The foundations behind the Hazelwood Green development site have proposed funding a long-debated shuttle between Oakland, Hazelwood and the former steel mill site. Almono LP released preliminary plans for the electric shuttle route Monday, ahead of public meetings to discuss the proposal.
Almono has not yet finalized details like the final route and vehicle model, but said a new nonprofit entity would be created to manage shuttle operations. The shuttle would run on weekdays and weekends with higher frequency during peak hours.
The proposed route is a six-mile loop that uses existing public roads and at low speeds on two parts of the yet to be built mobility trail: a segment in the Junction Hollow area of Schenley Park and a segment using a currently closed section of Sylvan Avenue.
The shuttle would have seven stops: South Neville Street; Boundary Street and Diulius Way; Hazelwood and Sylvan avenues; Tecumseh Street and Second Avenue; Hazelwood Green’s Mill 19; Hazelwood Green’s Roundhouse; and Schenley Plaza. The plan includes an optional route extension that would include Fifth Avenue in Oakland. Almono estimated a trip from South Neville Street to Hazelwood and Sylvan Avenue would take 13 minutes.
Almono said in its proposal that the shuttle would operate every 15 minutes from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m on week days and 9:30 a.m. to 5:05 p.m. on weekends. During weekday peak times (6:30 to 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.) the shuttle would operate every 10 minutes.
The proposal includes two vehicle options: A Polaris GEM e6 which seats up to 5 passengers and a driver; or a MotoEV Electro Transit Buddy which seats up to 8 passengers and a driver.
The shuttle would create a new transportation option from Oakland to the Hazelwood Green development site; a link between Carnegie Mellon University and it’s projects housed at the former steel plant.
Almono spokesperson David Caliguiri says the shuttle will provide Hazelwood residents with free transportation to Oakland’s hospitals, universities and cultural centers. The foundations behind Almono include the Richard King Mellon Foundation, the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and the Heinz Endowments.
“The Hazelwood-Oakland Shuttle will provide a fast, free, environmentally friendly way to link Hazelwood residents and Mon Valley neighborhoods to job centers and services in Oakland,” said Caliguiri in the plan’s release issued Monday.
City officials first imagined a "Mon-Oakland Connector" in 2015. That plan saw an autonomous shuttle system operating between the redevelopment site and Oakland. Almono’s plan uses an electric shuttle with a driver.
Residents and advocacy groups like Pittsburghers for Public Transit have been outspoken about the shuttle plans and the mobility trail project in general. Laura Wiens, director of Pittsburghers for Public Transit, said the trail is a misuse of tax dollars that would not meet the travel needs of existing residents.
Wiens, and other transit advocates, suggest increasing bus service along routes like the 75 Ellsworth through Hazelwood. She said Almono and the City should use their resources to support mobility options like bus routes that could serve more people. The proposed shuttle is expected to be able to serve 180 people per day.
“And they could do it tomorrow and get all the benefits that the shuttle proposal is purporting to serve and it will do it better,” she said. Wiens said the riders who stand to benefit from the shuttle are workers at the Hazelwood Green site who need an option to get to and from Oakland.
Karina Ricks, director of the City’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, counters that mobility improvement of any size is a good thing. “If we can improve the life outcomes for 80 people, that’s 80 people that do serve to benefit,” she said.
Ricks said the shuttle service is one piece of the larger Mon-Oakland Mobility Project. Most of the $23 million appropriated in the capital budget will be used to rebuild and improve the bicycle and pedestrian trail in Junction Hollow after Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority finishes its massive stormwater management project in the area.
Caliguiri said the foundations behind Almono will continue to support additional transit and improved mobility for historically underserved neighborhoods. “It could be another BRT [Bus Rapid Transit] system, it could be an advanced shuttle system,” he speculated. But right now, Caliguiri said, Almono is focused on moving the shuttle proposal forward.
The city will host a virtual meeting Wednesday at 6 p.m. to discuss details of the Mon-Oakland Mobility Project and the Almono shuttle. The public is encouraged to register for the Zoom presentation which will include station by station details and a chance for public comment.