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Mayor Bill Peduto meets with police to discuss search for new chief

Written by Robert Zullo on .

Mayor Bill Peduto said the first of two meetings with the police bureau's rank and file to solicit input on the search for a new chief was planned to last an hour.

Instead, it went for three.

"There was a lot of discussion," Mr. Peduto said. "I was surprised by some of the talk because it was very much in line with the comments we've been saying about what we're looking for in a police chief and also what the community's been saying as well."

Mr. Peduto's spokesman, Tim McNulty, said about two dozen officers attended.

Mr. Peduto and Public Safety Director Stephen Bucar have said they seek an even-handed disciplinarian with a background in big-city policing to replace former Chief Nate Harper, who began serving a federal prison sentence earlier this year related to a scheme that funneled department money into unauthorized accounts for his own personal use.

The new chief will take over a police bureau that is widely cited as suffering from low morale and one that struggles to hold officers accountable for misconduct.

"Officers want to see discipline but they want to see discipline done in a fair way, something that they feel hasn't been done in the past," Mr. Peduto said. "They want somebody who has experience, experience in dealing with a place like Pittsburgh, not somebody from a suburban area ... a city cop who has worked their way up who understands it and has an ability to communicate."

Mr. Peduto, elected last year, said he was told it was the first time in two decades that a mayor has sought input from the rank and file on the selection of a new chief.

"I can't answer for 20 years," he said. "I can answer for seven months. Sorry it took this long."

The next meeting with the officers will be Aug. 6, and the mayor said he expects a larger group of officers to attend.

The application period for police chief closes Thursday. Mr. Peduto said about 40 people have applied for the position.

Representatives for the Pittsburgh police union could not immediately be reached for comment.

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Chalking up America, one share at a time

Written by Kim Lyons on .

Grant Gordon and Ezra Gold are traveling the country in a 2001 Toyota Echo that also happens to be a mobile chalkboard.

chalkcar1

The two are working on a documentary about their experiences with the ChalkCar project, documenting the sharing economy, as part of the Lyft Creatives program. In every city they visit, they couch-surf (crash on couches offered by strangers) and they encourage people to express themselves creatively on the car's surface.
They plan to end their journey in next month in Nevada, at the Burning Man festival. "It's a place people go to create experiences with others," Grant said, which is part of the mission behind the chalkboard-coated car: creative expression.

chalkcar2

 

 

Unfortunately, when they stopped in Pittsburgh on Monday, it was an overcast day that turned rainy. But between rain showers, they still managed to make a pretty picture.

chalkcar3

 

Check out the ChalkCar project at their website: ChalkCar.com

 

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Congress: Riding on four flat tires

Written by Jon Schmitz on .

Today, we'll devote some time to the shameful inaction of Congress on adequately funding the nation's transportation infrastructure.

We start with a letter signed by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and 11 predecessors urging Congress to get off its collective duffs and do something. It was part of this release from DOT on Monday.

WASHINGTON – As Congress considers legislation to avoid a shortfall of the Highway Trust Fund, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and 11 of his predecessors offered the following open letter to Congress. In addition to Secretary Foxx, Secretaries Ray LaHood, Mary Peters, Norman Mineta, Rodney Slater, Federico Peña, Samuel Skinner, Andrew Card, James Burnley, Elizabeth Dole, William Coleman and Alan Boyd all signed the letter. Their message: Congress’ work doesn’t end with the bill under consideration. Transportation in America still needs a much larger, longer-term investment.  The text of the letter is below:

This week, it appears that Congress will act to stave off the looming insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund. The bill, if passed, should extend surface transportation funding until next May.

We are hopeful that Congress appears willing to avert the immediate crisis.  But we want to be clear: This bill will not “fix” America’s transportation system. For that, we need a much larger and longer-term investment.  On this, all twelve of us agree.

Taken together, we have led the U.S. Department of Transportation for over 35 years. One of us was there on day one, at its founding. We’ve served seven presidents, both Republicans and Democrats, including Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

Suffice it to say, we’ve been around the block.  We probably helped pave it.

So it is with some knowledge and experience that we can write:  Never in our nation’s history has America’s transportation system been on a more unsustainable course.

In recent years, Congress has largely funded transportation in fits and starts.  Federal funding bills once sustained our transportation system for up to six years, but over the past five years, Congress has passed 27 short-term measures. Today, we are more than a decade past the last six-year funding measure.

This is no way to run a railroad, fill a pothole, or repair a bridge. In fact, the unpredictability about when, or if, funding will come has caused states to delay or cancel projects altogether.

The result has been an enormous infrastructure deficit – a nationwide backlog of repairing and rebuilding. Right now, there are so many structurally deficient bridges in America that, if you lined them up end-to-end, they’d stretch from Boston to Miami.  What’s worse, the American people are paying for this inaction in a number of ways.

Bad roads, for example, are costing individual drivers hundreds of dollars a year due to side effects like extra wear-and-tear on their vehicles and time spent in traffic.

Simply put, the United States of America is in a united state of disrepair, a crisis made worse by the fact that, over the next generation, more will be demanded of our transportation system than ever before.  By 2050, this country will be home to up to 100 million new people.  And we’ll have to move 14 billion additional tons of freight, almost twice what we move now.

Without increasing investment in transportation, we won’t be able to meet these challenges. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, we need to invest $1.8 trillion by 2020 just to bring our surface transportation infrastructure to an adequate level.

So, what America needs is to break this cycle of governing crisis-to-crisis, only to enact a stopgap measure at the last moment. We need to make a commitment to the American people and the American economy.

There is hope on this front.  Some leaders in Washington, including those at the U.S. Department of Transportation, are stepping forward with ideas for paying for our roads, rails, and transit systems for the long-term.

While we – the twelve transportation secretaries – may differ on the details of these proposals, there is one essential goal with which all twelve of us agree:  We cannot continue funding our transportation with measures that are short-term and short of the funding we need.

On this, we are of one mind. And Congress should be, too.

Adequately funding our transportation system won’t be an easy task for our nation’s lawmakers. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Consensus has been brokered before.

Until recently, Congress understood that, as America grows, so must our investments in transportation.  And for more than half a century, they voted for that principle – and increased funding – with broad, bipartisan majorities in both houses.

We believe they can, and should, do so again.

Here's a report from The Fiscal Times summarizing the latest dithering, maneuvering and gimmickry that Congress is engaging in as the federal transportation program hangs on the brink of insolvency.

Reuters reports that the Senate is preparing to vote on a convoluted proposal to kick the can to next May.

And here's Jon Stewart's take on the whole situation from last week's "The Daily Show." 

WASHINGTON – As Congress considers legislation to avoid a shortfall of the Highway Trust Fund, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and 11 of his predecessors offered the following open letter to Congress. In addition to Secretary Foxx, Secretaries Ray LaHood, Mary Peters, Norman Mineta, Rodney Slater, Federico Peña, Samuel Skinner, Andrew Card, James Burnley, Elizabeth Dole, William Coleman and Alan Boyd all signed the letter. Their message: Congress’ work doesn’t end with the bill under consideration. Transportation in America still needs a much larger, longer-term investment.  The text of the letter is below:

This week, it appears that Congress will act to stave off the looming insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund. The bill, if passed, should extend surface transportation funding until next May.

We are hopeful that Congress appears willing to avert the immediate crisis.  But we want to be clear: This bill will not “fix” America’s transportation system. For that, we need a much larger and longer-term investment.  On this, all twelve of us agree.

Taken together, we have led the U.S. Department of Transportation for over 35 years. One of us was there on day one, at its founding. We’ve served seven presidents, both Republicans and Democrats, including Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

Suffice it to say, we’ve been around the block.  We probably helped pave it. 

So it is with some knowledge and experience that we can write:  Never in our nation’s history has America’s transportation system been on a more unsustainable course.

In recent years, Congress has largely funded transportation in fits and starts.  Federal funding bills once sustained our transportation system for up to six years, but over the past five years, Congress has passed 27 short-term measures. Today, we are more than a decade past the last six-year funding measure.

This is no way to run a railroad, fill a pothole, or repair a bridge. In fact, the unpredictability about when, or if, funding will come has caused states to delay or cancel projects altogether.

The result has been an enormous infrastructure deficit – a nationwide backlog of repairing and rebuilding. Right now, there are so many structurally deficient bridges in America that, if you lined them up end-to-end, they’d stretch from Boston to Miami.  What’s worse, the American people are paying for this inaction in a number of ways. 

Bad roads, for example, are costing individual drivers hundreds of dollars a year due to side effects like extra wear-and-tear on their vehicles and time spent in traffic.

Simply put, the United States of America is in a united state of disrepair, a crisis made worse by the fact that, over the next generation, more will be demanded of our transportation system than ever before.  By 2050, this country will be home to up to 100 million new people.  And we’ll have to move 14 billion additional tons of freight, almost twice what we move now.

Without increasing investment in transportation, we won’t be able to meet these challenges. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, we need to invest $1.8 trillion by 2020 just to bring our surface transportation infrastructure to an adequate level.

So, what America needs is to break this cycle of governing crisis-to-crisis, only to enact a stopgap measure at the last moment. We need to make a commitment to the American people and the American economy.

There is hope on this front.  Some leaders in Washington, including those at the U.S. Department of Transportation, are stepping forward with ideas for paying for our roads, rails, and transit systems for the long-term.

While we – the twelve transportation secretaries – may differ on the details of these proposals, there is one essential goal with which all twelve of us agree:  We cannot continue funding our transportation with measures that are short-term and short of the funding we need.

On this, we are of one mind. And Congress should be, too.

Adequately funding our transportation system won’t be an easy task for our nation’s lawmakers. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Consensus has been brokered before.

Until recently, Congress understood that, as America grows, so must our investments in transportation.  And for more than half a century, they voted for that principle – and increased funding – with broad, bipartisan majorities in both houses.

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Rail to Oakland would be problematic

Written by Jon Schmitz on .


Is Oakland ready for the continuous rumble of rail cars? Such a project's cost and logistics do not make it seem feasible. (Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette)

Those who think the Port Authority and Allegheny County should pursue a light-rail extension from Downtown to Oakland, rather than the Bus Rapid Transit project that is moving forward, might want to consider the following:

Light rail would cost five to 10 times as much as the proposed $200 million BRT line, depending on how much tunneling or bridge construction would be needed to connect to the existing line. Obtaining federal funding to advance BRT to construction will be tough enough, as competition for federal capital grants is fierce.

Operating such a system would be more expensive. The authority’s operating expense per passenger mile in 2012 was nearly 20 percent more for rail than buses. Port Authority is in good financial condition for the first time in many years but won’t stay that way if it chooses more expensive options for running the system.

Infrastructure for a rail line -- structures every few yards to hold up the wires, the wires themselves, signals, longer station platforms, power plants -- would be far more intrusive in the narrow Forbes-Fifth corridor than what will be needed for BRT. How would overhead structures every few yards look in the heart of Oakland?

Buses aren’t quiet but light-rail vehicles, despite the name, are heavy enough to shake the ground around them as they move. Is Oakland ready for the continuous rumble of rail cars?

Because rail cars are heavy and harder to stop, Port Authority slows them to 5 to 10 mph in areas where vehicle traffic and pedestrians commingle with or cross the rail line. Nearly all of the route to Oakland would be that type of environment. The only way to operate at higher speeds would be to fence in long sections of track, which would be impractical. Buses in reserved lanes would move faster.

Some of the above-mentioned problems with rail could be avoided by building underground. Bear in mind that the North Shore Connector cost nearly $550 million and extended the system just over a mile. The line to Oakland would need to be at least three times as long through a heavily built up and populated area. Construction would be a 3- to 5-year nightmare for people and businesses.

A BRT system can be developed in phases over time as funding becomes available. That’s a key factor because it may be difficult to line up all of the construction funding at the outset.

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Port Authority has added three more routes to its developing real-time bus tracking system, bringing the total to eight. Riders of 41 Bower Hill, 56 Lincoln Place and 88 Penn are now able to find out the exact location of buses on those routes using a smartphone, tablet or PC. The system can be accessed at www.portauthority.org.


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menatworkThe painting project that has brought an around-the-clock closure to the outbound Liberty Tunnel will spread to the inbound side starting tonight. The inbound tunnel will close at 8 p.m. today through Friday, reopening by 6 a.m. each day. Traffic will be detoured via Route 51 to the Parkway West interchange. The outbound tunnel remains closed, with reopening scheduled for 6 a.m. next Monday. A 16-day around-the-clock closure of the inbound tunnel will occur next month, on dates yet to be determined.

A long-term around-the-clock closure of West Hardies Road in Hampton is scheduled to begin tonight. The road will close at 8 p.m. between Route 8 and Pioneer Road, with traffic detoured via Wildwood Road. The closure is expected to continue into late August.

Indiana Road in Penn Hills will close today through Wednesday for repaving, weather permitting. The closures will occur from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Local traffic only will be permitted on the road, with others detoured via Hulton Road. The work had been scheduled for last week but was postponed.

An $8 million resurfacing project is scheduled to begin today on Route 19 in Ross and McCandless. The work will cause single-lane traffic starting at 7 p.m. weekdays between Sewickley Oakmont Road in Ross and Longvue Avenue in McCandless through early November. The restriction will be lifted by 6 a.m. daily. A schedule of weekend work will be announced in August. The project will extend into next spring.

Inspection of the Boston Bridge, which carries Route 48 over the Youghiogheny River in Versailles and Elizabeth Township, will cause alternating one-way traffic starting today. The work will be done from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays through Aug. 1.

Filming of the boxing movie “Southpaw” may cause detours today along Brownsville Road in Carrick and Brentwood. The detours are possible from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Brownsville Road intersections with Route 51, Towne Square Way and Biscayne Drive, according to the Pittsburgh Film Office.

Lane closures and two traffic stoppages of up to 15 minutes are scheduled on the Parkway East tonight as PennDOT installs traffic counters. The work will occur between Forest Hills and the Squirrel Hill Tunnels from 10 tonight until 5 a.m. Tuesday.

A $1.65 million improvement project at Route 8 and Ewalt Road in Richland, intended to improve safety and mobility at the intersections with Ewalt Road and Cook Road by adding left hand turn lanes, widening Route 8 and installing concrete barrier, has begun. Northbound Route 8 is reduced to a single 12-foot-wide lane between Krebs and Applewood drives. Southbound Route 8 will remain two lanes. Left turns to Ewalt Road from northbound Route 8 are prohibited.

Rock removal will cause a lane closure on inbound Route 28 near the Route 910 interchange in Harmar from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays through Aug. 8.

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Francis effect? Wait till next year

Written by Peter Smith on .

ocd 2014The annual Catholic statistics are in -- but only for the year 2012. So we still don't know if there's a "Francis effect," according to Mark Gray at research central for all things Catholic in this country -- the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

He reviews the latest data in "The Official Catholic Directory Anno Domini 2014," which also landed on my desk with a thud in recent days. (The book may be sturdier.) It includes comprehensive stats on membership, sacramental participation and other spiritual vital signs, submitted by parishes in 2013, when Francis was elected pope amid much anecdotage about his populist manner prompting people to return to church after long absences. But the stats submitted by parishes are from 2012, in the last days of the Benedict XVI era.

But what can we learn from these stats?

In Pittsburgh, most of these numbers are flat or down from the 2013 report. Numbers of Catholics (634,910), infant baptisms (4,818) and confirmations (3,005) are about equal to the year before. But significant declines happened in first communions (5,442, down 10 percent) and church marriages (1,786, down 7 percent), and given the relatively elderly population overall, it's notable that there were 2 percent fewer church funerals (7,453) than the year before. 

Such numbers are hardly surprising for an older, urban diocese in the North or Midwest.

Statistician Gray, taking the national look, says church growth in the Sunbelt, particularly fueled by immigration, has boosted Catholic numbers since the year 2000. The ranks of Catholics overall are up nationally whether measured by parish registration, self-identification or even weekly Mass attendance, which is up by 2.6 million this century.

At the same time, other sacramental participation from birth to death is declining -- baptisms, marriage, etc. Partly, Mr. Gray writes, that could have to do with Catholic immigrants arriving having experienced some sacraments in their homelands.

Elementary Catholic school enrollment, historically a prime force in forming young Catholics, is down, although Catholic college enrollment is soaring. 

Also, numbers are up for men studying for and being ordained to the priesthood -- just not nearly enough to make up for the departures of older priests to death and retirement.

Deacons and lay ministers are increasing, while religious brothers and sisters are declining.

This good news, bad news mix is a national phenomenon. Locally, virtually all numbers are down from early this century.

By the time Francis shows up in Philadelphia next year, as is expected, we'll know whether his early papacy had any immediate effect -- and by that time we'll be wondering whether it's had an enduring effect. But as we close the books on the Benedict era, it's worth remembering that even a charismatic pope can't overcome vast demographic forces such as birthrates and immigration.

 

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