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Smart Tech Isn’t Just For Big Cities: 8 Municipalities Win Help Solving Mobility Issues

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The Borough of Millvale will work with CMU researchers to make it easier to navigate the slew of transit modes that converge at the community's main gateway.

Carnegie Mellon University’s Traffic21 Institute on Wednesday awarded $400,000 to projects throughout the 10-county region that tackle significant mobility issues.

The Smart Mobility Challenge aims to prove that technology and innovation can improve connectivity throughout southwestern Pennsylvania. Getting people to work, to medical care or to friends is essential for thriving communities, but Traffic21’s executive director Stan Caldwell draws a distinction between transportation and mobility; lots of transit infrastructure was built to move people, but left some communities behind.

“The future of mobility is sometimes connecting the dots and providing access to communities that may not be physically distant but are cut off from our traditional transportation system,” said Caldwell. “Whether they’re cut off because of a highway running through a neighborhood, or they don’t have transit access, or they don’t have sidewalks.”

Those are the kinds of barriers the Smart Mobility Challenge hopes to overcome by pairing CMU research teams with eight municipalities in four counties: Bethel Park, Cranberry, Dormont, Greensburg, Neshannock, McKees Rocks, Millvale and Mt. Lebanon.

The six projects—some municipalities have joined forces—will have a year to analyze their unique problems and propose and pilot solutions.

In the Borough of Millvale, just 500 feet of space is home to on and off ramps to Route 28, an active railroad line, a bike route, access to Millvale’s Riverfront Park as well as primary access to the community’s business district. It’s not a particularly friendly place to navigate, said Zaheen Hussain, the borough’s sustainability coordinator.

“Within our sustainable development plan, we have an overall mobility goal of making Millvale a place where people of all ages have the freedom to move safely.”

Making it easier to get in and out of Millvale is a stepping stone for the borough’s growth, said Hussain, citing high poverty rates, and the lack of a transit line that serves the local business district.

“The entire town itself is just 0.68 square miles, so as our economy comes back, we only have so much room to work with in terms of providing the opportunities that we want to provide for our residents,” he said. “By improving the flow of the [Route 28] intersection, ideally we can make a stronger case for the Port Authority to reconnect the bus line through Millvale so that our residents can connect to those greater economic opportunities.”

Margaret J. Krauss is WESA’s senior reporter. She covers development and transportation, and has produced award-winning podcasts on housing, work, and Pittsburgh’s lesser-known history. Before joining the newsroom full time, she covered the challenges facing Pennsylvania cities as a statewide reporter, and spent another life as an assistant editor for National Geographic Kids Magazine in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at mkrauss@wesa.fm.
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