Infrastructure | BLOGH: City Paper's Blog |


Thursday, October 8, 2015

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  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

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

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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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Posted By on Tue, Jul 21, 2015 at 12:37 PM

click to enlarge Example of the potential future centerline rumble strip proposed for Butler Street in Lawrenceville - WWW.TRANSPORTATION.GOV
Example of the potential future centerline rumble strip proposed for Butler Street in Lawrenceville
Update (12:40 p.m.): We hope you'll keep reading anyway, but in the 10 minutes between this blogh's posting and this update, we got word from state Sen. Wayne Fontana that PennDOT will not be installing the rumble strip on Butler street after community dissatisfaction with the plan.

PennDOT is considering installing a centerline rumble strip on Butler Street that could potentially run from 31st to 57th streets, basically the entire crowded portion of the very popular commercial district.

A rumble strip is better known as a sleeper line and is designed to alert inattentive drivers that they are drifting into another lane. Rumble strips make a loud audible noise when driven over that is easily heard both inside and outside the car.

“It will drive residents and businesses crazy,” says Will Bernstein, president of Lawrenceville Bike and Pedestrian Committee (LBPC).

The members of LBPC just happened to stumble upon the plan for a rumble strip while perusing PennDOT’s weekly schedule and have since created a petition to stop the rumble strip from being installed. They have received around 560 signatures, including 30 local businesses.

On top of the potential noise created, Bernstein says a rumble strip could also make biking on Butler Street more dangerous. He adds it will make it “extremely unlikely” that drivers will give the required four feet of space while passing bikers.

And while the strips will not be installed at intersections, Bernstein points out that they will still cause problems for bikers who want to cross Butler to get onto driveways or to park at bike racks.

The news of a potential rumble strip comes at an awkward time considering that Mayor Bill Peduto issued an executive order in April, requiring the city to develop a ‘complete streets’ policy plan. The complete-streets model is a transit design that gives equal rights to pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.

Bernstein says that a rumble strip on Butler does not fit into the complete-streets model. He adds that having a rumble strip on the same stretch of road with sharrows (bike signs painted on the road to signify the road is a common bike route) is not normal.

However, the city might not have much say because that part of Butler Street falls under state control. Even though PennDOT has final say on the outcome, mayoral spokesman Tim McNulty says that city is in preliminary discussions about the rumble strip with PennDOT.

Helen Ewing, community-engagement rep for Lawrenceville United, says the community group has reached out to state and city officials, but at this point, the organization can only be an advocate.

Initially, the rumble strip was set to be installed on July 27 to coincide with the final round of repaving Butler Street (and ironically the day after the last car-free Open Streets festival of the summer). But, state Sen. Wayne Fontana, who represents Lawrenceville, says he has reached out to PennDOT and asked them to delay the project; he has yet to hear back.

“It makes no sense [to] me,” says Fontana. “I don't see a need for the strips, especially without the community input.”

Fontana says he has received emails from residents and business owners with concerns about the rumble strip. He adds that PennDOT failed to solicit community input before approving the project.

“They need to realize that the community isn't for this and [PennDOT] is going to have to prove that it is necessary, which I don't think [they] can do,” says Fontana.

PennDOT District Safety Engineer Kathryn Power says that they will be reconsidering the rumble strip and should make a decision by the end of the week.

Power explains that the rationale behind the centerline rumble strip is to make the street safer for drivers, by helping drivers avoid collisions that often occur on the busy street.

“It is a safety improvement — it does reduce head-on and side-swiped crashers,” says Power, “and there is enough data to support this.”

However, when asked if she knew of any other examples of centerline rumble strips in urban, commercial areas, she could not think of any, but said rumble strips can be applied to urban settings.

Bernstein points out that centerline rumble strips are almost never seen on urban roads, especially ones in commercial areas. In fact, the location criteria for centerline rumble strips are only listed as rural roads, according to PennDOT’s “District Highway Safety Guidance Manual.”

“We have received a lot of public opinions on this,” says Power. “We are aware of the public’s feelings and we are taking it into consideration.”

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Posted By on Tue, Mar 3, 2015 at 4:06 PM

click to enlarge East Ohio Street corridor - GOOGLE MAPS
Google Maps
East Ohio Street corridor
If you're a fan of bike lanes or just really turned on by urban planning and infrastructure projects, you might want to drop by a public meeting hosted by PennDOT on the East Ohio Street Improvement Project on Wednesday afternoon, March 4.

The project includes work on streets, traffic signals, bridges and overpasses around East Ohio Street near the 16th Street Bridge, but PennDOT also has plans in the works to run a bike lane on part of East Ohio. The plan to build bike lanes, PennDOT says, will in part be determined by whether there is public support for it.
click to enlarge GOOGLE MAPS
Google Maps

"It’s that weird no-man’s land where people get off the 16th Street Bridge or [are] getting off of [Route] 28 and they’re going to enter 579 North – or getting off into the neighborhood,” says Bike Pittsburgh Advocacy Director Eric Boerer, who is encouraging people to show support for more bike/pedestrian friendly infrastructure. "It’s currently designed for the highway users."

The meeting will be held on March 4 from 5-6:30 p.m. at Pittsburgh's Grand Hall at the Priory, 614 Pressley St, on the North Side. More information about the meeting here.

And if you still need inspiration to go to a public meeting about a local infrastructure project, look no further than John Oliver's latest riff on our crumbling infrastructure. 

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