Dozens of Hazelwood residents and people from surrounding communities spoke out against a non-profit sponsored shuttle service at a public meeting Wednesday evening. Nearly 200 people joined the video call, which lasted just over two hours.
The foundations behind the Hazelwood Green development site announced earlier this week that they would pay to operate a shuttle service bringing riders from Oakland to the site with stops through Hazelwood. Almono — which consists of the Richard King Mellon Foundation, the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and the Heinz Endowments — said it would offer the shuttle to all residents free of charge.
But on Wednesday, community members argued the shuttle, which could serve up to eight passengers at a time, doesn’t come close to meeting the transit needs of residents in the area. Almono spokesperson David Caligiuri argued the shuttle could serve as a starting point to meeting that need.
Some residents speculated those who stood to benefit most from the shuttle were current and future employees at Hazelwood Green needing to get to the universities in Oakland.
Laura Wiens, director of Pittsburghers for Public Transit, called the Mon-Oakland Mobility Project, “A development project masquerading as a transit project.” Wiens and PPT have been steadfast in their opposition of the Mobility Project over the last five years. Wiens argues that tax dollars and efforts would be better spent expanding bus service through Hazelwood.
Barb Warwick, a Four Mile Run resident, echoed Wiens’ sentiments.
“These shuttles will barely transport two families,” she said. “If these foundations really want to serve their mission to support a better life in Pittsburgh, they would be funding better bus service.”
Others expressed concerns about future development, resulting in gentrification of Hazelwood and Four Mile Run. Bonnie Fan, a Carnegie Mellon University student, pointed to evictions in Chicago after the completion of the Bloomingdale Trail raised property values and rent prices. Karina Ricks, director of the City’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, has herself compared the Mon-Oakland Project to the Bloomingdale trail.
The Mon-Oakland Mobility Project design team presented concepts for retaining walls along the trail and beautification measures through landscape architecture and lighting. The design concept left multiple opportunities for public art installations.
Wednesday’s virtual meeting was the second opportunity the public had to offer opinions on the project. An in-person meeting was hosted by the city Monday. Mel Packer, a transit activist, lamented the lack of public input sooner.
“They execute without any democratic process except to ask residents, ‘What lights would you like on the roadways?’” he said.
City Councilman Corey O’Connor joined the call to voice his own frustration about the shuttle’s planned service times. “My biggest concern and everybody in Hazelwood’s biggest concern is not that they’re working in Oakland.”
Ziggy Edwards, who lives in Four Mile Run, brought concerns about legal paperwork her neighbors received recently citing eminent domain in connection with properties beneath the Swinburne Bridge. Ricks responded that the city has no intention of taking properties, but may need access to properties near the bridge to survey the restoration needs.
One Hazelwood resident, Earl Danielson, said he generally favored the trail and shuttle project and the opportunities it could bring for further development in Hazelwood.
The meeting began with some technical issues preventing some residents from entering the Zoom call. Ricks said officials would schedule an additional meeting to allow more public input. A date for the follow up meeting has not yet been scheduled.