Saturday, September 7, 2013

Comet Sunday Magazine: Lower Hill, Over Sight and Transit Transition

Hey! You...

*-UPDATE: P-G editorialists agree that the City shouldn't be a pushover here, and that insisting on making further public assistance contingent on public-spirited improvements to the project makes sense.

Mayoral front runner Bill Peduto kicked off the post-Labor Day trimester by raising the stature of common demands regarding taxpayer investments in economic development:

To date, the team has not contributed anything toward the site improvements, he said.

"We're paying for all of the infrastructure without them putting a dollar of their own money in. Nobody else gets that. Nobody. And their argument is that's what the Steelers and Pirates got [on the North Shore] and my argument back to them is that's why the SEA's going bankrupt," he said, referring to the agency's chronic financial woes. (P-G, Mark Belko)

The SEA failed to win a major federal transportation grant in support of the Penguins' designs in the Lower Hill, so the details of the negotiation changed if not the principle:

"If the Penguins were to go to a bank and ask it for a loan, the bank would have certain requirements to benefit its shareholders. If you're going to the public asking for public subsidies for private development, it would only make sense that there would be something that would be able to come back to benefit the community," he said. (P-G, Belko II)

Read both.

Some things which leap to mind:

A)  After almost seven years of this I cannot recall ever having read (and so much!) about a pending grant application, let alone sorrow over one's rejection. Officials typically do not advertise things that are not done deals. This confirms to me that the "free" federal millions were in part intended to influence and greatly hasten a complex public conversation surrounding city zoning and land use approvals.

B) A few of our anonymous comments are complaining that Peduto supposedly declined to lobby the feds on behalf of this grant application. If that is so, it would have been a laudable decision. Without more "free" money for the Penguins' project used as a battering ram, we can now rationally address things like a dearth of complete streets in what will be a crucial and central corridor for servicing pedestrians, bicyclists and mass transit. We can also cajole the Penguins into presenting its public infrastructure plans together with its actual development plans together with its community improvement plans. So people can actually tell what is happening.

C) The feds were wise to reject this transportation funding application anyway because it was not really a transportation project; it was not designed primarily for moving humans from point to point. If you look at the 2013 grant winners, especially the major ones, these were literal people movers. In the future, Pittsburgh will be using TIGER grants for transportation projects, so we should expect to meet with better success.

D) Seriously, it was not a transportation project:

But [Penguins COO Travis] Williams, SEA Executive Director Mary Conturo and Urban Redevelopment Authority Chairman Yarone Zober say officials don't have enough money to finish redevelopment of the site and reconnect Downtown and the Hill District for the first time in a half-century.... Work to prepare the former Civic Arena site includes installing utility lines and building and rebuilding the roads, including a new one that would go through the heart of the site and connect Downtown and the Hill District. (Trib, Tom Fontaine)

Only there is no such street proposed. Nothing new is crossing the Crosstown Expressway. Nothing new is tunneling through the Doubletree Hotel. All connections still hinge on Centre Avenue, which you may have noticed already exists. There is zero truth-value to these statements.

Know Your Meme
I would assail the reporter, but the exact fiction keeps resurfacing, so somebody is obviously very good at telling it. I hope whoever is this skilled and persistent fiction teller it is not with the Penguins, because the Penguins are not going anywhere.

For this particular fiction is an abomination; the concept of "reconnecting the street grid" tugs mightily at Pittsburghers' heartstrings. Such a thing would indeed be of inarguable civic and historic benefit. Instead it is being used as a ruse to manufacture consent.

While using public dollars for this objective is problematic enough what really is disturbing is the  way so many of this proposal’s backers invoked the Hill District’s history as a location of African American exploitation as though this development was in any way dreamed up as a way of remediating those injustices. (Hillombo)

E) Similarly it is argued by some that however the Penguins plan to rebuild the Lower Hill, it will help rebuild the lives of the people who inhabit it. While redevelopment absolutely can provide jobs, opportunities, improved living spaces and other benefits to that community, there is yet nothing here solid which indicates this project will do so. The notion that whatever provides maximum profit for the corporation down the hill will naturally "trickle up" past Crawford St. appeals naturally to some, but there is little historical evidence in its favor.

The good news is, we now have the time, space and leverage to firm up redevelopment strategies such that a rising tide can indeed float all boats. Until Wednesday Sept. 11th, the Southwestern PA Commission is actively soliciting public commentary on transportation plans. You can assist the Penguins in looking up from their short-term balance sheets by telling the SPC this development will be more sustainable, more vibrant and enjoy more community good will if it includes complete streets, good accommodations for public transit, and most importantly if more time is granted for the neighborhood and the Penguins to have a broader conversation.


Another thing that would help is if the City of Pittsburgh achieves full financial recovery, such that it can more heavily invest in its neighborhoods without relying on anyone else.

In turn, it is important that our state financial overseers are both efficiently run and transparently operated. Right now...

The audit for fiscal year 2011-12 -- the most current audit available for the authority -- shows that it spent $469,342. That's about $84,000 above it's state allocation of $385,000 for that year.

That year, Mr. Sciortino's compensation package cost the authority $305,401, which represented a more than $55,000 jump from the previous year. Sam Stephenson, a partner at ParenteBeard who performed the audit, said the increase might be explained by a policy for unused vacation and personal days. (P-G, Moriah Balingit)

The P-G Editorial Squad summarizes obvious concerns. I wonder how the ICA Director has things like "vacation days" and "personal days". It's not my impression this is the kind of gig where one clocks into an office at 9:00 A.M. on Monday, works four hours 'till lunch and again 'till 5:00, gets chewed out by some boss and repeats through Friday. My impression has been we were not even Mr. Sciortino's only client.

A Jan. 2009 Comet article when this ICA Director last became controversial revealed a few yellow flags:

  1. He seems to have wound up with Pittsburgh's business inappropriately in the first place.
  2. He rearrived here fresh from a financial and legal bloodbath in Jefferson County, AL (though was apparently blameless).
  3. As the point-person for bond deals in the PA Treasurer's office, he seemed conspicuously non-heroic in preventing Pa taxpayers from getting overcharged by a factor of ten.
  4. He suggested to me at the time that all Pittsburgh had to do pension-wise was keep paying 5% over the minimum due towards pensions to fully fund them... without adding a note about how that was fast becoming impossible.
  5. He was sponsored locally by one-time ICA chairman, now chairman of the embattled Turnpike Commission, longtime well-connected local businessman, political financier and occasional muckraker target William Lieberman.

Improving processes at the ICA should really be the main issue, such as its utilizing transparent financial software -- even if by "software" we mean Post-It Notes. Anything will do.


Due to new state law, the board of the Port Authority of Allegheny County is changing to reflect more influence from across the state and across political divides.

At first, the new system looked better than expected as far as Democrats and Pittsburgh transit-advocates were concerned: six appointments out of eleven for the County Executive, and none exclusively to the County Council Republican minority after all. Seemed like we dodged a bullet!


Under the new law, a supermajority of seven members must agree to "take action on behalf of the authority."The upshot: For Fitzgerald to effect changes at the authority, he will need support from more than his own appointees.

And Republicans have a special power to thwart Fitzgerald's agenda. Tabling a bill — delaying action on it — ordinarily requires a majority, unless it's opposed by board members appointed by the party opposite that of the county executive. In that case, only two opposite-party votes are needed to halt actions like hiring a CEO or approving contracts over $5 million. (City Paper, Lauren Daily)

Many are now suggesting that Republican State Sen. Joe Scarnati got his pound of flesh after all -- and so the next round of labor contract negotiations could lead to even more significant cutbacks.

How again did this supposedly get started?

Fitzgerald accused Turnpike Chairman William K. Lieberman — who supported former county Controller Mark Patrick Flaherty's unsuccessful campaign for county executive two years ago — of lobbying Scarnati for the legislation, calling the senator “a puppet.” Lieberman did not return calls.

“His terminology is insulting at the very least, let alone outrageous,” Scarnati said. “The statements reflect the real immaturity of his thought process.” (Trib, Fontaine & Bumstead)

Hmm. The terminology was a problem; it was so damaging it had to be punished.

What was our County Executive's thought exactly? Now that the Port Authority reapportionment bill is finalized, and now that House Republicans have proved themselves incapable of passing transportation funding no matter how nice we play, it might be worth discovering any truth in the suggestion that Mr. Lieberman has some control over the President pro tem of the state Senate.


  1. "Only there is no such street proposed."

    Extending Wylie to Washington is going to be a pretty big deal for the Hill. I gather your premise is that getting that far doesn't count as getting to Downtown because it is on the eastern side of Crosstown, but I think if the westernmost parcels of the site are developed at a scale similar to, say, Chatham Center, that premise will be invalidated (meaning everyone will perceive Downtown as starting east of Crosstown).

    "The good news is, we now have the time, space and leverage to firm up redevelopment strategies such that a rising tide can indeed float all boats."

    Can you explain the basis for this claim in concrete terms, as opposed to just relying on buzz words?


    Here are a few bets. The schedule of the SPC process isn't going to change simply because this particular grant application was denied. The schedule for completing the PLDP isn't going to change. The date of the mayoral election isn't going to change. If anything, the first infrastructure construction will now be happening sooner (if they had gotten the TIGER grant, they would have done it all at once, but the start was going to be delayed versus the phased approach they will presumably now revert to). So where exactly is this additional time supposedly materializing?


    I don't even have a clue what that is supposed to mean.


    We're just back to where we were before they decided to apply for a TIGER grant earlier this year. So if they now have a bunch more leverage, they should have had that same leverage earlier, which raises the question of why didn't the stakeholders Bram favors already get everything he thinks they should get back then?

    By the way, I agree "free" money doesn't quite describe the situation accurately. More accurate would be to say that TIGER grants are something like 99.9% funded by the rest of the country outside of the City, and the approximately 0.1% the City contributes will now be sent entirely somewhere else.

    So there is really no silver lining here, although I agree it was a long shot all along.

    And yet on some emotional level, Bram has convinced himself that something bad happening during the development process must somehow, someway, strengthen the hand of those who want to see some changes in how that process has been going. But in this case, at least, there is no particular reason to believe that is true.

    1. 1. On the "reconnection": Sorry, but simply getting to the Crosstown, only to have to make two turns on two streets which already exist, is just not what is being described with that messianic rhetoric about a historic reconnection. It's just not. Everyone reading or hearing that who is vaguely familiar with the territory or the challenge would assume a new gateway to and from what we know as Downtown. And to the extent that the fantasy might be rescued if we talk about an eastward expansion of Downtown... that itself would be problematic, as the rest of the political rhetoric is all about building a neighborhood, not an imperial incursion of Downtown into the Lower Hill.

      2. On "time, space and leverage" - very well, you busted me on an unnecessary stylistic flourish. All I was trying to convey is that without the concept of "losing $21 million!!," we can more easily take our time perfecting the development plans and viewing the deal the City is getting as a whole, including what is being called the "community implementation plan" i.e. the direct benefits to the Greater Hill District, instead of approving everything piecemeal and sequentially. We still haven't viewed a document that includes the proposed streets plan including fine detail, together with the plan for the buildings that will actually be around it, let alone the benefits package as well. Let us all see the big picture before we okay everything, and give us time to study it and formulate counter proposals. We're investing enough to be accorded that respect.

    2. 1) I don't consider myself responsible for all the rhetoric of others, nor does arguably overblown rhetoric of the sort you have noted license responding with at least equally overblown rhetoric (e.g., "Seriously, it was not a transportation project" and "imperial incursion of Downtown into the Lower Hill" and so forth). For the record, the idea the westernmost portions of the site could contain some substantial office towers has always been part of the plan, as it has been presented at numerous public meetings over many, many years, but I guess one might not know such things if one is only interested in the "political rhetoric" surrounding the planning process and not so much in that actual substance of what has been going on.

      2) "All I was trying to convey is that without the concept of "losing $21 million!!," we can more easily take our time perfecting the development plans"

      Again, I will bet you that the completion of the PLDP is not at all delayed as a result of not getting the TIGER grant. You are asserting a causal connection here that simply does not exist (no TIGER grant = slower planning process).

      Trust me, we all get that you are unhappy with the lack of responsiveness of certain parties to certain other parties with respect to certain issues. But those people who are frustrating you did not wake up the morning after learning that they did not get the TIGER grant and decide that they would now start behaving the way you wanted them to behave all along.

      "We still haven't viewed a document that includes the proposed streets plan including fine detail"

      I don't think that is accurate given the materials available in the TIGER application.

      "together with the plan for the buildings that will actually be around it"

      I'm not aware of any project like this having plans for all the buildings before anything gets started. It is going to be a phased development and the details of the buildings are going to depend on what makes sense to build at the time, and it would actually be quite foolish to try to predict ten years in advance what you should be building (in fact, that is how you get major mistakes like the residential cap at South Side Works, and it in fact took far less than ten years for the market to shift enough to realize that was foolish).

      "and give us time to study it and formulate counter proposals."

      Who exactly is "us" and what do you mean by a "counter proposal"? And if you mean by that an equally detailed plan to the one you are claiming you need to see first (apparently down to the color of the carpets), who exactly is going to pay for that process (which is going to run into the millions), and exactly how many years are you going to ask we stare at surface parking while you (whoever you are) do that?

      Again, I get you don't like how some of these discussions have gone over the years. And if what you actually mean is you just want to hit the pause button on everything until Peduto is mayor, and hope that means the stakeholders you favor can do better, then just say that--it is a perfectly respectable position (although not getting the TIGER grant isn't going to get you the pause you want).

      But couching all this in terms of simply needing more time to think and discuss, as opposed to just wanting to wait for your white knight, isn't credible, and therefore it is not really helping those you favor to be making such arguments.

    3. The TIGER application is a document not widely circulated, only available on the web if you know where to look for it, and not interactive in terms of being made to answer questions. And once again, giving it a $21 million federal imprimatur would make it hard to reject or significantly alter if the Planning Commission and Council who represent us were so inclined. When it comes to public vetting, there is no substitute for the process that begins when you go to formal public hearings at which plans are blown up and aired before public officials and reporters in simple English and questions can be asked. The City applied for millions for something we did not yet know if we were interested in. Not for nothing, I reported that not a single Hill resident at the SPC meeting was in support.

      If what the City actually means is it wants to hit the fast-forward button on everything while Ravenstahl is mayor, and hope the stakeholders they habitually disrespect stay outmaneuvered, they should just say that -- it is a perfectly respectable position (although getting the TIGER grant would have made that more politically convincing). But couching all this in terms of simply needing to avoid "years and years of surface parking", instead of doing it as fast as possible for the sake of their dark knight, isn't credible, and therefore it is not really helping those they favor to be making such arguments.

    4. "The TIGER application is a document not widely circulated, only available on the web if you know where to look for it, and not interactive in terms of being made to answer questions."

      As opposed to all those policy proposals that are mailed to everyone's house, or available on the web without knowing how to look for something on the web, or provided with an AI to answer questions?


      "giving it a $21 million federal imprimatur would make it hard to reject or significantly alter"

      Actually, I believe there is a process for changing plans after getting TIGER grants. In that sense getting the TIGER grant isn't the problem, the problem is the planning process itself, which again I bet will continue right along without the grant.

      "Not for nothing, I reported that not a single Hill resident at the SPC meeting was in support."

      Which is it, that there have been no meetings, or that some of the people at the meetings are opposed?

      And as I recall your reporting, those people were at the SPC meeting asking for things the SPC can't actually grant.

      "If what the City actually means is it wants to hit the fast-forward button on everything while Ravenstahl is mayor . . ."

      Then they will keep right on doing that, TIGER grant or no.

      To the extent it mattered at all, the TIGER application's only plausible effect is that it prompted the SPC to start the amendment process early. But as I noted before, that will also likely now continue, notwithstanding the grant not being received.

      So at best, if you could step in a time machine and go back and stop the application from ever being submitted, maybe that would further some of the interests you are citing in some very minor way. But actually not getting the grant once the process was moving? Nope, that isn't going to do anything for you.

    5. Again, the contrast is with Planning Commission and City Council meetings. The best forums for interactively vetting plans and the only forums for learning of them if you are not on the web at all, which many stakeholders are not. The very place, in fact, said vetting and decisions are supposed to occur. And where the decision-makers are most accountable. We have had none of those meetings and I would not see them become mere formalities. They are the best tools we possess.

      Let me ask you this. If everything is so inevitable, why are you working so hard? And if you don't think my arguments for making the project more beneficial for the stakeholders you say you understand for whose sake I am advocating, what would be your arguments and tactics instead? Or are you content with the Penguins' project as it is?

    6. As regards the proper use of a TIGER grant, as a public transit advocate I'd like to see such big federal money spent where it will not only constructively benefit the greatest number of people but also where it will constructively influence the entire transportation network, including the integrated functioning of accessible roads, bridges, parking, public spaces, mixed-income housing, and TOD.

      The TIGER grant for the public transit station and TOD in East Liberty seems like an useful contrast to the Penguin plan in terms of demonstrating such potential constructive impact - more like "real transportation" in terms of really moving masses.

      So too, would use of such federal money for such ambitious plans as those sketched out by Peduto recently:
      Bill Peduto said his ideal model for an expansion of Pittsburgh’s light rail, commonly referred to as the “T,” would connect most of the city through lines that ran north, east, south and west, which would cost several billion dollars...“By going underground [with light rail], you are going to create quicker service, and you aren’t going to have traffic congestion on the street,” Magalotti said....Light rail operating underground was the preferred option in the Eastern Corridor Transit Study Transitional Analysis to Locally Preferred Alternatives (ECTS-TA), which aimed to look for ways to efficiently expand transit. It was sponsored by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC), the Westmoreland County Transit Authority (WCTA), Allegheny County and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

    7. The SEA, Planning Commission, and City Council can all be lobbied directly on the merits of the sorts of things you would like to see happen (e.g., a 30% low-income housing requirement). In so doing, you should be explaining why that would be a virtuous public policy.

    8. I have to explain that? Really? In the context of the Lower Hill?

    9. Yes, you do, if you want to do more with this blog than preach to the choir.

  2. Oh, and I would also be interested to hear Bram explain exactly why he thinks this is NOT a "complete streets" approach. Note there is a whole section in the draft PLDP, which was part of the TIGER application, that goes into street design. If a naive person put that section side by side with, say, the complete streets information available at Smart Growth America, they might come to the conclusion it very clearly IS a complete streets plan. But I am sure Bram has a ready explanation for why he is claiming otherwise.

    1. You're anticipating a topic of a future post, but very briefly, my impression is that the sidewalk along Center is so hugely wide (to accommodate sidewalk cafes, most of which are not meant to service Hill residents) and the raised medians are also so hugely wide that there will be little room remaining for something like a bike lane (let alone one of those newfangled green ones - how inviting would that make actually exploring the Hill?) and little room for PAAC buses to circulate let alone without choking up intersections. Also some issues with the signaling. But as I said, this will take another post.

      But again, that granularity of detail is not easily accessible and has not yet been openly discussed, so I can't see the logic in having asked the feds for $20 million so we provide it momentum and an imprimatur before all but the most savvy and well-connected have looked at it.

  3. "my impression is that the sidewalk along Center is so hugely wide (to accommodate sidewalk cafes, most of which are not meant to service Hill residents) and the raised medians are also so hugely wide that there will be little room remaining for something like a bike lane"

    So let's be clear here: "complete streets" versus "incomplete streets" is about whether only maximizing the benefit to car/truck traffic will be considered, or whether you will also try to take into account pedestrians, bikes, transit, adjacent businesses, environmental concerns, and so on. But complete street advocates have always acknowledged that exactly what sort of street you have in any given location depends very much on context and other contingent factors.

    So once you are trading off between the possible interests in the latter category (say more sidewalk space for pedestrians and cafes versus bike lanes, neither of which is about car/truck traffic), you are not talking complete streets versus incomplete streets anymore, you are debating what sort of complete street you want in a particular location. And that can be an important debate, but you shouldn't mischaracterize the nature of that debate.

    "But again, that granularity of detail is not easily accessible"

    It is on a freaking website with all the TIGER application material, called clearly, if unimaginatively, Which the SPC linked, and which I linked here. If you still haven't looked at it is not because it is hard to do, it is because you can't actually be bothered.

    "so I can't see the logic in having asked the feds for $20 million so we provide it momentum and an imprimatur before all but the most savvy and well-connected have looked at it."

    First, you were affirmatively claiming it was not a complete streets plan, which is very different from claiming that knowing it was a complete streets plan required actually looking at the TIGER application materials.

    Second, I guarantee you that with pretty much every project that DOES get a TIGER grant, only the most "savvy" people have bothered to actually pull up the application materials and tried to understand the proposal in any detail. That's just how things work in public policy--most people are not paying that sort of attention to what is going on in these processes, and they of course couldn't given the gazillion different things going on at any given time.

    Which is all the more reason for people who act as intermediaries--people who are reporters, who write prominent blogs, and so forth--to hold themselves to a higher standard, meaning actually do their homework before they start making sweeping and definitive claims that imply detailed knowledge of the subject at hand.

    1. "to hold themselves to a higher standard, meaning actually do their homework"

      Shoot, I only discussed it with some professional transportation planners intimately knowledgeable of the project. My bad. I am sorry if in fact I slightly misapplied the term "complete streets" when what I meant was something similar and equally important.

    2. "Shoot, I only discussed it with some professional transportation planners intimately knowledgeable of the project"

      Well, you might reconsider treating these people as credible sources, given how badly they apparently misled you. For example, maybe they are advocates willing to BS people in the media if they think it will serve their causes.

      "I am sorry if in fact I slightly misapplied the term 'complete streets'"

      There is no "slightly" about it. That is a very serious accusation with a pretty specific meaning, and it was in fact a false accusation in this case.

      "when what I meant was something similar and equally important."

      If what you meant was that you didn't like the balance that was struck on one particular street between sidewalks and bike lanes, then:

      (a) that is not remotely similar to your original accusation; and

      (b) that is not in fact close to being equally important to the problem of incomplete streets.

      I think you are better off sticking with the story that you were duped by some "professional transportation planners" who apparently abused your trust. If you also try to defend your false accusation on the merits, even in this half-hearted fashion, it makes it look like you were more than happy to be duped anyway.

    3. If they're not credible sources, we all have bigger problems indeed... give me a few days to work on this. If it turns out you're right and I've misunderstood something I'll have no problem fessing up.

    4. Didn't take that long.

      Before I get further into this, I must stress that to me personally, the benchmarks for affordable housing and Hill resident-owned businesses, the dollar-a-car improvement fund, as well as other things the HDCG is seeking is more important even than optimizing transportation considerations. (BOTH the failures of inclusivity and of transportation stem from the same difficulty -- a one-dimensional fixation on maximizing private profit -- but I personally place the former as the stronger concern.)

      Be that as it may, Brian...

      First of all, the very first thing on the Smart Growth Website about complete streets reads, "There is no singular design prescription for Complete Streets; each one is unique and responds to its community context." So the confidence, absolutism and ferocity with which you refute my original contention seems out of place from the gate.

      Secondly, the TIGER application merely alludes to "adequate lane widths with shared lane markings" and "share the road" signs to accommodate bicyclists on Center. So no distinct bike lanes, green or otherwise, just a regular traffic lane with a decal on it, and even that only for Center Ave. And most importantly, nowhere in the grant application or the PLDP do the dimensions of the lanes and medians of an "improved" Center Ave. appear. So you can try to take that word "adequate" in the (failed) grant application to the bank but who knows if it's legit.

      Nothing contradicts the contentions made by the transportation folks I've spoken with that the 12-foot sidewalks and a similarly enormously wide raised median not only kill the possibility of dedicated bike lanes in the central (and only) artery from Downtown to the Hill, but also are instigating real concerns for ease of buses getting around. At all relevant points in the Port Authority Interim CEO's letter of support, we read only that new streets "may" provide this and "may" present that.

      Thirdly for those of you terribly interested, along the extension of Wylie Ave., which supposedly is to be considered a connector as well, we get 11-foot traffic lanes, one each in either direction, and an 8-foot parking lane on either side. Not exactly a bicyclists paradise either.

      Please let me know if I'm missing anything. You're a longtime commenter here and have always been a constructive one. But using all the sources you insist upon I can't see how you reached your conclusions about this development and about my work. I feel even more confident that complete streets are a concern now, than before we got into this.

    5. These working guidelines proposed by the National Complete Streets Coalition seem useful to our discussion:

      Here are a few of those guidelines that seem particularly relevant in this case.

      An ideal Complete Streets policy:
      *Includes a vision for how and why the community wants to complete its streets
      *Specifies that ‘all users’ includes pedestrians, bicyclists and transit passengers of all ages and abilities, as well as trucks, buses and automobiles.
      *Directs that Complete Streets solutions will complement the context of the community.
      *Establishes performance standards with measurable outcomes.

      Certainly, the Penguins/SEA pay lip service to such principles as community inclusion in their narrative of the plan, but is a real conversation with a range of stakeholders in the community possible when they allow only those who sign confidentiality agreements to be at the table to plan a complete streets vision?

      As regards the functional impact of the project, I bike down the Hill into downtown and then bus back up all the time. I looked over the site with SPC planners. The portion of Centre (the main connector of Hill and downtown) included in the Penguin street grid plan is currently a six lane stretch which will lose two lanes to sidewalks and widened median, with no dedicated bike lane planned. As a biker, I will attest to the fact that most car and bus drivers do not really want to share a lane with me. At the public comment meeting at SPC, Port Authority expressed concerns similar to mine regarding already-existing levels of congestion on that stretch of road at rush hour. Centre becomes a bottleneck which delays hundreds of working people each day - why narrow that neck further?

    6. Again, complaining there is not enough dedicated bike infrastructure and too much sidewalk space and pedestrian amenities is not a complete streets versus incomplete streets debate, it is a debate about what sort of complete streets you want to see.

      That, in a nutshell, is why I am so "confident" in rejecting the "absolutism" YOU displayed originally. Your original assertion this wasn't a complete streets plan was and remains completely unfounded. And arguing there should be a bit less focus on pedestrians and a bit more provision for dedicated bikeways is not a defense of your original absolutism.

      As far as demonstrating why this is clearly a type a complete streets plan, even if not exactly the one you would personally prefer, I don't really think I can improve much on pointing people, again, to Section 3 of the draft PDLP:

      Here is the SGA intro to complete streets:

      To put the disclaimer you quoted in context:

      "There is no singular design prescription for Complete Streets; each one is unique and responds to its community context. A complete street may include: sidewalks, bike lanes (or wide paved shoulders), special bus lanes, comfortable and accessible public transportation stops, frequent and safe crossing opportunities, median islands, accessible pedestrian signals, curb extensions, narrower travel lanes, roundabouts, and more."

      Notably, it does not say every complete street MUST include a bike lane AND a bus lane AND everything else on the list. Of course, that would be ridiculous. And if you look through the entire list of streets discussed in Section 3, there are many different elements on that list being included.

      So what is an "incomplete street", if "complete streets" can mean so many different things? Again, from the same page, an incomplete street is defined as: "those designed with only cars in mind."

      Can an intellectually honest person look at Section 3 and claim in good faith that those streets were designed "with only cars in mind"? No.

      So yes, I am "confident" that your original "absolutism" was simply wrong. And there is no intellectually honest way to defend those original accusations.

    7. Disagree.

      Firstly, there are no dimensions for an improved Centre Ave anyway. Secondly they took down yesterday. Thirdly by your definition any street with like, elements and stuff, we have to call complete enough. Yes I am saying that a complete approach for a street that is a vaunted historic and sole connector should have more than pedestrians and cars in mind. Especially if you can extend the street limitlessly on one side and if the pedeatrian elements are super overboard. That's a pretty sturdy limb.

    8. @BrianTH

      You write of the published position on complete streets parameters:

      Notably, it does not say every complete street MUST include a bike lane AND a bus lane AND everything else on the list.

      Certainly, as public transit advocate, I'm not lobbying for such universality - I'm addressing the need for that stretch of Centre Avenue affected by the Penguin development to remain a functional multimodal throughway in light of its crucial role as main connector between the Hill and downtown.

      Brian, I very much appreciate that you continue to provide a still-active PDF link to the primary documents of Penguin plans for this development. I hope the cache remains available - it's of real concern to me that the active site was shut down on Sunday. Why remove an active link to the documents that I believe to be the main source of public information on plans that will have important public impact?

    9. "Firstly, there are no dimensions for an improved Centre Ave anyway."

      Indeed, for someone who originally made such sweeping accusations about the whole street grid plan, doesn't it seem odd you are only discussing Centre, which is an established street not actually within the development site itself?

      "Secondly they took down yesterday."

      Too bad our local commentariat was more interested in "political rhetoric" and not so much in the actual susbtance of the TIGER application while it was ongoing.

      "Yes I am saying that a complete approach for a street that is a vaunted historic and sole connector should have more than pedestrians and cars in mind."

      Right, you apparently think Centre should have a bike lane, which might well be a good idea (or not--when bike lanes make sense is a fairly complex topic).

      But that thought simply does not provide a basis for your original accusation, and I think it is safe to conclude at this point that no such basis is going to be forthcoming.

    10. "I'm addressing the need for that stretch of Centre Avenue affected by the Penguin development to remain a functional multimodal throughway in light of its crucial role as main connector between the Hill and downtown."

      That's a reasonable issue, albeit not one that supports Bram's original accusations.

      However, I would note there is an awful lot of literature on what is sometimes called "road diets", and it turns out it is not at all clear that losing a couple lanes from a six-lane urban street is contradictory with that goal, or indeed will necessarily do much to reduce peak vehicular throughput. It is really a complex topic--slowing down traffic and reducing the number of conflicts (e.g., lane changes), along with some smart signalization changes and so forth, can even result in a higher real-world peak capacity, or at least a very minimal reduction in peak capacity with lots of other benefits.

      And in fact slowing down traffic and reducing conflicts will almost certainly make Centre a better biking road than it is now, although again I would be interested in seeing a detailed assessment of whether a bike lane makes sense as well.

      All this is really just a good demonstration of how the concept of "complete streets" is really just a starting point--it frames the issues in a certain way, and identifies certain pathologies that existed in prior eras of urban road planning, but otherwise a great deal of case-by-case work needs to be done to figure out what really makes the most sense on any given bit of urban road.

  4. Complete streets for the Lower Hill Development Plan - there is not any. LOL! Without any public transit improvements or connectivity -it will continue to be an automobile-centric development. Any reduction in the street width/lanes to accommodate other uses, will be struck down - how else would Penguin fans disperse quickly off-site from the gigantic surface parking/structure currently available on-site.

  5. Apparently none of you have actually seen the Pens plans. there is in fact a proposed cap over the crosstown blvd for a public park. You have also apparently ignored the two streets that will connect the hill. Can the streets completely connect the hill to downtown? No, they can't. But they can connect to something and that something will hopefully be a vibrant business and residential complex which will help revitalize the hill increase property values. And not being able to connect to downtown is something Pens didn't create nor do they have much control over. Finally, the cap over the highway and the connections to the hill and the street are some of the things that require public funding. If you want the Pens to just develop a flat parcel of land with some parking lots and suburban office space, that is fine. they can do that right now and probably use no to little public money.

    1. It gives me no joy to write this, but the cap over I-579 is a joke for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is incalculable expense. Even the Pens have indicated this is a far-out future element unlikely ever to be funded. The practicalities of a plant-life heavy deck plunked over the Interstate as well...

      And thank you as a project advocate for agreeing that the Pens / SEA's PR about new streets connecting the Hill to Downtown is balderdash. I'm not blaming them for creating a problem impossible to solve, I'm blaming them for telling everybody they're solving it.

    2. Indeed, Bram is correct: The planners and all of those involved in the participatory process have indicated that the "cap" is somewhat "pie in the sky," requiring enormous amounts of money and nearly impossible to construct without major disruption of interstate roads.
      And let's think: "…the Pens [can] just develop a flat parcel of land with some parking lots and suburban office space…they can do that right now and probably use no to little public money." Like the profits from the parking lots they received as a gift from the taxpayers?

    3. Bram is writing as if deck-parks have not been done over urban freeways before. But to give one example:

      The essential costs actually aren't that high--you are basically just constructing the equivalent of a wide overpass bridge. I might note the space between the two Crosstown bridges where such a deck-park would go is considerably smaller than the space spanned in the Dallas project--on the order of 1/3.

      The Dallas project ended up costing about $110 million, a good chunk of which was for the amenities and such on top (which were done very nicely). So I'd suggest a good estimate would be that the Pittsburgh project would cost around $40 million, give or take depending on what exactly you wanted to do with the space on top.

      So no, this idea is not a "joke" or inherently "pie in the sky." What is true, however, is that the Penguins and SEA have not committed to putting any money toward this project.

  6. And again, why would anyone build a superfluous unnatural structure that would require maintenance in the long run. We have enough public parks and bridges in the City with not enough money to go around.

    1. Yes, the "cap" as proposed by the Penguins to be "green" has raised serious concerns among planners - basically the development would create what they consider to be a tunnel topped with significant weight of trees (and their grasping roots) and regularly watered soil that would "rot the structure."

      Yes, such a design would, at the least, require very costly, ongoing maintenance and repairs. On the state level, we already have thousands of bridges and tunnels we can't afford to repair in PA, with serious doubt of the political will to raise those state funds in the near future. On the federal level, we must consider probable upcoming years of continued "austerity" and forever-war budgets with even less money for infrastructure. I think many taxpayers would suggest that without either state or federal funds for such maintenance, we can't afford to be "optimistic" and not consider the worst case scenario of structural failure over that Crosstown Blvd. We've seen enough collapsed bridges in the national news lately to understand our own potential danger and to think ahead.

      The "green cap" plan seems to have been designed by an eco-friendly architect jazzed up by the PR-friendly zing of such phrases as "public open space" and "manage stormwater" without backup (or inconvenient input) from a more practically grounded engineer. I'm all for eco-friendly, but not green pies in the sky that might come crashing down on traffic.

    2. So all of the sudden, with the flick of a wrist, the planners and dreamers and "why can't we have nice things" progressives turn into pragmatic realists when it comes to giving the Pens any credit. Yes it is a long shot and yes it will cost money. But it is only in the planning phase. The actual structure will come down the road (no pun intended). I think it is a great idea and why shouldn't we push for it? Besides Helen, I didn't know that "open space" and "stormwater management" were zing phrases. Or, maybe they are just that.

    3. @AnonymousSeptember 8 6:16 PM

      No, not with a flick of the wrist, but with careful consideration because of the possible costs and damages that have been suggested to me as probable by professional transportation planners who expressed their concerns about this portion of the Penguin proposal, while speaking favorably about other aspects of the plan.

      And as a "progressive" and human being, I'm quite aware that I'm open to influence by buzz words and slogans that ring my own political Pavlovian bells, so consider it my responsibility to watch out for the ways that such tempting "green" treats are used to sell me on plans that might not be so good for the people who I advocate for.

    4. Even in the lottery-ticket distant future sense, the Penguins never implied they'd pay for the cap. Why is it even in their PLDP? It's like a restaurant that advertises, "Buy a cheeseburger and get free fries, coffee and desert! All you have to do is bring your own fries, coffee and desert."

      And by the way, Anon 6:16, don't try to affix this skepticism to "progressives". Conservatives, most Hill residents and most informed humans without personal special interest fall into the same category of seeing this load for what it is. Pittsburgh deserves better than being pillaged like this, and it's not a choice only between this and surface parking for 10 years -- even though that's still your best argument.

    5. The reason to do it is that it would make it much more pleasant for pedestrians going back and forth, and likely would considerably raise property values on either side (which could potentially result in a nice financial return for the City).

      Again, a lot of the scare-mongering here about collapses and such indicates a lack of familiarity with the fact this has already been done before. You do have to calculate the weight of what you are putting on top to make sure you are comfortably within the load-bearing capabilities of what is basically an overpass, but if there is one thing we understand very, very well, it is how to engineer and construct overpasses.

      By the way, unfortunately, the Penguins were not asked to commit to paying the infrastructure costs in the Consol/Lower Hill deal. No doubt that deal was a very crappy one for the public, but there is consequently going to be a lot of stuff that actually happens that the Penguins don't pay for.

    6. By the way, the dynamic noted by Anon at 6:16 dates at least back to the debate over the Civic Arena demolition. To review what happened back then, those who wanted to preserve the Arena were given ample opportunity to try to come up with a competitive reuse plan, and they ultimately failed, rather dramatically.

      So, as a last ditch effort, they resorted to attacking the Penguins' proposal as unrealistically good, the idea being that maybe their ideas for reusing the Arena were obviously crappy, but that was really the best that could be done in crappy ole' Pittsburgh.

      And yes, it was a pretty disgusting turn of events, and unfortunately I agree we are seeing signs of that dynamic continuing in these discussions as well. In fact, I have my suspicions that perhaps some of the unnamed "professional transportation planners" haunting these comments may have been involved in both episodes.

    7. Brian: Firstly I don't recall this period where arena preservationists attacked the Penguins plan as unreasonably good. Perhaps the revenue projections, but not the plans certainly? Unless I am mistaken. Secondly in case anyone is under the wrong impression this blog author never argued for arena preservation. I did suggest the fix was in to demolish and that it qualified for historic designation, necessitating the SEA going through another process justifying what they were doing, and at least formally exploring mitigating compromises (preserving a portion of it, perhaps just one leaf, as public art reminder of the history and perils of urban redevelopment). Thirdly if you find skeptical talk about the cap "disgusting" (strong word!), you have to blame the Penguins. Every time I have seen or read them put on the spot about it, to their credit, they haven't been able to summon a particular brave face or bold words. And fourth, before we go estimating cost and feasibility compared to Dallas, we need to compare the spans respective widths, the gradients, and the financing power of the two communities in their two respective financing ages. Again, if the Pens aren't intending to pay for it I don't see why it should be in their PLDP. If we want to build a deck, and can, then we can build a deck one day sure. But just because Congressman Doyle suggested it a few years ago, now the Penguins get to take credit for it and imply that is what their special zoning, master planning and continued subsidy requests will bring?

  7. So I am noticing repeated references to unnamed "professional transportation planners" in the comments here. Exactly why can't these people be named?

    1. Would you want people to know your name and the fact that you got paid to design what passes for transportation here?

    2. Because I'm the first writer on the history of the world to let sources go off the record. And they're traffic planners not architects. And it hardly matters anymore because I didn't haunt the comments repeatedly with them and my arguments don't rely on them anymore. And bringing up the arena demolition seems like a left-field way to put "progressives" on the defensive as though this is about one particular political group, and it is the last context in which anyone remembers a Penguins' planning position enjoying support (though I still happen to think the re-use attempts were doomed from the start because everybody at the SEA and City waved off all interest.) Now, since identity is important to you on principle, who are you and what do you do?

    3. @BrianTH

      The two SPC staff that I met with to gather more information on the Penguin development are Sarah Walfoort, Transportation Planning Manager at 412-391-5590, and Matt Pavlosky at (412) 391-5590, Ext. 361, or

      I spoke with Sarah this morning and invited her to review these comments and let me know any concerns she might have about misrepresentation of the information they provided me - unfortunately Matt is out of town. I'll be sure to correct any misrepresentations on my part that I hear back from them.

    4. "Because I'm the first writer on the history of the world to let sources go off the record."

      And I'm not the first reader to think that sometimes writers abuse that option. Indeed, I would suggest consumers of public commentary should pretty much ALWAYS at least ask themselves why some anonymous source wanted to remain anonymous.

      "And bringing up the arena demolition seems like a left-field way to put 'progressives' on the defensive"

      I certainly don't think of the issue in that way at all. "Progressives" covers a lot of territory, and I think there were a lot of progressives who were anywhere from reluctantly to enthusiastically in favor of demolishing the Civic Arena. Conversely, I suspect a lot of the people at least casually in favor of saving it would not self-identify as progressives.

      So if anyone is feeling "defensive," it should just be those people, "progessive" or no, who have a tendency to root against the very possibility of good things happening in Pittsburgh whenever things aren't going precisely the way they would want them to go.

      "though I still happen to think the re-use attempts were doomed from the start because everybody at the SEA and City waved off all interest"

      No, they were doomed by the fact the Civic Arena couldn't reasonably be reused as anything but an arena, and as soon as Consol was built it was rendered redundant for that purpose. If they had ever come up with a better plan than what the Penguins were presenting, maybe that dynamic would have been different, but despite a long, sustained effort, they could never meet that goal.

      I know it is hard even now for some people to give up that fight, but I credit the Reuse folks with doing their best to come up with compelling alternatives, and as you know, there were some pretty sophisticated people and entities contributing to that project. Which is precisely why the manifest suckiness of their proposed alternatives was so telling: if they couldn't do better, likely no one good.

      "Now, since identity is important to you on principle, who are you and what do you do?"

      Ah, but typically I do NOT care if people commenting here wish to remain anonymous. But when people commenting here start making arguments from authority, then I think it becomes fair game to wonder exactly who these authorities might be.

      In contrast, I'm not asking anyone to take anything I say on my personal authority. Rather, I ask only that people give the logic, policy analysis, and factual claims I am presenting fair consideration on their own merits.

      In that sense, the relevant answer to your question is that I am just a concerned citizen. And in fact I am happy to admit my actual profession has almost no relevance to any of these discussions, so I am nothing but an amateur.

    5. Thanks, Helen! It would obviously be great if some SPC staff wanted to participate in this discussion (even if at a bit of a remove).

    6. Brian, you're also welcome to email me at Along with Bram and other readers here at the Comet, I've very much appreciated the logic, policy analysis, and "granularity" of factuality you contribute to this comment section, you concerned citizen, you.

  8. Does anyone have anything to say about the ICA or the Port Authority board? I feel like a tennis match with one commentator on a couple points related one one topic is dominating the discussion.

    Starting now I'm going to try to give up commenting on my own posts for Jewish Lent. Who knows, maybe more persons will experience an urge to chime in to defend similar positions.

    1. I'm not even sure what the ICA does. I'm relatively pleased with the Port Authority, because the 61D (Greenfield Only) has made my life easier.

  9. The ICA seems to be a redundant agency that is just sucking out more public dollars that could be better utilized elsewhere. Legislators were not happy with Pittsburgh taking "advantage" of Act 47 so the ICA was their reaction to "punish" Pittsburgh for following the law that was in place at the time.

    They (the legislative branch) seem to have no problem with giving public dollars to their buddies with ideas like the ICA and the lax rules they have in place for themselves when it comes to per diems.

    I didn't like the way the county executive was pushing the previously established board to act in anything but an independent manner; but, that did not deserve the response from the state on restructuring the board. Now, they have hobbled every county executive that follows the current one. It is, after all, the Port Authority of ALLEGHENY COUNTY. If the state wanted to send a message, it should have been in the form of budget restrictions (which does fall under the legislative purview).

    Too much of circumventing the separation of powers lately at all levels of government (Burgess at the city level, the ICA legislation, the Port Authority restructuring, and executive decrees that take the legislative branch (and hence, the people's voice) out of any debates).

  10. Interesting how so many people criticize the Pens, the SEA and others for wanting public money for this project. Some have even suggested that ideas like the cap over the CTB are pipe dreams because of lack of funding and sequester. But then those same people seem to conveniently forget that any reuse of the Igloo would have faced the same problem.

    1. On the cap: I am going to take a date out to Burger King and buy her a medium of order onion rings. I'll tell her, "Next door, if you want, I'll let you buy yourself some fillet mignon stuffed with truffles! Your place or mine?"

      It would be very nice, having a cap like that. One day taxpayers, philanthropists and well-meaning corporations might together invest in it. I'm sure if one got approved and built, it wouldn't be dangerous at all. But it's not a part of the Pens' investment, it's not an idea specific to (or that originated in) their plans, and it's not a necessary component to the Pens' profitability in this project I wager (that's why it won't appear anytime soon on anyone's time table. Some time after Curtain Call.)