath in his statement. “The City again neglected to show up and remove inches of leftover fecal matter on the streets, sidewalks and limited community green space. The neighborhood literally smelled like [$#!*] for days. It’s understood that there are other areas of the city that suffered damage and flooding, but that was runoff storm-water, not raw sewage… Residents and their children are forced to breathe this toxic air in for days. Our local officials continue to ignore, at great risk, the lives and health of Run residents.”

July 9: PWSA senior group manager Tony Igwe sent a letter to Run residents informing them that although “the plans for the stormwater project are being reviewed by the [PA DEP] and we cannot move forward with construction [on the stormwater project] until a permit is issued … People’s Natural Gas (PNG) will begin construction to replace existing gas lines along Saline Street, Alexis Street, Four Mile Run Road, and Boundary Street.” The letter included a tiny image of a map with illegible text (see image above).

Stay tuned for updates on PWSA’s response to the Technical Deficiency Letter and whether PNG’s planned construction lacks necessary permits.