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Officials Taking Steps To Scale Up City Stairways

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

For a city molded by its dramatic topography, Pittsburgh has admittedly been a bit neglectful of many of those simple structures that get people up and down the hills: steps.

But over the next year-and-a-half, city leaders are hoping to hear some innovative ideas from national experts on how they can repair and improve the city’s extensive system of staircases.

Though a design firm hasn't been chosen yet, $1.16 million worth of in-kind services furnished by the Citi Foundation means Pittsburgh won't have to pay anything.

It’s one of 12 city infrastructure consultation projects nationwide funded by the City Accelerator program of the foundation and the advocacy group Living Cities, since 2014.

"Simply put, our failure to provide citizens with adequate physical structures and public assets is a failure of democracy," said Ben Hecht, president of Living Cities.

City spokesman Tim McNulty said Pittsburgh suffers from plenty of the same infrastructure needs that the other 11 cities in the program have, but its hundreds of stairways are a unique feature.

Credit City of Pittsburgh
A map of all 712 city stairways.

“The city steps are one of the greatest assets that Pittsburgh has that other cities can’t really boast,” McNulty said. “The steps were used by our grandparents to get to work decades ago.”

“New people are coming into the city who really value walkability in neighborhoods, yet, at the same time, our steps have been crumbling for years, because we don’t have the money to keep them up.”

McNulty said the push to repair and renovate the city’s stairways should take about five years. He said he doesn’t yet have an estimate of what the city itself will spend on actual renovation projects.

Credit City of Pittsburgh 2016 Capital Budget
There are five planned stairway improvement projects in Pittsburgh this year -- two in the South Side, and three in the northern East End, totaling nearly $150,000.

In the 2016 capital budget, passed in December, the city set aside $1.23 million for step improvements scheduled over the next five years. In contrast, it's planned for $79 million in street paving costs over that same time period.

Those improvements will cost nearly $150,000 to be spent this fiscal year, including $132,800 for two projects on the South Side Slopes and $15,000 for three projects in Morningside and Highland Park.