Sidewalk puke, garbage and broken windows are unfortunately common sights for South Side residents and business-owners the day after Pittsburgh’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The annual event is a sore subject for South Siders, who both relish and detest their neighborhood’s standing as the No. 1 destination for those wearing the green.
But what was once seen as a once-a-year struggle is now considered a microcosm of South Side’s issues year round — crime and parking congestion. City officials estimate the neighborhood sees 17,000 visitors a day, several times a week. That’s slightly less than the 19,000 fans who cram into the Consol Energy Center for a typical Penguins game.
The complaints and desires of neighborhood stakeholders are varied. The South Side has the highest violent-crime rate and most bars per capita of any Pittsburgh neighborhood, and many have long clamored for a greater police presence to crack down on the behavior of bargoers who have been overserved. But others are worried that with so much attention being directed toward bars, the needs of restaurants and retailers are being ignored.
“You need to be a magician to balance all the interests here. It is an intensely populated residential area,” says Michael Murphy, owner of Carson Street Deli. “It’s a very complicated problem.”
For several years, a solution has been on the horizon. The community has been anxiously awaiting the implementation of the Pittsburgh Sociable City plan, which was devised to better accommodate the increased traffic associated with the city’s growing social economy. South Side was selected as a pilot neighborhood.
But members of the community say information about the plan has been spotty. Many aren’t encouraged by the small pieces they’ve seen implemented to date, and they’re worried the city isn’t putting the necessary resources behind it. Ultimately, after all the time and money put into developing the plan, many are left wondering whether it will balance the needs of the wide range of interests impacting the neighborhood.
“We put all of our energy into this plan. We want to see it work,” says Jonathan Growall, president of the South Side Chamber of Commerce. “So we need a local staff to implement it and I think that’s very clear with the chaos that happens any time there’s a little piecemeal part of it that’s introduced.”
The Sociable City Plan is the result of a three-year, $400,000 study by the Responsible Hospitality Institute consulting group. According to Pittsburgh City Council President Bruce Kraus — who represents the South Side — the plan is an attempt to help the city capitalize on the neighborhood’s growing social economy.
“It’s about understanding the economic engine that nightlife is,” says Kraus. “We know definitively that the number-one growing economy in the United States is the service sector, it is nighttime economy and places for people to socialize. I have a fiduciary responsibility to protect those revenue streams.”
And because the South Side has long struggled with adapting to problems associated with its social economy, Kraus says it’s the perfect neighborhood to pilot a number of recommendations from the plan.
One component set to be rolled out is a parking-enhancement district, where metered parking is enforced past the usual time of 6 p.m. Kraus says revenue from the meters would go toward increasing police presence and other initiatives.
“That money can only be accessed by the chief of police, our public-works director and those types of city officials to enhance and improve policing, public cleanliness, transportation and infrastructure,” says Kraus. “[Sociable City] has always been about creating a plan to manage and administrate this wonderful economic engine that is nightlife. Part of that of course is a police presence, but that costs money.”
One plan aimed at decreasing drunk driving is a shuttle from the parking lot on Second Avenue, in Uptown, to East Carson Street. The plan has been tested at events like St. Patrick’s Day.
“The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has deemed East Carson Street the sixth-most-dangerous stretch of road in the state, and it’s because of DUIs,” says Kraus. “Our hope with this whole transportation system is to get people out of their cars, have them use the circulator system. If they feel they might’ve had too much to drink that night, they’re welcome to leave their cars in that Second Avenue lot overnight.”
Kraus said the No. 1 crime in the South Side Flats is vehicle break-ins, followed by assault. He hopes that by limiting the number of visitors parking on residential streets he can reduce these statistics.
“One of the outcomes I expect to see is a drastic drop in crime,” says Kraus. “If we remove the vehicles from largely unlighted and unpatrolled residential areas … I offer up that we will see a drastic reduction in vehicle break-ins because we have removed the opportunity for crime to happen.
“If we keep visitors from going back deep into the residential areas late at night, sometimes intoxicated, and transport them through our circulator system back to their cars … we’re going to show drastic reduction in assault.”
Another tactic for crowd control, which was recently implemented, is a taxi/ridesharing pickup zone on Carson Street. In an informal study of 80 people in the demographic of visitors to the South Side, Kraus says 78.5 percent said they use some kind of alternative transportation when they come to the South Side. Only 8.9 percent said they drive.
“With this system of parking-enhancement districts and paying attention to public safety and transportation, we are actually meeting the needs of the consumer that is using the South Side,” Kraus says.
While this all might sound good, the plan’s rollout hasn’t gone smoothly and residents have been airing their complaints at public forums, online and via media outlets.
At a monthly meeting of the South Side Planning Forum last week, South Side stakeholders had a chance to address some of the issues they’ve been experiencing with Allison Harnden, Pittsburgh’s night-time-economy manager.
“It’s a big plan. There’s a lot of parts to it and we have to prioritize what comes first,” Harnden said. “No one city has it right. Everyone is going back and retrofitting their daytime economy for a night-time economy.”
One source of contention has been where revenue generated by the parking-enhancement district will be directed. According to the South Side Chamber’s Growall, RHI recommended the city use “night-time meter funds for staffing, implementation of night-time transportation initiatives, and cleanliness/maintenance crews.”
Growall says the current proposal to direct the funds toward increasing police presence isn’t in line with this recommendation, and says that funds should be used to hire staff to help plan for and manage night-time crowds, as is done in Lawrenceville.