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Infrastructure

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Pittsburgh's North Side to get protected bike lane on Allegheny Circle

Posted By on Tue, Sep 12, 2017 at 3:14 PM

A protected bike-lane cycletrack on Penn Avenue, Downtown - CP PHOTO BY JAKE MYSLIWCZYK
  • CP photo by Jake Mysliwczyk
  • A protected bike-lane cycletrack on Penn Avenue, Downtown
The protected-bike-lane train keeps on rolling through Pittsburgh. Last month, City Paper reported on Oakland receiving Pittsburgh's first counter-flow, protected bike lane and other big bike-infrastructure changes coming to the student-heavy neighborhood.

Now, the North Side is the benefactor of improved bike infrastructure. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto's office announced on Sept. 12, the soon-to-come installation of a cycletrack, or two-way protected bike lane, coming to Allegheny Circle, called Commons on road signs. Currently, the four-lane, one-way road loops around the former Allegheny Center, now called Nova Place. Peduto said in a press release that the road needs to be redesigned to create a "multimodal, pedestrian-friendly urban street."

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Petition started for green infrastructure sewage project in Greenfield

Posted By on Wed, Aug 2, 2017 at 11:21 AM

A mock-up of the Four Mile Run green infrastructure project - IMAGE COURTESY OF PHRONESIS DESIGN AND PITTSBURGH PARKS CONSERVANCY
  • Image courtesy of Phronesis Design and Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
  • A mock-up of the Four Mile Run green infrastructure project
The residents of Four Mile Run, an isolated neighborhood on the edge of Greenfield, have wanted one thing for a very long time: a major sewage infrastructure project to alleviate its flooding problems. The neighborhood nestled in a valley south of Oakland consistently sees flooding in heavy rains, including the overflowing of Saline Street in September 2016.

In December 2015, Pittsburgh officials  attempted to convince the neighborhood to support a transit project that would have shuttled autonomous vehicles through Four Mile Run (this was part of the city’s Smart Cities transit application that the city wasn’t awarded). Most Four Mile Run residents opposed the transit project, and many argued that if the city was going to invest in the neighborhood, an infrastructure project to solve the area’s flooding issues should be first on the list.


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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Report reveals Trump’s infrastructure priorities; two Pittsburgh-area projects make list

Posted By on Wed, Jan 25, 2017 at 2:56 PM

Charleroi Lock and Dam - PHOTO COURTESY OF WIKICOMMONS
  • Photo courtesy of wikicommons
  • Charleroi Lock and Dam
Okay infrastructure nerds, don’t get too excited. A report obtained by the Kansas City Star and McClatchyDC reveals President Donald Trump’s top 50 infrastructure project priorities, totaling $137.5 billion.

Pittsburgh-area projects are listed at 45 and 46 on the list and come with a $2.6 billion price-tag. But sorry to those North Hills residents, who voted for Trump in troves, you are not getting that light-rail line to Pittsburgh you have always wanted. In fact, the two Pittsburgh projects are more of the necessary, but boring variety.

Priority number 45 is a much-needed upgrade to the locks and dams on the Ohio River in Emsworth, Moon, and Beaver County. According to the report, these facilities are the “oldest and smallest lock chambers” on the Ohio River. And priority number 46, is also a lock and dam upgrade, this one on the Monongahela River in Charleroi. Not the sexiest of projects.

However, combing through the list shows Trump does have an inkling for supporting some pretty exciting infrastructure plans. A proposed high-speed rail line between Dallas and Houston is on the list at number 13. Also some green infrastructure plans make the list, including a wind farm in Wyoming and a storm water reduction plan in Cleveland.

And while Pittsburgh's plans are comparatively dull, both of the lock-and-dam projects would surely be a boon to the economies of these river towns (they could provide up to 2,600 jobs,according to the report). But even though Trump campaigned on providing $1 trillion in infrastructure spending, that doesn’t mean any of the projects are close to a reality.

Any large infrastructure bill would need to get U.S. Congressional approval before going through, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) stated after Trump’selection victory that a big infrastructure plan was not a big priority to Congressional Republicans, who control both the House and Senate.

Regardless, Pittsburgh is in need of an infrastructure boost. According to a 2011 Transportation for America report, Pittsburgh has the highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges in the country at 30.4 percent. Oddly, number 6 on Trump's priority list is a project to address 15 of Philadelphia's structurally deficient bridges. Classic, Philly, always getting all the Pennsylvania attention.

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Monday, November 7, 2016

Pittsburgh reinvigorates transatlantic connections with direct flights to Iceland

Posted By on Mon, Nov 7, 2016 at 5:01 PM

IMAGE COURTESY OF WOW AIR
  • Image courtesy of WOW air
For years, the only all-season international flights out of Pittsburgh International Airport were one-hour journeys to Toronto, a city just a five-hour drive from Pittsburgh.

But today it was announced PIT airport will finally be seeing year-round flights again across international borders with flights to Iceland. WOW air has announced four flights a week from Pittsburgh to Reykjavik, Iceland's capital, starting in on June 16. From the volcanic nation's capital, WOW also offers connections to 20 European cities, including Paris, Rome, London and Barcelona.

“We are excited to once again have year-round transatlantic service with easy access to Europe,” Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis said in a press release.

WOW air is a low-cost carrier that has been rapidly expanding into U.S. markets, with Pittsburgh becoming its first midsize city to receive service. Flights are currently on sale from Pittsburgh to Iceland and beyond, with some one-way flights for as low as $99. (However, rates in the summer months are about triple that.)

Regardless, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald is thrilled to see Pittsburgh get more European flights.

“Our recent growth and momentum at Pittsburgh International is matching the momentum and growth of our region," said Fitzgerald in a press release. "WOW recognized Pittsburgh’s pent-up demand for air service to Europe, and the airline will greatly enhance travelers’ options.”

And WOW's CEO Skúli Mogensen feels that the airline's expansion into Pittsburgh will work as a two-way benefit, also attracting Europeans to the Steel City. (Maybe they will want to visit our potential Whiskey Museum.)

“Pittsburgh is certainly a destination on the rise and one that will appeal to a wide range of European travelers looking to discover somewhere different, so we’re thrilled to add the destination to our route list,” said Mogensen in a press release.

But while excitement seems to be in the air at the airport, riders on WOW might want to temper their enthusiasm; the low-cost carrier only allows one carry-on bag per passenger and the fees can reach as high as $100 on a one-way flight.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Pittsburgh educator creates online map to track city's development

Posted By on Wed, May 11, 2016 at 1:13 PM

If you haven’t noticed, Pittsburgh has been going through a bit of development and construction boom. For decades, landscapes of the city featured run-down structures and dilapidating buildings, and while there is still plenty of that, there are also now dozens of streets filled with scaffolding and recently completed modern-looking buildings.

How can Pittsburghers keep track? Well a local journalist and educator might have the answer.

Development shown in pins across Pittsburgh - IMAGE COURTESY OF PGHPAPERSTREETS.COM
  • Image courtesy of pghpaperstreets.com
  • Development shown in pins across Pittsburgh
Patrick Doyle, a public radio reporter and adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh, created an independent project to map as many city developments as he can. It is called PGH Paper Streets, and is named after the Pittsburgh streets that exist on maps, but are not publicly maintained roads (like some city staircases).

“When I moved in 2013 to Pittsburgh, the city was going through development boom, but it was hard to find out what is really going on,” says Doyle.

He was inspired by a blog in Denver, where he used to live, that tracked all the development projects of the city. Doyle says his map shows what many have already expected about development in the city: the neighborhoods with the highest concentration of development projects are Downtown, the Strip District, Lawrenceville and the East End.

However, Doyle says that Uptown was a surprise with a few development projects happening along its Fifth/Forbes avenues corridor. (City Paper wrote about Uptown’s potential in addressing the ‘two Pittsburghs’ problem last winter.)

Doyle gathers information from news reports and development plans to fill out his map. He emphasizes that the project is still in beta mode, since there are some development projects that have not made it onto the map and because the projects are constantly changing. He also only includes projects started January 2015 and that are over 20,000 square feet.

He says he hopes to build the website out a bit and provide links to articles, community meetings and site plans that are associated with each project.

“I really want it to be a research tool for the average Pittsburgher,” says Doyle.

To read CP’s feature this week on the potential development in Beechview, and how the Latino community is contributing to it.

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Friday, February 26, 2016

Pittsburgh officials and newly formed pedestrian-advocacy group looking to provide boost to city steps

Posted By on Fri, Feb 26, 2016 at 1:10 PM

Pittsburgh has more than 700 publicly owned steps and if you have been paying attention to them, you know many are in bad shape. But city officials are trying to change that, and it appears they are on their way to receiving some help.

Pittsburgh is a finalist in the third round of the City Accelerator contest run by the foundation coalitions Living Cities and the Citi Foundation. Once the winners are announced, the accelerator will work with three cities over an 18-month period “to advance innovative efforts that improve the lives of low-income people and help cities run more effectively.”

The Louisa Street steps in Oakland has a 'runnel' that allows for cyclists to easily move their bike up and down. - PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • Photo by Ryan Deto
  • The Louisa Street steps in Oakland has a 'runnel' that allows for cyclists to easily move their bike up and down.
“The steps are vital assets [and] they're one of Pittsburgh's most unique features,” wrote Alex Pazuchanics, a policy advisor for Mayor Bill Peduto in an email to City Paper. “Steps are essential to creating walkable communities in terrain like ours. They're true intergenerational assets.”

Pazuchanics says the mayor’s office discovered the contest through chief of staff Kevin Acklin’s previous involvement with Living Cities, which brings together chiefs of staff from cities across the country to collaborate. He adds that when the mayor first took office, there was not even a list of all the city-owned assets, like steps.

“We are getting much better about understanding the challenge and identifying and prioritizing the needs,” says Pazuchanics. “Now we need to explore the best option for how to pay for it.”

Winners receive a limited amount of capital for their projects, but gain valuable techniques and training from some of the world’s largest public-private partnerships on how to develop funding mechanisms, according to Pazuchanics.

“I think steps play a huge role in livability for our neighborhoods,” wrote Pazuchanics. “We're experiencing growth in our walkable communities because the world is coming around to a concept many Pittsburghers already knew — it is desirable to live in a dense, walkable neighborhood with transit and vibrant community assets.”

The newly formed group PGH Walks couldn’t agree more. The pedestrian-advocacy group formed last fall in response to the deaths of cyclists Susan Hicks, and pedestrians Henry Walker and his wife, Carol Christine Williamson. All were struck by vehicles, and both incidents occurred within one week in October 2015. (Read City Paper’s coverage about the deaths and Pa.’s lack of enforcement for cyclists and pedestrian fatally struck by vehicles, here.)

Adrienne Jouver of PGH Walks says the group wants to raise awareness of pedestrian issues and pedestrian rights. PGH Walks has given the City Accelerator project five stars, and Jouver says the plan is fantastic.

“Just how the city is built, it is so hilly, the steps are really necessary, and I think that is an awesome project to address that issue,” says Jouver.

Pittsburgh City Accelerator project has garnered the most positive comments of any finalist so far, and Pazuchanics says the decision on who moves on should be made sometime this week. If you want to weigh in on the city’s steps project, click here.

And if you want to take part in PGH Walks, the group is holding a winter walk tomorrow, Sat., Feb.  27. The group will meet at Caffe d’Amore, in Lawrenceville, at 10 a.m. Jouver says people are welcome to join the walk along the way, which will proceed down Butler Street, stop at the Kickback Pinball Cafe and finally end at Espresso a Mano.

Editor's note: a previous version of this blog attributed information from city officials to spokesperson Tim McNulty. The post has been updated to attribute that information to Alex Pazuchanics, a policy advisor for the city.

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Friday, November 20, 2015

City of Pittsburgh, development groups protest ALCOSAN's possible riverfront construction

Posted By on Fri, Nov 20, 2015 at 12:05 PM

Rev. Rodney Lyde, of Homewood's Baptist Temple Church, speaking at a demonstration against ALCOSAN's planned construction along riverfronts - PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • Photo by Ashley Murray
  • Rev. Rodney Lyde, of Homewood's Baptist Temple Church, speaking at a demonstration against ALCOSAN's planned construction along riverfronts

Standing in front of an 8,000-square-foot black tarp on the banks of the Allegheny River to signify a large work area, several organizations and a Pittsburgh city official said they couldn't stand behind ALCOSAN's proposed plan for river-front construction.

"We have come so far as a city and community in revitalizing our river fronts from places where people didn’t want to go to these cultural and recreational destinations," said Stephan Bontrager, spokesperson for Riverlife, an organization that guides the development of the city's river fronts. "So to undo that investment would be a tragedy, especially when there are such simple solutions that can be done with landscapes that enhance the investment we already have."

Several other organizations, including the Clean Rivers Campaign, Bike PGH, the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, and the City of Pittsburgh, spoke out against the proposed construction of 18 drop shafts. The shafts would allow access to the tunnel construction ALCOSAN has agreed to as part of a federal consent decree. The mandate is in place to bring the sewer infrastructure into compliance with the Clean Water Act. Right now, during heavy rain or after snow melts, stressed pipes overflow with stormwater and sewage into the region's waterways.

However, the groups say that extensive construction could hurt the economy, and that they want more investment in green 
Groups laid an 8,000-square-foot tarp on Allegheny Landing on the North Side to protest ALCOSAN's proposed construction along the region's river fronts. - PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • Photo by Ashley Murray
  • Groups laid an 8,000-square-foot tarp on Allegheny Landing on the North Side to protest ALCOSAN's proposed construction along the region's river fronts.
infrastructure that would reduce the flow of storm water into sewer pipes.

According to a Riverlife economic impact study, in the last 15 years about $129 million has been invested in the city's river-front parks system, with a return on investment being nearly $4.1 billion in adjacent river-front development.

"Basically, these parks and trails were built, and everyone wanted to be next to them — new hotels, new office buildings, new restaurants, new residences," Bontrager said.

The group of speakers, including Mayor Bill Peduto's Chief of Staff Kevin Acklin, said they would like to see an "adaptive management approach," much like the one that elected officials just saw in Kansas City. That approach would include green infrastructure to keep storm run-off out of the sewer system and to beautify communities, as well as updating current gray infrastructure, like sewer pipes.

"What we’re really up against is a bureaucratic group of lawyers who have really been trying to get this done. They’ve been at it for a decade,"  Acklin told City Paper after the press conference. "We want to get it done, but we want to do it the right way. This is our city. We’re going to bear the risk of everything they’re planning for."

Acklin is referring to the decades-long back-and-forth negotiations between the federal and local governments on improving aging sewer infrastructure in order to comply with the federal Clean Water Act.

"All we’re asking for is what other cities have gotten ... a regionalized approach to invest in green infrastructure and existing infrastructure, because we think that’s not only ecologically sound, but that helps with economic development," Acklin said. "It helps us put those dollars, instead of just in the tunnels, but into our neighborhoods as well."

ALCOSAN says that it is negotiating with federal, state and county regulators for a plan that includes more green infrastructure and one that less expensive. Right now, the plan will cost billions. (Those costs are something that low-income ratepayers are concerned about.)

"Planning and design have not yet started and will not be completed for several years," Jeanne Clark, public information officer of ALCOSAN, wrote in an email. "They will also not necessarily be along the river. It may be possible to move some inland. ... We will work with the communities and the municipalities to make sure we create the least disruption during construction, and for green leave-behinds when we finish."

She wrote that those "green leave-behinds" could include a building, where a drop shaft would be housed, that would blend in with a trail or redevelopment, and that ALCOSAN has handled such a situation similarly along a bike trail in the South Side.

"Again, we will work with the community to decide what is the best green leave-behind. And we will avoid too much construction interference, taking measures like having workers park off site and shuttle them in so they don’t add to the footprint," she wrote.

Municipalities that feed into ALCOSAN's pipes and waste-water treatment system — currently 83 municipalities in Allegheny County do so — have been ordered to do a green-infrastructure pilot project for the next 18 months. 

"We are committed to creating the best, most cost-effective plan to fix our water-quality issues," Clark wrote. "But ALCOSAN cannot do it alone. We currently own under 100 miles of pipe and the plant, where everything from all 83 communities winds up."












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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Social-service agencies, ratepayers ask Allegheny County for water and sewage rate assistance

Posted By on Thu, Nov 19, 2015 at 11:49 AM

Social-service agencies and ratepayers asked the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN) for an easily accessible and "effective" community-assistance program, as water and sewage rates have risen and will continue to do so over the next several years.

“One thing that motivates me is my ability to rise, wash my body and prepare for the new day. I must admit I’ve been in the position before where this holy ritual was not 
Wallace Hamilton, of Swissvale, testified at an ALCOSAN hearing on Monday night at the County Courthouse. - PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • Photo by Ashley Murray
  • Wallace Hamilton, of Swissvale, testified at an ALCOSAN hearing on Monday night at the County Courthouse.
possible," Wallace Hamilton, a rate-payer from Swissvale, testified at a hearing Monday evening in front of ALCOSAN board members. "Social Security did not provide any cost-of-living increase for next year, and there’s no guarantee for the years to come. This means the elderly, the disabled and everyone with low or fixed incomes must find money they don’t have just for the privilege of flushing their toilets."

The rate increases — 17 percent last year, and 11 percent this year and for 2016 and 2017 respectively — are to cover the cost of federally mandated fixes for aging sewer infrastructure. During rainstorms or when snow is melting, these lines, which carry sewage and stormwater, overflow into the area's waterways, a violation of the Clean Water Act. The fix is going to cost approximately $2 billion.

ALCOSAN formed a subcommittee in March to create a financial-assistance program. The committee members include John Weinstein, ALCOSAN board chair and Allegheny County treasurer; Greg Jones, executive director of Economic Development South, which works with the county's southern municipalities; Sylvia Wilson, of the Pittsburgh Public Schools Board; and Corey O'Connor, Pittsburgh City Council member representing District 5. The committee says it has also met with the advocacy group Clean Rivers Campaign, as well as billing agencies and companies that already administer assistance programs, such as People's Natural Gas.

More than 20 people testified and representatives from nearly 10 social services organizations attended the hearing in the County Courthouse. Requests and suggestions included an assistance program that avoided unnecessary paperwork and that modeled itself after, and possibly worked with, existing programs such as the heating-assistance program LIHEAP. Also, social-service counselors and rate-payers advocated for bill discounts and management of arrears, or late fees.

"A sewer bill is only one of many bills," said Patrick Cicero, executive director of the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project,  a legal-aid organization for low-income residents. "At a minimum, households must pay taxes, rent, food, transportation, child care, health-care costs, electric, gas, trash, water and sewer. For households with fixed incomes or parents in low-wage jobs, there is often just not enough money to pay all of those bills each month."

Cicero suggested that ALCOSAN create a program that requires low-income residents to only devote 1.5 percent to 3 percent of their entire income, depending on how much they make, to water and sewage bills. Citing census data, Cicero said that 20 percent of households in ALCOSAN's service area make $20,000 or less per year; 31 percent make a total yearly household income of $30,000. 

"The problem of unaffordable utility service is not isolated in certain pockets of the ALCOSAN service territory or limited to a small percentage of the territory. Rather, it is persistent and pervasive across all corners of ALCOSAN’s service territory," Cicero said in his testimony. "It is therefore critical to address through adoption of a comprehensive and far-reaching program."

During her testimony, Jennifer Jones, a board member of Action United, a group that advocates for Pennsylvania's low-income residents, told ALCOSAN's subcommittee: "Our incomes are not going up as fast as these bills. That means something's got to go."

By phone, Jones, of Hazelwood, told City Paper that her water and sewage bill has gone from about about $73 a month to $94 since the rate increases in 2014. "My usage has stayed about the same," she said.

"So the effect of that turns out to be that the bill gets kind of out of hand. Pay one bill or one gets shut off. Pay the bill and have no extra food in the house for the kids and no new school clothes, so something’s gotta give. And it’s just the beginning," Jones says. 

Water authorities in Allegheny County municipalities charge for their services and on behalf of ALCOSAN. Then, municipalities pay ALCOSAN quarterly. ALCOSAN's pipes carry sewage and stormwater from 83 municipalities in the county to its waste-water treatment facility.

Bill Bartlett, director at Action United, says that ALCOSAN told his organization that the rate increases will continue beyond 2017 — to the tune of 10 percent annually for up to a decade.

"That is just the ALCOSAN charge [on the bill]. You’re talking about going from an insignificant bill to a significant bill," he said via phone.

ALCOSAN says that while more rate increases are likely, they are not set, and the authority is negotiating for lower rates. ALCOSAN spokesperson Jeanne Clark says that percentages can be misleading. According to the authority, an average household will see a monthly increase of $3.53 in the ALCOSAN portion of its bill in 2016.

Meanwhile, individual municipalities have been mandated to update their infrastructure. For instance, the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority will invest $156 million in improvements.

The authority says that working with so many different municipalities will be  a challenge in creating the community-assistance program but that it is dedicated to doing so.

"We are committed to this. I want to be crystal-clear. This is very important to the million people that we service every day. This is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. Don’t let anyone kid you," said Weinstein at the hearing. "Working with 83 individual municipalities is a challenge in itself. Very very difficult."

He also said his experience as county treasurer, and helping low-income seniors qualify for discount tax programs, helps him be "very aware of the importance of this program."

Greg Jones, of Economic Development South and chair of the subcommittee, told CP via email that he couldn't give an answer for a definite timeline for a roll-out of a financial-assistance program.

"The meeting [Monday] evening was part of our ongoing effort to get public input. Now our task is, take everything we’ve heard over the last year and formulate a program," he wrote. "That work will likely include negotiated agreements with regional water authorities and with a third party to provide administration of the overall program. So the timeline isn’t completely in our control. But, it’s my hope that we can get something in place within the first half of 2016." 

A video of the hearing can be found on ALCOSAN's YouTube channel. Clark says that the transcript will be available in two weeks.

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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Allegheny County 2016 budget proposed; council approves vehicle registration fee increase

Posted By on Thu, Oct 8, 2015 at 10:07 AM

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald presented the county's proposed 2016 budget this week and encouraged the council to approve a $5 fee addition to vehicle registrations to help pay for infrastructure repairs to the county's roads and bridges. 

According to Fitzgerald, money accrued by the fee would go directly into to an infrastructure support fund that is expected to raise $3.5 million this coming year, with the potential for up to $5 million in
seal_of_allegheny_county_pennsylvania_svg.png
 future years. The county is responsible for more than 400 miles of roads and more than 500 bridges.

At last week's quarterly address, Fitzgerald outlined the need for additional funding for road and bridge repairs saying that the county has been "woefully under" the pace to catch up to all that needs refurbished.

Fitzgerald says that if the $5 fee increase is not passed, the funds that would have come from the fee would have to be generated from a county-wide property tax increase.

Many county councilors reiterated the executive's sentiment that the problems of roads and bridges need to be addressed. "This is a public safety issue to everyone driving on our roads," said democratic council member Robert Macey.

However, a few voices were concerned a user-fee was being proposed and approved a bit too fast and the public's input was not considered.

Republican council member at-large Heather Heidelbaugh argued that more time should have been allocated so the public could respond to any concerns they may have had over an increased fee. The bill was proposed by Fitzgerald on Sept. 29, discussed at a budget and financed meeting on Oct.1, then approved for by a 10-4 vote on Oct. 7.

Democratic council member Michael Finnerty argued that this is more than enough time, considering the media attention the $5 fee increase has received.

But some disagreed with the idea that information about the fee increase reached everyone in the public. Republican council member Thomas Baker repeated Heidelbaugh's sentiments that the process was "very quick." He says he talked to 50-60 constituents and none of them had heard about the fee increase in the week following the proposal.

"There are certainly good merits to the bill, but I would have loved to have a public hearing," says Baker.

Although the fee was passed on Tuesday, the county council will hold budget hearings later this month and then approve a final budget before the year is out.

In other budget related news, the county jail will also receive around $4 million more in funding, with $3 million of that being specifically allocated to support health care at the jail. The county took over as the primary health-care provider in September, with partnering efforts from Allegheny Health Network, replacing the much-maligned, for-profit Corizon Health Services. 

"We want to try to do a better job than was done previously," says Fitzgerald concerning the increased funds for the jail medical care.


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Thursday, October 1, 2015

City and coders partnered to launch Pittsburgh trash-day app

Posted By on Thu, Oct 1, 2015 at 9:03 AM

PGH.ST
  • PGH.ST
Can't remember when recycling day is? There's an app for that. Gone are the days of searching the city's website for the trash-collection schedule. Now, it comes to you.

Thanks to the winners of 2014's annual Steel City Codefest competition, you can now get email and text reminders the evening before your neighborhood's garbage day. (Full disclosure: I've already signed up.)

Users can search their address and zip code at PGH.ST and then enter an email address and phone number. From there, the app automatically remembers a user's address when re-visiting the page, displaying that neighborhood's trash calendar. Email and text alerts are sent out at approximately 6 p.m. 

"My philosophy about PGH.ST, and other things, is that I’m interested in making Pittsburgh a cooler place," says David Walker, an academic-writing consultant, who was a member of the team that created the winning app. Other team members included Ady Ngom, Tricia Handke, Matt Marriotti and Quintin Lovicks.

PGH.ST's interface is visually appealing and user-friendly; it's colored-coded according to the type of trash the city plans to collect from each street that week. Also, there are no Central-Eastern, Northern-Southern maps to navigate, as is the case currently on the city's website.

"The idea of something that can be used by a lot of people, and can improve their daily lives even in a small way, is very appealing, and I also like the fact that it was something I could use myself," Walker says, who codes as a hobby and is interested in pursuing it professionally. "It really is easier to develop something that you’re going to use yourself, because you know exactly how it should work."

The City of Pittsburgh proposed the challenge to the participants of Steel City Codefest, an annual competition that began in 2013, in which teams have 24-hours to develop a useful app. Teams can bring their own ideas or take on a challenge from a local organizations, businesses or government.

"We do heavily push the nonprofit applications because we just found they have a wider diversity of interesting issues to deal with," says Jennifer Wilhelm, of the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority, which coordinates the competition. Google is a founding partner, and the event is sponsored by The Forbes Fund and the BNY Mellon Foundation, among others. Sponsors also offer grants for teams to finalize their projects once the 24-hour competition is finished — which is how Walker and his team finished their app.

The 2015 winner was 412 Food Rescue, which connects restaurants, caterers and large businesses to food banks and other organizations that can utilize unused food that would otherwise go to waste.

"It allows nonprofits to be able to get technology that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. We’re very careful to source challenges that don’t already have obvious solutions," Wilhelm says. "They’re [participants] creating something new that’s filling a void."

Ironically, the end result of Walker and his team's efforts is not exactly what the original challenge from the city entailed: The city wanted an app to alert people, not only about trash and recycling pick-up, but also of when street sweeping would occur in their neighborhoods.

Walker says that "motivated" him "more than trash reminders," but he says the city couldn't give him and his team a database of street-by-street cleaning schedules. He says that some day he hopes he and his team will have a chance to develop that app but that they "can't make any promises."

He says: "I think that would be a really cool if my phone could tell me you better move your car because the street is being swept tomorrow."


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