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The Plan To Reconfigure Smallman Street That No One Is Happy About

Margaret J. Krauss
90.5 WESA
A cyclist bikes down a stretch of Smallman Street slated for reconfiguration. The proposal drew criticism for having both too little parking and no bike lanes.

Business owners, residents and commuters seemed equally displeased with a plan to reconfigure Smallman Street, presented Tuesday night in the Strip District. The overhaul of a five-block stretch of the boulevard dovetails with the renovation of the Produce Terminal.

The design tried to address top-line issues of safety, the experience of the street, and to ensure that businesses can be easily accessed by customers, said Karina Ricks, director of the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure.

“It is a destination district that we’re in here,” said Ricks. “How do you really create, and make Smallman a pedestrian-oriented, really special, really great place?”

The issue of parking proved divisive. The proposal covers Smallman from 16th to 21st streets, which is currently under construction. Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority is replacing century-old water and sewer infrastructure there and is expected to wrap in Jan. 2019.

Even under normal circumstances, Smallman can be tricky to navigate: the road is wide, but it’s not well marked, there’s haphazard parking along its length. The proposed plan narrows the road to a single lane in each direction, with parking down the middle and on either side.

That means an overall reduction of parking, and a likely increase in demand from new stores at the Produce Terminal. That worries Jim Coen, who owns Yinzers in the Strip District.

“Eighty percent of the people here, that is our main concern,” he said. “We feel like we’re going to lose our businesses and we feel like the new project is just going to push Penn Avenue right out. We’ll starve.”

Conversely, several attendees were flummoxed by a seeming abundance of parking and dearth of bike facilities.

Eric Boerer of advocacy group Bike Pittsburgh said the plan doesn’t address thegrowing need for safe passage for cyclists from the East End to Downtown.

“They’ve basically admitted that Smallman Street is not going to be a bike facility,” he said. “Instead we have one of the gems of our city, where tourists from all over the world come to see, and it’s going to be a big sea of parking.”

Ricks said there’s no question, the city needs to present a solution for cyclists.

“We do have a network of streets in this area and so we need to look at the network in its totality to find out where is the best connection that can be made,” she said.

But she is confident the city did its due diligence when it concluded Smallman was not the place to build that connection.

For some residents, Tuesday night’s meeting exhumed a process they already completed. City Planning worked with a team of consultants to develop a vision for Smallman Street, presented in 2017. That plan included bike lanes, broad, well-lit plazas and other amenities. However, it was expected to cost $20 million. Ricks said the city couldn’t afford it.

The new plan is slated to cost $9 million. A final design will be presented in the fall. Ideally, the city would like to begin construction on a reconfigured Smallman in May 2019.