On June 11, residents of Panther Hollow, Four Mile Run, and Hazelwood gathered with supporters in Panther Hollow to celebrate the demise of the Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) shuttle road and uplift a new vision of community-centered development in its place.
They marched in a New Orleans-style brass band “funeral” parade along Junction Hollow Trail in Schenley Park, a popular car-free route for cyclists and part of the route the MOC would have taken between Oakland university campuses and the Hazelwood Green development site. The MOC would have permanently degraded the park and commandeered already-limited public spaces in Panther Hollow and The Run. And many Hazelwood residents questioned proponents’ claims that the road was designed to improve their mobility.
But in the face of a campaign to paint concerned community members as anti-progress, simply saying no to the MOC wasn’t enough. Residents and community organizations from all MOC-affected neighborhoods—including Oakland and Squirrel Hill—met several times in 2019 to draft an alternative plan that would improve mobility in their neighborhoods and cost less than the projected $25 million Pittsburgh planned for the MOC. Pittsburghers for Public Transit helped coordinate meetings and organize the plan. Improvements were broken into three categories: pedestrian, transit, and trail/bike.
The Our Money, Our Solutions, or OMOS, plan was the result. The needs it identified were compelling enough that several of them have been addressed since the plan was launched as a petition to City Council.
The Irvine Street and Second Avenue sidewalk audit and replacement with ADA-compliant width and curb cuts from Greenfield Avenue through the Hazelwood business district
Weekend service on the 93 (a minimum frequency of once every 40 minutes is still in process)
Street resurfacing and traffic calming around Burgwin Rec Center and Burgwin Field
Under discussion/in progress
Extend the 75 bus line across the Hot Metal Bridge into Hazelwood
Calm traffic on Hazelwood Avenue
Create and maintain the Sylvan Avenue corridor as a vehicle-free route for pedestrians and cyclists, managed with an emphasis on forest habitat restoration
ADA-compliant sidewalks and street lights on Desdemona Avenue and Imogene Road (Councilor Barb Warwick said she is trying to get this into the budget)
Traffic signal priority for buses on Hot Metal and Birmingham bridges
Reconstructing the nexus of Saline-Irvine-Second-Greenfield streets, i.e., rethinking the current plan with more direct community input so that improvement does not ease Hazelwood Green traffic at the expense of residents in directly affected areas, particularly The Run
That is a pretty good scorecard for a plan that has never been formally recognized by the city!
Address widespread traffic safety concerns. These include traffic calming on lower Greenfield Avenue; lighting on Irvine Street; school zone infrastructure around Burgwin Rec Center, Burgwin Field and Propel Hazelwood; building an ADA-compliant sidewalk along Boundary Street in Panther Hollow; and dedicated pedestrian crossing times and signals in the Hazelwood business district.
Improve public transit connections, which are still lacking throughout the area. OMOS asks for electric buses on the 75 bus line and clean bus stops with benches and shelters.
Increase connections for cyclists and pedestrians. Keeping Junction Hollow Trail free of motor vehicles, making it safe for year-round commuting, and extending bike lanes from the trail into Panther Hollow all accomplish this goal without displacing residents or disrupting Schenley Park. OMOS also calls for creating a connection between Junction Hollow Trail and the rest of the park under or over the railroad tracks to Panther Hollow Lake. Similarly, a more modest investment to connect the Duck Hollow Trail over the train tracks to Hazelwood could extend the trail network to Squirrel Hill, Frick Park, and points east. Improving the connection between Hazelwood Green and the Eliza Furnace Trail would make the bike commute between Hazelwood and Downtown much safer and allow bus riders safer access to more routes on both sides of Second Avenue.
Let’s get to work—with each other and our local representatives—on meeting the rest of these needs. Especially now that the MOC is officially “dead!”
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 rejectedMon-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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
“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.
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.