Social media isn't always social with neighborhood issues

Posts don't always get the facts right


Last updated 11/8/2017 at 5:33pm

Councilman often works at the kitchen counter in his home on 18th Street in the South Side Flats. The councilman has lived in his post-Civil War house since 1983.

"Sometimes I could just pull off my hair," Councilman Bruce Kraus says laughing while sitting at the island in his kitchen.

The District 3 councilman spoke out of frustration from hearing from yet another South Side couple that they heard he doesn't live in the neighborhood anymore. The information they were trying to confirm with him came from a Facebook page post.

"Not only do they have me moving to Brentwood, but I'm married now," he added with a chuckle.

Often working 12 hours or more a day, the councilman a strong animal advocate, lives with his two rescue cats, Gabriel and Chole, in the house on 18th Street he spent his early years in, catty-corner from the fire station.

The house is at least 117 years old, having first been deeded in 1900. The year properties were first assessed for real estate taxes, he said. Although he believes it may be older, having found a newspaper from 1867 while doing a remodeling project.

Mr. Kraus said his parents and their two children lived in the first floor of the home beginning in 1954, staying until 1964 when they bought a home in Whitehall. At the time, the 18th Street home was owned by his god-mother, Mary Besikirski, who had purchased it in 1943 for $4,000.

He noted at the time it wasn't uncommon for the "Lord of the house" to live on one floor and rent out the other.

Even after his family moved further out Brownsville Road, he still spent much of his teenage years at his god-mother's home and always for Sunday dinner.

In 1983 Mr. Kraus became only the fourth owner of the home when he purchased it for $20,500. He has lived there ever since.

The councilman is concerned about misinformation being spread on social media. "Information should be shared openly and accurately."

A couple of things posts often enough get wrong he points out have to do with parking in South Side: permit parking and the Parking Enhancement District (PED).

Permit parking in the City of Pittsburgh is an entirely resident driven program. Residents choose the boundaries, solicit support, and set enforcement and grace period hours. The city's Department of City Planning verifies resident participation and the percentage of non-resident vehicles parking in the area is great enough.

City council is only responsible for approving the legislation conforming to what the residents determine they want as far as boundaries and enforcement hours.

"Approving the legislation is city council's only role," Mr. Kraus said.

To be fair, Mr. Kraus did have a bigger role in bringing permit parking to South Side, but it was long before he was a councilman or even thought about running for city council. In 2004, when Gene Ricciardi was president of city council, an overwhelming majority of residents from the area around Zone 3 police station to UPMC South Side Hospital voted in favor of establishing a permit parking area in their part of the neighborhood.

Zone 3 had recently increased the number of officers working out of the station due to the closing of Zone 4 in the West End.

South Side's first permit parking zone was approved by city council in 2005, but a moratorium on enforcing new permit parking was in effect and the zone was put on hold. In 2009 the moratorium was lifted and areas of South Side fell to resident only parking like dominos.

Recognizing the burden placed on businesses by the resident only parking, Councilman Kraus worked with the South Side Community Council, Pittsburgh Parking Authority, the Mayor's Office and businesses to adapt the enforcement hours to make them more business friendly.

Instead of having permit parking start at noon and extend until midnight, some streets in South Side now begin resident only parking begin at 2:30 p.m. and extend until 2 a.m. A two-hour grace period means non-residents may park in the zones up to 4:30 p.m. without getting a ticket.

Complaining is heard online about the Parking Enhancement District pilot program which extends on-street metered parking in all of South Side until midnight.

The PED hasn't caused people to avoid South Side on Friday and Saturday nights. Most metered spaces in the PED are filled, even with the extra $1.50 an hour they're putting into the meters to park on-street.

Estimates are on track for the PED to take in as much as a quarter-million dollars in the first year. Additional money collected from the metered on-street spaces from 6 p.m. to midnight averages nearly $4,500 each weekend.

According to the legislation, the money generated by the PED, after Parking Authority enforcement expenses, can only be spent on additional public safety and public works services. The Director of Public Safety must make the request to city council to spend the money on a particular service or project. The money can't be spent to pay for existing services provided by the city.

One caveat is that the Parking Authority holds the money in a trust fund for a year before it may be spent. The program began St. Patrick's Day weekend in South Side.

Being a pilot program, the PED will have to be renewed after the year is complete. Neighborhoods across the city have expressed an interest in having a PED in their communities.

One unintended by welcome outcome of the PED has been an increase of the number of people using ride-sharing services to come in to and leave South Side during evening entertainment hours.

Hand in hand with the PED, and the object of social media scorn, is the South Side NiteRider Circulator. The NiteRider Circulator provides a free shuttle ride from the Second Avenue Parking Authority lot on Friday and Saturday evenings from 6 p.m. until 4 a.m.

In addition to having a free shuttle dropping them off and picking them up on E. Carson Street, visitors don't have to pay to park in the Second Avenue lot after 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The lot is lighted and patrolled and the shuttle driver will even drop people off at their vehicles at the end of the evening.

The councilman calls the NiteRider Circulator one piece of the puzzle: Moving people in and out of the nighttime economy district and creating the least impact on residents.

"The NiteRider Circulator is more than a shuttle, it's part of a transportation strategy. The impact can be by having fewer people in parking in residential areas, decreasing vehicle break-ins and, lessening DUIs in the neighborhood which increases public safety overall," Councilman Kraus said.

Criticized online for spending city money on a bus to bring people into and out of the Carson Street business district, the councilman notes there is no government money being spent on the NiteRider Circulator. The entire cost of the shuttle is being covered through corporate sponsorship for the first year.

Mr. Kraus acknowledges some of the "toxic" comments online come from people who aren't his fans. He added his door is always open and he's willing to speak with individuals one-on-one to address their concerns.

"Social media is an amazing tool across the generations to connect us in many positive and uplifting ways. I'm not sure though that it can ever replace the simple human connection of speaking one on one. The best moments of my job is when I get to do exactly that," the councilman said.


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