Building Urban Streets from Scratch in Pittsburgh

Fall 2020 Issue
By: Todd Stern
Lytle Street in Pittsburgh’s Hazelwood Green development will provide innovative traffic-calming technologies, as well as design elements to improve walkability. Photo courtesy of Hazelwood Green

Hazelwood Green’s Lytle Street showcases a rare opportunity for developers to use newer technologies that ease traffic and boost walkability.

Hazelwood Green, a 178-acre site along the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh, is one of the few remaining large-scale brownfield redevelopments in a city entering a new era of post-steel recovery and revitalization. The former home of LTV Steel, Hazelwood Green will encompass a mix of offices, research and development, light manufacturing, housing, retail, public green spaces, trails and transportation.

The site’s horizontal development includes approximately 4.5 miles of new rights-of-way that will be converted to public streets and serve to reconnect neighborhoods. Lytle Street, Hazelwood Green’s main pedestrian-oriented street, will incorporate public amenities and art installations, as well as facilities for festivals, block parties and other special events.
Lytle Street builds a case for why pedestrian-oriented infrastructure projects are important, demonstrates what can be built through an integrative process, and it provides a number of lessons learned for future projects. By encouraging and prioritizing multiple modes of transportation, the street design aligns with the vision established for Hazelwood Green and its objective to meet climate, social equity and health goals.

The city of Pittsburgh’s mobility team worked closely with the Hazelwood Green project team to balance progressive design solutions with practical maintenance and safety requirements. Because these streets are maintained by the city, it was important to strike a balance between the design vision and practical day-to-day concerns. For example, when elements such as chicanes (slight curves in the road that are designed to slow traffic), raised intersections, designated bike and pedestrian lanes, and other features are added to a street, it impacts how those streets are maintained, cleaned and cleared.

About the Project

Almono LP, Hazelwood Green’s landowners, is comprised of three local foundations (The Heinz Endowments, the Richard King Mellon Foundation and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation) that came together to take on the estimated $10 million Lytle Street project. The costs were primarily funded through the Almono partners and will be repaid through future tax increment financing (TIF). Lytle Street, together with Beehive and Eliza Streets, were completed in February.

Lytle Street employs several firsts for Pittsburgh: protected sidewalk-level bicycle lanes, chicanes with alternating on-street parking, raised intersections, floating bus islands, and an emphasis on green infrastructure and landscaping. These street-design guidelines and traffic-calming tools are being deployed in other cities, including Boston, Seattle, Minneapolis and Austin. They have been in use in Denmark and the Netherlands for decades.

The new street is designed for a target speed of 20 miles per hour. Rather than relying on drivers to voluntarily maintain the speed limit, the street’s design — a shifting center line (chicane), narrow travel lanes and raised, textured crosswalks — discourages drivers from speeding.

Over a two-year design and construction process, the team (including ReMake Group and Oxford Development Company) collaborated with the city’s Department of Mobility & Infrastructure (DOMI) to ensure that the design addressed safety and maintenance concerns.

Though this project was on a tight timetable, the project team was able to work with DOMI to keep things moving forward through design, permitting and construction while taking pauses when needed to re-evaluate or adjust design elements prior to construction. Those design pauses yielded at least three innovative elements for the project.

The first was the implementation of the chicanes to facilitate on-street parking alternating between sides of the street. This helps circulation and parking access while acting as an effective traffic-calming tool to achieve lower driving speeds.

The second was the selection of detectable warning pavers to act as an off-the-shelf product that the city could reuse elsewhere. These products employ raised surfaces that delineate the boundary between the sidewalk and the street, helping pedestrians with vision impairments cross roadways safely.

The third was the use of a basket-weave pattern in the stamped concrete crosswalks. This allowed the project team to take advantage of both the signaling of a textured surface and the proven, improved visibility of a piano-key crossing overlaid on top.

Counting the Traffic

An early investment in quality bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure is key to supporting the project’s approved Traffic Impact Study (TIS) for the first phase of development, which can support up to 1.5 million square feet of commercial development and 17,000 vehicle trips. In order to monitor and show that Hazelwood Green is meeting the estimates in the TIS for the number of trips generated and the transportation modes used, sensor-based counters were installed in three locations to keep track of pedestrian and bicycle movements. By providing reliable, consistent data, the counters will also help the developers, city and region understand if and how they might need to adjust investments and programming if the transportation mode shares are not on track with their goals.

The installation of these counters, which will continue to be privately owned and maintained by Almono LLC, presented several challenges. These included working with the project’s contractors (Mele & Mele and Vantage Corporation) to learn how to install the new devices and navigating the city permitting process for locating these within the right-of-way. Purchasing, installing and launching the counter system took nearly a year.

The counter data has since been made publicly available on the Pittsburgh Bicycle & Pedestrian Counts website in coordination with the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (PDP), a local business improvement district that operates the only other bicycle counters in the city.

Todd Stern is managing director for U3 Advisors.

What is TIF?

According to a 2002 study by the NAIOP Research Foundation, tax increment financing (TIF) “is a method of allocating a portion of property taxes in a certain area or ‘district’ to finance economic development or capital improvements. Typically, in using tax increment financing, a local government or quasi-municipal corporation issues bonds to finance public improvements in a specified area or special district. The public improvements attract outside investment, causing the property values within the district to rise over time, which in turn increases property tax collections. The difference between the existing property tax collections in the district and the higher property tax collections — the increment — is used to pay off the bonds.”