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Mistrust And Concern Mark Public Meeting About Four-Mile Run 'Connectivity'

Margaret J. Krauss
90.5 WESA
A community meeting about building connectivity through Junction Hollow and Four Mile Run drew about 40 people. Residents worry that city officials will build a road to carry shuttle buses, as was proposed in 2015.

City officials want to push the restart button on an old idea: establishing connectivity between Oakland and neighborhoods to the south. 

The Urban Redevelopment Authority, on behalf of the city’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, or DoMI, is seeking a consultant to examine the need for such a transit link, which could run from Hazelwood to Oakland, and impact areas such as Panther Hollow and Four Mile Run. 

green infrastructure project to address flooding and combined sewer overflows in the Run will mean “tremendous disruption” in Junction Hollow, said DoMI Director Karina Ricks. But she added that putting back the landscape presents an opportunity.

“There will be walking trails. There will be bicycle trails.There may be something more than that and that’s what we need to understand,” she said.

A well-used bike and walking trail already exists in the area. Residents are concerned “something more” could mean other forms of transit that increase traffic, create noise and light pollution, and disturb green spaces used for recreation.

A poster at a presentation to the community Wednesday evening listed multiple “mobility options,” including public buses, shuttles and even an aerial tram.

The city wants a consultant to “assess and document the need(s) for connectivity and equitable access, identify and evaluate alternatives for meeting this need, and define a preferred and recommended option for advancement and eventual implementation,” according to a Request for Qualifications issued by the URA.

Roughly $4 million for stormwater management and a “connectivity plan” are already a part of the 2018 capital budget, as presented to Pittsburgh City Council last week.

This new study “should have been done a while ago,” said Ricks, calling it a chance to take a step back.

“And ask, what is mobility for? Why do we have this connection, what is the actual magnitude of the need? Who is it serving, what is it doing? What is the right alignment? What is the right mobility technology? And really to try and match need with a route, with service,” Ricks said.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Ricks outlined the transit needs in the six-neighborhood area which includes Greenfield, Hazelwood and Glen Hazel.

Most residents travel to downtown or Oakland for work, driving alone in a private vehicle to do so, according to U.S. Census data presented by Ricks. However, more than 21 percent of residents in the area do not have access to a car, and transit users spend 30 or more minutes getting to work. The bus routes serving the neighborhoods are fairly robust, but “you can’t get to Oakland in 30 minutes,” said Ricks.

Some residents questioned whether a connectivity problem truly exists.

“I want to be very clear. A connection is needed,” said Ricks. “This is where we’re really talking about the future building-up of these communities. Whether you are in this room or whether you’re working and didn’t have transit access to get to this room, objectively, there are residents of our city who are in need of connectivity and access to services that are currently lacking.”

In 2015, residents learned that the URA had applied for a grant to build a road to carry shuttle buses between Oakland and Hazelwood Green, the 178-acre former brownfield site on the Monongahela River. It was done largely without community input.

Ricks said she can’t undo what happened in the past.

“We’re taking this step back and doing this analysis … because we don’t want to accept as a fait accompli that this is a shuttle bus, that it’s a road, and that it’s through the park," she said. 

When asked if she felt relieved the city was re-examining the issue, Run resident Kristen Macey said she didn’t believe they were.

“They’re continuing to push this through,” she said. “We repeatedly asked for tonight’s meeting to be pushed back until we got the results of our census,” said Macey, referring to a broader community survey to identify neighborhood priorities and initiated by the Greenfield Community Association. It is due out soon. 

The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy has been working on a plan for park ecology and green infrastructure since early 2016, and presented preliminary designs to the community in October 2017. They are working with the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority and the city’s Department of Public Works and expect to have shovels in the ground next year.

DoMI and the URA intended to begin community outreach for the new study months ago, but wanted to wait until PPC finished its plan, said Ricks. They expected the Community Association’s census to come out at about the same time.

“For various reasons it took a little bit longer,” she said. “To postpone and wait until after the results of that community survey came in would have compressed the period that we could really get public input even further.”

Ricks said they do expect to fold the results of the community survey into the assessment of Four Mile Run, but that they couldn’t wait any longer to hold public meetings about the project.

The request for applications from potential consultants was issue Nov. 6; those applications are due Nov. 17. Whoever is chosen will have four months to engage the community, assess needs for mobility in the Run, and present possible options to move forward.