Leah Nicolich-Henkin (my girlfriend) wrote these notes up about attending Pittsburgh’s public meeting about changes happening to Smallman St and sent them to the newly-formed Shadyside Complete Streets advocacy group. If you’re interested in joining our group, just let me know either here or on Mastodon.


I went to the Smallman street meeting tonight. There was a good turnout, especially from bicyclists (and I saw some of you there!) BikePGH was live tweeting the meeting, and so was Jay from our group. I’m also pretty sure the slides/diagrams are available online - does anyone know where to find them?

Here’s my write-up of the main points from the meeting. I got a bit carried away and wrote a lot….but there was also a lot of discussion!

The meeting

Overall the meeting was very civil, if somewhat tense. Karina Ricks from DOMI lead the meeting. This is the second contentious meeting of hers that I’ve been at, and in general I think she does a very good job of keeping the room under control, sticking to the meeting plan, and giving polite non-answers when she wants to (which can be either good or bad). The crowd was a mix of bicyclists and people focused on local business interests - possibly half and half.

The plan

The current plan they’re proposing involves turning the street into a “flexible mixed use space”. It would have parked cars along the edges, one lane of traffic in each direction, and a very large median with both parallel parking and a pedestrian space in the middle. This space could then be converted to seasonal market or event space. Depending on how you look at it, it either is an efficient way to accomplish some key objectives with minimal loss of parking, or essentially turning the whole street into a big parking lot. The main goal they stressed was slowing traffic on Smallman street, and they did convince me that the plan would accomplish this. Karina talked a bunch about “self regulating design” (i.e. people go slow because it feels natural, not because it’s the law), and mentioned that “a certain level of chaos is effective in asserting travel speeds”.

Bike access

The plan for bike access is that bikes take the lane in each of the two relatively slow-moving lanes of traffic. Karina also made a side comment that bikes would be able to use the median in the center in between parked cars, where they would mix with pedestrians. One person (Abe Stuckey from the Highland Park group) commented that cars stopping traffic when parking would likely result in bikes squeezing past cars and putting themselves in the door zone. Another person commented that while it is the bike’s right to take the lane, not everyone feels confident facing down angry drivers to assert this right (I’m in that camp myself). From my perspective, the street plan doesn’t seem overly hostile to bikes — the big issue is that there should be SOME protected bike lane in this stretch of city, and if it’s not Smallman as part of this redesign, it’s unclear that it will happen at all.

Parking

The current Smallman street has 170 parking spaces. The proposed plan reduces it to 125. Business owners said they are already hurting significantly because of the ongoing construction on Smallman which has removed some parking, and the city is understandably concerned about maintaining those businesses. A complicating factor to the discussion was that there’s a lot of planned construction in the area, but people have a lot of different estimates of what the net parking change from that will be. Karina said the new construction will add 2000 parking spots! Business owners said those spots will not all be public, and that other construction will be removing spots currently in open parking lots. My take is that I’m sympathetic to businesses who have a lot of suburban customers who really have no choice but to drive to the Strip, but putting the parking in the middle of the street seems like a waste of good space. If all that new parking is being built underground/under new buildings, that’s a much better place for those cars.

Mysterious studies

One frustrating part of the meeting was they kept talking about studies that have yet to be done - parking, bike plans, expected construction. An annoying number of questions got deflected by saying they were still studying it. But they’re trying to get the street redesign done asap, I guess before new businesses in the terminal building open, so there’s not time to do all the studying first and the designing second.

All my notes

In case you’re interested, here are the notes I took during the meeting in full.

Topic

  • 5 blocks of smallman within the larger network
  • Request for proposals for fulsome network plan of the area up on the domi website (?)
  • Plan by December?
  • First stages only implementation and design in spring
  • Lots of other stuff going on in the vicinity that this connect to
  • Also awaiting bicycle master plan…

Key priorities

  • Recognize riverfront nature of neighborhood - reconnect with river
  • Make sure it’s safe to move around (a young teen should be able to cross the street safely without worry)
  • Honor character/history of neighborhood
  • traffic slowing
  • Need flexible space - changes a lot depending on day of week and time
  • Keeping key views (of downtown, of church)
  • Supporting local businesses
  • Balancing parking with other needs

Plan

  • based on full reconstruction of street, but they don’t actually have resources to fully reconstruct. Primarily resurfacing street, but trying to do more
  • Should be great pedestrian oriented street, which means slowing traffic and improving pedestrian markings, guiding
  • Accommodating existing traffic volume (9000 vehicles per day) but not encouraging growth
  • Supporting parking for local businesses
  • $9 million budget, but complete reconstruction is more like $19 million
  • Requires historic review

Key elements

  • emphasize 21st plaza
  • Open up building so people can get to the water
  • Curbless street supports flexible space Shared street
  • “Self regulating design” - need to design streets so that the design enforces speed rather than laws - shooting for 20mph. Key design is narrow drive lanes. Narrowing street to 10/11ft
  • Need cars out of center of street because of central drain line? -> pedestrian plaza
  • 21st st area - focus on two large plazas that don’t change
  • Support loading in the middle at some parts of the day
  • Other end of the street is also flexible parking but angled
  • Currently 170 spaces, this has about 125 “we’ve done the best we can to preserve the maximum amount of parking”
  • Net gain of 2000 parking spaces given new development, including proposed development in area. (Objection from audience guy that because that parking is private it can’t be relied on, I think)
  • Ongoing study on area parking
  • Bike parking on sidewalk
  • Measuring a bunch of metrics to track of things are working - permits, tax revenue, parking availability, etc

Schedule

  • final design in December
  • Bidding January/February
  • Construction March/may
  • Not a long construction process because it’s just resurfacing 

Future projects

  • bike master plan fall to spring 
  • Strip district mobility and parking
  • Three year transportation vision plan

Parking management talk

  • Jeff Tumlin in September

Question stuff

  • given that smallman is the official 3 rivers diversion, and other parallel stuff in closed, where do bikes go? Showed railroad street as a bike path but it isn’t really -> they’re talking about it?
  • Strip currently has no cycling path -> bicycle path is necessary and non-negotiable, but they need to think thoroughly about where the right place for it is. Farther down smallman isn’t great for bike route
  • What about the bike trail by the river that’s been closed for years? Is there a timeline to reopen it? -> time to follow up on that
  • Kevin says he’s never had a problem parking in the strip, including on Saturday
  • Shouldn’t we be disincentiving driving for the environment -> recognizing existing vehicles, but not encouraging more. Also creating incentives to other transportation ex connection to busway. Want people to arrive by whole range of modes
  • Andrew says it seems like this will feel like a big parking lot. What if we put some European style cafes in that median that would be a real draw for people to come to? -> it won’t feel like a parking lot because there will be a lot of space between the cars
  • No room for cars to pass bicycles -> take the lane! (There’s general feedback that it’s very uncomfortable to piss off cars by taking the lane)
  • We should look at what Amsterdam did
  • What’s happening with terminal building -> retail going in
  • Someone says she often almost gets hit by bikes in alleys…and therefore it would be better if they had a proper bike lane (ed. THIS IS WHAT I KEEP SAYING)
  • Why aren’t we waiting until the study is done -> trying to finish ASAP before new terminal building tenants come in. Keeping street flexible so that things can be changed up in the future. Bidding isn’t until Jan/feb so nothing has to be decided for sure until then
  • What is the plan’s take on autonomous vehicles? -> probably a challenging street for autonomous vehicles. They can use liberty. Not designed for against. If they’re truly autonomous they can navigate the street like anyone else
  • How do you keep people from ignoring traffic control lines/bollards? -> parked cars serve as a good barrier. Introducing stop signs as well. A certain level of chaos is effective in asserting travel speeds
  • Hope that resurfacing doesn’t preclude redesigning the street as a real destination
  • But won’t bikes squeeze by stopped cars (ex stopped for vehicles), which results in crashes? -> yes, they expect slow speeds/stopping. Bikes can also go in the “shared space” in the middle between parked cars
  • EV charging? -> no, will think about it
  • Trees? -> trying to sustain character of rail yard. National register of historic places recommended no trees because it takes away from historic nature. If you want trees, write them and let them know you want trees…
  • Bicyclist who says he’s sympathetic to parking issues, but why does it have to be in the middle of the street? Because it’s ugly -> (I did not follow this answer)