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Friday, October 6, 2017

Pittsburgh City Councilor Darlene Harris caught driving car on pedestrian path in park, upsetting constituents

Posted By on Fri, Oct 6, 2017 at 3:34 PM

Now-deleted post by North Side constituent photographing Darlene Harris as she drove by on pedestrian path - IMAGE COURTESY OF FACEBOOK
  • Image courtesy of Facebook
  • Now-deleted post by North Side constituent photographing Darlene Harris as she drove by on pedestrian path
In April, Pittsburgh City Paper reported about a video showing Pittsburgh City Councilor Darlene Harris honking at a cyclist who was obeying all traffic laws and yelling at him to “get in the damn bike lane,” when there was no bike lane to ride in. This video was from 2016, but the story ran when Harris was running for mayor.

Now, it appears Harris and her gold Jeep are drawing ire again. A now-deleted Facebook post shows a Jeep that matches the description previously reported by CP driving in the pedestrian path in Allegheny Commons Park in the North Side. The post’s author writes: “Does Darlene Harris realize it is a sidewalk not a road through our park? Apparently not since she almost ran over my stroller.”

CP reached out to the post’s author, who asked not to be included in the story, but Harris confirmed that she was driving through the park in a Oct. 5 Facebook post that reads in part: “I have received reports that some people are upset that I was using my vehicle in a park. I’m so glad that we have such vigilant citizens who are willing to report what they think is wrong, but I’m here to set the record straight. I was out on business personally investigating complaints that I had received from my residents.”

The post from the North Side resident received a lot of comments on Facebook when it was posted on Oct. 4, but was taken down relatively quickly. Still, Harris indicates in her post that people were “jumping to conclusions” when accusing her of any wrongdoing. Harris writes: “If anyone has an issue with me in the future — no matter how big or small — I invite you to contact me directly so that we can have a conversation. I have dedicated my life to public service and don’t plan on stopping any time soon. I was out serving my community and will continue to do so!”

One Harris constituent spoke to CP and was upset about Harris driving in the park.

“I am not very happy it, I live across the street from the park,” says Zandrea Ambrose, who has lived in the Mexican War Streets section of the North Side for 10 years. “It is concerning that she is driving in there. … I don't think I have ever seen a car in the park, outside of an event, or city park vehicles.”

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Friday, August 25, 2017

Penn Plaza residents and advocates pressure Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto to enact broad affordable-housing legislation

Posted By on Fri, Aug 25, 2017 at 2:06 PM

Affordable-housing advocates protesting in Riverview Park on Aug. 24 - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Affordable-housing advocates protesting in Riverview Park on Aug. 24
When longtime Penn Plaza residents Myrtle Stern and Maybel Duffy were forced to vacate their East Liberty homes earlier this year, their options for replacement housing were limited. They need elevator access, as they are in their 70s and have trouble navigating stairs. “I have arthritis and a metal knee,” said Duffy at an Aug. 24 protest in Riverview Park. “I can’t do steps.”

The best option for them was Auburn Towers apartments, in Verona, Pa., which is more than an hour away from Penn Plaza via public transit. And Stern says this move has lowered her quality of life.

“When I lived in East Liberty, I used to walk a block or two to visit with my daughter," said Stern in a press release. “When I got to feeling bad, I used to babysit my grandkids, and then I would feel better. But I had to move out to Verona, where there are so few buses that I feel trapped out here, especially on the weekends when there are no buses at all. I want to be able to return to my home in East Liberty.”

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Friday, August 18, 2017

Why new bike lanes in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood are a big deal

Posted By on Fri, Aug 18, 2017 at 10:56 AM

New bike lanes being painted in Oakland - CP PHOTO BY JAKE MYSLIWCZYK
  • CP photo by Jake Mysliwczyk
  • New bike lanes being painted in Oakland
In 2015, when Pittsburgh’s Department of City Planning went out to count the number of cyclists on city roads, four Oakland intersections saw 124 cyclists pass by per hour. By this count, Oakland is the second most bike-trafficked neighborhood; only Downtown saw more cyclists.

But for years, Oakland had been without any substantial bike infrastructure. In 2014 and 2015, bike lanes were installed on Schenley Drive, Bayard Street and Bigelow Boulevard to meet the bike demand of neighborhood residents, including thousands of college students, but a key piece was still missing.

On Forbes Avenue (between Bigelow and Craig Street) and on Bigelow Boulevard (in between Fifth and and Forbes avenues), there was nothing but space for cars. But as of Aug. 18, that has all changed. Pittsburgh has installed bike lanes on these streets, including the city’s first counter-flow bike lane on Forbes, adding another piece to the bike-infrastructure puzzle in Oakland.

“These things have been building over time,” says Kristin Saunders, the city’s bike/pedestrian coordinator. “It is really filling in those gaps.”

With the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's imminent construction of bike lanes on Forbes from Craig Street all the way into Squirrel Hill, Saunders says the cyclists will now have clear directions on how to navigate Oakland on bike infrastructure.

“It is a space where we need dedicated space for cyclists. It is the right application for this street,” says Saunders.

One of those new applications is unique to the city, but necessary since Oakland has many one-way streets for cars. Saunders says the counter-flow bike lane, which will run on the left side of Forbes Avenue from Bigelow to Bellefield, will be important to give cyclists safe passage through Oakland. But it will also help take cyclists off the sidewalk, where they are not legally allowed to ride, but often do because bike lanes were not present. The counter-flow lane will be marked by a double yellow line, and will transform that section of Forbes into a two-way street, but only for bikes.

An example of how cyclists should use a "Copenhagen" Left in Oakland. - IMAGE COURTESY OF DEPARTMENT OF CITY PLANNING
  • Image courtesy of Department of City Planning
  • An example of how cyclists should use a "Copenhagen" Left in Oakland.
Other new designs include bike boxes at heavily trafficked intersections that encourage riders to complete a "Copenhagen Left," a term used to describe when cyclists avoid left-turn lanes for cars and instead pass over the intersection in the right-hand lane, and then wait for an opposing green light to cross (see image). Saunders says there will also be a separate signal at some lights, so bikes don't have to cross the street at the same time as cars.

Saunders says city planning will be looking to educate the public on how to properly use the new bike infrastructure. She adds the new infrastructure will minimize conflicts between drivers and cyclists. In 2015, cyclist Susan Hicks was killed at the intersection of Forbes and Bigelow when a car crashed into a line of cars and Hicks, who was waiting to turn left onto Bigelow. The new bike infrastructure now gives cyclists an area to wait to cross over Forbes onto Bigelow that they did not have before.

The new Oakland lanes will surely have their critics (after all, two of this year’s mayoral candidates ran on anti-bike-lane messaging), who might say that not enough people bike in Oakland to deserve additional infrastructure.

But Saunders is confident demand is there and points out that criticism of bike lanes sometimes contains flawed logic. “[Oakland] streets are pretty unaccommodating right now for cyclists,” says Saunders. “If we build a system that’s not unaccommodating for cyclists, and then ask why there are no cyclists. That doesn’t really make sense.”

And below are some images of the newly installed bike lanes from our photo intern Jake Mysliwczyk.
New bike lane on Bigelow Boulevard - CP PHOTO BY JAKE MYSLIWCZYK
  • CP photo by Jake Mysliwczyk
  • New bike lane on Bigelow Boulevard
  • CP photo by Jake Mysliwczyk
  • CP photo by Jake Mysliwczyk

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Is dialog surrounding Pittsburgh’s affordable-housing trust fund stuck in one gear?

Posted By on Thu, Jul 20, 2017 at 3:57 PM

Pittsburgh City Councilors meet at an July 18 post-agenda meeting on affordable housing. - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Pittsburgh City Councilors meet at an July 18 post-agenda meeting on affordable housing.
When Pittsburgh City Council convened a post-agenda meeting on July 18, councilors in attendance were given a sales pitch on why the best way to fill the city’s affordable-housing trust fund is to take out a $100 million bond and pay it back by raising Pittsburgh’s real-estate transfer tax by 1 percent. Councilor Daniel Lavelle (D-Hill District), who hosted the meeting, invited eight guests to speak, and all agreed raising the real-estate transfer tax is the way to go.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Pittsburgh housing advocates rally for better living conditions at Penn Plaza

Posted By on Tue, Feb 21, 2017 at 4:14 PM

More than 80 housing advocates rally in front of City-County Building Downtown - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • More than 80 housing advocates rally in front of City-County Building Downtown
O’Harold Hoots is one of about 25 residents remaining in the Penn Plaza apartment complex in East Liberty. The complex is one of East Liberty’s last below-market-rate, non-subsidized housing complexes, and it’s set to be demolished at the end of March. On Feb. 21, Hoots spoke at a rally in front of the City-County Building and decried the current living conditions of Penn Plaza.

“We are living in inhumane conditions,” said Hoots to a crowd of about 80. “We are awakened by loud construction noises, and I have caught many rodents in the building.”

In 2015, Penn Plaza’s owner, LG Realty Advisors, issued 90-day eviction notices to some 300 families that lived in Penn Plaza. In response to the pending mass eviction, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto stepped in and helped negotiate a deal that led to dollars for a city affordable-housing trust fund. Also, Penn Plaza residents received relocation assistance, and LG was allowed to redevelop the property.

The first building, at 5704 Penn Ave., came down February 2016, displacing some residents, while others remained in the other building at 5600 Penn Ave. Myrtle Stern lives there and has lived at Penn Plaza for nine years. She told the crowd the owners are already doing demolition work to her building including, “digging out the ceiling and tearing up the floors.”

Randall Taylor, a former Penn Plaza resident, helped to organize the rally and was very critical of Penn Plaza’s owners, who are attempting to redevelop the property into a mixed-use development, anchored by a new Whole Foods Market and luxury apartments.

“[LG Realty] have displaced hundreds of familes, for what, a few extra dollars,” said Taylor. “We welcome new development, but not at the cost of the old residents of the neighborhood.”

LG's initial Penn Plaza redevelopment proposal was rejected by a unanimous 9-0 vote from the Pittsburgh Planning Commission and LG has appealed that decision, as well as suing the city, saying the planning commission was too hasty in its decision. Attorney Jonathan Kamin, who represents LG Realty, did not return a request for comment by press time. City Paper spotted LG principal Brian Gumberg recording the rally on his phone today, but he left the scene before the rally concluded.

Peduto’s chief of staff Kevin Acklin said he is aware of the complaints of substandard living conditions at Penn Plaza. He added that the mayor’s office sent a letter to LG on Feb. 16, requesting the owners to stop any alleged construction work on the property until all residents vacate and LG provides proof they are meeting the living standards required by the Allegheny County Health Department.

Acklin said the city will seek legal action if LG does not comply. “If [LG] doesn’t provide those assurance by the end of the day, we are tee’d up to go to court,” said Acklin at a press conference after the rally. “If they are unable to certify compliance, then we are ready to go to court to force them.”

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Friday, January 6, 2017

Studies show bike lanes can reduce congestion, contrary to Pittsburgh residents' criticism

Posted By on Fri, Jan 6, 2017 at 3:44 PM

Bike riders on Penn Avenue protected bike lane - PHOTO COURTESY OF BIKE PITTSBURGH
  • Photo courtesy of Bike Pittsburgh
  • Bike riders on Penn Avenue protected bike lane
Pushing back against new bike lanes is becoming a Pittsburgh tradition. When Mayor Bill Peduto started to install the lanes a couple years ago along Penn Avenue, in Oakland and elsewhere, there was outcry from business owners, residents in the neighborhoods and drivers worrying about parking. Granted there was also support from hundreds of bikers and advocates, but that support tended to be downplayed by media outlets.

Now, two years after having set up protected bike lanes Downtown on Penn Avenue (which sometimes receives more than 1,000 trips per day) and the Roberto Clemente Bridge, the city is still facing strong push-back on an extension to that system along Fort Pitt Boulevard. In response, Pittsburgh City Councilor Theresa Kail-Smith (District 2) is proposing the creation of a bike-lane committee to field complaints and suggestions for new bike lanes.

However, as advocacy group Bike Pittsburgh points out, there already is a Complete Streets Advisory Committee being set up that can field road-design complaints, such as for bike lanes.

“We believe that [Pittsburgh] should first concentrate on getting the Complete Streets Advisory Committee off the ground and running — a committee that was written into the Complete Streets bill that unanimously passed council in November,” wrote Bike Pittsburgh director Scott Bricker in an email to City Paper. “If a bicycle-only advisory committee is still needed, so be it, but they should figure out how it will coordinate with the Complete Streets Committee so that the two are not redundant.”

In addition to the Complete Streets committee, Pittsburgh’s Department of City Planning conducts numerous public meetings every year led by bike/pedestrian coordinator Kristine Saunders, where complaints and suggestions about new bike-lane projects can be filed. CP has sat in on many of these meetings, which are always held in the neighborhood directly affected, and they usually include many representatives from both the pro-bike-lane and anti-bike-lane creed.

Nonetheless, the Pittsburgh Trib Live reported Jan. 3 that Kail-Smith was motivated to set up a bike-lane committee due to “numerous complaints about existing lanes Downtown from residents who say they take up space for street parking and cause traffic congestion.”

But the assertion that bike lanes cause more congestion actually runs contrary to studies in multiple big cities across the country. In New York City, a protected bike lane on Columbus Avenue actually improved congestion, decreasing travel time for cars from 4.5 minutes to 3 minutes along a 20-block stretch. In Minneapolis, the U.S.’s top bike-commuting city, news-data website studied 10 segments in the Minnesota city in 2014 and determined that the addition of a bike lane at the cost of a car lane had no affect on traffic times for cars.

In fact, a 2013 University of Virginia study shows that bike riders only reduce congestion when they have bike lanes to ride in. The Fort Pitt Boulevard proposed extension to Downtown's protected bike lane would add about half-a-mile of lanes and connect directly to the Great Allegheny Passage trail, which runs to Washington, D.C.

The proposed bike-lane advisory committee will be discussed at 10 a.m. Wed., Jan 11, in the city council chambers, located on the fifth floor of the City-County Building at 414 Grant St., Downtown.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Affordable-housing advocates allege LG Realty tried to manipulate Pittsburgh Planning Commission

Posted By on Wed, Dec 14, 2016 at 4:28 PM

Advocate speaking out in opposition to LG's proposed redevelopment of Penn Plaza. - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Advocate speaking out in opposition to LG's proposed redevelopment of Penn Plaza.
On Dec 13, at a Pittsburgh planning commission public hearing, there were some new faces present in the ongoing battle over the development of the Penn Plaza complex in East Liberty. In June 2015, hundreds of Penn Plaza residents were given 90-day eviction notices by the building’s owners, LG Realty.

The 312 apartments that made up Penn Plaza were some of the last non-subsidized, below-market rate housing in all of East Liberty. As a result, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto stepped in and helped negotiate a deal that led to dollars for the affordable housing trust fund, Penn Plaza residents received relocation assistance and LG was allowed to redevelop the property.

Throughout this process, there have been many familiar faces: neighbors from nearby single-family homes focused on the future of Enright Park (the small public park in the center of the Penn Plaza site), housing advocates from Action United and Homes for All Pittsburgh, and developers from LG.

But at the Dec. 13 public hearing to discuss the preliminary plans for LG’s new development, which includes a controversial expansion by Whole Foods, a dozen new faces emerged, and all were from Rodman Street Missionary Baptist Church, which is located near the Larimer-East Liberty border. And while at past meetings the majority of East Liberty residents have been opposed to LG’s plans, because they say the neighborhood can’t stand to lose any more affordable units, the Rodman Street group was solidly in favor of the new development due to its contribution to East Liberty’s affordable-housing fund.

“We think this project will help us, through the affordable housing trust fund,” said Rev. Darryl T. Canady of Rodman Street to the planning commission. “We are here to support this.”

After the pastor spoke, about 12 of his parishioners, some who had lived in Penn Plaza before part of it was torn down, spoke in favor of the development and the affordable-housing trust fund. (In September 2015, the Urban Redevelopment Authority created an affordable-housing trust fund for East Liberty, which is generated from tax increments of select developments in the neighborhood. Penn Plaza was added to that list of projects when the city reached a deal with LG in late September 2015.)

However, many of the parishioners merely said they support the pastor and some called the trust fund the “affordable care trust fund.” Some opponents of the development said they felt LG was trying to "manipulate" the planning commission. And Michael David Battle, a local housing advocate, exclaimed at the meeting, “they don’t even know what [the fund] is called!”

LG’s attorney Jonathan Kamin rejects the idea that his client is unfairly manipulating the planning commission and said one group doesn’t have a monopoly on community engagement. “Our community outreach has been significant and involves talking to neighborhood groups and churches,” said Kamin. “And we’re happy to have built a consensus and support for our project.”

Before the start of the public hearing, a City Paper reporter saw LG president Lawrence Gumberg, talking to the group of parishioners and overheard the developer say, “bottom line, we get the tax break, then we contribute to the affordable housing trust fund.” After the meeting, Rev. Canady said that Gumberg approached him a “few months ago” to detail the Penn Plaza development and the affordable-housing trust fund.

East Liberty resident Arthur Allen spoke in opposition of LG’s plan at the meeting because of its lack of affordable units. He also objects to the redesign of the city-owned Enright Park. He says he believes LG is trying to manipulate the planning commission by “trying to change the tone for the entire project,” instead of meeting with residents like himself to come to a shared vision.

“It’s over a year later and we are not seeing what should take place,” said Allen after the meeting. “If you are on the planning commission, you should be able to see right through [what LG] is trying to do.”

During the meeting, Kamin outlined in detail how LG had met every obligation required by the city and said the project will contribute $10-12 million for the affordable housing trust fund over 10 years. He also said that as the development is designed right now, all of the 400 proposed units will be market-rate.

Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations’ director Carlos Torres said generally the commission feels that future housing developments should include affordable-housing units, so  they don't violate the U.S. Fair Housing Act. “Housing developments that perpetuate segregation or that effectively exclude members of protected classes cannot be found to create a favorable social impact,” said Torres in a statement released after the meeting.

But Kamin said that LG would have to acquire federal and state funds to create affordable units, which they are not currently seeking. According to the agreement forged between the city and LG in 2015, LG is not required to include affordable units in their new development.

The public hearing lasted more than four hours, with more than 40 people speaking. Because the meeting was so contentious, the planning commission decided to delay the vote until next month. Planning Commission Chair Christine Mondor said the vote could take place either Jan. 10, 2017 or Jan. 24. Check the planning commission website for up-to-date information.

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Friday, November 4, 2016

Breaking: Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay resigns

Posted By on Fri, Nov 4, 2016 at 11:48 AM

Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay
Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay has resigned. His last day will be Nov. 8, Election Day. He became known as a reformer in the department, which often made him unpopular within the department's ranks and popular with members of the community.

Earlier this year, members of the Pittsburgh FOP, the officers' union, gave McLay a vote of "no-confidence," however, Mayor Bill Peduto stood behind the chief, our Rebecca Addison reported at the time.

While McLay's last official day is Dec. 4th, he has accrued enough time off that his last day will be Nov. 8 and he will move back to Wisconsin shortly after, to rejoin his family. The reason he gave why this would be his last day: "I wanted to vote."

McLay was hired on the promise of instituting improved police-community relations and made a splash when he held up a sign during Light Up Night 2014 that read "I resolve to challenge racism at work, #endwhitesilence."

At a Nov. 4 press conference announcing his decision, he relayed the message to his former officers that they were on the right track in terms of a forging a positive relationship between police officers and the community.

"To the men and women of the police bureau, stay the course, you are on the right track," said McLay. "Everyone of you are leaders, everyone of you have an ethical responsibility to serve this community."

While McLay denied that the FOP's no-confidence vote influenced his decision to step down, he did communicate that results that can come after someone comes in and tries to make changes. He said that often the person who comes and and "knocks down the silos, usually ruffles the most feathers." McLay said he had been discussing the possibility of leaving the Pittsburgh police with Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto since August. McLay was the first chief chosen from outside the bureau in more than 150 years.

"For everybody, I remind you that change is hard," said McLay. "Everybody wants things to be different and we all resists change, but please understand improvements only come about with change."

McLay believed he was able to accomplish some change, through his office's work forging relationships with activist and faith leaders. When Black Lives Matters protesters took to the streets in July, and the marchers wanted to enter and shut down the parkway, McLay said he was proud to avoid that by speaking with the activist leadership and persuade them to march down Ft. Pitt Boulevard instead, toward Point State Park.

He praised Pittsburgh and became emotional when issuing his send-off: "This is a great city. and it has been an honor to serve you all."

Taking over for McLay in the interim is Assistant Chief Scott Schubert, who has been with the Pittsburgh Police for 24 years. He vowed to continue the community-policing model. "We are not going to stray from our vision," said Schubert. "We believe in it." Peduto said Schubert would serve for 90 days and McLay's replacement will be named after that.

Peduto said that when he hired McLay, they had spoken about how the average term for a police chief was three years and he knew the city "only had him for a short time." Peduto, like McLay, believes that Pittsburgh policing is on the right track.

"We needed a wrecking ball chief to get reform. Now we have the opportunity with an entire new command set," said Peduto. "We are so much closer to getting there because [McLay] was our chief."

10:25 a.m.:

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Monday, July 18, 2016

Pittsburgh officials asking for input on 'Complete Streets' and bike-lane plans

Posted By on Mon, Jul 18, 2016 at 3:41 PM

  • Image courtesy of Pittsburgh Department of City Planning
  • An example of Complete Streets design
"Complete Streets" should be coming to Pittsburgh soon, and the city is asking for input. The idea, which brings equity to roadways by ensuring cars, pedestrians, cyclists and public transit riders have equal access to streets, will be the first of its kind in the region says Kristin Saunders, the city's bike and pedestrian coordinator.

“We want to build a city that accommodates people walking, taking public transit, biking, and people driving,” Saunders said to a crowd of 50 at the South Side Market House on July 7. “Our streets should be great public spaces.”

She presented a draft of the city’s Complete Streets policy during the public meeting, and laid out how the city plans to redesign streets to accommodate all users. She said roadways could receive complete streets designs in three ways: by creating new roadways, during street pavings and utility replacements, and through large-scale capital improvement projects. She says this helps to limit costs, since pavings and replacements were scheduled anyway and grants are a separate source of funding from the city’s capital budget.

Advocates of Complete Streets designs say they can ease congestion, spur economic development, make neighborhoods more appealing to pedestrians and cyclists and improve public safety.

In fact, one Pittsburgh road will be seeing some equitable road design in the near future. Broadway Avenue in Beechview will be redesigned with friendlier sidewalks, improved light-rail stations and, possibly, Pittsburgh’s first bike lanes shielded by parked cars thanks to a $600,000 state grant awarded to the neighborhood.

“This is such fantastic news for Beechview,” said Pittsburgh City Councilor Natalia Rudiak in a statement. “The neighborhood is poised for renewal with young families buying homes and developers taking on major renovations. Now, our public infrastructure can be more accessible and attractive.”

However, there will be some exceptions, and Eric Boerer of bike-advocacy group Bike Pittsburgh asked at the meeting who would decide what streets are excluded from complete streets design. Saunders said an advisory committee will make those choices and decisions on the committee’s size and makeup, which are not final. She did hint that they will involve members of city government and advocacy groups, however.

But for those who wish to ensure their voices are heard, comments can be given here. Respondents can also send letters to the Department of City Planning offices at 200 Ross St., Fourth Floor, Pittsburgh, PA 15222.The public comment period closes on July 25.

A meeting is also being held tonight (July 18) to receive public input for Pittsburgh's new citywide bike plan at the 1319 Allegheny Ave., North Side from 6-8 p.m. Two more bike-plan public meetings will be held in the next two weeks at various locations around Pittsburgh. Check the city planning department’s calendar for details.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Immigrant population providing a boost to Pittsburgh economy, say officials

Posted By on Tue, Jul 12, 2016 at 5:34 PM

Adnan Hilton Pehlivan, owner of Mediterranean restaurant Istanbul Sofra, speaks at a press conference about positive economic contributions of immigrants. - PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • Photo by Ryan Deto
  • Adnan Hilton Pehlivan, owner of Mediterranean restaurant Istanbul Sofra, speaks at a press conference about positive economic contributions of immigrants.
In Allegheny County, immigrant groups are economically punching above their weight. A new study from the Partnership for a New American Economy, shows that 7.6 percent of the county’s gross domestic product comes from immigrants, even though foreign-born individuals only make up around 5 percent of the population.

That discrepancy is why public officials like Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald are praising the contributions immigrants are bringing to the region.

“It is not just the welcoming heart of the city, it is the economic growth of the region that is the biggest beneficiary,” Peduto said at a press conference on June 12. “A resurgence in our economy that is being fueled by people coming from other countries.”
Peduto says that immigrants in Allegheny County contributed $217 million in state and local taxes in 2014 and  had a spending power of $1.8 billion that year. (This makes up 6.3 percent of the county’s spending power, which is also above the percentage of the county’s immigrant population.)

“It’s great that we have been able to capture some of the data that a lot of us knew empirically about how important the immigrant population has been over the last few years, has been to our economy and quality of life,” Fitzgerald said at the press conference Downtown.

Fitzgerald said in a five-year period, starting in 2009, property values nationally were declining, but in Allegheny County, the values were increasing, with a big boost from immigrants. He also pointed to the study for showing that while the Pittsburgh region’s population slightly declined since 2009, the foreign-born population increased by 8 percent.

“When you look at the contribution that the immigrant population has helped in stemming population decline, improving property values, that contribution that they have meant to our economy is tremendous,” said Fitzgerald.

Peduto said that immigrants are “building a new economy” in the city. Their rates of entrepreneurship are higher than U.S.-born residents in Allegheny County, and are also higher than the national average.

The study also shows that Pittsburgh immigrants have higher educational rates than average, but Betty Cruz of Peduto’s Welcoming Pittsburgh initiative tells City Paper that low-income residents were contributing to the growth too. She says the $217 million in taxes were contributed from “across the board” and not just from wealthier immigrants.

Cruz says immigrants from all backgrounds have contributed positively to “main street” economies like Asian immigrants in Squirrel Hill and Latinos in Beechview.

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