Mar 11, 2020

Views from the Curb: Pittsburgh, PA

Dawn Miller

Head of Policy & Partnerships

Pittsburgh has made some headlines in the transportation world lately, from the open arms it has extended to autonomous vehicle testing to the “new mobility supergroup” it pulled together in this fall in the form of the Pittsburgh Mobility Collective.  In 2017 the City of Pittsburgh created a new Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI), reflecting the city’s recognition of mobility as a tool to power its social and economic development.  DOMI is driven by a refreshingly specific set of goals: 

  1. No one dies or is seriously injured traveling on city streets.

  2. Every household in Pittsburgh can access fresh fruits and vegetables without the requirement of a private vehicle.

  3. All trips less than 1 mile are easily and enjoyably achieved by non-vehicle travel.

  4. Streets and intersections can be safely navigated by an adolescent.

  5. The combined cost of transportation, housing, and energy does not exceed 45% of household income for any income group.

Pittsburgh sees its curb space as an important tool in its toolbox for improving mobility, safety and access in the city, and recently began working with Coord to create a baseline curb space inventory it can use to support its planning and policy development.  Coord’s CTO Jacob Baskin and I got to visit the team at DOMI and the Pittsburgh Parking Authority (PPA) this February, and naturally we took the opportunity to see the real life version of the “digital curb” we’ve been creating with the city. Join us for a quick tour of Pittsburgh, curb-style!

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Pittsburgh has a rich history and a delightful mix of new and old architecture.  Here you see pretty much the coolest Noodles and Company and T-Mobile stores in the world:

Pittsburgh is a really cool town to walk around.  We found ourselves constantly surprised by the changes in elevation (hills!) and beautiful views (mountains!) as we wound our way around its decidedly un-gridlike streets.  We even came across some fancy murals like this one:

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Pittsburgh’s geography makes it really interesting--and challenging--from a planning point of view.   Most cities have lots of streets to worry about. DOMI is responsible not only for the streets, but also for more than 800 sets of public steps--more than any other city in the United States.  

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Here’s where I made Jacob pose at the top of a super steep cobblestone street with the Allegheny Mountains and some crazy clouds in the background. 

Pittsburgh was founded in 1758.  Which means that, like many cities that have been around for a while, many of its roads are narrow.  One way the City manages this is through rush hour restrictions. The City bans curbside parking on particular streets during rush hours to improve traffic flow.  

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One example of these restrictions is on Boulevard of the Allies.  On this street no stopping is allowed between at 7 am and 9 am on weekdays, so its curbs are coded in Coord as gray “no parking” zones.  

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However, by 12 pm this space has been reopened to time-limited parking (blue) and loading zones (yellow).

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The Port Authority operates public transit in Pittsburgh, which consists of light rail, inclines (aka funicular railways), paratransit service and buses.  In Downtown Pittsburgh we saw a lot of buses; however, often the wait times between buses were pretty long (e.g., thirty-five minutes). Parts of the city had a contra-flow bike lane, which seemed to be a good tool to keep other vehicles from obstructing bus travel.  Buses in Pittsburgh also provide racks to bring your bike along, which is a great program to have in place as the City plans to dramatically expand its bike network through its Bike(+) Master Plan.  

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One feature of the downtown and its surroundings that was hard to miss was the presence of lots of off-street parking, particularly in large multi-level parking decks.  Although this abundance of parking can incentivize driving and isn’t the greatest for the pedestrian experience, it does create an opportunity to devote curb space to post-parking uses like bike and bus lanes, loading zones, bike and scooter parking, etc. 

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Market Square is a popular social and cultural hub in the heart of downtown. It consists of a ring of low-rise restaurants and retail surrounding a public square, surrounded by high-rise office and residential uses.  It is also home of a popular Christmas market.  

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Coord ingests parking meter data, which, in combination with our regulation inventory, helps the city measure parking availability.  Market Square is one of the locations in the city that has relatively high parking occupancy rates.

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In addition to visiting DOMI, Jacob and I got to visit the Pittsburgh Parking Authority (PPA), which handles parking enforcement.  As is the case in many cities, revenue from parking is an important source of revenue to meet the city’s financial obligations. PPA has been leveraging technology, such as pay-by-plate multi-space meters, to improve operations and its customers’ experience.  However, they maintain at least one relic of the past in their waiting room: a humble parking meter.

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Our visit sadly wasn’t long enough to take in as much of the culture as we would have liked; however, I did feel like we got a little slice of life when we observed a famous “parking chair” (meant to discourage neighbors from parking in this space) in the wild:

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The Bike(+) Master Plan isn’t Pittsburgh’s first program to support its residents’ traveling on two wheels.  Pittsburgh has had the HealthyRide public bikeshare system in place since 2015. Building on this work to provide alternatives to single occupancy vehicle travel is the Pittsburgh Mobility Collective (the “new mobility supergroup” I mentioned earlier), which is a collaboration between the city and Zipcar, Spin, NUMO, Waze Carpool, Ford Mobility, the Transit app and Swiftmile.  The Collective is on track to introduce electric pedal assist bicycles, expand carshare, introduce new carpool and shared ride services, and provide multimodal trip planning built around the city’s mass transit service.  

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Are you as excited as we are about what’s going on in Pittsburgh?  And would you like to work in this really cool building? You’re in luck - DOMI is hiring

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We at Coord were delighted to have the opportunity to visit the talented, tech-savvy team in the City of Pittsburgh and to be supporting its efforts to develop its mobility system to promote social and economic development.  Many thanks to our gracious hosts, spearheaded by DOMI Policy Analyst Tosh Chambers, for sharing your city with us. 

Dawn Miller

Head of Policy & Partnerships

Dawn is Coord’s Head of Policy and Partnerships. She previously served as Chief of Staff at the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), the City agency that oversees New York City's taxi, car service and ride-hailing industries. Dawn launched TLC’s Research and Evaluation practice, serving as its first director, and worked as a researcher at the Urban Institute in Washington, DC. She lives with her husband and son in Brooklyn and loves parks, bikes, beaches, stoop-sitting and group fitness.