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On-Demand Shuttle System Envisioned For Four Mile Run Area

Margaret J. Krauss
90.5 WESA
Pittsburgh's Director of the Deparment of Mobility and Infrastructure Karina Ricks talks with residents about the planned shuttle system.

A shuttle service between Oakland, Four Mile Run, Greenfield and Hazelwood could be built by the City of Pittsburgh by 2020. The Mon-Oakland Mobility Planwas called a “proof of concept” for how transportation could work in Pittsburgh.

The small, on-demand shuttles wouldn’t run on a fixed schedule, but show up when they were needed. People could use smartphones or station kiosks to say where they were and where they wanted to go.

The ride-hail shuttles could shift how people move around the city and create economic growth, Karina Ricks said at a public meeting in Hazelwood last night. Ricks is director of the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure.

“We enable a transit-oriented lifestyle and that’s really what we want to encourage,” she said. “Transit, biking, walking, because that’s the way that we can grow back the base that we once had without the level of traffic impact that we’ve seen so far to date.”

Some residents questioned whether the system is meant to increase mobility, as city officials said, or if its true purpose is to benefit development at the 178-acre former brownfield site, Hazelwood Green. Some people said it feels like the project isn’t meant for them, but for future workers and future residents, with one woman naming the possibility of Amazon moving into Hazelwood Green.

Ricks said the system is both: a mobility project, intended to provide robust transit options to the four neighborhoods, as well as an economic development project.

“I’ve built my career about trying to provide alternatives for real people and having real concern for those economic consequences,” she said, before acknowledging that development will likely change the neighborhoods, as it is all over the city. “But can I give people a fighting chance by having the opportunity to get to other job centers, by having the opportunity to thrive? This is about the people of this community and those that have more limited options and being able to provide them with some connections.”

A version of the transit link between Oakland and Hazelwood Green, the site formerly known as Almono, was first proposed in 2015 largely without input from residents, some of whom remain skeptical.

But Ricks said this project is different.

“There was something that was floated some years ago that was about, let’s take it from this development site, to Oakland, and call it a day,” she said. “This is not what this is about.”

The preferred route presented by city officials would run for roughly 3 miles from Oakland through Hazelwood. The shuttle buses hold between eight and 13 people, and could be autonomous or human-driven.

From the intersection of Joncaire and Boundary Streets in Oakland, the route would run south through Schenley Park between Panther Hollow and the Run on its own road, adjacent to the current CSX rail line, separated from walkers and bikers. When it emerged in the Run, the shuttles would remain off neighborhood streets, which residents said was crucial to them. The route would either run up on a hill above the neighborhood or be lifted up to the Swineburne Street Bridge using a technology that’s currently in use in parking garages. The system would then connect to Sylvan Avenue to run through Hazelwood.

How the shuttles might run through the Glenwood and Glen Hazel sections of Hazelwood looked like an afterthought to longtime resident Kristina DiPietro.

“They need to do that now, that should be considered so that we can connect everyone in the community to Oakland,” she said. “People do need to have good transportation there and it shouldn’t just end at the Hazelwood Green site or be extended a little bit into Hazelwood. If you’re going to extend, you need to come completely into the community.”

Ricks said the study area mainly focused on the segment between Oakland and Hazelwood but said there was no reason it has to end where it was drawn.

The project is expected to cost between $4 and $10 million to build, and will piggyback off a green infrastructure project slated to address flooding in Four Mile Run. That work will require a road be built for construction vehicle access. City officials say the system is meant to compliment Port Authority bus service, not compete with it.  Ideally, the service would be free for two to five years, said Ricks, to prove that people use it before scaling it to other parts of the city.

Officials expect to hold another public meeting after incorporating feedback on the proposed route.