Hazelwood Green

Marchers Call Out CMU, Pitt for Developing Harmful Technologies

Protesters march down Forbes Avenue at Craig Street. Photo by Ray Gerard

On September 26, Against Carceral Tech held a “Tour of Harm” that wound through the campuses of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. About 60 people carried signs and chanted, stopping at sites with ties to research that aids development of technology used for policing and military applications.

ACT organized the march to raise awareness of the relationship between local academic institutions and state violence. Speakers called on the City of Pittsburgh and CMU to ban the use of facial recognition. Some shared their experiences of the universities mistreating students in tech fields.

This technology has the potential to harm communities near Hazelwood Green, where both CMU and Pitt have a growing presence.

Facial recognition is a “perpetual lineup

In July, CMU drafted a policy that would have allowed the university to use facial recognition during criminal investigations. Civil liberties advocates and researchers have warned that this technology threatens privacy and contributes to mass incarceration.

For example, as Brandi Fisher of Alliance for Police Accountability (APA) shared during her speech: “17 people died in the past 18 months—not years—in Allegheny County Jail.”

The danger does not affect communities equally. According to “Reimagining Public Safety in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County,” a report released by APA, “67% of people currently incarcerated in the Allegheny County Jail are Black despite Black people only making up 13% of the county’s population.”

“We are supposedly a welcoming city, but this technology is not welcoming,” said Laura Perkins of Casa San Jose, an organization that works with the immigrant community. “Facial recognition has much higher levels of inaccuracy with people with darker skin—that is a fact. In Pennsylvania, many immigrants don’t have access to driver’s licenses. When they are targeted by the software, they won’t be able to even prove their identity.”

CMU quickly shelved its facial recognition policy after community pushback. In 2020, Pittsburgh City Council passed legislation that requires city council approval of such technologies before the city acquires or uses them, except in “an emergency situation.” The legislation does not cover JNET, a system with facial recognition capabilities that any Pennsylvania law enforcement agency can use.

Predictive policing targets Pittsburgh communities

Another form of surveillance technology, predictive policing, has a hyperlocal connection. In 2015, CMU’s Metro21 initiative received a $600,000 grant from The Richard King Mellon Foundation, one of Hazelwood Green’s owners. According to the foundation’s annual report that year, the grant funded two Metro21 projects, one of which covered two years of support for a predictive policing model based on CrimeScan. A pilot program using data to identify people at risk of committing or being victimized by crime was ultimately scrapped in Chicago.

Rather than targeting individuals, Pittsburgh’s system uses algorithms to target locations based on large amounts of data that predict high-crime areas. CrimeScan relies on a “broken windows” approach, which holds that small crimes like disorderly conduct or damaging property encourage more serious crimes.

Proponents of the technology, including the city’s former police chief Cameron McLay, say it improves quality of life and removes human biases from the equation. But critics argue it can actually reinforce the biases of its creators. And they point to a lack of accountability for harmful decisions that can be blamed on a computer.

CMU researchers developed Pittsburgh’s CrimeScan program in partnership with Police Chief McLay. In August 2016, they quietly began a pilot in Homewood, then expanded it citywide in May 2017.

If that process does not sound transparent to the public, it wasn’t meant to be. A Memorandum of Understanding between the City of Pittsburgh and CMU (the first such agreement between a city and a university) allowed them to bypass city procurement processes for joint projects. In a 2018 interview, then-Mayor Bill Peduto boasted, “I don’t have to put out an RFP. I can just pick up the phone, call the university, and say, ‘I need your team to develop this for me.’”

State violence begins at home—and it doesn’t end there

In other parts of the world, governments and corporations are moving full steam ahead with surveillance technology. This has human rights watchers and some of the corporations’ own employees sounding an alarm.

Ian Hoppes of No Tech for Apartheid spoke about Project Nimbus, a $1.2 billion contract secured by Google and Amazon to provide cloud services to the Israeli government and military. Mr. Hoppes said Project Nimbus allows more surveillance of Palestinians and expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land. Both Google and Amazon have sought contracts with the US. Department of Defense, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and state and local police departments.

“This technology and other forms of oppression will likely come home to roost in the U.S.,” Mr. Hoppes said. But employees and students at affiliated universities fear speaking out because they face retaliation from their institutions.

University students silenced by bureaucracy and poverty

Pat Healy, an information science PhD student at Pitt, said it wasn’t obvious to him when he first started out, but his work “could be purposed for military applications.”

“My funding came with strings—from DARPA,” Mr. Healy said.

Franky Spektor, a CMU graduate student, told the crowd, “CMU is so deeply entrenched in bureaucracy we barely have a voice as it is, so we need to speak up and be loud, and make sure they hear us, before the city and CMU use this technology even more and take away our voices and our rights.”

Ms. Spektor said she knows of students who, while working many hours in their fields, also sell their plasma just to cover their basic needs. Their financial dependence makes it especially hard to challenge questionable university projects or policies and risk losing funding.

Bonnie Fan, a CMU graduate and Against Carceral Tech organizer, emphasized the importance of solidarity to protect both students and broader communities.

“I learned that [CMU] does not care about me or you or any of its workers or students and learned that instead it was my fellow students and community members organizing outside of campus to show up for me and show up for all of us,” Ms. Fan said.

A condensed version of this article originally appeared in The Homepage.

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.”

Hazelwood Forests Play a Key Role in Pittsburgh’s Future

map of Hazelwood Park

In 2017, Pittsburgh led the way for many U.S. cities by announcing its Climate Action Plan to prepare and protect against effects of climate change. The plan lists urban ecosystems strategies for achieving its goal to “increase carbon sequestration by 100% by 2030.” One of these strategies is to “halt the conversion of forest canopy to development.”

Forests are our best defense against destruction caused by industrial pollution and global warming—and the importance of Hazelwood in Pittsburgh’s plan can’t be overstated.

Links between forests protect more than trees

Besides a high-profile brownfield redevelopment (Hazelwood Green), Hazelwood contains a vital forested corridor that connects two major city parks: Schenley and Frick. The connection supports a variety of wildlife including coyotes; foxes; deer; turkey; hawks; owls; and songbirds such as wood thrush, vireo, tanager, and warbler.

“The more a fox from Schenley Park can reach the population of foxes over in, say, Duck Hollow, the healthier our fox population will be,” Matt Peters, administrative coordinator for Heartwood, an environmental organization, said during a phone interview. “Forest fragmentation leads to isolated animal populations that are vulnerable to disease and inbreeding.”

A compromised or weakened fox population disrupts the ecological balance and can lead to an overabundance of rats and mice. This, in turn, causes an increased chance of diseases jumping from animals to humans, Mr. Peters said.

That’s only one example of how connected, protected forests can benefit all living beings in and around them.

“It’s not just because we like trees,” said Tiffany Taulton, director of outreach and sustainability at Hazelwood Initiative (HI), discussing her work with Hazelwood Greenways Partnership in a phone interview. “This is public health infrastructure.”

Urban forests like Hazelwood’s help improve air quality, an issue that continues to plague Pittsburgh decades after most of its steel mills closed. They also help reduce flooding, mold problems, and heat-related deaths. Ms. Taulton shared a sobering quote from Kristina Dahl, a senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists: “In an average year in the U.S., heat kills more people than any other type of extreme weather.”

“People should be able to experience nature and the physical and mental health benefits it provides,” said Ms. Taulton. A connected forest offers the opportunity to “get out, get exercise in a way that reduces stress and lets you travel to other neighborhoods without traffic.”

Our forests are receiving funds and recognition

In December 2021, Pittsburgh City Council voted to make over 300 acres of greenway into parks—a game-changer for Hazelwood forests.

“Designating most of the [Hazelwood] greenway as a park gave it access to the funding and resources parks get,” said Mr. Peters. This includes funding from the city park tax passed in 2019.

The move supports another Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan strategy: “Allocate adequate resources to sustain the public open space system.”

Community volunteers were already hard at work in the greenway. HI, Landforce, Pittsburgh’s City Planning Department, Tree Pittsburgh, and Allegheny Goatscape coordinated in recent years to clean up an area near Elizabeth Street. In 2021 they built a trail loop, planted trees, worked on drainage issues, and used goats to clear invasive plants. Neighbors hit existing trails to remove all types of litter—from shards of glass (a dedicated cleanup organized by Boy Scout Troop 3945) to discarded televisions. In November, these efforts led to the Hazelwood Greenways Partnership placing as a finalist in the United Nations Climate Challenge Cup.

Let’s take Hazelwood forests to the next level

As community members who care about our forests, we can hold the City of Pittsburgh accountable meeting its own management goals for climate preparedness.

Mr. Peters urges a temporary moratorium on development proposals affecting forested lands. He says a citywide evaluation of Pittsburgh forests would help us identify ways to maintain their ecological integrity. 

Such goals need not conflict with economic ones. Ms. Taulton pointed out that the newly designated park in Hazelwood is “an amenity for the entire city, and a nice tourist attraction as well.”

This post, along with many others on this website, was originally written as an article for The Homepage.

End of MOC Shuttle Program Begins New Community Conversation with Mayor Gainey

Mayor Ed Gainey and District 5 City Councilman Corey O'Connor at Feb. 17 MOC meeting

On February 17, Hazelwood residents and others gathered at Propel Hazelwood to discuss rapidly evolving developments in the Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) project. The day before, Mayor Gainey’s office announced an end to the controversial shuttle road that was the essence of the MOC.

The meeting, hosted by the Greater Hazelwood Community Collaborative (GHCC), brought a wide range of human interactions and emotions: sometimes heated, sometimes funny, occasionally joyful. Some attendees remarked that it was their first in-person meeting in months or years. The auditorium burst into thunderous applause several times—including after Propel Hazelwood students performed “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and especially when Mayor Gainey said, “The Mon-Oakland shuttle project will not go forward.”

Moving forward together

Mayor Gainey’s announcement marks a huge turning point in MOC-affected communities’ battle to reclaim their tax dollars and voice in their future. It is an opportunity to repair public trust that was shattered by 6.5 years of pushing the MOC over multi-community opposition.

The battle is far from over. Already the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is writing op-eds attempting to resuscitate the weak case for MOC shuttles in the future. And the needs of existing 15207 residents still lack attention and funding the now-defunct MOC continues to enjoy. As the new Gainey administration works with our communities on building a new way forward, focus should be redirected to:

  • Critical needs in Hazelwood. Though Councilman Corey O’Connor moved some funds from the MOC, it still has about $7 million. Early reports indicate most of the MOC’s original $23 million budget will be restored for a new bike trail and improvements to Schenley Park and the Hazelwood Greenway (now also designated as a city park). Parks and infrastructure are both important, and should not be pitted against each other. Even the loveliest bike trail should not be prioritized over basic necessities for Hazelwood like safe street crossings, sidewalks, and facilities for after-school programs. City parks already have a dedicated source of revenue from taxpayers, while neglect has destroyed Hazelwood’s infrastructure over decades.

  • A stronger stormwater plan in The Run and Schenley Park—unhampered by the MOC. The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s (PWSA’s) $42.65 million stormwater project, touted as a way to fix severe flooding in The Run, came after and was designed around the MOC shuttle road. For years, residents were told these were two separate projects and that PWSA’s efforts could easily move forward regardless of the MOC’s fate. That message has changed recently, but Run residents, who have been awaiting flood relief for decades, value effectiveness over speed. For years they have challenged PWSA to provide a stormwater model that does not include the MOC. Instead, PWSA compared the MOC-centric design against doing nothing. The Run has an opportunity to finally see how much better PWSA can address flooding now that accommodating a shuttle road has been dropped from their project requirements.

  • Transportation solutions that improve rather than undermine public options. The Our Money, Our Solutions (OMOS) plan, created by MOC-affected communities with help from Pittsburghers for Public Transit, contains many improvements that would serve residents and the Hazelwood Green development. Some of those improvements, such as weekend service for the 93 bus line and Irvine Street sidewalk repairs, have already been secured. Others, like extending the 75 bus line into Hazelwood, are under consideration. If we don’t adopt OMOS wholesale, we can at least revisit and borrow heavily from it.

Our new plan needs a new name to reflect new priorities

We all deserve a fresh start to distance ourselves from the dishonesty and corruption that plagued the MOC from the start. The MOC quickly became a “magic bag” of components and costs that shifted according to justifications needed for it at any given time. Only the shuttle road has remained consistent. Now that the road has been removed, this project is no longer the MOC. Any work in Schenley and Hazelwood parks must have a clear focus and leave non-transparency behind.

You can view a livestream of the meeting provided by Center of Life.

Photo courtesy of Juliet Martinez for The Homepage

Irvine Sidewalk Repairs Receive Funding

Construction Projected for Summer 2022

Long-needed sidewalk construction on Irvine Street between Hazelwood and Greenfield avenues got more attention recently when updates to the project’s Engage PGH webpage raised questions about funding.

Although the fact sheet linked from the webpage stated “this project is only funded for design. DOMI [Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Transportation] is investigating potential sources for construction funds…,” construction is funded and slated to begin in June.

DOMI’s chief engineer Eric Setzler said the project received a grant of $120,000 from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, plus $1 million in funding from the $335 million Pittsburgh received as part of the American Rescue Plan (ARP).

Mr. Setzler reported that the Irvine Street project mainly consists of sidewalk and curb replacements with “updated ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant] ramps at the intersections.”

“We would like to get as much curb reveal as possible,” he said, referring to the height of a curb that helps provide separation from the road. As layers of asphalt are added to a road over time, its level rises closer to the adjacent sidewalk. Other Irvine Street improvements include adjusting drainage from the sidewalks and adding a small retaining wall to “hold the slope back”—especially near the Greenfield Avenue end of Irvine Street. The area currently has rock-filled wire cages called gabion baskets.

Mr. Setzler added that the project is “on a good track,” with design scheduled to wrap up by late January.

Run resident Barb Warwick noticed the outdated fact sheet and commented on the page, along with several other community members, calling for construction funds to be taken from the budget of the unpopular Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC).

“$12 million is a lot of money and it’s just sitting there in DOMI’s coffers,” Ms. Warwick said, referring to the estimated MOC budget. “Now that everyone is finally acknowledging how misguided DOMI’s plan to build a shuttle road through Schenley Park really was, we can start using that money for mobility improvements the people of Pittsburgh actually need.”

Regarding the MOC budget, Mr. Setzler said, “I am seeing about $8 million [of City funds], not counting anything from PWSA [Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority].” He mentioned the $4 million difference had been redirected in the 2021 budget through an amendment introduced by District 5 Councilman Corey O’Connor. PWSA has a budget of more than $42 million to complete a stormwater project on the same land as the MOC.

The MOC, slated to be put on hold by incoming Pittsburgh mayor Ed Gainey, proposed connecting Oakland university campuses and the Hazelwood Green development through the park’s Junction Hollow section and two adjacent neighborhoods—The Run and Panther Hollow. Affected communities including The Run, Panther Hollow, Greenfield, South Oakland, and Hazelwood created their own plan for how MOC funds should be spent instead: Our Money, Our Solutions (OMOS).

The ARP funding arises from controversy as well. When it was announced in July 2021, Mayor Bill Peduto drew criticism from constituents who said he needlessly rushed to set a major spending agenda that prioritized infrastructure above mitigating COVID-19-related harms, such as evictions.

Anna Tang, a community organizer with BikePGH, received an email alert about the page update on Dec. 3; she forwarded it to her contacts in the Greenfield/Hazelwood area. “It’s my job to let the public know about this stuff,” Ms. Tang said, speaking as a citizen familiar with City websites rather than as a representative of BikePGH.

“This is an important corridor for all modes of transportation,” Ms. Tang remarked, “and it seems like the most vulnerable users are almost always last to get the infrastructure attention they need. [The sidewalk repairs] couldn’t come soon enough.”

“To be 100% honest, there’s not a whole lot of things to provide feedback on,” Mr. Setzler said of the project’s Engage PGH webpage. “But we still want to put it out there and let people see it.”

Although other city departments have been sharing their projects on Engage PGH for longer, “DOMI is catching up,” Mr. Setzler added. “Going forward [Engage PGH] will be our main source for sharing project information. In general, projects will still have outreach to community groups and public meetings”—virtual or in person.

As of Dec. 14, the project page had an updated fact sheet and a new “virtual public plans display.” The display features maps and a schedule that projects construction will take seven months. In addition, a new feedback form was placed on the page above the existing 140-character comment field. You can also create an Egage PGH account to receive email alerts about upcoming projects in areas you choose from a list.

Mayoral Candidate Visits The Run, Hazelwood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo from Gainey mayoral campaign social media post

Bill Seeks Additional Funds for Mon-Oakland Connector

Bill 1366, first presented at City Council’s April 6 meeting, would award $396,223.31 to Michael Baker International for work on the hotly contested Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC). The MOC, a new road through Schenley Park and two adjacent neighborhoods, is designed to accommodate privately operated shuttles between the Hazelwood Green (HG) development and the Oakland universities where HG’s desired tenants work and learn.

The bill amends one that City Council first passed in December 2018. The original bill called for “payment of the cost not to exceed $1,346,644.10.” In 2020, City Council voted for an amendment that added $289,037.40. Bill 1366 brings the total to $2,031,904.81 for Michael Baker.

Bill 1366 retains wording from previous versions that states the MOC will “support green infrastructure,” which is false on two counts. First, asphalt surfaces like parking lots and roads add runoff that contributes to flooding in The Run. The proposed shuttle road adds at least 0.80 acres (34,850 square feet) of paving to Junction Hollow. Although PWSA representatives tout a projected reduction in flooding when comparing the “current state” (doing nothing) to their model, the road’s true impact on flooding cannot be measured without an MOC-free project model. Second, the PWSA stormwater project has removed green infrastructure from its design since the original bill was written in 2018.

Bill 1366 also asserts that the MOC will “ensure safe travel” and “protect local neighborhoods” even though the MOC forces cyclists to share space with motorized vehicles in Schenley Park and commandeers streets in The Run neighborhood. Of concern to all affected communities, linear transportation projects like the MOC tend to gentrify surrounding neighborhoods.

Less than five months ago, City Council unanimously passed a budget amendment that shifted $4.15 million away from the resident-opposed project. $1.2 million of that money was allocated to creating a Sylvan Ave. trail for cyclists and pedestrians, as well as Hazelwood Complete Streets.

Residents of Hazelwood and The Run prioritized neighborhood repairs to fund; a Sylvan Ave. trail did not make the list. $1.2 million would not even cover key projects like safe street crossings in Hazelwood’s business district and an Irvine St./Second Ave. sidewalk upgrade to ADA standards. Yet City Council is considering a bill that would use one third of the MOC funds “reallocated” to Hazelwood on consulting/engineering work already planned for the phase 2/Sylvan Ave. stretch of the MOC. The MOC also has in its coffers an unknown portion of $14.5 million from the 2018 and 2019 budgets.

At the April 14 City Council Standing Meeting, Councilman O’Connor said of Bill 1366, “The title of it, I don’t like and I don’t think the neighborhood likes, but this is part of an extended agreement with Michael Baker, who’s the lead engineer with PWSA as well, so there’s a stormwater piece that is supported.”

He asked Department of Mobility and Infrastructure Director Karina Ricks to “confirm that the money goes to the geotech on Sylvan to make sure it’s stable and the second piece if you can just explain briefly the stormwater, ’cause I know we’re working with PWSA on that.”

Ricks replied, “This supplement is to complete additional geotechnical evaluation of Sylvan; it’s a complex hillside and requires—has been closed for 30 years at this point, so we’re needing to do additional exploration to make sure that that is stable and that we’re able to reopen that for the community plan as the Sylvan Connector and then the other piece of this is to complete work on an associate permit for the stormwater implementation that PWSA is leading.”

Bill 1366 plainly states that it funds the MOC, and all work identified at the April 14 meeting is needed to accommodate the MOC. What’s more, it leaves less than $1 million to fix unsafe infrastructure throughout Hazelwood.

The bill is listed as “affirmatively recommended” on the City of Pittsburgh Legistar website, but has not yet been put to a vote. Residents are encouraging Councilman O’Connor to oppose Bill 1366 and continue working with City Council to fund community-identified needs instead of the MOC, which benefits the HG development at the expense of its neighbors.

You can contact Councilman O’Connor at 412-255-8965 or corey.oconnor@pittsburghpa.gov.

Update: According to Councilman O’Connor’s chief of staff Curt Conrad, the funds for Bill 1366 “are not coming out of Hazelwood funds the councilman allocated in the most recent budget. The $1.2 million is still preserved for trail improvements along Sylvan. The funds for Michael Baker are coming from 2019 PayGO and Bond funds” as shown in the table he provided below.

Budget YearSourcePrevious EncumbranceCurrent EncumbranceTotal Encumbrance
2018PayGo$1,380,000.00$1,380,000.00
2019PayGo$255,681.50$276,663.50$532,345.00
2019Bond$119,559.81$119,559.81
 TOTAL$1,635,681.50$396,223.31$2,031,904.81

Two interesting takeaways from this information:

  1. It appears the $397K comes from the $14.5 million for the MOC in the 2018 and 2019 budgets.
  2. The entire $1.2 million from the reallocated 2021 MOC funds is going to “trail improvements along Sylvan” rather than repairs to existing sidewalks in Hazelwood.

55M More Reasons to Defund the Mon-Oakland Connector

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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