South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

Residents asked to step up and comment on city staircases


Last updated 9/14/2017 at 4:41am

The city has more than 800 public staircases in its 90 neighborhoods, many are right-of-ways while others are considered streets, Kristin Saunders, a principle planner in the city’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DMI) told those attending the September meeting of the Allentown CDC.

“We know they are really important pieces of the pedestrian network for hilly neighborhoods like Allentown and South Side Slopes and a lot of these neighborhoods in the South Hills,” Ms. Saunders said.

From the city’s viewpoint, the steps represent an enormous cost to repair because there are so many of them.

“If you gave me a bunch of money tomorrow and told me to repair the steps, I wouldn’t know where to start,” she continued.

Ms. Saunders said many of the steps were built in the 1960s and have begun to deteriorate at the same rate. There have been very few major investments in the steps since then, she noted.

With the Step Plan, DMI is working on a method to prioritize the steps leading to a list of top steps. The priority list will then be used to seek funding through grants or the city’s Capital Budget for repairs or replacement.

Objectively looking at each set of steps, they are able to rate them according to set criteria: Does the set of steps provide access to a high capacity transit line? Does it provide access to a business district? Is the set of steps in a high-density neighborhood?

She said they are also considering what are the consequences if a set of steps is removed, would it lead to a 50-foot detour or would it be a mile-long detour? At the end of that mile-long detour is there even a sidewalk there?

In addition to figuring out what the top 50 to 100 steps in the city are, the Step Plan will also serve as a guide to deciding if a repair or replacement is needed along with finding funding to make the needed repairs.

The plan will also provide design guidelines for replacement of steps.

Ms. Saunders noted of the more than 800 public staircases in the city, 445 are on piers that go through greenways. The few staircases through greenways the city has rebuilt have ended up costing between $700,000 and $900,000.

For the Step Plan, DMI would like to know what makes a particular set of steps important to residents or neighborhoods. Is it the direct access, safety or lack of safety, is there a cultural significance to a set of steps, she asked.

“Some communities have one set of steps that they find very culturally significant for many different reasons. Some communities just think that steps as a whole, as an identifier, as a Pittsburgh identifier, is something that makes it culturally significant,” she said.

Something that has come out of other community meetings is many residents have an “appetite” to work on the steps. They’re interested in cleaning and repairing the steps themselves.

Ms. Saunders explained as part of the Step Plan she is looking into how they can establish an “Adopt A Steps” or step beautification program.

A questions she has been posing in all hilly communities, is “what’s the community’s role in the steps?” Is it advocacy? Is it marketing? Is it planting flowers?

Ms. Saunders said she will provide the Allentown CDC with a survey residents may fill out to answer questions about the Step Plan. In addition, there’s a wikimaps page that lists individual staircases in every neighborhood. Residents may go to the page and are able to click on and then comment on individual sets of steps.

To comment on individual sets of steps, go to:, input the neighborhood and click on a set of steps to take a brief survey.

The site shows an interactive map showing all public staircases and jumpwalks (steps that run along a street) allowing users to click on them and fill out a short survey.

Ms. Saunders said she can return to the community in a couple of months to discuss the results of the surveys.


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