traffic caliming

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.”

Key Findings from the City Controller’s Audit of DOMI

speed humps in District 5 by ZIP code

Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb’s office released its performance audit of the city’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) on August 4. The 70-page document examines DOMI’s creation and functions, along with the department’s handling of projects identified as central to its mission.

In the executive summary section of the introductory letter signed by Controller Lamb, he notes that auditors could not assess DOMI’s progress toward some goals “due to DOMI and the previous mayoral administration being unable to furnish records” of DOMI’s early activities. But the audit has useful information for Pittsburghers. Of special interest to District 5 residents are the audit’s findings on traffic calming, distribution of resources, and the Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC).

Traffic calming works, but is applied unevenly

In areas where DOMI has installed speed humps and other traffic-calming measures, the number of drivers exceeding the speed limit has been reduced on average by 38 percent. The audit includes maps of where traffic calming has been put in place and where it is still absent. Figure 5 on page 31 shows a distribution map of speed humps across Pittsburgh’s nine council districts. Markers show speed humps in District 5 concentrated at the northern end, in Squirrel Hill South.

Figure 5 on p. 31 of the City Controller’s audit of DOMI
Figure 5 on p. 31 of the City Controller’s audit of DOMI

District 5’s two ZIP codes highlight the disparity. A closer look using the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center website shows that none of District 5’s 21 speed humps (18 shown, 3 so new they have not yet appeared in the system) are in 15207 (Greenfield, Greater Hazelwood, and the 31st Ward), although dangerous roads in these neighborhoods require urgent attention.

speed humps in District 5 by ZIP code
This map, created in the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center, shows District 5 outlined in blue with an additional blue line marking the border between its two ZIP codes. Speed humps, shown as yellow dots, are only in 15217. Source: wprdc.org. Accessed September 4, 2022

Street selection for repaving should be data-driven

Wealthier neighborhoods also enjoy better street maintenance, possibly for similar reasons. Before 2018, resources for streets in the worst condition (scored on an index) were split into Department of Public Works (DPW) divisions. DOMI’s director changed the method in 2018 so that money is split evenly among council districts.

According to recommendation 10 of the audit, “Before concrete and accessible data existed, it was arguably a good idea to tie paving projects in with council districts to ensure equity across the city. However, we now have more comprehensive data, and as a result, more data-driven decisions can be made.”

The audit’s findings call for a return to dividing this work into DPW districts. This would encourage paving streets in worse repair first instead of “dividing the budget by political boundaries,” as stated on page 41. They also suggest avoiding an over-reliance on calls to the city’s 311 system for input, which leads to a “squeaky wheel” approach that can elevate neighborhoods with many 311 callers above those most in need.

The MOC has deeper problems than its name

Although the audit points out DOMI’s lack of transparency, its discussion of the MOC relies on DOMI’s characterization of the project. As a result, the audit contains several inaccuracies about the MOC.

On page 24 it states, “The [MOC] project would also address flooding and stormwater issues and include the implementation of green infrastructure.” However, the MOC has always been a separate project from the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s (PWSA’s) Four Mile Run Stormwater Project. PWSA originally planned to work on their project in the same physical location as the proposed MOC; that is why PWSA submitted a joint application for both projects during the permitting process. But PWSA’s project received no funding until nearly two years after the MOC was announced. In fact, the original grant for the MOC sought by the city and its partners in 2015 stated in its guidelines that funding could only be used for the shuttle road—not to fix flooding in the area.

The audit continues, “The consensus from the second public meeting found citizens selected electric scooters, electric bike-share systems, and electric shuttles to be the ideal solutions.” This statement is not sourced, but seems to have come directly from DOMI. As the audit later notes, the MOC lacked community support from the beginning—partly because the project’s estimated $23 million budget should instead go to infrastructure needs outlined in the community-generated Our Money, Our Solutions plan. These include traffic-calming interventions.

Controller Lamb’s office makes no recommendations concerning the MOC project and their only finding is as follows: “The auditors found that multiple names for this shuttle program were used to reference it. This causes confusion to the public. For example, Mon-Oakland Shuttle, Mon-Oakland Connector Shuttle or just Mon-Oakland Connector were found to be used interchangeably.”

Even so, Controller Lamb stated in a May 27 email that the audit’s review of the MOC helped inform Mayor Gainey’s decision to end the unpopular project.