Marchers issue global warning

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .


The Great March for Climate Action is in Pittsburgh today and tomorrow, with 35 out-of-town marchers joining with 25-30 local activists calling for public and private actions to reduce the impact of fossil fuels on the environment.

The march began in March in Los Angeles and culminates in a series of planned actions in Washington, D.C., where the group is scheduled to arrive Nov. 1.

March initiator and former Iowa legislator Ed Fallon said the marchers are "the Paul Reveres of climate change."

Tomorrow's Post-Gazette will carry a story about the local leg of the march. Photographer Michael LaMark was along to chronicle a portion of the walk through the North Side.




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Cyclists gaining ground breeds hostility

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .


Here‘‍s an interesting bit of paradox and reversal in the same idea: 

Bicycling commuters are not the outliers they used to be, and this progress in becoming part of the transportation weave may account for the hostility cyclists face from drivers -- a success phenomenon described in today‘‍s Atlantic CityLab by Eric Jaffe.

“Driver rants against cyclists are of course nothing new,” he writes. “It's been pointed out in this space before, most skillfully by Sarah Goodyear last year, that cycling haters are actually a sign of cycling success. As major American cities embrace multimodal transportation and balanced mobility networks, cycling has shifted from an outsider enterprise to the mainstream. That shift, in turn, has produced a new psychological strain for drivers accustomed to the belief they own the road.”

The article has several excellent links to other articles, and I appreciate the point they all make as generally spot on, but.....
As I drove up the Boulevard of the Allies yesterday on assignment, a bicyclists in front of me wove from my lane to the parking lane, making me nervous. I rarely mind slowing down and staying behind them if I'm not running late for something, but this was a matter of having to second guess his direction and intentions.
It's not always that car drivers feel they should own the road. Some of us, when we do drive cars, have a heightened awareness that we indeed do not own the road. That road is now open to more people who are vulnerable to the dangers of automobiles and that makes driving a car a more stressful experience -- especially for a driver who is empathetic, sympathetic and on the side of bicyclists in traffic.
Hitting someone would be no less painful in some ways than being hit.
For this reason, it is ever more important that as more cyclists use our streets to get around, more of our streets need absolutely protected bike lanes.


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City to consider new site for off-leash dog park in Mount Washington

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .



An acre of Olympia Park along Virginia Avenue and Hallock Street will not continue to be Mount Washington‘‍s off-leash dog park once a new site can be developed, possibly behind the park, near trails of Emerald View Park.

Mayor Bill Peduto’‍s office issued a notice that a compromise site will be worked out, with no specific details as yet.

The dog park was established two years ago with advocacy from about a dozen dog owners. It quickly had opposition from nearby neighbors who said they were not consulted.

Nearby resident Robert Ariass, who has lived on Hallock for 13 years, said his beef is not that there is an off-leash exercise area but that the site is too near to homes and that those residents could have been contacted.

“We never had a chance to talk about this,” he said. “Now the city wants to take away what should not have been established in the first place.”

Most off-leash dog parks are either in remote areas, such as the South Side‘‍s, Lawrenceville’‍s and in Riverview Park. An off-leash area that is not fenced in Allegheny Commons Park on the North Side is not remote but there no residents within 50 yards of it.

Mr. Ariass said barking in the evening prevents him from having a peaceful summer evening meal on his back porch.

But dog-park denizens say the site is perfect, with a slope that drains so that there is no mud, and that commotion is not as common as detractors say it is.

“People had been using this area before” a fence was installed, said Emily Matthews, a regular visitor with her dog, Thurston, a lab-pit mix.

If the park is moved to the wooded area where trails are, she said, dogs will be exposed to broken glass and ticks. “The trail area may not be accessible to older people, too,” she said.

“Everybody who uses it loves this dog park,” said Matthew Sill, Thurston's other half. “But the mayor is a cool guy, so he‘‍ll probably come up with something good.”

“I moved to Mount Washington to be near a park,” said Brandon Allen, who was in the park today with Emily and Matthew, their Thurston and his German shepherd Kila. “If they move it a couple hundred yards away, I understand. But there’‍s more noise from the baseball field than from these dogs.”

The mayor‘‍s office noted that its goal is “to provide an off-leash area... that is set far enough away from residential properties to limit impacts on neighbors.”

Public Works will be studying possible sites, during which time the city will honor the current dog park’‍s confines.

Photo of Emily Matthews, left, Brandon Allen, center, and Matthew Sill, with dogs Thurston, left and Kila.



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Positively 6th Sreet

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .


The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership is doing a nervy thing on Sunday the 20th -- prohibiting motorized vehicles on 6th Street and Market Street from the Clemente Bridge to Market Square. Granted, it‘‍s only from 8 a.m. to noon. It would be nervier to do it all day or on a Saturday. That would be beyond nervy, but very cool.

The “Open Streets Pittsburgh” event,-- part of an 8-day “Celebrate Downtown” orchestration -- is co-sponsored by the PDP, Bike Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. The no-cars space has been programmed with climbing walls, yoga demonstrations, dancing and all those fun things people do in ads on TV. (quick tangent: What is it with climbing walls? Why not a kids’‍ chamber orchestra?) 

This effort is a window for people to see the possibility of a moment in time without cars, a change of scene to create a “place” in the middle of a street. Maybe the everyday, workaday person might expand his idea of what a street is or could be.

Urban designers and planners are emphasizing the importance of creating a strong sense of place on our streets. This in part is an effort to bring balance to the use of streets, to assert the right of walkers, bikers and people climbing walls to be as dominant as drivers of cars.

Closing streets to let people not using fossil fuels seize the day is a little trickle of a trend that’‍s actually international in scope. Bogota, Colombia has experimented with the concept as have New York, San Francisco and several cities in Europe. It‘‍s usually on a Sunday, on a stretch less traveled so as not to foment much driver ire.

It‘‍s one part rebellion and one part possibility, another little nudge, of which the green movement only seems capable. Big nudges and knock downs are the specialty of those who have too much to lose if we seriously start rejecting fossil fuels.

So, a little nudge to all to start realizing that the streets do not belong to drivers of cars, even though public policy for decades has pretty much dictated that they do. Everyone who pays taxes, whether he drives or not, has bought into our streets and roads. The fact that they have been designed for the convenience of motorized vehicles for decades doesn't mean they have to stay that way. They can be redesigned for the convenience of everyone else and the inconvenience of cars. As we all know, inconvenience changes people's habits real fast.

For a full line-up of Celebrate Downtown, visit here



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Bring on the goats!

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .



A herd of goats came to the city today to munch on nuisance vegetation on a steep slope in Polish Hill. The practice known as “eco grazing” is starting to catch on in the eastern states, where invasive species are taking over most of Pittsburgh‘‍s hillsides.

Tree Pittsburgh contracted with Erik Schwalm, a goat owner in Saxonburg, to begin an 18-month eradication and reclamation process. The guy in the photo above is Brian Knox, who came in from Maryland as a consultant and goat tender. He operates Eco-Goats, a business in Maryland that got a jump on what was no competition six years ago. 

He still has little competition with about six other grazing businesses scattered among several states. There is so much unwanted vegetation in concentration that several goat grazing businesses could operate in western Pennsylvania without stepping on each other’‍s hooves.


From the information I have, there is nothing not to like about using goats to keep control of overgrowth. They have to eat anyway and they love almost everything we don‘‍t: poison ivy, thorny stuff, vines, knotweed. They do the job without chemicals and they aerate and fertilize the soil as they move over it without displacing it.

In addition, a farmer gets some extra money for taking a grazing gig and the public, especially the urban public who rarely get to see farm animals, gets to see how cute, goofy and fun goats are. The charm factor is not to be scoffed at.goat1

The city was completely amenable to the grazing event and workshop at West Penn Park today and contributed fencing and manpower to prepare for it, Danielle Crumrine, executive director of Tree Pittsburgh, told Walkabout.

But to ensure this isn’‍t a one-time thing, we would all benefit if the city would establish a friendly process for people to put their goats to work on solving a big nuisance in the city, whether in a park, a public right of way or a neighborhood.

Look for story in today‘‍s Pittsburgh Press and tomorrow’‍s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, with photos by Darrell Sapp and a video by Nate Guidry on this web site.



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Lock-up a sobering bit of tourism

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .



Among the best advice anyone could give anyone is to avoid all situations that could land you in jail.

The thought of being in a place with almost no option for a change of scene and a loss of some dignity are great reasons to avoid hospitals and airports, but losing control of all physical choices and all your dignity is another dimension of purgatory, if not hell.

Still, I have been curious to see the old Allegheny County Jail. Each time I walk by the Bridge of Sighs on Ross Street, I think of the movie “Mrs. Soffel,” which was shot here in the 1980s featuring Diane Keaton as the wife of the jail warden who, in real life, helped Ed and Jack Biddle escape the jail on a cold January night in 1902. They had been sentenced to hang for the murders of a grocer on Mount Washington and a detective.

When a new jail was built along the Mon River, the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation campaigned for a jail museum in a portion of the old jail, and Landmarks provides a docent to give the occasional tour, free to the public. I went along on a tour today.

There were 10 of us, including four children. The tour is limited to a small portion of the former jail and our docent, Bob Loos, didn‘‍t know which cell held the Biddle brothers, but just to see the row of cells in the area that was known as the hanging courtyard feeds the imagination.

In five-by-eight foot cells, there was room for one single cot, a stool and a bucket. Of course I assumed that each cell was big enough for one poor soul but Mr. Loos said, “Oh noooo, there could be seven men in one cell.”

Seven people in the space of a broom closet. If you were awaiting the gallows, you could sooner die of claustrophobia.

In the late 1800s, the jail was five floors with 300 cells. By the time is closed in 1995, there were 620 cells. Back when life was a tough row even for free people, prisoners got one hot meal a day. Those who were there for summary convictions got bread and water every day and, twice a week, a bowl of soup.

The Jail Museum includes a lot of information about the early reform of how children were dealt with by the system which, presumably, is more humane today. I was more interested in thinking about being a prisoner. The bucket was your toilet. The stool was for sitting in case you got bored with sitting on your cot. There was nothing else and nothing to do.

In 1892, the menu was as follows: Monday- meat and potatoes; Tuesday- meat and cabbage; Wednesday- vegetable soup; Thursday- meat hash; Friday- beans and hominy; Saturday- pea soup stew and Sunday- tea. On apparently regular occasions, the warden would admit women to come in and torment the prisoners, if not by their mere presence then by preaching morals and reading from the Bible. 

Superficially, there is something strangely attractive about the configuration of black iron cell doors at intervals in white brick walls along the courtyard. The larger part of the old jail, though is several floors of stacked cages and catwalks, industrial-style confinement that’‍s horrific in its implied efficiency.

The last hanging was in 1911. The lucky fellow had killed his wife with a baseball bat.

The Landmarks foundation‘ offers more than jail tours. You can find out more about the range of its projects and programs here.


Photo of Bob Loos giving a tour, with some young tourists testing out the feeling of being behind bars.


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