October 18, 2011 |

Planning forum questions Duquesne officials about shuttle bus running through South Side

The Duquesne University South Side shuttle was the subject of the sole presentation at the Oct. 11 meeting of the South Side Planning Forum, featuring university representatives Michelle Castro and Denise Iuzzolino.

The stated purpose of the shuttle, which began this fall, is to offer a safe and efficient transportation option to and from campus for Duquesne students and employees who want to visit the South Side. The fee is $50 per semester.

The shuttle runs from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays during the school year. It does not operate during breaks or on holidays.

The pilot program also aims to alleviate campus parking issues, as parking is at capacity, said Ms. Iuzzolino, assistant director of auxiliary services.

The concern among residents is that riders park on the South Side streets — thereby taking spots residents count on for parking in their own neighborhood — before hopping the shuttle to Duquesne.

Another concern is that the practice compounds the South Side's parking problem by encouraging university students and employees to regard the community as a park-and-ride lot.

Ms. Castro, director of government relations, said the Student Government Association has been advocating for a shuttle since 2007. City approval was then secured.

She said if they had known about the policy of appearing before the planning forum first, they would have done so.

"It was ignorance on our part," she said.

The university sold about 450 shuttle passes, which are good for one semester. While the passes can be purchased by all university employees, about 90 percent who use the shuttle are students.

Ms. Castro said the university continues to gather information, such as riders' home areas.

If it is learned the shuttle program is being abused by non-residents of the South Side, the policy may be changed, she said. Stops may also be limited.

Judy Dyda, manager of community planning at the South Side Local Development Co., said a recommendation is to create an application that limits shuttle use to South Side residents.

She also recommended asking on the application if the student owns a car. It would be beneficial to both Duquesne University and the neighborhood to show if, in fact, no extra cars are parked here, she said.

To a question of the timeframe when spring process changes might be made, Ms. Iuzzolino said November.

In her report of the South Side Neighborhood Improvement District (NID) Steering Committee, Susie Puskar said as of Oct. 10, there was a "great response rate" of 27 percent on surveys mailed in September to Flats' property owners.

Surveys were also available in the South Pittsburgh Reporter and on surveymon-key.com.

Based on the responses, the top priorities for services from residents and business owners are cleaning, after-dark security, and parking.

While, overall, surveys show support for a NID, seniors are very concerned about paying an additional fee, she said.

Survey results and a preliminary NID plan were presented to the public on Oct. 12. Another public meeting in which an updated plan – based on the Oct. 12 feedback and late-arriving surveys — will be held at 6 p.m. on Oct. 24 at the UPMC Mercy Outpatient Center cafeteria (former South Side Hospital).

Ms. Puskar said the Steering Committee's timetable is to present the NID preliminary plan at the Nov. 8 planning forum meeting. If there is a consensus to proceed, the plan would next go to city council, followed by public hearing(s) and the mailing of a final plan to property owners for approval or disapproval.

If fewer than 40 percent of all property owners send back their votes to disapprove, the NID can be formed.

The goal of the Steering Committee, said Ms. Puskar, is to build consensus in the community and create a plan that is good for South Side.

Those with questions about the NID or who want to schedule a group meeting about the improvement district may contact Ms. Puskar at 412-481-0651, extension 11, or visit the Steering Committee website at www.ssim provementdistrict.com.

Forum Chair Hugh Brannan said if it takes longer than December to reach unanimous forum approval, they will take that time to complete the process.

In the LTV Steering Committee update, Mr. Brannan said the only new item is the proposed use of the lot beside McCormick and Schmick's Restaurant at Sidney and 26th streets as a seasonal outdoor ice rink.

The Penguins plan to partner with the Soffer Organization and the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA) to build the NHL-sized rink.

It would be available for public skating and youth hockey games.

No objections have been raised so far.

The proposed South Side Works marina will also be on an upcoming LTV Steering Committee agenda.

In other news, Chuck Half from the Mayor's Office noted President Obama spoke at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers hall on South Side earlier that day.

"It's a real tribute to the neighborhood," he said.

Near the meeting's conclusion, Councilman Bruce Kraus, who sat in the audience, was asked his opinion on the Duquesne shuttle situation.

He said they need to look at student life and activities, and what it means to Pittsburgh and South Side. With more and more students coming to the neighborhood every year, he said, the question is how to incorporate them into the multi-generation neighborhoods.

One possibility, he said, is to talk to the universities about a seat on the planning forum, or else joining a local organization like the Chamber of Commerce.

Ms. Dyda suggested steering or sub- committees, noting the purpose of the planning forum is to maintain balance.

In other news, the Brashear Association will hold its annual awards luncheon on Oct. 27 at noon at the LeMont Restaurant. Visit www.brashearassociation.org for more information.

The next planning forum meeting will be on Election Day, Nov. 8.

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