Forum hears plans for E. Carson safety plan, extention of PED days
August 3, 2021
Throngs of post-pandemic revelers, and the ensuing unruly and sometimes criminal behavior, on weekends in the East Carson St. corridor was the focus of the combined July-August meeting of the South Side Planning Forum on July 27.
The next day, in response to the increased violence, traffic safety concerns, overcrowding, noise complaints, and more, the Dept. of Public Safety announced adjustments to traffic patterns.
Beginning July 30 on Fridays and Saturdays from S. 10th to S. 18th streets, 7 p.m. to 4 a.m., East Carson St. vehicle traffic will be outbound only. Below 10th St. and beyond 18th St., will be two-way.
Side streets from S. 11th to S. 17th inclusive will be closed to traffic. Vehicles will be diverted around those streets via either Muriel St. or Sarah St. Only valid residential permit holders will be allowed to enter those areas.
Busses and emergency vehicles will be able to travel in both directions at all times. Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft will not be permitted on East Carson St. between S. 10th and S. 18th streets.
If too many cars are directed to residential streets, the pilot program will stop, city Councilman Bruce Kraus reported at the July 27 Planning Forum meeting.
He also announced the increase in litter and debris from the crowds will extend the Parking Enhancement District (PED) to include Thursdays beginning August 5.
The PED is the enforcement of South Side Flats parking meters from 6 p.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
Mr. Kraus said an expansion of PED hours to include Thursdays will help with funding the clean-up aftermath.
For the first month, there will be a grace period in which an “Oops Card” on the windshield will give a break to violators. But starting Sept. 2, fines will be issued.
The Planning Forum meeting began with the PED report by nighttime economy coordinator Allison Harnden.
In the June report, Ms. Harnden said revenue totaled $12,800, or $1,000 more than last month.
The 2021 revenue to date is $60,570.72. The total revenue since the PED began in April, 2017, is $739,369.33. The PED trust fund totals $218,853.64.
PED funds must be invested back in the neighborhood for public safety, cleanliness, and infrastructure improvements.
Due to a “significant” increase in trash in June, Ms. Harnden said a third person was added to Block by Block Clean Team, which maintains the E. Carson St. corridor.
There are now three Clean Team workers for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday morning cleanups.
The Clean Team removes trash and graffiti/stickers, lends hospitality assistance, and more.
In June, the Clean Team removed 17,418 pounds of trash and 20 graffiti/stickers.
Mr. Kraus reported the $13,000 purchase of a gas-powered Gator cleaning machine used by the Clean Team throughout the streets.
Funding for both the machine and a third worker will be from the PED trust fund.
There will be portable toilets and hand-washing stations again this year at the lots at 13th, 18th and 19th streets at a cost of $3,000.
Returning to the issue of the crush of partiers returning to the bars post-pandemic, Mr. Kraus said, “We are not alone in this,” as other cities are experiencing the same phenomenon.
Ms. Harnden said she is one of 10 nighttime managers in the U.S., and this is occurring in all of those cities.
Most are not customers, she said, but are coming in and causing trouble. It is people behaving badly in a district sandwiched between residents, she said.
Thirty additional police officers are also assigned to the area on Fridays and Saturdays.
Mr. Kraus said he would like them trained on what they can and cannot enforce, such as illegal food trucks and grilling on the street. He would also like to see the Dept. of Permits, Licenses, and Inspections (PLI) on site.
Another step is the addition of light towers on 15th and 17th streets to help with public safety while increasing visibility for police.
Mr. Kraus said a lot of hard work over the years has gone into reducing cars in the area. But now, with the crowds, East Carson St. is congested, and cars are being parked in residential areas, like the Giant Eagle lot. Numerous complaints are being received from residents.
City officials and departments are working to develop strategies to quell the crowds and bad behavior, Mr. Kraus said.
Help from state elected officials – who write the laws for liquor licenses, enforcement, and more -- is also needed.
He called the state’s BYOB policy, in which any individual may legally bring their own alcohol into an establishment, “the bane of our existence.”
“It is just madness,” he said.
Mike Clark, of the South Side Community Council (SSCC), blamed bars for blasting music onto the streets, opening their doors, and more.
Occupancy is also a problem in need of a “crack down,” he said, as first floors are packed with the top floors empty.
Ms. Harnden, agreed, saying we should not allow occupancy for the whole building but rather floor by floor.
State Rep. Jessica Benham said she is pushing in Harrisburg for local communities to have some power over liquor concentration. She is advocating funds from the governor’s budget for this.
South Side resident Jerry Morosco called the pilot program that pushes traffic to the residential areas “a horrible idea.”
Ms. Harnden said it is not permanent. “This is to calm the chaos and break patterns of behavior,” she said.
Adrian Smith, who has worked on East Carson St. for 20 years, said the situation is getting “worse and worse.”
“This problem has been brewing for a long time,” she said.
She does not feel safe leaving work, and called for a “long-term solution.”
“I share your frustrations,” Mr. Kraus said, noting he is 20 years into the fight.
To a question from Mr. Morosco of who do we turn to, Mr. Kraus said the state holds all power on licensing, enforcement, and liquor concentration.
Locally, it is a combination of agencies, law enforcement, traffic engineering, and more.
Mr. Morosco said he will call the mayor’s office and ask for a meeting with the heads of departments.
“The plan of the 18th St. reroute is too much,” he said.
SSCC president Barbara Rudiak said a plan of action is needed. She said she will work with Mr. Morosco “to get the ball rolling.”
Next, in Old Business, Ms. Rudiak reported there were two presentations at the Aug. 19 Development Activities Meeting (DAM) of the SSCC.
Both presentations were about façade issues: the Rite Aid at 1915 East Carson St., and the former American Eagle Outfitters at 2655 East Carson St.
A DAM provides an opportunity for citizens, property owners, business owners, and stakeholders to learn about the proposals that affect them and to resolve concerns at an early stage of the application process.
Next, in the South Side Neighborhood Plan update, Tom Smith reported the neighborhood plan committee did not meet as it is awaiting city guidelines.
The goal is development of a new neighborhood plan through City Planning, which crafted a standardized process that takes 18 to 24 months, and includes an involved public process.
In New Business, Mark Bucklaw, president of the South Side Chamber of Commerce, reported the South Side Summer Golf Classic, co-hosted by the Chamber and the South Side Bar and Restaurant Association, will be held Aug. 2 at the South Hills Country Club.
He also reported the Chamber Board is working on an ambassador program with South Side businesses.
In news of the SSCC, Ms. Rudiak announced the organization has a new and improved website: southsidecommunitycouncil.org
Kathleen Petrillo, of the SSCC, reported a block watch clean-up will be held from 9 a.m. to noon on Aug. 7.
There will be weed and trash removal by block watch members with drop off points for black bags along Sarah St. south of Carson St. and Bingham St., followed by Sidney St. north of Carson St.
Black bags and gloves will be available.
Next, National Night Out (NNO) will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 3, from 5:00 to 7:30 p.m.
The annual event is designed to advance the importance of neighborhood unity and community-public safety relationships, and is held locally in various neighborhoods as porch gatherings, block parties, festivals, and more.
In the report of the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association (SSSNA), president Blake McLaren said the 21st Annual StepTrek will be held on Oct. 2 The annual non-competitive, self-guided walking tour of the Slopes is the organization’s biggest fundraiser.
He also reported that heavy rains resulted in a landslide on Billy Buck Hill on June 13, with limited road access since then. He thanked Mr. Kraus, Rep. Benham, and others for their assistance.
Next, Rev. Kathy Hamilton-Vargo, pastor of South Side Presbyterian Church, announced she will be retiring in September. But she will still “be around” to work on the transition as the church acquires a new pastor.
Rev. Hamilton-Vargo said she has worked at the church in two capacities for 40 years.
The final comments were from Matt Brungo, of the SSCC, who noted UPMC representatives were not in attendance that evening to make a scheduled presentation.
The presentation was to be about a review of new UPMC 2400 East Carson St. location plans, the future of the Mary St. complex, and Jane St. medical walks-ins.
Regarding 2400 East Carson St., numerous concerns were expressed at the May 27 DAM of the SSCC about UPMC operating a program for children to age 5 at the former Goodwill Building.
Those concerns included drop-off, pick-up by parents, and how will this occur on the busy street? What is the plan for the flow? Where is employee parking? and more.
Mr. Brungo said variances and parking exemptions are being sought.
Ms. Rudiak said she will be in touch with UPMC about rescheduling the presentation.
The next Planning Forum Zoom meeting will be on September 14.