Pittsburgh City Council Approves Mayor’s Complete Streets Policy


Ordinance Enshrines Complete Streets Principles into law

Two years ago, at our 2014 Members’ Meeting, we launched our campaign for the City to adopt a Complete Streets Policy. We are happy to report that on Monday, November 14, the same day as our 2016 Members’ Meeting, Pittsburgh City Council preliminarily approved Mayor Peduto’s Complete Streets Policy. The official vote on Monday, November 21, City Council approved the Complete Streets Policy by a unanimous vote!

Riding on the coattails of the Mayor’s Complete Streets Executive Order in 2015, this Ordinance enshrines the concepts and principles of Complete Streets into law.

Everybody, regardless of who they are, where they live, or how they get around, should have the choice to travel in a safe and convenient manner.

This statement is the heart of what Complete Streets mean. The Policy itself expands upon this core principle:

The City of Pittsburgh’s Complete Streets Policy shall create a safe, accessible, and livable mobility network for users of all ages and abilities including, but not limited to, pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, transit riders and freight carriers. The City must consider all transportation improvement projects within the City’s public realm as opportunities for multi­modal infrastructure that will enhance mobility, equity and livability for all people…

Consideration of all users from the start of a project

We work with neighborhood groups and organizations around the city, and a good portion of our work is centered around representing people who want to live car-lite, or are dependent on biking and walking. When new projects and developments come on board, our job has been to make sure that all users are accommodated and thought about in the design – to varying degrees of success. No matter where we go, one thing is clear – City residents want safe and convenient places to walk, bike, use a wheelchair, and use transit.

A Complete Streets Policy flips the script, putting the onus on these decision makers to explain why they can’t accommodate all modes, instead of how it is today with communities needing to demand why these accommodations are necessary.

We have seen that without a Complete Streets Policy, bicycle, pedestrian, and public transportation accommodations are often debated too late in the design process and are considered a disruption, rather than a necessary project feature. This has led to time delays at best, and erosion of public support at worst. Furthermore, the failure to accommodate all user groups has even triggered expensive retrofits at later date, instead of getting it right the first time. A fix it first approach can save taxpayers in the long run and will ultimately create a better project.

Every neighborhood and Equity

Adopting a Complete Streets Policy will demonstrate the City’s intention to improve the quality of life for all citizens, regardless of neighborhood. In this era of intense discussion around affordable housing, a component that we feel gets overlooked in the conversation is affordable transportation. Since about a quarter of households in the City of Pittsburgh do not have access to a car, it’s imperative to make sure that the communities that are dependent on walking, transit, and biking have safe, convenient, and connected infrastructure.

So, how does this change our streets?

The Complete Streets Policy will not require an immediate retrofit of City roads. Rather, in the already developed areas of the City, Complete Streets principles shall be implemented incrementally over time as the streets are maintained and improved.

The policy is triggered when:

  1. Any street improvements initiated by or that require a permit or approval by the Department of Public Works that proposes permanent changes to the width of the sidewalk, curb line, travel lanes or intersections, including full­ depth reconstruction projects, large curb cuts, signal upgrades and improvement projects that trigger traffic studies;
  2. Any local, state, or federally funded project undertaken by the City, Urban Redevelopment Authority or other local governmental or quasi­-governmental agency, including planning, improvement and maintenance projects which alter or perform work in the right­-of-­way regardless of the need for a permit;
  3. Public and private developments subject to review by the Planning Commission, the Zoning Board of Adjustment, or Site Plan Review, where the specific review criteria include assessment of potential transportation impacts, including proposed developments that trigger Transportation Impact Studies.

It is unclear at the moment how the Complete Streets Policy will affect PennDOT-owned roads. While the Policy does direct the City to work with PennDOT “whenever feasible,” and while PennDOT does say that they take local policies and plans into account as they develop projects, there is nothing that says that they must do so. However, having the policy in place does give the City and residents a bit more of a foothold to make their case. We are definitely better off with it than without it.

Other benefits

In addition to the principles, the Policy directs the City to work with other agencies to incorporate Complete Streets principles, creation of an advisory group, adoption of design standards, incorporation of green infrastructure (where applicable), reform city processes, add a Complete Streets line item to the City Budget, among other positive improvements.

Locally, the Complete Streets Policy was supported by organizations as diverse as Pittsburghers for Public Transit, Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group, the Port Authority, AARP, and the National Heart Association, among others.

The Department of City Planning used the National Complete Streets Coalition and Smart Growth America’s best practice standards to develop the Policy.

You can read the full policy here.

Be sure to stay tuned as this initiative develops. For a more in depth description of Complete Streets, please see our website.

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