Four Mile Run

Pittsburgh’s RCO Ordinance Caters to Developers While Stifling Grassroots Voices

In late 2018, Pittsburgh City Council passed an ordinance that is birthing a system of Registered Community Organizations (RCOs). According to the City of Pittsburgh’s website, this new system gives RCOs “a formal role in the current development projects [taking place in a neighborhood] as well as neighborhood planning processes.”

Community organizations that want to become RCOs must meet criteria that include:

  • Being a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit.
  • Maintaining a website and posting public meeting agendas, minutes, and decisions.
  • Holding two public meetings each year in an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible space.
  • Submitting a signed letter from their City Councilperson.

Critics point to the financial and political resources needed to satisfy these requirements. Obtaining 501 (c)(3) nonprofit status can take months or even years. Although recent updates to the process allow some organizations to file a shorter form, the IRS will reject forms with any mistakes. Filing the form requires an online payment. Organizations may lack the funds to maintain a website or secure an ADA-accessible meeting space. And, critically, organizations at odds with their City Councilperson may find themselves shut out of RCO status.

According to a Dec. 3, 2018, Public Source article, president and CEO of the Hill Community Development Corporation Marimba Milliones described the required letter from a city council member as “an infringement of free speech.”

“Anyone who’s done any level of community organizing knows that a core part of community organizing is being able to go and articulate your issues to whomever, however…without retribution,” Ms. Milliones said at a community meeting. “And to give any elected official or any person the power to essentially endorse you as the voice for your community is unacceptable.”

The City speaks from both sides of its mouth on the issue, insisting that it “values the contributions that community organizations bring to our city and holds each in equal regard” while also saying “RCOs will receive certain benefits, not favoritism” compared to non-RCO groups. The benefits in question, obtainable only by jumping through the above-referenced hoops, lead to elevating well-connected professional community organizers above grassroots organizations with fewer resources or with interests that go against those of developers.

Outcomes of this new layer between average Pittsburghers and civic participation could prove dire in neighborhoods slated for big development projects by powerful interests. The proposed Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) shuttle road through The Run is a prime example.

The Run, technically part of the Greenfield neighborhood, is geographically isolated from the rest of that community. Neither the MOC nor severe flooding in The Run affect upper Greenfield. One Greenfield Community Association (GCA) board member told GCA meeting attendees that the organization “does not represent the people of Greenfield.” Yet the GCA is currently in the process of acquiring RCO status and will become the de facto representative of the entire neighborhood—including The Run—in matters of community development.

This leaves Run residents in a tenuous position. The GCA, which includes a tiny minority of Run residents, can easily ignore or compromise on issues concerning the MOC and combined sewer overflows to avoid ruffling feathers in city government. Run residents cannot afford to do so. A 2017 City-mandated survey of Run residents showed overwhelming opposition to the MOC roadway and unanimous demand for effective flood relief. Furthermore, part of the MOC plan calls for seizing several Acorn St. properties through eminent domain to widen Swinburne Bridge and make a dedicated lane for MOC shuttles.

Residents of The Run and surrounding communities created the Our Money Our Solutions (OMOS) infrastructure/transportation plan to address the needs of existing residents. The group identified the needs of each community together rather than acting as individual neighborhoods in a void. In this way, they avoided “solutions” that could harm surrounding communities.

The OMOS plan is an example of how communities can unite to address their own needs—as opposed to the top-down, chainsaw development approach Pittsburgh has historically favored.

Requiring developers to address the community with their plans makes sense; however, the devil is in the details. Putting a nice face on rubber-stamping, bulldozing on behalf of outside interests, and rigging the game further entrenches these same old techniques of destroying healthy communities for profit. There are fairer ways to ensure that developers pass through a community approval process.

If you are concerned about the role of RCOs, start by finding out if your community has one. If your research or participation shows that the local RCO does not serve the interests of your community, you have a lot to consider. You may wish to form your own RCO—or work toward replacing the RCO framework in Pittsburgh.

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.

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.

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
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“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
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“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
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“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
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“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 »

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.

DOMI Director Karina Ricks Responds

On October 26, 2019, Junction Coalition received a response from DOMI director Karina Ricks to our open letter. In our letter, we asked questions compiled from residents of The Run—one of the neighborhoods in the path of the proposed Mon-Oakland Connector. After introductory comments, Ms. Ricks responded to the questions one by one. Below is the full, unaltered text we received. We formatted the response section with Ms. Ricks’ responses below each original question, along with our reply to each response.

Dear Junction Coalition,

Thank you for your message and providing an opportunity to respond and provide greater clarity around the Mon-Oakland and Four Mile Run project.

First of all, safety and health are the overarching concerns of this and any Administration. Project partners including the URA, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, PWSA and multiple City Departments have been working for years to effectively address the stormwater issues that impact the Four Mile Run portion of Greenfield.

Concurrently, economic regeneration in Pittsburgh is also a goal in order to both provide economic opportunity to our residents and put the City back on solid financial footing in order to have the resources to meet our many critical needs and public services. The Administration is committed to ensuring that this regeneration is forward-looking, promoting transit-oriented development and other sustainable mobility choices and avoiding the auto orientation and associated impacts of the past generation.

The Mon-Oakland/Four Mile Run project does both – it addresses the critical and threatening stormwater impacts and provides an opportunity for sustainable development and job growth in a community that very much needs both. 

The attachment you sent – a URA grant application – emphasizes the stormwater project, seeking additional resources for design of stormwater mitigations, while concurrently recognizing the need for improved mobility and access. There is nothing in the grant to indicate that stormwater solutions are precluded by or subordinated to improved mobility. Clearly, both can be achieved.

1. We’ve been told that the watershed project and the roadway project are separate yet being done “in tandem.” That level of coordination requires detailed plans. When will you share full details so that resident-approved independent experts can evaluate them before construction begins?

    • K. Ricks response: The City will share 30% design drawings for the mobility path and park amenities when complete. The anticipated timeline is 30% drawings by the end of the year, 60% drawings by the end of February and a complete bid package by spring.

       

    • Junction Coalition reply: We look forward to seeing the materials you promised by the end of the year and will follow up. But design drawings are insufficient for any substantial evaluation. We have requested and continue to await the following:
      • All up-to-date and current plans for the proposed road
      • A drawing index plan of the overall Junction Hollow construction areas in Schenley Park
      • Proposed plan drawings, engineering sections, and profiles of changes to Junction Hollow’s existing landscape

2. At the January 2018 public meeting, Michael Baker Corporation presented 6 possible routes (including 5 offered by residents). [DOMI director Karina Ricks] expressed a preference for the Swinburne route but said it was not viable because of the landslides on Swinburne. Why is Swinburne unviable for smaller lighter AVs, yet currently open to at-times bumper-to-bumper traffic including cars, trucks, UPMC shuttles, emergency vehicles, and school buses?

    • K. Ricks response: 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.

       

    • Junction Coalition reply: This answer only supports the need for our original question—and begs additional questions:
      • How is it possible that these “light shuttles” and smaller vehicles named such as bikes and scooters require more width than the large vehicles such as school buses and UPMC shuttles that currently traverse Swinburne?
      • Just how much width is needed for the proposed roadway and how can it be called a “trail” if it needs to be wider than a two-lane road for full-sized vehicles? In the maps you most recently presented at the Nov. 21 public meeting, the mobility road is marked as 15 feet wide. The narrowest part of Swinburne is an average of 19.8 feet wide.
      • At the meeting, you mentioned vehicles that are 11 feet long and 6 feet wide. Two such vehicles could not pass each other on a 15-foot wide road while accommodating cyclists. Is DOMI considering widening the MOC road in the future?

3. The newest map shows the proposed roadway running right along the bottom of Swinburne, which has experienced landslides in the past and present, and which DOMI designated “unviable” as a route. What is the true reason you are so attached to the route through Schenley Park? Why do the private partners want this land so badly?

    • K. Ricks response: There is an existing pathway through Junction Hollow at present. There is a former roadway (Boundary Street) and a current active freight rail line. This is a current and historic transportation/mobility corridor. The Mon-Oakland project is in keeping with this historic role.

       

    • Junction Coalition reply: This response does not answer the original question. Don’t the Swinburne landslides have to be addressed in order to put a new road directly beneath the hillside as well as maintain the existing road on the hill? Regarding the history of Junction Hollow, the “former roadway” you mention was a poorly maintained dirt road. It was wiped out by, of all things, a landslide more than 30 years ago. That’s when the City closed it to traffic. The “current active freight rail line”—with trains carrying unidentified cargo (likely volatile fracking chemicals)—poses serious issues for the surrounding areas: not only our neighborhood but also the high-density residential housing in Oakland the rail line passes directly under. We should not add new potential hazards to the mix.

4. According to sources, there is a discussion happening behind the scenes about trying to buy out residents who live along Four Mile Run/Boundary streets—whose basements always flood when there is heavy rain. Is it true that you are going to attempt to buy or force those folks out through those or other means?

    • K. Ricks response: There are no plans at present to buy residential properties in The Run. There are no plans to force residents out of their homes.

       

    • Junction Coalition reply: “At present” is not a reassuring qualifier. At a 2/22/19 Mayor’s office meeting you attended, Alex Sciulli of PWSA “indicated people are going to expect with the project dollars spent that they won’t have flooding. [He] noted more cost-effective options may be to change the floodplain and purchase the affected properties.” (Quote sourced from meeting notes attained via Right-to-Know request to PWSA)

5. In 2015, public officials stated to the press that the city would go to court to overturn Mary Schenley’s deed in order to seize the publicly owned and protected property of Schenley Park. Are you still planning on going to court to force that outcome?

    • K. Ricks response: The property along Junction Hollow is a portion of Schenley Park. There are park roads and pathways throughout Schenley Park. There is no need to go to court for the proposed facility.

       

    • Junction Coalition reply: Regarding your statement that “there are park roads and pathways throughout Schenley Park,”  existing features do not justify creating a new road in an important established bike and pedestrian corridor. The Junction Hollow trail is part of the only connection between Oakland, Greenfield, Hazelwood, the South Side, and Downtown that does not require users to share a road with motorized vehicles. Moreover, the proposed road is specifically for privately operated vehicles, which goes against Mary Schenley’s original intent for the park as stated in her deed.

6. At the September 2018 meeting, PWSA head Robert Weimar stated, “We only have one chance to get this right” regarding the storm-water plan’s success. We agree, and expect access to detailed plans so that an independent, resident-approved expert can evaluate them before construction begins. When will you provide those plans?

    • K. Ricks response: Please direct requests for the stormwater design plans to PWSA.

       

    • Junction Coalition reply: At the City’s suggestion in response to our first Right-to-Know request, we directed these requests to PWSA via additional RTKs. PWSA gave us materials that seem to conflict with what DOMI has provided in its most recent public materials. Neither DOMI nor PWSA has given us current, adequately detailed plans for analysis.

7. Will you provide a list of all “project partners” with their contact information—email addresses and phone numbers?

    • K. Ricks response: The project partners are: Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority led by Robert Weimar (rweimar@pgh2o.org), Department of Mobility and Infrastructure led by myself, Department of Public Works led by Mike Gable (mike.gable@pittsburghpa.gov). The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy serves as a project advisor having completed the Four Mile Run Conceptual Design Plan. PPC is led by Jayne Miller. The URA and Department of City Planning are occasionally consulting parties to the project as is Hazelwood Green represented by Rebecca Flora.

       

    • Junction Coalition reply: Thank you for providing this list, but the absence of private entities in your list leads to further questions. Does this mean University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, the private partners named in the URA’s 2015 grant application (ID 2015073111048) are no longer involved in the project? Was the public-private partnership referenced in the grant application formally dissolved?

      If so, and if the Mon-Oakland Connector/Mon-Oakland Mobility Project is a different project, then why does it have the same goals as the Oakland Transit Connector referenced in the 2015 grant application—and why do various private entities continue to act as stakeholders in meetings throughout the process while the public is invited to participate only in reviewing already-decided plans?

8. Multiple experts have told residents that forcing the roadway onto the watershed plan will compromise flood control. A URA document titled “Project Narrative for Heinz Endowment” states, “Measure of success: We will produce several construction alternatives … and couple them with the potential design options that will not preclude any major transportation options under discussion.” In plainer language, this paragraph says that a successful flood control plan won’t interfere with the proposed roadway—in other words, the road takes precedence. This directly contradicts repeated public statements made by you [K Ricks], PWSA, and other officials. Given the true priorities behind both projects, what guarantees can residents expect regarding the success of the watershed improvement plan? When will a community benefits agreement with those guarantees be enacted?

    • K. Ricks response: The narrative above clarifies the misinterpretation that an effective stormwater solution is precluded by a supplemental pathway. [Following is the narrative we believe Ms. Ricks references here.]

      The Mon-Oakland/Four Mile Run project does both – it addresses the critical and threatening stormwater impacts and provides an opportunity for sustainable development and job growth in a community that very much needs both.

      The attachment you sent – a URA grant application – emphasizes the stormwater project, seeking additional resources for design of stormwater mitigations, while concurrently recognizing the need for improved mobility and access. There is nothing in the grant to indicate that stormwater solutions are precluded by or subordinated to improved mobility. Clearly, both can be achieved.

    • Junction Coalition reply: Actually, it doesn’t seem clear at all. We have included relevant text below and you can reference the complete document.

      Goal 3: We will create a feasible design for the area encompassing the southern area of Schenley Park to the Monongahela River. This particular design question is one of the more important and most technically challenging, and has the potential to provide the most impact to the overall question of whether a design that can truly integrate ecological/compliance goals and transportation connections is possible. It necessitates answering the question of whether a separate storm sewer from the southern end of the park to the river is feasible. But there is an extremely high amount of both above and below grade infrastructure– not to mention a high interest and need in creating multi-modal transportation connections– that requires a specialized approach to daylighting in this area (trenchless). Measure of success: We will produce several construction alternatives (such as horizontal directional boring, micro tunneling, etc.) and couple them with the potential design options that will not preclude any major transportation options under discussion.

      To summarize, the project is “technically challenging” even without “a high interest and need in creating multi-modal transportation connections.” There is an overall question of whether “a design that can truly integrate ecological/compliance goals and transportation connections is possible.” But the success of the project will be measured by how well “construction alternatives” can be “couple[d]” with “the potential design options that will not preclude any major transportation options under discussion.”

      The summary we provided here uses the actual language of the document and directly conflicts with the “narrative” you provided.

      Your response also does not answer the questions we asked: What guarantees can residents expect regarding the success of the watershed improvement plan? When will a community benefits agreement with those guarantees be enacted?

9. How was it determined that the route through two neighborhoods and Schenley Park is the only viable route? Swinburne would have to be stabilized to prevent it from collapsing onto the proposed roadway. So why spend an additional tens of millions of dollars to build a new road instead of using Swinburne as the route?

    • K. Ricks response: The response to question 2 should also answer this inquiry. Widening Swinburne Road is not feasible.

    • Junction Coalition reply: This response does not answer the original question. It only brings up more questions, as detailed in our question 2 reply.

      Moreover, your statement that “widening Swinburne is not feasible” does not make sense as the reason an existing road cannot serve as an alternative to a new road in Schenley Park. As detailed in our question 2 reply, the maps you most recently presented show the mobility road marked as 15 feet wide. According to your statements at the most recent public meeting on 11/26, this width necessitates shuttles pulling over to let another oncoming shuttle pass. The road is billed as accommodating commuter cyclists, yet it forces them into extremely close contact with motorized vehicles that frequently need to pull over. Swinburne St. is 19.8 feet wide on average at its narrowest point. It would seem that Swinburne is already significantly wider than the proposed road even at its narrowest, and therefore would not need to be widened.

      In any case, “fragile soil conditions” on Swinburne endanger the proposed roadway as much as they endanger the existing street.

10. On April 18, some residents of The Run, along with Pittsburghers for Public Transit and the Penn Plaza Support and Action Coalition, sent Mayor Peduto an open letter. We made specific, actionable demands to actually include the public in this so-called public process concerning the Mon-Oakland Connector—things like announcing the meetings at least 14 days in advance, revealing the total amount of public funds spent so far, and formatting the meetings so that all attendees can hear all the questions and answers. When will we receive a formal response, and why are you continuing to take up most of these meetings with presentations and breakout sessions?

    • K. Ricks response: Meetings have been and will be announced at least 14 days in advance. Meetings have been structured to provide time for people to engage in the means and methods most comfortable and accessible to them. This includes presentations with opportunities for written comments and feedback, whole group “plenary” discussion, small group breakouts, online information and feedback and occasionally field visits/tours and meetings with individual neighborhood organizations. While we recognize the preferred engagement method proposed by the Coalition, we also recognize that diverse individuals engage in a diversity of ways thus we will continue to provide engagement in multiple ways rather than the one means prescribed in your letter.

    • Junction Coalition reply: Have you specifically asked for feedback about engagement methods? If so, how was this accomplished and do you have records of the results? How much preference did you receive in the feedback specifically for “small group breakouts?”

11. By choosing AV, you are eliminating jobs, thus reducing the tax base. How will the City make up for this loss of revenue and pay for basic services like roads, bridges, infrastructure, etc.? Will robots pay taxes?

    • K. Ricks response: The Mon-Oakland Connector is a trail, not an operational service. The trail is being designed to accommodate use by microtransit. This service may one day be provided via self driving vehicles however at this point in time no truly self driving technology exists thus anyvehicles will have a human operator. There is a much larger policy discussion locally and nationally that is necessary around transportation funding (the current mechanism – the gas tax – is insufficient to support infrastructure maintenance and improvement, and gas tax revenues are projected to decline with greater fuel efficiency and electrification of the fleet). The future of work for the rising generation of workers is also a critical discussion. Fortunately full autonomy is still decades away and there is adequate time to prepare for a non-disruptive transition that preserves the ability for our workers to make a livable wage through dignified, rewarding work.

    • Junction Coalition reply: So the road is being built for microtransit in general, not specifically for self-driving or automated vehicles? Regarding microtransit as a solution, we invite you to read this post from public transit consultant Jarrett Walker if you have not already done so. Why are we spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to build a road for privately operated microtransit that by its very nature serves a small group of people?

      Your point that “any vehicles will have a human operator” because “full autonomy is decades away” means the service would essentially consist of a fleet of minivans (8,000 pounds, 11 feet long, 6 feet wide). Human operators can drive at higher speeds than 15 mph and they can travel on existing roads with other minivans. In other words, a foreseeable future of human shuttle operators undermines the rationale for an isolated corridor to accommodate a microtransit service. Even driven at normal speeds, the route through the park does not offer the dramatic shortcut originally proffered in 2015. Officials claimed commute times from Hazelwood to Oakland of 30-40 minutes, but this was based solely on rush-hour traffic. Residents stopwatch-tested the claim by driving existing routes at various times. The Second Ave.-Bates St. corridor from Hazelwood to the main campuses in Oakland took 12-14 minutes. Various existing routes from the intersection of Greenfield Ave and Saline and Irvine streets took 3-4 minutes to Hillman Library in Oakland.

      Moreover, if “no truly self driving technology exists” and automated shuttles are a far-off eventuality, please explain why Pittsburgh worked to secure the Knight Foundation grant and why you are so eager to use it to bring autonomous vehicles to events where Pittsburghers can “kick the tires” as you said. Not to mention that Uber and others are already using Pittsburgh streets as a test track for their autonomous vehicles.

      Your position in this response seems designed to have it both ways: The road must be built now for a far-off technology, and since DOMI is only building a road the service can be whatever is convenient at any given time to bolster an argument for building the road.

12. The Planning Commission approved a last-minute tripling of residential density in the Hazelwood Green plan over objections by the Greenfield Community Association and the Run Resident Action Team. Karina Ricks admitted in 2017 that if Amazon accepted Pittsburgh’s bid, the Mon-Oakland Connector would be inadequate for the increased number of users. Why are you investing public money into a roadway that is already obsolete before it’s even built?

    • K. Ricks response: Additional trail capacity will never be obsolete. The City of Pittsburgh is hopeful to regain a substantial portion of the near 700,000 residents we once had (current city population is 305,000). We cannot support this regeneration if our restored residents drive at rates common among our existing regional residents. We must promote and encourage a greater share of trips being accomplished via walking, transit, bicycle, micromobility and higher occupancy vehicles like microtransit. If we are successful in accomplishing our goal of >50% of household trips being accomplished by non-auto and active transportation means we are going to need substantially more capacity for these modes throughout our city including along theJunction Hollow Trail corridor. Furthermore, we know that the best opportunity to form lasting travel habits is when a person moves to a new residence or new job location. Doing this means we need to make their initial experience easy, dignified, and maybe even fun. If we can “train” new workers and residents to take that initial ride even on the low speed, smaller capacity microtransit, we can convince the of the “proof of concept” that transit generally is a viable mode for everyday trips and we can create a life-long a low-drive resident or worker. High capacity mass transit will always be the long term goal. Microtransit, however, can be the way to attract more riders to our region wide system.

    • Junction Coalition reply: Why do we so desperately need to increase the tax base by doubling our current population? Why not instead tax the corporations masquerading as non-profits? Public servants should not allow their constituents to be held hostage by powerful private interests. Furthermore, the utility of microtransit in benefiting the general population or attracting new residents is dubious.

13. Isn’t it a conflict of interest that some of the people involved in decision making about the roadway and storm-water projects stand to profit from developing Hazelwood Green?

    • K. Ricks response: Please see response to question 7 and further clarify.


    • Junction Coalition reply: Please refer to our reply to the same question. Again, the names you provided do not reflect the public-private partnership that originally filed a grant application for this project in 2015. Was this PPP formally dissolved? If this is truly a different project from the 2015 project, why does it have the same goals?

14. We have the agenda from a 2000 “community outreach project” meeting titled “The New Junction Hollow Vision.” The agenda advocates for a short, intense “charette” process—that means a meeting of all stakeholders where conflicts are worked out. But the meeting involved only residents of Oakland and the Oakland Community Council. Hazelwood Initiative is mentioned but not Panther Hollow or The Run—the neighborhoods that are actually located in Junction Hollow, the communities that would be affected most. Do the Oakland organizers of this meeting still think Junction Hollow belongs to them, and that they can decide its future? Why would they not include the communities of Panther Hollow and The Run?

    • K. Ricks response: The document and meeting referenced are now nearly 20 years old and no longer being used as the basis of the current public engagement process.


    • Junction Coalition reply: This answer willfully misses the point of the question. This roadway was being discussed 20 years ago and the directly affected communities were excluded. The 2015 grant application (before your involvement) violated the PA Sunshine Act. In other words, this project has a long history of secrecy and questionable conduct. More recently, new grant applications went unmentioned in all the public meetings that occurred as the applications were being prepared and filed. This is just one example of a sustained focus on the appearance of transparency at the expense of transparency itself. The “current public engagement process” does not seem to have changed all that much in 20+ years. Why have the communities of Panther Hollow and The Run been excluded for so long?

15. A URA document titled “Exhibit 1” states, “The implementation of the Oakland Transit Connector model can address a majority of these barriers and will open the opportunities for continued economic growth across Oakland and into adjoining communities.” The barriers: People already live here. There’s a public park here. Development can only address these “barriers” by eliminating them. No one consulted those “adjoining communities” about the Mon-Oakland Connector before deciding to proceed with it. And during the series of public meetings last year, DOMI filed another grant application connected to the roadway without telling residents. City officials have lamented the continuing distrust around this project, but how can they be surprised?

    • K. Ricks response: Question is rhetorical

    • Junction Coalition reply: The question is far from rhetorical to communities that face extinction as a result of decisions that are being made without their input—and further, to the detriment of their safety and quality of life.

16. Some people would like to attend these meetings but can’t because they are taking care of kids. Will you use part of the Knight Foundation grant to facilitate their participation by providing kids’ activities and supervision for future meetings?

    • K. Ricks response: That is a great suggestion. We will see if that can work. If there is a member of the Coalition that would serve as a sounding board on a structure, time and activities that would be most conducive to this type of engagement, that would be wonderful.

    • Junction Coalition reply: Barb Warwick has volunteered to act in this role. Please let us know if you do not have her direct contact information and we will provide it to you.

17. DOMI’s presentation for the February 2018 meeting included a chart that gave “Autonomous Microtransit” a higher positive ranking than conventional shuttle buses and improved Port Authority bus service. This despite the fact that no data supports the assertion that AVs have a greater ability to “deliver in the near term” or “promote sustainable mobility and development”—in fact, the proposed Mon-Oakland Connector requires completely new infrastructure and a new fleet of vehicles. Why is AV being so aggressively put forward as the solution and whose interests does this serve?

    • K. Ricks response: Please see response to question 11.
    • Junction Coalition reply: It is convenient to get around these questions by stating that you are only making decisions about the road itself—but if you have no idea what you are going to put on the road, how is that a transit solution?

18. Will people be able to use the Mon-Oakland Connector if they don’t have a smartphone or don’t want to provide personal information? What happens to the personal information a Mon-Oakland Connector app would collect?

    • K. Ricks response: 18 and 19. Please see answer to question 11. When a service is proposed to operate on the trail these questions will need to be publically answered before a permit for operation will be granted.

       

    • Junction Coalition reply: It is convenient to get around these questions by stating that you are only making decisions about the road itself—but if you have no idea what you are going to put on the road, how is that a transit solution?

19. What will happen to the Mon-Oakland Connector fare system after the fares are no longer subsidized (after 2 years)?

    • K. Ricks response: 18 and 19. Please see answer to question 11. When a service is proposed to operate on the trail these questions will need to be publically answered before a permit for operation will be granted.

       

    • Junction Coalition reply: It is convenient to get around these questions by stating that you are only making decisions about the road itself—but if you have no idea what you are going to put on the road, how is that a transit solution?

Pre-election Letter to Allegheny County DA Candidates

Dear Ms. Middleman/Dear Mr. Zappala,

We are writing to make you aware of an issue affecting our communities of Four Mile Run (The Run) and Panther Hollow, which border each end of the Junction Hollow portion of Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park. All are in danger of being erased by corrupt development practices of city government and its private partners.

In 2015, Mayor Peduto’s office and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) announced a plan to build a publicly financed, privately controlled roadway through both neighborhoods and Schenley Park. This plan, then called the Oakland Transit Connector, is now known as the Mon-Oakland Connector or the Mon-Oakland Mobility Project. We were never consulted about the plan before it was announced—a violation of Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act.

We learned of the Mon-Oakland Connector from an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that reported, “The URA this month approved a $3 million application for a state grant to help pay for the first phase of the project…” The grant application, filed with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (Single Application ID: 201507311048; Web Application ID: 8068967), contained numerous falsehoods as detailed in a letter from a concerned Panther Hollow resident. A section of the grant application states:

The act of knowingly making a false statement or overvaluing a security to obtain a grant and/or loan from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania may be subject to criminal prosecution.

After residents filed Right-to-Know (RTK) requests with the URA, the URA turned over their grant application but with several missing pages. Our neighbor had already received the full grant application from Harrisburg. Details about material redacted from the grant application can be found at www.opnnews.org/2016/03/ura-files-suspect-development-grant-without-consulting-residents.

For more than four years now city officials, consultants, and private partners have misled and outright lied to residents, the public, and the press regarding the Mon-Oakland Connector. Through additional RTK requests, we have obtained proof of their deceit.

We want to know where you stand on this issue. The District Attorney of Allegheny County has a duty to investigate corruption on the part of public officials. If you win the office in our upcoming election, will you investigate the PA Sunshine Act violation, the fraudulent grant application that was unlawfully redacted in response to a RTK request, and other evidence of corruption?

We look forward to your prompt response. It will determine whether we and our supporters cast our votes for you on November 5th.

Sincerely,

Junction Coalition

junctioncoalition@gmail.com

junctioncoalition.org


This Is Our Flooding Problem

Since last year, the PWSA has had $41 million in funding to fix an urgent public safety issue in the heart of Pittsburgh. Please call 412-255-2423 to ask them, “What’s the holdup?”

As you watch the video above, imagine that Four Mile Run is your neighborhood. In a way, it is.

Those of us who live here see “The Run” as unique, but it has the basics that most neighborhoods share: houses, sidewalks churches, businesses—and a community of people. Imagine these are your streets and homes filling with water, your neighbors becoming trapped on top of their car, your children at risk of drowning.

They are.

If you live in Pittsburgh, you’ve likely traveled over The Run on the Parkway East. You may frequent or live in the better-known neighborhoods above us that get this water first—and more and more of this water ends up in The Run as unchecked development covers acres of land with impervious surfaces like asphalt.

As the flooding steadily worsened over decades, your neighbors were told time and time again that our city lacked funds to fix it. So it was a big deal when PWSA secured the $41 million earmarked for the problem. Now, even with funding finally in place, more than a year has passed and work has not started on this important and necessary project.

Why so much foot-dragging? Unfortunately, there is more to the story—and the details are dirtier than the sewage in our basements.

Please call the PWSA at 412-255-2423 to demand they fix this urgent public safety issue using green solutions.