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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Pittsburgh officials to create paid-leave policy for victims of domestic abuse

Posted By on Tue, Apr 3, 2018 at 2:24 PM

Susan Frietsche (left), Bill Peduto (center) and Janet Manuel (right) at an April 3 press conference in mayor's conference room - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Susan Frietsche (left), Bill Peduto (center) and Janet Manuel (right) at an April 3 press conference in mayor's conference room
According to the National Partnership on Women and Girls, people who experience domestic abuse typically forfeit 7.2 days of work due to intimate-partner violence. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and other Pittsburgh officials want to provide help for these victims in the form of financial relief for the days that they miss from work.

On April 3, Peduto signed an executive order that will direct the Department of Human Resources and Civil Service to develop a policy to provide non-union employees with “paid safe leave.” This new policy will ensure that victims of domestic abuse can get paid time off to handle situations related to domestic violence, including acquiring Protection from Abuse Orders (PFA), going to meetings related to custody battles, finding child care, and visiting hospitals.

The policy has yet to be written, but Peduto said at an April 3 press conference that a policy must be established by July 3, 2018. Department of Human Resources and Civil Service director Janet Manuel said at the press conference that Pittsburgh officials will be working with local groups like the Women's Law Project, Pittsburgh Action Against Rape, and the Women's Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh to craft the policy over the next 90 days. Manuel said details to be ironed out could include exactly how many days off will be provided to domestic-violence victims.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Bike Pittsburgh calling for more possible regulation of driverless cars in light of fatal crash in Arizona

Posted By on Tue, Mar 27, 2018 at 4:47 PM

A Ford Focus model of an Uber driverless car - CP PHOTO BY KIM LYONS
  • CP photo by Kim Lyons
  • A Ford Focus model of an Uber driverless car
On March 18, a semi-autonomous Uber car struck and killed a pedestrian who was walking her bike across a street in Tempe, Ariz. Initial reports stated the crash was caused by the pedestrian darting out in front of the car, but those would prove inaccurate. A video was released a few days after the crash by Tempe police that showed the car’s technology failed to identify the pedestrian, who was walking across the street slowly in very low light. Additionally, an Uber employee sitting in the driver's seat appeared to be looking down, immediately prior to the crash. According to the Associated Press, experts who viewed the video have said Uber’s driverless-car technology should have picked up the woman and stopped before colliding with her.

On March 27, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey suspended Uber’s self-driving testing privileges throughout the state. Now, the bike and pedestrian advocates at nonprofit Bike Pittsburgh are hoping Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania also consider adding some regulations to the driverless-car testing that occurs in Pittsburgh.

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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Pittsburgh official Twitter account retweets a user with title "WHITE NATIONALIST"; city says it was in error

Posted By on Wed, Feb 28, 2018 at 5:11 PM

IMAGE COURTESY OF TWITTER
  • Image courtesy of Twitter
Sometime between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., Pittsburgh's official Twitter account, @CityPGH, retweeted a tweet from an account named "WHITE NATIONALIST" in all caps. The user's handle is @FIGHT_4UR_RIGHT and the profile states, in all capital letters, "GLOBALISTS DESTROY BORDERS, LANGUAGE & CULTURE OF SOVEREIGN NATIONS. THEY WANNA DUMP TRUMP, HELP MUSLIMS & RULE THRU SHARIA LAW!"

The retweet in question was a reply to a video of actress Jennifer Lawrence saying "Hey Trump, fuck you," referring to President Donald Trump. The tweet from "WHITE NATIONALIST" stated "THAT PERSON IS THE ACTRESS, Jennifer Lawrence. I'M SURE HER PARENTS ARE VERY PROUD. ... #PENNSYLVANIA #PITTSBURG @dailypenn @PittsburghPG." Pittsburgh's official Twitter account was also tagged in this tweet.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

How re-allocating a Pittsburgh parking tax can combat the city's affordable-housing shortage

Posted By on Tue, Feb 13, 2018 at 5:39 PM

The Penn Mathilda affordable-housing complex in Bloomfield is an example of a project that could benefit from parking-tax diversion. - PHOTO COURTESY ACTION HOUSING
  • Photo courtesy Action Housing
  • The Penn Mathilda affordable-housing complex in Bloomfield is an example of a project that could benefit from parking-tax diversion.
On Feb. 8, Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority voted to divert up to $6.8 million in parking-tax revenue to help fund an affordable-housing project in the Lower Hill District, near PPG Paints Arena.

The millions will be raised over 19 years by the expected revenue of a 423-space parking garage going up near PPG Paints Arena. The City’s Edge mixed-income development will be the beneficiary of the diversion, and the apartment complex will be home to 32 market-rate units, and 74 subsidized units located next to the parking garage.

On Feb. 8, URA Chair Kevin Acklin said the vote fits with the overall philosophy of Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s administration.

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Thursday, December 21, 2017

How Pittsburgh finally funded its affordable-housing trust fund

Posted By on Thu, Dec 21, 2017 at 3:05 PM

Corey O'Connor discussing the affordable-housing fund at a December Pittsburgh City Council meeting - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Corey O'Connor discussing the affordable-housing fund at a December Pittsburgh City Council meeting
In early 2015, Pittsburgh City Council knew it needed to investigate and address the city’s affordable- housing problems. Back then, there was a reported shortage of more than 18,000 subsidized affordable units in the city, and since then that figure has only marginally decreased. In January 2015, City Councilor Daniel Lavelle (D-Hill District) introduced legislation to create an Affordable Housing Task Force, and the task force was created in February 2015.

Then that summer, more than 200 residents of the Penn Plaza apartment complex in East Liberty were given eviction notices, and Pittsburgh’s affordable-housing crisis took center stage. Much has happened since then, including continuing disputes around the Penn Plaza site and more legislative activity at city council.

This month, on Dec. 19, city council passed a bill that would fund its $10-million-a-year affordable-housing trust fund called the Housing Opportunity fund. The bill passed by a vote of 7-2 with councilors Natalia Rudiak (D-Carrick) and Darlene Harris (D-North Side) voting against the bill. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has indicated support for the bill.

The fund will be filled by raising the city’s realty-transfer tax up .5 percent for 2018 and 2019, and then up to 1 percent in 2020. This means closing costs on home purchases in the city will go up slightly; those costs are typically split between the buyer and seller. The $10 million Housing Opportunity Fund will be used to provide gap funds on new affordable-housing projects, as well as help low-income home-buyers with home purchases and rehab costs.


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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
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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