The Pro Walk/Pro Bike conference was recently held at the David Lawrence center Downtown, between September 8th and 11th. It was an event geared towards Professionals in fields such as City Planning and Civil Engineering, costing attendees up to $800 for full access. On Tuesday the 9th, they had an “Open House” between 5:15 and 7PM; which upon arriving, I realized was simply an hour and forty-five minute time period where the guards were disinclined to stop you for not having a personalized event pass around your neck.
Unfortunately, it was also a time period in which many of the presenters had left their tables for the day and gone to dinner, so the plethora of information was reduced to a chain of sparsely manned reception tables littered with pamphlets about bike trails and pedestrian commuter projects in various cities across the country. Many of the vendors there were companies promoting bike-share vehicle brands or bike parking designs for Municipal buyers, while others were selling cycling literature, or promoting bicycle Culture or hiking tourism in such-a-place, USA.
If the Conference had set something up specifically for the public, I missed it. It was way up on the third floor and over a walkway; me and another young woman got lost trying to find it. I meandered through the reception tables and poster board displays for a while, feeling a bit disappointed. That is when a lecture title caught my eye. It was a lecture on MovePGH’s Implementation of Pittsburgh’s First Multi-Modal Transportation Plan. I wasn’t sure if it was part of the open house, but since no one stopped me, I sat down.
Call me a nerd for getting excited by such a boring title, but I don’t care. MovePGH is a division of PlanPGH–the “Mothership” for all of Pittsburgh City Planning, and furthermore, the lecture was being given by the Patrick Roberts, Principal Transportation Planner for the City. So who’s the nerd now, huh?
Mr. Roberts’ lecture focused around two topics; first, groundwater management solutions pertaining to septic overflow in wet weather, citing Philadelphia’s approved Infrastructure plan as a specific example; and secondly, Pittsburgh’s transportation projects happening in Uptown and Manchester.
The groundwater overflow is something that Pittsburgh must resolve if it wants to flourish. It’s also something we are legally required to address due to a ‘Consent Degree‘, demanding results by September 30th, 2026. Basically, rain is seeping down and entering the terra-cotta sewage lines (some of them constructed over 100 years ago); untreated, septic water then overflows back out into the soil and rivers. Early estimates of final costs for the upgrades run between $2.1 and $3.6 billion. ALCOSAN, the sewage authority, had proposed the $2.1b Infrastructure plan, using mostly traditional concrete and pipe solutions, or “Grey Infrastructure“, which the Federal Government, as of this writing, has declined to approve.
Roberts, and a growing number of government officials, are supporters of “Green Infrastructure”; more natural and integrated methods of runoff retention and water purification that forgo concrete and steel for tree roots and capture basins. Through various methods like porous pavement and rain barrel irrigation, the idea is to divert as much rainwater as possible, before it can get to the sewer lines in the first place. As stated, Philadelphia has created a Master Plan that has been approved by the EPA, titled, “Green Cities, Clean Waters”. You can click on the title for the complete text of the Master Plan, but those of you who want an easier explanation, click on the picture below for a series of Powerpoint slides that summarize it quite nicely.
I mention Philadelphia’s plan because the successes and failures of it will greatly inform Pittsburgh City Planning in the upcoming years. When I had said Mr. Roberts’ discussion was about two major issues–septic runoff and new transit changes in Uptown and Manchester– it was actually about how green infrastructure and the new transit route design are merging to solve both the groundwater capture and the transit needs of Uptown in one project. The current administration has its hopes of dedicating at least $200 million or more over time to the new Transit corridor. Roberts also mentioned a program called “Complete Streets” that the city leadership embraces; Mr. Roberts was a little vague, but it involves technology like motion sensor activated traffic signals, public transit apps, and new roadway designs meant to increase safety.
Aside from the Uptown transit corridor, another specific detail Roberts discussed was the re-visioning of the Manchester District in the North Side. Pittsburgh City Planning, along with 40 other Community Development Organizations, are developing an entirely new design that involves lowering the raised highway of route 65 and rerouting heavier traffic, to allow the North Side better access to the Ohio river shoreline, as well as adding bike/pedestrian routes, shopping districts, and rain-capture gardens, bringing the successful development of the North Shore further down the Ohio River, where it has been sorely lacking for many decades now.
Manchester may also become one of the several neighborhoods considered “Eco Districts”; Larimer, Homewood, Uptown, and Millvale are four examples of ‘testing ground’ neighborhoods, where Environmental Engineers and other experts are developing the innovations on a small scale that will hopefully offer sanitation innovations for Pittsburgh’s future, integrating pedestrian routes and parks, which will also serve to protect our sewers and our water supply.
I really enjoyed the lecture, not to mention the super awesome view from David Lawrence’s ballroom. There were many other details discussed, from expanding the T rail line, turning the Birmingham bridge into a public park, to connecting the Hill District Bluff to the Elisa Furnace Trail via ‘zipline’.
However, what resonated most with me that Roberts said was when he stated, “In matters of equity, the City of Pittsburgh favors soft improvements over hard improvements.”
A simple thing to say, but essentially he was claiming, in City Planning jargon, that this Administration is dedicated to helping smaller, local businesses and homeowners, (soft investment) over the major land developers wishing to do massive commercial projects (hard investment). I for one actually welcome “Bakery Living” to Pittsburgh, as long as we can maintain a balance where Working Class neighborhoods can receive the attention and developmental assistance they need, and still remain in the hands of median income, Working Class people after the improvements are complete. Too many times, “Big Development” prices out anyone below a 6-figure income in neighborhoods seeing real improvement. To me, this is the ultimate challenge of City Planning; designing and budgeting a beautiful, thriving place in which people from all socio-economic levels can call home. Maintaining that balance is something Peduto and this administration have vowed to strive towards. The development of pedal and foot traffic routes in this city are a great means to that end: making Pittsburgh a city for all Pittsburghers.