South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

Mayor Peduto talks about issues in South Pittsburgh

 

August 22, 2017



Mayor William Peduto recently spoke briefly on a variety of topics he discussed while attending an Allentown CDC community meeting in the spring. A few of the subjects included establishing a new police zone for the city's entertainment districts and getting city owned property into residents' hands.

In addition, he had an opportunity to discuss the Parking Enhancement District in South Side, economic development in the Hilltop and a possible bike climbing lane going up 18th Street

Possible Zone 7

In May, Mr. Peduto mentioned a possible seventh police zone, one that could encompass the city's "entertainment" districts including South Side, North Shore, the Strip District and Downtown.

"This would only be able to occur once we're out of Act 47," the mayor said. "We'll have to get our police force up to 950 to be able to have our community, our neighborhood police officers back and be able to create a seventh zone."

He noted the city would have to do a lot more recruitment to go over 900 by 50 officers. The Budget Office is looking at the city's 10-year plan to see how it would be possible.

The extent of the seventh zone would be determined by crime statistics.

"We know that we have nighttime economies that have need for additional night time officers. In those areas of Downtown, the Strip, the North Shore, and the South Side we can actually track not only where the crimes have occurred, but what times they have occurred," he explained.

Using that data, the extent of the new zone will be determined by where the line is drawn by the crimes being committed. It will also be important to create a "route smart" system for police to be able to get from one area to another quickly.

Mr. Peduto said they will also be able to design the system through software.

The establishment of a centralized seventh zone would take away the need to supplement the nighttime economy districts with officers from the existing police zones. The new zone would be staffed according to the crime statistics for the areas.

Parking Enhancement District

Mr. Peduto said South Side's Parking Enhancement District (PED) could figure indirectly into the plans.

The PED could allow South Side to have additional officers, funded by the people who use the Carson Street business district through extended parking meter hours.

"The district itself has proven successful in a couple of ways: Number one because it's been bifurcated into two systems where additional parking is allowed until 4:30 p.m. on the north/south streets (in the Permit Parking zones). The local businesses have been able to benefit," he explained.

The mayor said the additional hours have provided ample parking for businesses during the day. He noted the number of citations are down in the permit parking zones.

The PED and permit parking have encouraged those coming to South Side to use alternative transportation and made it easier for residents to find parking in their neighborhood.

"It's a work in motion in the sense that we're constantly monitoring it, and to see if there's anything we can do to make it better," he said.

The public safety link from 12th to 17th streets has been successful according to the mayor. The public safety link or pull over lane goes into effect from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

It was requested by the police to allow cars to pull over and allow emergency vehicles to pass. The lane has also been used by ride sharing companies including Uber, Z-Trip and Lyft to drop off and pick up passengers, getting them in and out of the neighborhood quickly.

Mr. Peduto said it was the area where "we have seen the most incidents in the past." Acknowledging the lane has cost some parking spots, he said the gain in accessibility offsets the loss.

The parking initiatives put into place in South Side had been looked at for years and "there was no time to wait" anymore, he added.

"That doesn't mean that everything is perfect and can't be improved, but we now have the ability to test it, measure it and see if it's making life better on the South Side and if it is, allowing it to continue, if not, finding ways to change it," Mr. Peduto said.

City officials are monitoring the PED and the safety link and may institute them in additional neighborhoods.

Residents haven't complained to the Mayor's Office about the parking changes. He said initially his office had heard from businesses saying the changes would hurt their businesses, but he hasn't heard from any businesses since the PED has been instituted that it actually has hurt them.

"I think it's in everyone's best interest to have a safe South Side, the businesses as well," he added.

On the subject of public safety, Mr. Peduto was asked how to balance the policing demands of South Side with the needs of the Hilltop neighborhoods.

He likened the challenges in Zone 3 to those in Zone 1 with Steeler games and of Zone 2 with Penguin games and said establishing the nighttime economy police zone could be used to prevent drawing officers from other parts of each zone.

However, he cautioned the police force is down to about 820 officers and facing the retirement of "several hundred" more that were hired in the 1990s. He would like to get the number of officers up closer to 900. One way the city is looking at increasing the number of officers quicker is by using accelerated training of veteran officers.

Mr. Peduto noted Hilltop and South Side residents should have noticed increased patrols with more officers working out of Zone 3 than have been in the past. Commander Karen Dixon at the station has also been proactive with predictive crime statistics showing where and when crimes have been committed and assigning more officers to those areas and times.

Hilltop Development

Discussing the renaissance of the Allentown on the Hilltop, Mr. Peduto said Warrington Avenue has become the critical component of seeing the residential growth to occur. To aid in that growth he feels the return of the Brown Line on a consistent basis is important.

"That provides the accessibility to Downtown and then you'll see the housing pick up. It's already started, but you'll see it exponentially grow," he explained.

Other Hilltop neighborhoods, such as Beltzhoover and Knoxville, have to start with housing and build from there. A housing initiative, including not only new construction but restoring blighted properties on a block-by-block basis is needed.

The mayor cautioned it will take years to accomplish and will not only support Warrington Avenue businesses but Brownsville Road businesses as well.

Brownsville Road could use "anchors" that experience retail success. He said the Dairy District is an example.

"The Dairy District is a very innovative approach. It can be replicated in different ways along Brownsville Road," Mr. Peduto continued. "It's sort of like a hammock, when you have two different intersections that have success you start to see development in the middle."

The mayor said gentrification is a concern on the Hilltop. Using Allentown as an example, he said while homes are still affordable, rents have continued to climb.

"Within rent, it won't be very long until people could be priced into a point where they choose to leave Allentown. They may not have a choice," he continued. "There have to be more opportunities for home ownership."

Using the Land Bank, he would like to turn properties over to neighborhood groups and have those groups renovate the homes according to their vision for the community.

"There will be developers who will be knocking down the door for these properties. Our mission with the Land Bank is to work with community based organizations, including non-profits and faith based institutions," Mr. Peduto said.

In this way, neighborhoods can be brought back, block-by-block, to home ownership for a price less than a monthly rent check. Coming along with home ownership is fewer overgrown yards, less trash on the streets and more pride in home and community, he added.

"We want to move in that direction to counter anything with rents going up," Mr. Peduto explained.

Using the city's Burgh's Eye View website, it's possible to see the large number of city owned properties currently on the Hilltop, making it a prime area for a home ownership program. Through a community organization or a program where the city sells properties for as little as a dollar he sees the potential to change blocks and neighborhoods.

18th Street Bike Lane

Another subject the mayor called "controversial" is the proposed bike climbing lane up 18th Street.

Mr. Peduto said the proposal for the bike lane started not with City Hall, but with the South Side Complete Streets Committee for ways to access north and south.

Arlington Avenue was looked at and although a wide street, it has light rail tracks and parking issues of its own.

Through community process, he said the original plan to go all the way to Brownsville Road was modified to only Monastery Avenue because of density of parking.

He noted some people are completely for the proposal while others are totally against removing parking for a dedicated protected bike lane.

"Somewhere in between is a common sense approach about using that street in the most useful way possible," the mayor continued. "Before there were automobiles the street was used in a different way. We have to be cognizant that it's used for every type of transportation.

"What's the best use of a public right of way? That is the question that needs to be asked."

The mayor said the solution hasn't been found yet and it still needs to go through a full community process.

"Hopefully, there are those within the community that want to be able to find the best solution not necessarily one side or another. And if they're able to do so, they can build the consensus," he said.

It's an issue that affects more than just 18th Street residents he added. The street is a connector between the South Side Flats, the Slopes and Hilltop neighborhoods.

"If there's a better solution, we'll listen," the mayor said.

 

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