South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

Neighborhood asked to help with city-wide plan for steps

 

August 22, 2017



The City of Pittsburgh has more than 800 sets of public steps, the most of any city in the country.

To better understand how the staircases are used and the condition they are in, the city’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DMI) is asking residential input to an analysis of the steps. To that end, Kristin Saunders, principal transportation planner in DMI, was the guest speaker at the August meeting of the Mount Washington Community Development Corp.

Of the city’s 800 plus sets of public staircases, 445 are on piers going through a greenway or up a hillside while others are “jumpwalks,” or staircases next to streets.

Part of the problem with the staircases is that they are very expensive, Ms. Saunders said. Last year, the city estimated the cost for repairing one set of steps in Oakland to be $400,000. The actual cost came in at nearly twice the amount.

The entire city budget for steps totaled $250,000.

Through the analysis, the city hopes to develop a citywide Steps Plan to prioritize care and maintenance.

Criteria to prioritize the steps includes not only where the stairs are, but where they lead to, the access to destinations within 500 feet. Another element to be considered is what the detour would be if the steps were eliminated.

“If we took a set of steps out, what would be the detour to get to the bottom,” she asked.

Other considerations include whether the steps are in neighborhoods and if there is a low number of vehicle ownership in the area.

In addition to the objective analysis, the department is also looking at a subjective view from the people who use the steps. Residents are able to use a wikimaps site, wikimapping.com/wikimap/Pittsburgh-Citywide-Steps-Assessment.html, to take a brief survey and comment on individual sets of steps.

The site shows an interactive map showing all public staircases and jumpwalks allowing users to click on them and fill out a short survey.

Ms. Saunders said they have heard from communities that the steps are very important and hold historic or cultural significance. While they can measure the importance of the steps, they need help understanding the cultural nature of individual staircases.

To aid in the understanding DMI has developed another survey, available in a Word document, neighborhood residents are being asked to complete. The MWCDC will work to make the surveys available at various sites throughout the community.

Among the questions the survey asks are: What is the neighborhood’s role in public steps and the community’s role in advocacy and marketing the steps.

Suggestions already received included opportunities for placemaking and art, landscaping, light repair work. These suggestions fell in the category of “making the staircase better for you.”

“What we’ve also heard in that these steps have cultural significance and that’s there’s interest in the community in actually marketing them. Helping people understand where they are,” she said. Also making sure when visitors come from other cities that the steps are something to see.

Another question on the survey asks what is the priority staircase in the neighborhood.

Ms. Saunders said they understand many people will say the priority staircase is the one outside their front door, but they want people to think about what is the most used staircase in the neighborhood and why.

The community’s role in the Step Plan wasn’t something they anticipated when they began the process, she said. There has been a lot of energy from communities that want to play a bigger role in the planning for the steps. Two neighborhoods she noted were South Side Slopes and Fineview.

The last part of the Step Plan will be to establish design guidelines. At minimum to decide what steps meet the current code.

The guidelines will not only outline how to build new steps and finance them, but also act as a guide in repairing existing steps.

 

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