East Liberty has no parking woes

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .


 Ask anyone in a destination neighborhood what the biggest headache is and if she doesn’t say, “Ohmigod, parking,” she says , “Ohmigod traffic.” It usually always comes down to where to put your blasted car.
But here’s a news flash: East Liberty has a surplus of parking pretty much any time of day, any day. If your only experience trying to park in EL is driving around and around the Whole Foods lot, you might be as surprised as I am.
It just goes to show that you sometimes do need a study.
After several public meetings last fall,the phase 1 (walkability accessibility and parking) draft report of East Liberty's Circulation and Mobility Action Plan is out now with some interesting data that suggest that even with new developments coming on line this year and next, there is enough parking if it were shared and there will be enough, if shared, for the next 10 years.
Zoning requirements of parking maximums have been lashed to the whipping posts by urban advocates who promote planning for a future with fewer cars. Whether zoning minimums would forge a future of fewer cars is another day’s discussion.
Some points from the report:
+ Approximately 1,700 parking spaces are 
unoccupied at noon during weekday peak 
+ If these unoccupied spaces were replaced 
with structured parking, the spaces would 
cost $25M+ to construct, not including land 
+ These unoccupied spaces consume 10 
acres of space in the district. 
+ Everyday these unoccupied spaces are 
underutilized and zoning requirements 
mandate that new development add to the 
+ Businesses, including restaurants, are driving 
parking demand on the weekend like the 
+ During the weekend peak there are more 
than 2,700 spaces unoccupied, about 1,000 
more vacant spaces than weekday peak 
+ Approximately 3,400parking spaces are 
unoccupied during weekend evening peak 
Some conclusions from the report:
"A significant amount of unoccupied spaces (surplus of parking supply) exists during peak weekday and weekend conditions; 
“The issue is not a lack of supply, rather it is the lack of access to the available supply. There are physical and programmatic barriers to parking; but perhaps even more importantly [sic] there is a perception of lack of access.” 


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A Pa. homecoming - and Rome coming?

Written by Peter Smith on .


Catching up on two pieces of Keystone Catholic news.

The National Catholic Reporter says Pope Francis is considering a visit to Philadelphia in September 2015. It’s still too early for anything official, but it would generate big news if it materialized.

There hasn’t been a papal visit to the United States since 2008, when Benedict XVI came to New York and Washington.

Now, of course, the holder of the keys of Peter is a rock star. A lot could change by late 2015, but there should be a massive amount of interest in seeing this pontiff in person. He enthralled the multitudes in Brazil during World Youth Day last year – something that tends to get forgotten due to the avalanche of coverage over his in-flight interview on the way home (the one with the iconic line, “who am I to judge?”). But his connection with the poor of Brazil was historic in its own right, and he might surprise some people in a visit here with the force of his disapproval of the income gap between rich and poor.

All that said, Francis would have to know he’d be running into a potential buzzsaw in Philly.

The occasion for his visit would be the World Meeting of Families there in September 2015. No matter what’s on the agenda, any Catholic gathering involving families is inevitably going to draw media scrutiny to the church’s resistance to same-sex marriage — despite its rapidly growing acceptance both in the U.S. and the pope’s native Latin America. Also, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has a troublesome history on handling sexually abusive priests. The pope’s response to that will also dominate the narrative.

While the papal visit remains speculative, one concrete move the pope did make last week was to return Bishop Ronald Gainer to his native Pennsylvania. Bishop Gainer, who grew up in the coalfields of eastern Pennsylvania and rose through the ranks of the Diocese of Allentown, served as bishop of Lexington, Ky. – a mostly rural, mostly Protestant diocese that included the coalfields of eastern Kentucky. Now Bishop Gainer will be bishop over the Diocese of Harrisburg, which is five times as large as his previous assignment and has the political symbolism of being based in the capital.

Bishop Gainer was appointed to his Lexington post by John Paul II, arriving at a diocese traumatized by the resignation of its previous bishop, Kendrick Williams, who was accused in lawsuits of sexual abuse. Bishop Gainer worked to stabilize the diocese and increase the ranks of men entering the priesthood. The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests criticized his handling of some priests accused of abuse. Bishop Gainer spoke out on a broad range of policy issues, calling for such things as immigration reform and broader health care for the uninsured, but he put a priority on opposing abortion, writing shortly before an election that the "defense of the sacredness of human life" represents "THE paramount issue of our time." Bishop Gainer’s appointment to the larger and politically visible Harrisburg diocese certainly seems like a ratification of such priorities, whatever the shift in tone under Pope Francis.

Bishop Gainer, by the way, is one of two Allentown natives rising in prominence in the Catholic hierarchy by way of Kentucky. Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, long active in Catholic Charities in Allentown and with the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, now serves as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.




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Fire Site: hot topic for a cold night

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .


polishhill1Thirty hardy denizens of Polish Hill and a few others turned out last night for the “Fire Site” planning meeting at Pittsburgh Filmmakers in North Oakland. Representatives of the Program for Deliberative Democracy also attended.
Deliberative democracy is what architects Pfaffmann + Associates and their collaborative developer, Ernie Sota of Sota Construction and Green Services, are trying to achieve by letting people who live in Polish Hill have a say in what gets built on the site between Brereton and Dobson Streets where several buildings burned in a 2007 fire. The Pittsburgh Housing Development Corp. owns the 7,300 square-foot site.
Rob Pfaffmann (shown in photo below) led a workshop of people who considered the space in 3-D, moving pink building blocks (see photo above) of different sizes and shapes to represent three-story homes with pitched roofs, two stories with garages, apartments with outdoor terraces and gardens.
There’s room for 10 apartments, but Pfaffmann allowed for “three to 10.” Density is Polish Hill’s tradition but it may not be its future. Building on a slope that’s 18 feet higher on Brereton than it is on Dobson can be expensive, but because of that, density would make sense.
“We want single family houses,” said one woman, who apparently didn’t speak for everyone.
“I would lean away from families,” said one young participant in the Uses & User workshop. “We need spaces where people can interact.”
Architect Carl Bergamini suggested a use that would merge two Polish Hill demographics — those who are young and just starting out and those who want to age in place there. Both need affordability. 
The hardest part of the Fire Site project might not be to reach a consensus but to build to that consensus. The emerging demographic — 20 and 30-somethings — have expressed a desire for creative space. Many across all age groups want retail. In a perfect world there would be more small retail in neighborhoods but in a perfect world, small businesses are adequately supported by their neighborhoods.
Plus the developer has to calculate what will bring him the best return. There’s no perfect being handed out anywhere that I know of and charity isn't why people wade into this stuff.
“I can’t think of a single retail that would be viable” on the site, one participant said. “We couldn’t even support a butcher shop.”polishhill2
The participants went through development consultant Tom Hardy’s pro forma workshop to learn about the costs of development. Roughly 70 percent of a total project cost is for construction. Other costs are what they call “soft” -- for architects, attorneys, insurance, appraisals, loan interest, financing, permits, water connections, marketing, site engineering, soil tests, sales commissions, transfer taxes... 
.... runarounds, delays, bureaucracies, surprises — whoops! water and sewer nightmares, please share on facebook; whoops, that money we were counting on? It just backed out; back to square 2 — oh, and don’t forget that every developer needs variances.
The rule of thumb to keep in mind when you are pondering the pros and cons is $120 per square foot. That’s roughly $8.7 million for the Fire Site.
Jumpin’ jack jetskis, Batman. It must so totally be worth the hassle.


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Military aircraft fly over Pittsburgh before Obama's visit to West Mifflin, Pa.

Written by Ethan Magoc on .



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Doozy of a detour coming to Route 910 in Indiana Twp.

Written by Jon Schmitz on .


The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission will close one of the bridges carrying Route 910 over the pike on Monday for a 10-month replacement project.

The posted detour is about 14 miles, and follows Saxonburg Boulevard, Harts Run Road and Middle Road back to Route 910. The bridge is one of six crossing the turnpike in the area that are being replaced to prepare for widening the highway to six lanes. The bridge is at mile 42.65. Completion is scheduled for December.


Another bridge project in the area will cause a full closure of the turnpike in both directions between Butler Valley and Allegheny Valley from 11:59 p.m. Saturday to 5 a.m. Sunday. Traffic will be detoured via Route 8, Route 28, Route 910 and Freeport Road. Local traffic using Rich Hill Road in this vicinity will experience 15-minute stoppages during the five-hour period as crews erect beams for the bridge over the turnpike there.

Westbound Interstate 70 will be reduced to a single lane from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday and Friday about a half-mile east of West Alexander (Exit 1) in Washington County. Crews will replace damaged expansion dams on a bridge.

Tale from the T: Several disabled vehicles caused delays and detours on the Light Rail Transit system this morning. PG's Sean Hamill reports waiting at Allegheny Station for 30 minutes, with no announcement on the public address system about when the next vehicle would arrive. He finally gave up and walked to town.

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