It’s been a good year for playgrounds in Greenfield. The rebuilt playground in The Run is finally open and a playground at Greenfield School is moving forward.
This fall, new playground equipment was finally installed in The Run. The City worked with neighborhood residents—including children—to design the new playground, which features more climbing options than the previous design.
Replacing the playground became a priority after a neighborhood girl was seriously injured due to rusty play equipment. This playground is a favorite among local kids, who like the fact that the parkway bridge shields them during rain, extending playtime.
At Greenfield School, the unsightly paved lot that has doubled as a play yard will become home to the first Community Schoolyard in Pittsburgh. A project of the Trust for Public Land, Community Schoolyards turns neglected public school play spaces in cities across the country into environmentally friendly, green play spaces that also double as outdoor classrooms. TPL worked with the Western PA Conservancy to launch the project at Greenfield School.
The partnership unveiled their design for the new schoolyard in September. It will feature traditional playground equipment along with a track, basketball hoops, new trees, and green spaces. TPL worked directly with students to design the schoolyard, which will be open to the community outside of school hours. Construction is slated to begin in summer 2024.
These new playgrounds have been hard-won, with residents advocating for them persistently over many years. They are a positive example of what’s possible when the City and nonprofit organizations invest in our communities’ future.
On June 21, Pittsburgh City Council passed Resolution 1619-2023, which formally recognizes 28 acres between Panther Hollow and The Run—known as Junction Hollow—as part of Schenley Park. The same day, they passed an ordinance (1620-2023) that got less attention at the time but could help any Pittsburgh resident who wants to have their say in the future of a city park.
District 5 councilor Barb Warwick introduced both pieces of legislation, stressing the importance of parks. In her resolution, she wrote that Junction Hollow provides recreational space and is vital for green stormwater management. She told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on June 7 that Junction Hollow “has been part of the park in layman’s terms for a long time, but it’s not officially designated as a park.”
Now, it enjoys the same protections as the rest of Schenley Park.
Councilor Warwick said during a July 7 phone call that her office is working to introduce related measures over the next few months. Their common goal is to prevent development-oriented projects like the now-defunct Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) from being forced on communities that do not want them.
Lessons Learned from the Battle of Four Mile Run
“Throughout the MOC fight, the city was trying to turn a park into a shuttle road,” Councilor Warwick said. “The city’s argument was that it used to be a road; it didn’t matter that it’s a park now. [The resolution that passed] is just to make it clear that this is a park now.”
Residents in MOC-affected communities didn’t know that Pittsburgh’s Home Rule charter gives them the right to petition the city for a public hearing on what Ordinance 1620-2023 calls “the change of use of a City Park or Greenway.” And they could have bolstered their case against allowing the MOC in Schenley Park by citing a state law called the Donated or Dedicated Property Act. It says land donated or dedicated as a park cannot be taken out of the public trust to serve other purposes. The ordinance requires the city to tell petitioners that the Donated or Dedicated Property Act exists, and that they have a right to use it to defend public land.
Councilor Warwick said her office is working on legislation to introduce in the fall setting rules for development in city parks. Without changing zoning laws, she wants to focus development only on the public’s enjoyment of the parks. For example, the MOC was a roadway or thoroughfare intended to connect two neighborhoods, not promote use of the park itself.
At the time of our interview, Councilor Warwick was planning to introduce legislation on July 18 that would change the city’s process of applying for certain grants. When a city department decides to apply for a grant worth more than $250,000 or to fund a project that is not already in the capital budget, they would have to notify City Council before applying.
“It doesn’t give us a vote, but earlier on in the process, we have an opportunity to ask questions,” Councilor Warwick explained. “If we don’t support the project and they apply for the grant anyway, when the grant does come to a vote at the end there is a record of these issues.”
The point of involving City Council earlier, she said, is “ensuring that when the city is pursuing a grant for a project, it is one the community wants or has identified as a need. That’s all we should ever be doing, but the reality is it hasn’t been. Big, visionary things are fine, but we need to be focusing on the communities’ day-to-day needs.”
Shaping the Future of Sylvan Avenue Trail
Councilor Warwick saw firsthand how communities can be left out of deciding which projects to fund with grants. During a series of public meetings about the MOC in 2018-2019, the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, known as DOMI, applied for a grant to build the Sylvan Avenue trail (part of the MOC route) without informing the public. After receiving the grant, they pushed the project through by raising the specter of leaving money on the proverbial table.
“If they were doing this now and notified me, I would have asked, ‘Why are we applying for this grant when there are so many other things that need to be done for Hazelwood?’” Councilor Warwick said.
But since the trail project is moving forward, she added that she intends to make the best of it. “We’re trying to put money toward creating a plan for the Sylvan Avenue trail instead of it just being a DOMI bike trail. We want to include a plan for the larger space because it is now a park.”
The trail is part of the Hazelwood Greenway, which was designated a city park in December 2021. That means it has the same current and future protections as Schenley Park.
“It’s going to take years, but whatever the design is for that trail, I want it to include what that park could look like 5 to 10 years from now with investment,” Councilor Warwick said. “It’s for the community, not just commuters passing through.”
Our communities said no to the Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) and won the Battle of Four Mile Run! Let’s celebrate by burying the MOC and uplifting a new vision of community-centered process in its place—one that empowers Pittsburghers over products and corporate profits.
Emily Bourne, a press officer in Mayor Gainey’s office, wrote in an April 13 email, “Charles Anderson design is tentatively set to finish in Fall 2023 with construction anticipated to begin in Spring 2024. Ideally the bridge would reopen to traffic by late 2025.”
Residents of The Run who live around nearby Swinburne Bridge, also scheduled for replacement, have questions about what the new plan means for them. Until the city closed Anderson Bridge, Swinburne Bridge had been on track to be replaced first. The Run was threatened with erasure by the Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) shuttle road, which Mayor Gainey halted in February 2022. The planned MOC route included a rebuilt Swinburne Bridge with a dedicated shuttle lane.
As the Swinburne Bridge project moves forward without the MOC, Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) has continued its odious track record of prioritizing high-powered profiteers above communities. But the Anderson Bridge closure gives DOMI an opportunity to change course. They should reset the Swinburne Bridge project to include public decision-making—even if that means a short delay.
By contrast, DOMI ignored repeated requests for DOMI’s presentation on plans for Swinburne Bridge until about four hours before the first of only two public meetings on the project. Then project manager Zachary Workman posted a statement denying the requests. DOMI’s community outreach consisted of a letter sent to a few residents who live near the bridge, which they received 10 days before the original meeting date.
At the July 2022 meeting, representatives from DOMI, PennDOT, and private construction firm Alfred Benesch & Company all acknowledged that work on Swinburne Bridge will profoundly affect The Run. A significant portion of the neighborhood—and the only street providing vehicular access to it—lies directly beneath the bridge.
DOMI painted a rosy picture of plans to minimize disruptions to the community, but avoided promising that residents would not have their homes taken through eminent domain. They also avoided any commitment to calm dangerous traffic along Greenfield Avenue.
DOMI ruled out even adding a traffic signal at the intersection of Swinburne Bridge and Greenfield Avenue until after construction on Swinburne Bridge wraps up in 2026 (at the earliest). Residents have been advocating traffic-calming measures along the nearby 300 block of Greenfield Avenue for more than eight years. They face speeding traffic every time they walk between their houses and cars. Several accidents, including some that totaled parked vehicles, occurred there in 2022 alone.
Moving traffic without mowing down residents
Affected residents, commuters, and DOMI all agree that closing Anderson and Swinburne bridges at the same time would cause far-reaching traffic nightmares.
According to Ms. Bourne, “Based on the traffic observed with Charles Anderson being closed, it is apparent that construction cannot begin on the Swinburne replacement project until Charles Anderson has reopened to traffic.”
While Anderson Bridge remains closed, the posted detour includes Greenfield Avenue.
Bumper-to-bumper traffic now provides a brief respite from leadfooted drivers during rush hour, but the rest of the time, they continue to speed.
Whose needs is DOMI serving?
There is no getting around the fact of competing priorities for Greenfield and Hazelwood. Residents need safer streets, while investors in the Hazelwood Green development have long desired a “permanent, rapid link” that moves traffic as quickly as possible between their site and Oakland university campuses. This explains DOMI’s continued prioritizing of MOC-related projects above community needs even after the MOC’s demise.
Taxpayer-funded institutions should be working against such an extreme power imbalance instead of deepening it. We are calling for DOMI to:
Prioritize the physical safety of existing residents by adopting the Our Money, Our Solutions plan. Residents from MOC-affected neighborhoods created the plan in 2019 to point out infrastructure improvements Pittsburgh should be funding instead of the MOC. Several items in the plan have since been addressed—but not traffic calming on Greenfield Avenue.
Reboot the Swinburne Bridge Project, starting with additional public meetings. The next public meeting is not scheduled to be held until the “final design” phase of the project. Plans established before the first meeting call for a rushed, cookie-cutter design that skipped public input. With work on Anderson Bridge expected to last at least through 2025, there is plenty of time to reassess this approach—and no excuse not to.
Q&A with Annie Quinn, director of the Mon Water Project
Water issues can mean flooded streets, backed-up sewers, and even landslides. A new organization based in Greenfield has the mission of helping people with all of those. Junction Coalition spoke with Annie Quinn, director of the Mon Water Project (MWP) about water issues in The Run and Hazelwood. Ms. Quinn’s answers have been edited for length and clarity.
JC:Why did you decide to start the Mon Water Project? AQ: I had been working for four years in watershed science. As I was attending meetings [about the Four Mile Run stormwater project] and hearing PWSA explaining the project to residents, I felt a responsibility. I wanted to help move the conversation forward. The Mon Water Project is an opportunity to serve the community in a way that helps us all with problems around water—and in Pittsburgh, we have a lot of those.
What is watershed science? The concept of water management within a watershed—how does water move within a system? It’s an area of study that may have been called “freshwater biology” before.
How can the MWP help Hazelwood? The [water/sewer] lines in Hazelwood are as old as the neighborhood. Hazelwood has been a neighborhood of disinvestment resulting from systemic racism, and the result of the “squeaky wheel” system: More privileged residents in other neighborhoods would call and have their pipes replaced over the years.
I want the MWP to raise voices in Hazelwood, find out about their water issues, and get resources for them. We may not know all the water issues Hazelwood residents face. I see the MWP as a chance to unite us and get good solutions for us all.
What have you done in Hazelwood so far? Nonprofits often come into a neighborhood thinking they will be the solution to problems. I want to join existing organizations and become the neighborhood’s “Department of Water.” I’ve joined the [Hazelwood Initiative’s] environmental committee. As time goes on, I’m hoping to meet with PWSA and Grounded Strategies and build upon their relationships with residents. I’m also hoping to meet people at events and educational programs. And I would love to get out in the river on a boat so residents can see the outfall into the river. There are a lot of pathways for me to partner with everyone, and I’m looking forward to meeting residents of all the neighborhoods and working with them.
Could water issues affect the planned Sylvan Avenue Trail? The city is going to have to be careful designing any trail through that area. The number-one issue in trail development is erosion and water damage. There are six streams that are ephemeral—which means they may not be there every day or even every season, but they are a systemic source of water. Any design will have to keep in mind that if not careful about width, ponding, and providing underground transport for water, the trail could become unusable. A pipe could direct water to flow down a steep cliff—and that could eliminate roots on the hillside and contribute to landslides. So for any design, you’d have to know how water works under and around the trail—and where is it safe for the water to go?
What have you learned so far about water issues in The Run? When PWSA said they’re going back to the drawing board [with the stormwater project], they’re going way back… [PWSA has] a stormwater strategic plan—this is new. Before, they were doing stormwater projects more piecemeal and operating with a different metric… [In the new plan], out of all the watersheds in Pittsburgh, Four Mile Run is ranked 5 out of 19. So the good news is that PWSA plans to keep us in the top five for the city. The bad news is that this pushes the timeline [for fixing flooding in The Run]. It’s possible that Four Mile Run is looking at a delay in the promises PWSA made. The process is looking like several layers of plans, then another design and then a project—which can be very frustrating because the solutions are far in the future. We’ll have to figure out together what we do next.
How do you describe PWSA’s Four Mile Run watershed plan? I don’t know, and I don’t think the PWSA knows either. That is the problem, and an opportunity for us to push back and get answers on that. It’s important that our next big conversation with PWSA should be answering questions like, how much additional flow will the project capture? What level of storm is that? Have you evaluated what level of service has allowed this type of flooding in the past? What level of service does this project get up to? There is an opportunity through modeling to predict how the system acts before, during, and after the project. At the MWP, we can analyze data. As a nonprofit, we can use PWSA data and study it from different angles to get some good answers and partner with PWSA to get grants. I’m thinking about how we can take our advocacy to the next level.
How does removal of the work in Junction Hollow affect flood control? The green infrastructure that was proposed in the park…was designed with underdrains so some water goes to groundwater, but a lot is stored and released slowly. [PWSA] said at the [latest] meeting that the new direction [removing the green infrastructure piece] was managing the same amount of water. Slow release would allow them to account for that—the size of the pipes is accounting for holding water back and releasing it slowly… How can we do more storage and slow releasing above ground? How can we avoid feeding a stream into a pipe? The original plan still included water going back into a pipe.
How can the MWP help increase the plan’s effectiveness? The MWP can be more nimble, flexible, and fluid—like water!— in that we are not a government agency with bureaucracy, with politics. We are a grassroots community organization that can apply for grants the city can’t apply for. Nonprofits often can handle problems quicker, or at least bring a distinct perspective. A unified voice for people throughout the watershed. We’re allowed to dream big and do big, innovative projects.
How can people get involved? I am a fiscally sponsored nonprofit of another nonprofit—New Sun Rising. My first job is to get a list of leaders to help decide where the MWP goes next. If you are interested, you don’t have to be a professional—just someone in the community who wants to be actively engaged in a leadership role.
Another way to get involved is to sign up for the newsletter to stay up to date as we grow. Right now, that looks quiet. I want to meet the people who are already here.
About the image: This map shows six springs and ponding along the portion of Sylvan Avenue closed by the city due to landslides. Sylvan Avenue was part of the now-canceled Mon-Oakland Connector shuttle road route between Oakland universities and the Hazelwood Green development. A bike and pedestrian trail has been proposed along the same route. Courtesy of the Mon Water Project
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.
The Four Mile Run Stormwater Project will proceed without green infrastructure in Schenley Park that was intended to reduce runoff from Panther Hollow. PWSA officials at a recent meeting said the scope of the project will now be confined to The Run.
On November 14, about 30 people gathered at the Local 95 Union Hall in The Run, along with 63 virtual attendees on Zoom, to hear long-anticipated updates on the project.
The green infrastructure element of the plan involved engineering a dam at Panther Hollow Lake and daylighting a stream in Schenley Park. PWSA is dropping it from the project because of persistent permitting issues, technical disagreements concerning the dam, and difficult negotiations with CSX, which owns property affected by the work. Senior group manager of stormwater Tony Igwe laid out the challenges and explained that resolving them would cause further delays.
“So the decision was to kind of cut bait and look at the lower stormwater portion [in The Run], which is the core of the project,” Mr. Igwe said.
Kate Meckler, PWSA’s deputy director of engineering and construction, explained another reason for the change. In the past year, PWSA started implementing the Water Reliability Plan, which it calls “a series of once-in-a-generation projects that will modernize our water distribution system.”
Ms. Meckler said relocating 4,200 linear feet of 50-inch water main in the park during a critical phase of the Water Reliability Plan could disrupt people’s water service and that coordination proved too complex.
When work does begin, it will be complicated. Mallory Griffin, who works with construction firm JMT, answered questions about what to expect while work is happening in The Run.
“The design will not allow us to close the road,” she said. “There will be one-way traffic maintained at all times, traffic flaggers, ambulances will be able to get in and out. There will be a very deep trench next to the road. So it’s going to be a lot of police, a lot of work. It won’t be years; we’re estimating several months to get that pipeline in.”
Possible help for flooded homeowners
Laura Vincent said she has been waiting for solutions throughout her nearly 20 years living in The Run. “But honestly, not very much has happened,” she said. In the meantime, Ms. Vincent did extensive work on both of her properties to protect them from flooding.
“It has cost me thousands of dollars,” she said. “What about my neighbors who haven’t done what I’ve done? Do you know what it means to have shit water eight feet high in your basement?”
Mr. Igwe replied that the long delays were part of the reason PWSA decided to move ahead without the work in Schenley Park. “The core of the project is to try to remedy some of those situations,” he said.
Run resident Barb Warwick, newly elected as Pittsburgh’s District 5 city council representative, asked PWSA to work with her to explore the possibility of setting up a fund to help people repair flood damage as months continue to pass without construction on the stormwater project.
“It could make a huge difference for a resident,” Ms. Warwick said. “And it isn’t that much when you’re looking at the grand scheme of things.”
So far, PWSA has spent $7 million on the project. The future budget is not finalized, but they expect to retain the $42 million they had last year.
A new voice emerges on water issues
The other big news of the night came in the form of a new local organization: the Mon Water Project. Founder Anne Quinn, an environmental scientist and Greenfield resident with a background in water management, said the group is focused on conserving, restoring and advocating for the Monongahela tributaries in Greenfield, Four Mile Run and Greater Hazelwood, which Ms. Quinn christened “the Monongahela peninsula.”
Ms. Quinn said these neighborhoods have equally important issues with water. She wants the Mon Water Project to join forces with existing community organizations throughout the area.
On July 14, Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) hosted a virtual meeting about plans to tear down and rebuild Swinburne Bridge in lower Greenfield. The bridge, built in 1915 and rehabilitated twice, is in poor condition and had its weight limit lowered to 21 tons in 2014. According to the Swinburne Bridge project page on Engage PGH, it serves the communities of Four Mile Run (“The Run”), Greenfield, South Oakland, and downtown. The bridge connects Swinburne Street in South Oakland to Greenfield Avenue in lower Greenfield. DOMI said the city is working with the Federal Highway Administration and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) on the project.
About 65 attendees logged in to the meeting, plus an in-person “watch party” of 20 on the deck at Zano’s Pub House. Barb Warwick, who lives in The Run and is running for Pittsburgh City Council’s District 5 seat, facilitated questions from the group at Zano’s.
Representatives from DOMI, PennDOT, and private construction firm Alfred Benesch & Company all acknowledged that work on Swinburne Bridge will profoundly affect The Run. A significant portion of the neighborhood—and the only street providing vehicular access to it—lies directly beneath the bridge. DOMI painted a rosy picture of plans to minimize disruptions to the community while completing the project. But several aspects of the meeting fueled continuing mistrust among residents, who have years of experience with the city treating them as roadblocks to development projects that serve private interests.
A double standard for safety
DOMI project manager Zachary Workman responded with unequivocal commitment to unspecified comments in the chat about bridge safety concerns. “We are absolutely not going to have another bridge collapse,” he said, referring to the January 2022 collapse of Fern Hollow Bridge. “That can’t happen, and we’re not going to let it happen.”
Mr. Workman had more guarded answers to concerns raised by affected residents. He said DOMI is aware of dangerous traffic conditions along Greenfield Avenue that led to repeated requests for traffic-calming measures. “It’s definitely something that’s on DOMI’s radar for improvements in the future but they are going to be—it’s something that we’ll—it’s in the long-range plan as resources become available … It’s going to be a little while still and beyond the scope of this project.”
Project plans include a traffic signal at the intersection of Swinburne Bridge and Greenfield Avenue. When asked if a traffic signal could be installed sooner than the projected fall 2026 bridge completion, DOMI chief engineer Eric Setzler told residents, “Unfortunately, I think, it’s being constructed as part of this project. I certainly understand your desire to see it as soon as possible. I could definitely see that being beneficial, but it’s part of the project so it’s going to have to come at the same time as the rest of the project.”
“Property takes” not ruled out
Also in contrast with DOMI’s commitment to never let another bridge collapse, they went out of their way to avoid firm promises concerning homes and businesses beneath Swinburne Bridge.
Dana Provenzano, who owns two affected properties including Zano’s, asked, “You’re saying you’re not taking any properties, correct?”
“Our preliminary investigation into the demolition and construction is that this bridge can be demolished and rebuilt without taking homes,” Mr. Workman responded. “We’re in preliminary engineering, but that seems to be feasible.”
Asked whether Mayor Gainey’s promise changed plans for the bridge, Mr. Setzler said it “did help us clarify what we were doing for this project … Once we knew [the MOC shuttle] was no longer part of the equation we could home in on bikes, peds, and vehicles.” He did not specify what kind of vehicles.
Mr. Setzler explained that a couple of years ago, DOMI was considering new alignments that would eliminate the sharp turn on the northern end of the bridge. “However, as we were looking at it we realized pretty quickly that any different path for the bridge would require right-of-way, require property takes—by definition, because you’re going over a place where there wasn’t a bridge before.”
Pittsburgh’s 2023 capital budget includes $100K for right-of-way acquisition associated with Swinburne Bridge, but Mr. Setzler said that setting aside funds for this purpose is standard procedure on this type of project. “We believe we can avoid taking property, and that is our goal,” he added.
A shared-use path to nowhere?
Many MOC critics believe profiteers who dreamed up the plan are regrouping to use this bridge replacement as cover for an eventual revival of the community-erasing shuttle road.
Mel Packer of Point Breeze said he has ridden his bike across Swinburne bridge and appreciates “how dangerous it can be once you get onto the Oakland side.” Although he welcomed the “shared-use path” in DOMI’s presented design, Mr. Packer questioned why the path suddenly stops in that treacherous location.
“I’m old enough to remember we had a bridge to nowhere once,” he said. “I feel like this is the bike path to nowhere … What are you not telling me? Why would we build a path that wide across the bridge when it’s impossible to widen Swinburne [Street]? We know it’s impossible—I mean, it would cost many millions of dollars; you’d have to buy properties up on the hill, build a wall 50 feet tall. No one’s going to do that.”
Mr. Setzler responded, “The shuttle has been put aside; that is done. But we’re really looking at the bike-ped connection, and a couple of things we showed on the screen [slide 13 of the presentation]—just to be clear, they’re not part of this project.”
He described a desired off-street connection between the Eliza Furnace trailhead and Swinburne Bridge where the path ends. This could allow cyclists and pedestrians to travel “into the heart of Hazelwood” without navigating the five-way intersection at Greenfield Avenue/Second Avenue/Irvine Street/Saline Street.
An additional connection was not listed in the slide’s text. “There’s also a potential to maybe get on a trail on the other side of the road [where the path ends on Swinburne Bridge] and get back down into [Schenley] Park and go up through the park past the soccer fields and get into Oakland,” Mr. Setzler said.
DOMI’s presentation on the Swinburne Bridge did not include a slide with ideas for future traffic-calming measures on Greenfield Avenue, even though residents must face speeding traffic every time they walk between their houses and cars.
Rushing past design, community input
Rob Pfaffman, a prominent local architect, called the Swinburne Bridge project “a hidden opportunity to celebrate the Hollow, the community, the natural environment, and the trail of course running through it.” But he said that based on what he saw in the presentation, planners are disregarding that opportunity.
“You can’t have a design process where you’re already through preliminary design and you haven’t engaged the community,” Mr. Pfaffman commented. “[Design is] integral to a great project, and right now what you’re showing us is not that. It’s a Fern Hollow Bridge—which is basically expediting a project as quickly as you can and saying screw the design.”
The next public meeting is not scheduled to be held until 2023 or 2024—during “final design.”
Pittsburgh’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.
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!
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.”
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.
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.
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.