Downtown Pittsburgh experiments with Liberty Avenue bus lane, sidewalk extension |
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Envision Downtown

A partnership between a Downtown group and the Pittsburgh Mayor’s Office is revamping the look of Liberty Avenue, at least for the next year and a half, in an effort to help pedestrians and transit riders.

Envision Downtown, a joint venture between the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and the Office of Mayor Bill Peduto, is rearranging traffic flow for vehicles, buses and pedestrians in the six-block stretch of Liberty Avenue between Grant Street and Fifth Avenue, noting that the average of 2,000 people walking and 6,000 taking buses in that stretch far outnumber the 1,200 vehicles an hour driving, even during rush hours.

“You definitely do not need more than two lanes (to accommodate vehicle traffic),” Envision Downtown Executive Director Sean Luther said. “It’s important to note that we’re not shifting traffic off the street. … We’re actualizing the street to better accommodate the traffic that’s there.”

Luther said the 50-foot width of Liberty makes it a psychological “moat” in the middle of Downtown, even while it is lined with a strong mix of shops, restaurants, entertainment and galleries.

“It’s unusually large in terms of a Downtown street, especially a Pittsburgh street,” he said. “It really changes your mental perception. I’ve talked to hotels that send their guests down Penn Avenue because it’s a better pedestrian experience.”

By adding a bus lane to take outbound transit vehicles out of regular traffic and a sidewalk extension to separate waiting bus riders from pedestrians, Envision Downtown hopes to make Liberty Avenue less daunting to travel along or across.

Crews from the Department of Public Works this week painted a bright-red bus lane along the south side of Liberty between Seventh Avenue and William Penn Place.

Luther said the bus-only lane will be enforced from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and will be shared as a right-turn lane for traffic going from Liberty onto William Penn Place. Signs haven’t gone up yet that will allow police to enforce it. But the paint alone — donated by PPG — has already had an effect since it was laid down Monday.

“You could see bus drivers yelling at delivery trucks in the lane six hours after the paint was dried,” he said. “I think there will be an element of community enforcement.”

Thursday, public works crews laid thick rubber slabs to extend a 60-foot stretch of sidewalk out into the street in front of the Toonseum to create a waiting area for transit riders.

The bus stop, which Port Authority identifies as “Liberty opposite Smithfield,” serves 11 bus routes, including neighborhood routes to the North Side and Tarentum; “flyer” routes to Monroeville, Plum and Penn Hills; and regional transit routes to Beaver County. It isn’t the busiest stop in the system, but the width of Liberty at that point allowed the project to give riders a separate space for waiting, loading and unloading, Luther said. The rubber construction means it’s truly temporary, and can be moved, shrunk or expanded depending on how it works out.

There is no net decrease in parking, since some areas where parking was restricted during peak hours will now be opened all day.

Not including the labor from Public Works, the overall project has a budget of $150,000, funded from private sources and the R.K. Mellon Foundation. It’s expected to last about 18 months as officials evaluate the effectiveness of its different parts, but it can be adjusted depending on feedback from city officials and businesses. Future elements will include painted sidewalk extensions to visually make crosswalks shorter, landscaping and lighting improvements.

Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724 836 6660, [email protected] or on Twitter @msantoni.

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