City falls short with paving plan

Written by Jon Schmitz on .



The city of Pittsburgh’s brand-new interactive map showing planned paving projects this year makes it look like lots of fresh asphalt will be applied to the city’s crumbling streets. Looks deceive.

The city’s meager program will resurface only 44 miles, or about half of what would be necessary in a given year to keep the streets in good repair. This continues a longstanding practice of shortchanging the paving budget and the result is clear to anyone who drives in the city — streets that are in Third World condition.

Mayors have said they can’t afford to do more. But residents can’t be satisfied with the awful shape of their streets. There’s money in the city budget to do more if leadership attaches a priority to fixing this problem. Absent that, why not ask the voters to approve a small tax increase to finance a bond issue to fund a major paving program? Let them decide whether they’re willing to pay a bit more for a smooth ride.


Coal Valley Road in Jefferson Hills will be closed starting at 7 a.m. Monday for a bridge repair project. Traffic will detour via New England Road. The work is expected to continue until mid-May.


One lane of eastbound Route 22 (William Penn Highway) in Monroeville, between the Route 286 ramp and Alpine Village Drive, will close for water line work from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday next week.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike will be closed in both directions from Breezewood (Exit 161) to Carlisle (Exit 226) from 11 p.m. Saturday to 5 a.m. Sunday for bridge demolition. The recommended detour uses Route 30, Interstate 70, Interstate 81 and U.S. 11.

menatworkParkway West schedule: Closed outbound from Green Tree to Interstate 79 from 10 p.m. Thursday to 6 a.m. Friday; one lane open inbound. Closed inbound from I-79 to Parkway Center from 10 p.m. Friday to 10 a.m. Saturday; one lane open outbound from Banksville Road to Poplar Street. Closed outbound from Green Tree to I-79 from 10 p.m. Saturday to 10 a.m. Sunday; one lane open outbound from Banksville Road to Green Tree. One lane open inbound from Poplar Street to the West End/Uniontown exit from 10 a.m. Saturday through 6 a.m. Monday. One lane open outbound from Banksville Road to Poplar Street from 10 a.m. Sunday to 6 a.m. Monday.

Got it?

Also, weeknight lane closures continue in the inbound Fort Pitt Tunnel, starting at 10 p.m., with the added pleasure of temporary rumble strips at two places on the approach. PennDOT has grown weary of drivers doubling the 40 mph work zone speed limit in the tunnel.

The inbound right lane of the Liberty Bridge will be closed from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday during inspections. No restrictions outbound.

One lane of the Squirrel Hill Tunnels, both directions, will close at 10 p.m. Sunday through Friday as the tunnels get a bath. Work concludes by 5 a.m. each day.

Single-lane traffic will be in effect on Fifth Avenue near the Birmingham Bridge during traffic signal work from 6 a.m. Saturday through 5 p.m. Sunday.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

@pgtraffic on Twitter


Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.

Trying to get Congress moving on transportation funding

Written by Jon Schmitz on .

We’re back after an extended period of hibernation. Thanks for your patience.

Next Thursday is National Stand Up for Transportation Day, an observance that will be marked locally with a rally at 10 a.m. at Wood Street Station.

The event is sponsored by the American Public Transportation Association and the purpose is to encourage Congress to do its job and enact a long-term, well-funded transportation bill that gives states the ability to plan long-range projects and address crumbling roads and bridges and ailing transit systems.

Here’s more:

Pittsburgh area leaders are joining with their counterparts nationwide, April 9, 2015 to draw attention and awareness to the looming federal transportation funding crisis and call on Congress to follow Pennsylvania’s lead by passing a comprehensive, sustainable transportation funding package. Sponsored by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), with support from national and local partners from transportation, business, labor and community oriented interests, Stand Up for Transportation Day will unite the voices of 200+ participating organizations in over 140 communities nationwide to focus on the federal transportation funding crisis’s urgency and provide a Pittsburgh-region context.
WHY: Whether you ride a train, bus or bike, walk or drive, the expiration of the federal funding bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), has a direct impact on southwestern Pennsylvania’s economy and quality of life. On May 31, 2015, the nation’s transportation funding mechanism - the Highway Trust Fund - becomes literally insolvent. It also threatens to wipe out the leadership Pennsylvania showed in passing its own transportation funding bill, Act 89 of 2013. Without a long-term federal transportation funding bill, ours and communities across the country will face tremendous economic and employment uncertainty.  Transportation is the backbone of our local and national economy. A long-term transportation bill is needed to reinforce and expand transportation choices, and to continue to grow our economy – locally and nationally.

And there's more from this piece in The Washington Post, decrying Republican budgets that would further starve our transportation infrastructure:

Every once in a while, you’re hit over the head with just how damaging the dysfunctional, unresponsive politics we live with today really are.

Here’s a headline from a Post article from yesterday: “With 61,000 bridges needing repair, states await action on Capitol Hill.”

And then there’s this budget analysis by my Center on Budget colleague David Reich: “House, Senate Budgets Have Big Cuts in Transportation Infrastructure.”

David points out that both of the budgets passed by the House and Senate “cut highway construction and other transportation infrastructure funding over the next decade by 28 percent and 22 percent, respectively, below the cost of maintaining current funding levels.” That is, they go in exactly the opposite direction that we need them to, given the state of our national transportation infrastructure.

The full article is here.


Yellow Cab has debuted its answer to Uber and Lyft, called Z-Trip and Yellow Z.

Jamie Campolongo, president of Pittsburgh Transportation Group, said the service “is in direct response to the efforts of our ride-share competitors” with “significant differences.” Customers can ride in privately owned vehicles whose drivers have been vetted and trained and insured by Yellow Cab.

Details can be found here.


In observance of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month:


menatworkPaving begins Monday on Greentree Road in Scott and Green Tree and will restrict traffic on this schedule: Monday through Wednesday, from Cochran Road to McMonagle Road, single-lane traffic in both directions from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 6 a.m.; on Thursday, alternating one-way traffic from McMonagle Road to Potomac Avenue, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 6 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, alternating one-way traffic from Elmhurst Road to Carnahan Road, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 6 a.m., except that work on Saturday will continue until 4 p.m. More restrictions will be announced later as the project continues into August.

Also Monday, Freeport Road in Harmar will be reduced to one narrow lane in both directions at the Hulton Bridge, with the dedicated turn lane for southbound traffic closed. You’ll still be able to turn left at the bridge, provided you can survive the inevitable traffic jam in getting there. The restrictions will be in place until mid-October, when the new bridge is scheduled to open.

Bridge inspection will close the left and center lanes of the Parkway East at the bridge carrying Garden City Drive over the parkway in Monroeville from 9 p.m. Monday to 5 a.m. Tuesday.

Happy motoring!


This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

@pgtraffic on Twitter


Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.

Jehovah's Witnesses in news again at their North Side birthplace

Written by Peter Smith on .



It's been a long time since Jehovah's Witnesses made big news from the North Side of the Allegheny River, but there it is.

Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker Jason Worilds is retiring, walking away from potentially millions as a free agent in the prime of his career. Steeler sources tell my colleague Ed Bouchette that Worilds plans to do spiritual work on behalf of the Jehovah's Witnesses.

We haven't heard from Worilds directly on the motivation for retiring, but there's a little bit of deja vu here. 

Jehovah’s Witnesses got their start on the North Side, not far from present-day Heinz Field — led by another young man who walked away from a prosperous career (a chain of family-owned stores) to pursue ministry work.

A historical marker in Allegheny Center recounts how Charles Taze Russell -- a native of what was then Allegheny City (now the North Side of Pittsburgh) -- started a Bible study and a publishing enterprise that evolved into the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. The church still does business under that name even though it relocated its headquarters from Pittsburgh to New York a century ago.

Jehovah’s Witnesses emerged out of 19th century evangelical movements that expected the imminent return of Jesus, and they have had to work their way through great disappointments at times such as 1914, when their end-times scenarios didn't turn out as expected.

They operate very separately from other churches -- so much so that despite their Protestant roots, sociologists often treat them as a category unto themselves -- and have many distinct doctrines and practices that have them and other Christians doubting each others' bonafides. They believe in Jesus as Savior but not the the Trinity. They have refused blood transfusions and reject formal religious titles, considering all members ministers while operating under a hierarchy that includes strict discipline of members.

They have won U.S. Supreme Court cases protecting their rights to conduct door-to-door evangelism and not to salute the flag; but in some other countries they have faced severe persecution, including Nazi Germany.

Like other religious groups, particularly those with hierarchical governments, Jehovah's Witnesses have faced lawsuits over sexual abuse of children and have been found liable in some cases, with damages in the millions.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are best-known for persistent door-to-door evangelism and distributing literature such as The Watchtower magazine, which originated in Pittsburgh under Russell. 

Jehovah’s Witnesses list 1.2 million members in the United States, with about 8 million worldwide, according to its 2015 yearbook. The yearbook does not give state or local statistics, but its directory lists dozens of kingdom halls, or church buildings, in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Jehovah’s Witnesses do not rule out athletics per se, citing Bible verses that encourage bodily fitness and health. But it would be hard to square a professional football career with their beliefs, based on readily available online publications.

These writings caution particularly against violent and physically risky sports, saying the Bible mandates safe, healthy conduct. The publications also warn that too much participation in competitive sports takes time away from spiritual activities and exposes one to the influence of unbelieving teammates.

Most apropos to Worilds, the writings give several examples of athletes who gave up competitive sports for spiritual priorities. 

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.

Punk and serendipity at the Electric Banana

Written by Jacob Quinn Sanders on .

 It was the accidental punk club. Which was part of what made it work.

Judy and Johnny Zarra turned their struggling two-story brick-faced disco in North Oakland first into a cover-band rockatorium. And then in early 1980, serendipity walked through the front door: two guys from the punk band Carsickness, Karl Mullen and Reid Paley.

Their first show with the Cardboards went well enough that the Zarras decided to keep booking punk and later New Wave acts. It was a place where $3 paid at the door was a kind of bet that the show would be worth it. Local bands like ATS played there. And so did early incarnations of Black Flag, They Might Be Giants, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Circle Jerks, Butthole Surfers, and the Meat Puppets.

 Circus of Death at the Electric Banana, 1986.


Johnny handled the business side. Judy took care of the bands and tended bar. They needed a drink, a bite to eat, they were taken care of.



There was no stage. To see anything, the choice was hang back or jump right in.







It was a first stop for a lot of bands, not a destination. Before they could play Decade, they played the Electric Banana. But that meant even if it wasn’t the Zarras’ favorite music, they could take chances.


Johnny and Judy Zarra outside the Banana, New Year's Eve, 1986.



And it also meant the place could be enough of a dive that raccoons could take up residence in a hole in the drop ceiling that seemed to never get fixed.

Even with a growing regular crowd, the Zarras expanded their audience with Sunday all-ages shows, where they sold no beer. Probably.


At least two of these teenagers probably lied about their names -- Skippy and Jiffy -- to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette photographer in 1985. Maybe both called themselves after peanut butter. Maybe.



But it would only last for so long. In 1999, Johnny and Judy Zarra reclaimed their building and evicted the punks.


Now it’s the eponymous Italian restaurant Zarra’s. Where once the beer cans rolled like tumbleweeds and tinnitus was rampant and well-earned if not the war trophy of a good night, word is Judy’s homemade ricotta noodles in tomato sauce aren’t half bad.

What shows did you see at the Banana? Who did you go with? Do you have pictures? Please share them with us HERE.


Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.

Traditional religions, unaffiliated predominate in Pittsburgh

Written by Peter Smith on .

I find three major takeaways from a new grassroots survey on religion in Pittsburgh and elsewhere.

The first is that, for all the colorful diversity of Pittsburgh's religious scene, the traditional faith groups still have the big numbers. The second is that there's a big showing for those with no religious affiliation. The third is that, on political issues that take on a strong religious cast, Yinzers are, no surprise, maroon.


  • Protestant: about 40 percent (a breakdown follows below).
  • Catholics: 36 percent.
  • Unaffiliated: 18 percent.
  • Jewish: 2 percent.
  • Hindu: 1 percent.
  • Orthodox Christian: 1 percent.
  • Jehovah's Witnesses: 1 percent.
  • Mormons, Muslims, Buddhists, Unitarian Universalists: Fractions of a percent each.
  • Other: 1 percent.

These numbers come from an extensive survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute as part of the American Values Atlas. It's an in-depth nationwide survey of people for their religious affiliations and views on various issues colored by religious belief or disbelief. For local purposes, the area surveyed was the seven-county Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area, also used for U.S. Census purposes.

PRRI surveyed 482 people in and around Pittsburgh for a margin of error of 5.1 percentage points; it surveyed more statewide and even more nationwide. 

If there's a drawback, it's that nothing like this survey -- the kind where pollsters call people up individually -- seems to have been done before on a metro level, so there's nothing to compare it with. But studies of religious membership statistics have shown declines in many of the largest area groups, such as Catholics, Methodists and Presbyterians. 

Pittsburgh is a famously Catholic, and particularly famous for the diverse European immigrant groups that gave Catholic parishes rich ethnic identities. Unfortunately, this survey barely touched that aspect. It found less than half of a percent each of Catholics who were Hispanic -- far, far less than in many regions -- or not white. The survey didn't do any breakdown along European ethnicities. It didn't show levels of those in Eastern Catholic rites, such as Ukrainians (something we're more interested in here than in much of the country.)

As for Protestants, the bigger denominational (or not) groups include:

  • Methodists: 8 percent.
  • Presbyterians: 8 percent.
  • Non-denominational: 7 percent.
  • Baptist: 5 percent.
  • Lutheran: 4 percent.
  • Pentecostal: 3 percent.

Even those labels are general, because there are various stripes of each of those groups, divided along theological and racial lines. 

Another way that the survey slices it is:

  • White mainline Protestant: 18 percent
  • White evangelical Protestant: 16 percent.
  • Black Protestant: 3 percent.
  • Other non-white Protestant: 2 percent.

Just three years ago, it was big news that people who did not identify with religion had grown to nearly 20 percent of the American population, according to the Pew Research Center. The least religious regions have been identified as New England and the Northwest. But three years later, even the relatively religious southwestern Pennsylvania is approaching that level -- 18 percent. Nationally, it's now 22 percent, according to PRRI. Unfortunately, the 2012 Pew study didn't break the numbers down at the metropolitan level.

One manifestation of this locally may be Sunday Assembly, a godless congregation that meets for fellowship but not faith. But the "Nones" are a diverse lot. Some are staunch atheists or agnostics. Others are spiritual-but-not religious people, many of whom believe in God but who don't join a congregation and mix and match their doctrines and practices (everything from Christ to crystals). 

Among the smaller groups, the 2 percent in the Jewish population is actually more than an adjusted study of synagogue membership counts, perhaps due to people who identify culturally but not religiously as Jewish.

The 1 percent of Hindus is in keeping with Pittsburgh's unusually high proportion of South Asian immigrants compared with other nationalities -- as are the lower percentages of Muslims and Buddhists. Also, there is a small percentage of Hispanic Catholics or Protestants compared with much of the country.

On other issues, Yinzers are more Democratic but no more liberal than the national population. They mirror the national support for legal abortion and same-sex marriage (figuring in margins of error) but are less likely to see immigrants as a national strength rather than burden.

Overall, the Pittsburgh region looks a lot like Pennsylvania politically. But Yinzers are more Catholic and less Protestant than Keystoners overall.


Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.