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Pittsburgh mayor seeks to have street projects address multiple needs

PTRstreets01041115
Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
A bicyclist pedals down Penn Ave. on Friday, April 10, 2015.

Planning to incorporate bike lanes, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, car-responsive traffic signals and tree-lined medians is likely to increase the cost of road construction.

But it’s a cost Pittsburgh city planners are willing to expend, betting on a new “complete streets” policy to improve mobility and livability.

“There are certain aspects which can be, in the short-term, a higher capital expense, but in the longer term, they will be well worth it,” city planning director Ray Gastil said.

On Friday, Mayor Bill Peduto issued an executive order to build a complete streets policy, a term used by urban planners to describe street design that keeps all kinds of travelers — drivers, cyclists, pedestrians and transit users — in mind. Traffic-calming measures, safe spaces for pedestrians and bike lanes are common characteristics.

The policy could trigger changes to city code. Gastil will head up a review of all existing street design and maintenance policies, and establish a long-term strategy from there.

“Every time we have a project in front of us, every time there’s a new development, we have to ask ourselves in planning for it how we’re going to meet a complete streets agenda,” Gastil said. “It really forces us to say, ‘This is a priority.’ ”

A yet-to-be-assembled Complete Streets Advisory Group will help suggest changes. Gastil will seek ways to fund the improvements, such as making new tax-increment financing zones.

Rob Pfaffmann, an architect and planner who runs Downtown-based Pfaffmann + Associates, said complete streets are as much an economic development tool as they are environmental or planning.

“Now, I can get a building that will get high rent because it’s more friendly to people,” Pfaffmann said. “If we keep pumping cars into the city, it’ll get worse and worse, to the point no one wants to be here.”

A complete streets project along Eighth and Ninth avenues in New York City yielded a 49 percent increase in retail sales, according to figures provided by the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium Initiative. Retail and office space with a “walkability score” of 80 had a 64 percent higher market value than those with a score of 20.

More than 700 communities nationwide have complete streets policies, according to the National Complete Streets Coalition. More than 74 were passed in 2014, including in Austin and Salem, Mass. New Jersey leads the nation in adopted policies with 118, followed by Michigan’s 81.

Bike Pittsburgh, a nonprofit cycling advocacy group, and advocacy group AARP, voiced support for the policy, according to a news release. Pittsburgh Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, who heads up the public works committee, said her office gets near-daily calls about speed bumps and traffic-calming suggestions.

“The city may have lost some residency over the years; however, the vehicles have increased,” she said. “I’m interested in the final product.”

Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or [email protected].

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