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Merchants, bicyclists want to be heard before city overhauls Strip District’s Smallman Street | TribLIVE.com
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Merchants, bicyclists want to be heard before city overhauls Strip District’s Smallman Street

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The Produce Terminal along Smallman Street in Pittsburgh’s Strip District is undergoing a major renovation, and the city is making underground and surface road improvements and other work through early next year. Local merchants and bicyclists say they want bike lanes and parking availability considered amid the improvements.

Merchants and bike enthusiasts said Wednesday night that they fear the city is moving too quickly on a major piece to the largest makeover of Pittsburgh’s Strip District in decades.

They cited concerns over the need for more input on parking and bike lanes before designs get finalized.

More than 100 people packed into Contemporary Craft at 21st and Smallman streets, at the edge of a six-block stretch of Smallman Street currently under construction, to speak at a public meeting on plans and designs for the area.

Most of the attendees had affiliations with the nonprofit group Bike Pittsburgh.

“It was really important because the designs to date don’t include bike lanes,” said Scott Bricker, executive director of Bike Pittsburgh.

Though Smallman is on the bike routing network, there’s not yet a way “for getting bicyclists safely from the Penn Avenue protected lanes that have been in place starting at 16th (Street) in Downtown for four years farther east,” Bricker said.

Speakers at Wednesday’s meeting also included local business owners, such as those from multi-generation Strip District staples Wholey’s Fish Market and Stamoolis Brothers Co.

Catina Stamoolis, co-owner of the 109-year-old Stamoolis family business along with her sister and father, said it’s wrong to assume local businesses don’t want bike lanes, as they would appreciate the additional customers who choose to visit them via bikes.

But Stamoolis specialty grocery store already has been impacted negatively financially amid the underground construction project that began on Smallman in March, with customers complaining they can’t find a place to park, especially when the area is bustling on weekends. They’ve heard they’ll lose at least 50 more parking spaces in the area.

“As merchants, we do want biking lanes coming through the Strip District; we just want to minimize parking impact,” Stamoolis said.

She noted that city officials have pointed to guidance expected to come from a deep look into broader parking and other needs via the Strip District Parking and Mobility Study underway.

But the study isn’t due for completion until spring 2019, and the city plans to finalize designs on Smallman Street by the end of the year.

“So it seems that they’re not going to wait and they’re rushing into it, so they’re not going to see what the best plan would be for the entire neighborhood,” Stamoolis said. “It seems that they have their plan in place already, and I don’t know if they’ll take our opinions into consideration.”

An idea she and a few others supported at the meeting: building a bike lane down the center of Smallman Street with motorist lanes on either side. The option could allow space for more parking while also protecting bicyclists, who could be diverted onto Railroad Street at 21st Street.

Stamoolis said she was encouraged that a city official told her at the meeting that such an idea wasn’t off the table.

Others suggested incorporating more trees and greenery into designs.

City officials couldn’t be reached for comment late Wednesday.

Last week, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority said it is on schedule to complete a $12 million water and sewer line replacement project on Smallman by January, paving the way for the long-awaited redevelopment of the landmark Produce Terminal.

PWSA reported on Friday that it is wrapping up installation of 3,650 feet of century-old waterlines on the south side of the street nearest to businesses on Smallman between 16th and 21st streets. The authority next will replace 4,000 feet of sewers on the north side next to the Produce Terminal.

Pittsburgh is planning a $19 million makeover of Smallman that includes paving and safety features for traffic, pedestrians and bicyclists. That work will begin after PWSA finishes its work.

Chicago-based McCaffery Interests plans a $100 million project that includes a “food-centric” concept for the terminal, with a large public market on the west end of the 1,500-foot-long building and space throughout for small local vendors specializing in foods and crafts. The project includes offices and ground floor retail space in the old warehouse at 1600 Smallman.

The Pennsylvania Railroad built the terminal in 1929 as a loading dock for trains and trucks. The URA has owned it since 1981 and has been negotiating with would-be developers for more than a decade.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.

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