Johnston Avenue

Greenfield and Greater Hazelwood Pushed for Safer Streets in 2022

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

Uneven sidewalk prevents a New Year’s Eve tragedy

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

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

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

DOMI promises traffic calming on Hazelwood Avenue

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

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

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

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

Adjustments to the Sylvan Avenue Trail project

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

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

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

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

Irvine Street sidewalks completed

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

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

A terrible loss draws attention to Johnston Avenue

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

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

Working toward safer streets in 2023

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

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

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

Hazelwood Families Organize to Get Kids to School Safely

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

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

Filling in for a school bus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Navigating busy intersections

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

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

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

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

Mayor Gainey promises safety improvements

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

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

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