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City officials want to reinvigorate iconic Downtown Pittsburgh streets

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
Smithfield Street is carried north over the Monongahela River by the Smithfield Street Bridge and runs through the heart of Downtown to Liberty Avenue.

City officials have been working with the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and Port Authority to analyze how people move to and through the neighborhood. That work culminated last spring in a road map called the Downtown Mobility Plan. The planned work on Smithfield Street is one of several key projects identified as part of a broader effort to make Downtown more accessible and welcoming.

City of Pittsburgh officials presented an initiative Wednesday night to reconfigure Smithfield Street, a major downtown corridor. While the project is called “Reimagining Smithfield,” preliminary designs suggest a more modest facelift than its title promises.

Smithfield Street runs north to south, from the Monongahela River to Liberty Avenue. The first phase of the street’s overhaul will focus on the three blocks between Forbes and Sixth Avenues. The stretch encompasses the old Kaufmann’s department store — now condos and soon to include a Target — office buildings, restaurants, Mellon Square Park and Port Authority’s downtown service center. The city’s website for the project notes that Smithfield Street has been a crucial corridor for nearly 200 years but “is currently not living up to its potential.”

Greg Cerminara of engineering company Gannett Fleming, a consultant on the project, said the roadway is cracked and deteriorated and old trolley tracks run beneath the street; utility pits currently prevent planting trees; and the traffic signal technology is outdated. He said the planned improvements will improve traffic flow in a bustling part of downtown.

“But also even provide a transportation facility that accommodates more than just the traffic itself,” he said. “That’s the other modes: transit, bicycle, and pedestrian traffic.

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The design includes wider sidewalks with room for landscaping and amenities such as benches, as well as shorter pedestrian crossings. However, the design of the two-lane road itself is mostly unchanged: the southbound lane will be used by buses, while the northbound lane will be used by general traffic. A current valet parking area in front of the Embassy Suites is slated to remain, and a block of parking in front of the future Target would be a loading zone. One block of parking would be eliminated between Fifth and Oliver Avenues.

The plan seemed to underwhelm the handful of residents who attended the meeting on Zoom. Three noted that city officials have identified the need for a bike connection in the area and asked why that facility was not part of reimagining Smithfield.

Michael Panzitta is a project manager with the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure. He said when he began work on the Smithfield Street design he called together a bunch of planners, including those who work on the city’s Bike Plus plan, to see if Smithfield should be the north-south connection.

“It was identified that other alternates, like potentially William Penn Place or elsewhere, would be the northbound bike facility,” he said. “So we kind of proceeded with focusing more on pedestrian and transit accommodations on this corridor.”

Speaking after the meeting, Scott Bricker of Bike Pittsburgh said the plan is still preliminary; final design will take the city until roughly spring 2023.

“So that means things can change, hopefully,” he said. “We just need some assurances that there is going to be a safe, comfortable, bike connection … in that part of the city.”

The city will accept comments on the Smithfield Street plan through May 27th.

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