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Region must forge Oakland-Downtown link

Allegheny County Executive elect Jim Roddey

(The below comments come from a condensed interview by reporter Dan Fitzpatrick.)

A couple of things come to mind. No. 1 is transportation. That is absolutely the key. And parking. The corridor between Downtown and Oakland is one of the most heavily traveled corridors in the state. I believe Oakland is third largest generator of trips in the state, so we really desperately need a connection, some sort of rail connection to Downtown, something like the Spine Line. I want to see the North Shore connected to the stadiums and the convention center and Oakland. That would make a huge difference in Oakland.

No. 2, I think we really need to consider how we improve the housing stock. That ought to be a prime location for people that work at the universities and museums and hospitals. You could do some pretty nice upscale condominiums or apartments, and I think that would significantly improve the way Oakland looks and feels.

No. 3, we really need to think about the appearance. The entry to Oakland is a rusty bridge. The main entrance from the city, if you are coming up from the Boulevard, is not very impressive. That whole area needs to be improved so entry into the city is much more attractive. It is better than it was a few years ago, with Carlow’s new building and Magee’s expansion. But you go under the terrible old rusty bridge there and you don’t get a feel that you are going to a very sophisticated technology, medical and academic center.

And we need to do something about cleaning Oakland up. I know that is a challenge with the university there. And the students are not the easiest population to deal with in terms of keeping things clean, but it is just a mess. In fact, Downtown looks a lot better than Oakland in that respect.

Port Authority general manager and CEO Paul Skoutelas

(The below comments come from a condensed interview by reporter Dan Fitzpatrick.)

If you look at our region and ask which areas represent our greatest assets, I would have to say Downtown, Oakland and our airport represent the three greatest assets we have in terms of traffic generators. Anything we can do to tie those three assets together in terms of transportation can only help us become a more vital community and hopefully strengthen economic development in those areas. I think tying those three assets in a more efficient way transportation-wise is something we need to be focused on in the next decade or so. One of the things we will mark on our calendar in early 2000 is developing a long-range plan for public transportation for the region. Clearly, the eastern corridor and the airport will be a major focus. The ultimate goal is to develop a vision and plan to begin to set our sights on what types of projects to pursue in the coming decades.

We are studying the possibilities of extending light rail to the North Side and out to the east and beyond. We are completing that original vision and now it is time to identify what the plan will be over the next decade. We need to work toward other areas that need attention. Otherwise, we will find ourselves just losing precious decades, and I don’t think the community can afford that. I am certainly willing to be a major advocate for (a light rail connection to Oakland). It will take a lot of people working together. I think we at the Port Authority should shoulder that responsibility.

High-speed connection

We urgently need high-speed public surface transportation between Oakland and Downtown, to the new stadiums and to our new world-class airport. These destination areas also need visits from us as customers; we are much of their new markets.

Political leaders have assured us for decades that a major Oakland-Downtown transportation link is destined to come. Indeed, such transportation will now be essential to the future success of Pitt’s football program, moved across the river.

As for the airport, in the process of a recent study which I chaired for the FAA, it was affirmed that the Pittsburgh International Airport is the best in all the Western Hemisphere, in capacity and air traffic access. And it is the preferred overseas hub in North America, being one-hour flight time in low traffic congestion from half the population in the United States! (But during their transit stops here passengers cannot easily come into the city to stay over and spend money.)

I have two suggestions that involve the University of Pittsburgh. One problem is the countertraffic single bus lane east on one-way west Fifth Avenue, which passes through the whole length of the University and beyond. It is almost unbelievable that local government installed this countertraffic lane when the parallel Forbes Avenue, a block away, goes one-way east where the eastbound busses could go. I have argued that future serious injuries and fatalities are inevitable, and the toll has begun.

Finally, the campus: The one last block of Bigelow, crossing between Fifth and Forbes, cuts through what would be a small but very pleasant pedestrian campus between the Cathedral of Learning and the William Pitt Student Union. University officials for half a century have advocated opening up this small campus, by closing that one short block of Bigelow.

This will also eliminate two severe traffic blockages that now build up at the intersections of Bigelow with one-way Fifth and one-way Forbes, while in between the congested students and cars continue to be put to risk and delay.

When this block of Bigelow is closed, reverse traffic becomes feasible by making a U-turn from Fifth to Forbes on any street west of Bigelow. A counterpart U-turn from Forbes to Fifth now takes place on Bellefield.

Overall, our local arguments for improving Oakland are a common cause of Greater Pittsburgh. Our outstanding cultural area is the central element of a future great metropolis, with high-speed links to the west and east, and in all directions a prominent intellectual hub and source in the new millennium.

Wesley W. Posvar, former chancellor, University of Pittsburgh

Elevated walkways

This may not be a detailed plan for a single, specific improvement, but I feel that it should be readily obvious to anyone who has ever driven through, or walked around Oakland.

Oakland has many assets, and the best way to emphasize its good qualities, is to minimize its faults.

The worst problem in Oakland is the traffic.

The simplest solution, embraced by dozens of cities (many smaller than Pittsburgh) is to provide enclosed, elevated walkways connecting buildings, parks and garages. Some already exist around the University of Pittsburgh.

This doesn’t have to be done all at once. Perhaps one walkway every other block, crossing Forbes Avenue from Magee Women’s Hospital up to CMU, and one every other block crossing Fifth Avenue from Carlow to St. Paul Cathedral.

This is the area of Oakland with the heaviest traffic.

Of course, there would have to be "Handicapped Access" as well as stairs every block or so, but with just a little effort, the planners could find existing elevators (such as in parking garages) and enough room to build a few stairways.

The main walkways themselves, (on Forbes and Fifth avenues.) should be enclosed to provide protection from the weather, and would simultaneously provide a degree of shelter for the pedestrians below, on the existing sidewalks.

Nick Ferrese, Carnegie Museum

Forgotten Promise

Recently I came across some old sketches and layouts done by Charles Klauder, the architect applauded for his design of the Cathedral of Learning and Heinz Memorial Chapel on the University of Pittsburgh campus. Klauder’s depictions of large swaths of lawn interspersed with academic buildings in the same architectural style as his constructed works evoked similarities to more "traditional" college campuses set in less urban or in rural communities.

It seems that during Pittsburgh’s urban growth, the university failed to coalesce around one hub, although an attempt was made around the Cathedral of Learning. Currently, however, the campus is dissected by many streets, stretching from the top of the hill at Trees Hall to the Frick Fine Arts Building overlooking Panther Hollow and from Montefiore hospital to Craig Street. Such an expansive layout, along with a significant lack of "green space," prevents any continuity in the sprawling campus.

Perhaps, instead, the campus can be unified under three main quads. The Central Quad would involve closing Bigelow Boulevard between Fifth and Forbes avenues to join the Cathedral and Union lawns, and to create one large, continuous band stretching from Bouquet Street to Bellefield Avenue. A trial one-month closure of Bigelow was attempted a few years ago while I was a student at Pitt. Although there was plenty of hype and controversy around the issue, it didn’t appear as if the traffic detours panned out to be as much a problem as the naysayers predicted. Regardless, the idea faded, but I believe it should be seriously reconsidered.

In addition to closing Bigelow, I would propose eliminating parking from the Schenley Quad and converting this dormitory-encompassed area into a grassed-in courtyard to continue with the "greenery" expansion.

A second quad might involve closing Bouquet Street, Thackeray Street, and University Place between O’Hara and Fifth avenues, which could create an Upper Quad uniting the mathematics, physics and engineering departments. Instead of streets of asphalt, lawns would connect the dormitories on Fifth Avenue to the science campus on the hill and essentially extend the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall lawn.

The Library Quad would eliminate the Schenley parking lot between Hillman Library and the Carnegie Museums, as well as eliminate the extension of Schenley Drive between Forbes and Clemente Drive. This would serve as a welcome mat to the University from Schenley Park and Panther Hollow and could provide a location for possible future university expansion.

Although I propose closing a few streets in this plan, all the major corridors and side streets would be left open (i.e., Fifth, Forbes, Craig, Bellefield, etc.).

In addition, planting grass and trees in the quad bound by Forbes Quad, Hillman Library, the Law School and David Lawrence Hall, as well as simple ideas like planting trees along Fifth and Forbes avenues, would help give balance and elegance to the strong urban environment.

Pittsburgh is blessed to have many city parks within its boundaries. We have Highland, Frick, and Riverview Parks, and Schenley Park is a wonderful oasis between Oakland and Squirrel Hill. Unfortunately, through the past few decades, these urban sanctuaries have fallen into neglect from their once beautiful existence.

In particular, Panther Hollow with its lake is a serene setting away from the bustle of the streets above. This area should be cleaned up and complemented with new gardens and lawns cascading down the hillsides, as well as pathways that wind down to the lake surrounded by picnic pavilions, decorative lighting and maybe paddle boats for the hot summer months.

Other issues that need to be dealt with include residential areas. For years, North and South Oakland have had a fabulous mix of diverse people: young and old, student and professional, all of many races and creeds. But one thing remains constant, the upkeep of some properties is less than desirable, so much so that South Oakland is notorious for being called a "slum" or a "hole."

Although these are harsh descriptions, how often does one walk down Semple Street, Oakland Avenue, or any other South Oakland street to find litter strewn through yards, broken bottles, and overall dilapidated buildings?

New zoning and housing laws should be established, requiring an owner to maintain his or her property to a higher standard than what they are now. Subsequently, landlords should maintain strict contracts with their tenants which would force them to keep a clean and orderly residence (i.e., enforce damage security deposits, institute regular maintenance reports, etc.).

When new buildings are constructed, there should be provisions that a certain percentage of building occupancy is accommodated by underground/under-the-building parking garages. Lots that exist can be dug below ground in order to double or triple the number of spaces, or even to hide the parking "eyesores" (such as was done at Soldiers & Sailors or could be done at the lot between Hillman and the Carnegie). These above-ground and, especially, below-ground garages may be costly alternatives, but sometimes they become the most reasonable and practical choices when put into a confined situation as is present in Oakland. And if managed properly, the parking rates do not have to be exorbitant as they often are.

Driving into Oakland should not be the only alternative.

Our subway system should definitely extend from Downtown out to Oakland, and on to Squirrel Hill, Shadyside, East Liberty, Point Breeze, etc. The Port Authority has been pondering a similar extension in what it has termed the Spine Line project. If it is still on the drawing boards, it should not be left to die

Robert S. Bertocchi, Bellevue

Oakland-Downtown maglev

The Oakland section of Pittsburgh is certainly an important asset of this region. The educational, cultural and medical institutions continue to draw new people into a non-Downtown section of our great city. As a former New Yorker, I continue to be amazed at the ease with which I can drive into the city, from the North Hills, without traffic problems.

However, the growth of Pittsburgh and its suburbs will require some improved methods of connecting our neighborhoods. The maglev idea interests me. What a way to connect Downtown Pittsburgh with the Oakland section without increasing road level traffic. A plan to construct such a transportation marvel would bring some temporary new employment to the region as well as permanently providing a means of connecting the vital Oakland area to Downtown.

Planners have been trying to maintain the "lights on" in the Downtown area past 5 p.m. for years. A mass transit operation that doesn’t conflict with road traffic would possibly become the impetus for people to shop, dine and enjoy the city, while living in Oakland. By the same token, a quick maglev ride from Downtown would bring people who live in as well as people visiting the city, to the museums, the Carnegie Music Hall, the university and all the cultural and dining and shopping spots of Oakland.

Basically, I feel the city of Pittsburgh could use a more productive means of transporting people between Downtown and Oakland. We would be easing the pressures of our working people commuting between these areas, as well as providing visitors a safe and quick, albeit fun, connection between two important assets of Pittsburgh. I realize that costs for such an endeavor would be great; however, from what I have read in the past about the company interested in building the maglev system, Pittsburgh could maintain the manufacturing entity of this company locally, therefore employing our people.

Tony Fasciani, Bradford Woods

Rapid transit with a Panther Hollow station

The biggest asset to Oakland is brain power. The reason we have had a brain drain is because companies, such as Oracle and Microsoft, can cherry-pick the technologies and the people from our academic centers without taking much risk. Now we must create the environment to use the Oakland brain power early on and to keep them in Oakland. From Oakland, companies will sprout and more high paying jobs will come. We have had a software company that wanted to move to Oakland in August to take advantage of the CMU talent, but couldn’t find space.

Here is the "Super Plan:"

1. Build a rail or maglev transportation systems that comes from the east directly to Panther Hollow. Continue the spine line to Oakland and the North Shore project with a rail and toll road to the Airport. Have multiple parking garages which are transit stations at Panther Hollow (where the Mon Valley Expressway connects), and the North Shore where people can park and get services, such as day care, car care, dry cleaning and food.

With this model people can move fluidly through Oakland including the students. People coming in from the airport can go directly to Oakland on rail and people working from the south, east, north, and west can do the same with minor limitations, using the transit station parking garages. Now the stage is set.

2. Now develop Panther Hollow. This would include many buildings with underground connectors , very much like Mayo Clinic. This should include an "Energy Center" that is at least a half a million square feet and includes parking, a hotel, a large food court with restaurants, meeting rooms, incubator space that is flexible and can be altered easily for small start-up companies, and, lastly, space for interested companies who must make an investment in this project and who are no longer on a free ride.

3. Forbes Avenue must be redesigned after Panther Hollow. You should include those retailers who would fit in the Panther Hollow Project (don’t forget the Big O) Fifth Avenue would follow.

Finally, people here are the problem and the solution. A lot of us have ideas, but if we can’t work together as a team, we cannot be successful!

Bob Capretto. (Former Port Authority board member)

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