Deep In The Heart of Downtown
Downtown Pittsburgh is booming. The Golden Triangle has grown in ways that previous generations may never have envisioned, and the perception of the neighborhood at the heart of Pittsburgh is changing rapidly –– for the better.
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COMMUTING: Beyond the garage.
Dedicated bike lanes on Penn Avenue averaged 800 rides daily between May 1-Oct. 31 last year, according to counters installed by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. That traffic is increasing this year, says Sean Luther, executive director of Envision Downtown. The cooperative effort between the city and Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership is collecting data and testing pilot projects for public spaces, transportation and traffic.
The news is positive for mass transit, too; surveys show it accounts for almost half of Downtown commuters, Luther says. A February study of census data by SmartAsset ranked Pittsburgh’s mass-transit situation eighth-best out of 136 U.S. cities, with one of the smallest differences in average commute times by bus vs. car. To ease sidewalk congestion at its busiest bus stop, the city this year widened the sidewalk at Smithfield Street and added shelters and lean bars.
With nearly 52,000 garage and lot parking spaces in the Downtown and nearby areas such as the Strip District and North Shore, and another 1,500 planned for projects now under construction, the city is “pretty close” to having enough room for morning commuters, Luther says. The squeeze comes once they’re all settled in. “If you’re coming to visit your attorney at 11 a.m., it is admittedly very difficult to find a place to park in the Golden Triangle,” he says.
Pittsburgh Parking Authority Executive Director David Onorato takes issue with those who bemoan a Downtown parking shortage. “There’s a perception of that because they can’t find a place right in front of their building,” he says. “That’s not just Pittsburgh, that’s industry-wide.” As for short-term spaces, he points to automation that has made on-street parking more convenient. Pittsburgh is the first major U.S. city to switch to license plate-based metering, which means no more painted lines, the freedom to move to a different spot Downtown while keeping your remaining time, and the ability to top up your meter via phone app. (It also means easier collection and ticketing.) This year the authority eliminated two-hour limits Downtown, though Onorato says recent counts show four out of five street-parked vehicles still are staying for less than two hours.
Envision Downtown hired an intern from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs to collect, map and analyze parking data; it posts the findings frequently on its website. It also plans to unveil automated signs along Fort Duquesne Boulevard that are wired into the ParkPGH app. As each Cultural District garage fills up, the signs direct drivers to the next one with free space, reducing traffic snarls.
Ride-hailing services such as Lyft, Uber and zTrip and short-term self-rental Zipcar have substantially altered the dynamics of getting around Downtown. Self-driving automobiles, like the ones Uber’s Strip District research hub began road-testing this spring, could have an even more dramatic effect — especially if they can park themselves in the city’s outskirts during the day. For now, daily drivers might try this cheaper and healthier garage alternative: Pay $6 or $7 to park in a Strip District lot, and use a Healthy Ride bike share, at $12 a month for unlimited 30-minute rides, to pedal the rest of the way to Downtown. —Mark Houser