Market Square piazza in an ice age

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The PPG rink isn't the only sheet of ice around Market Square these days.

Not when the piazza in the square itself, the one the city spent $5 million renovating in 2010, is coated with a layer of ice and snow worthy of anything found at the Winter Olympics. Ice and snow have been building up for at least a week and it doesn't appear as if the city, the square's owner, has made any effort to remove any of it.

As a result, the square has taken on the look of the Siberian wilderness, better suited for cross-country skiing than walking. Much of it is pockmarked by fossilized footprints encased in ice. The only paths through consist of tamped down snow.

Many are unhappy with the situation. "I think the square looks like a disgrace," said Sergio Muto, owner of La Gondola Pizzeria and Restaurant in Market Square. "I don't know why they're not cleaning it. It's hard to market Downtown when it looks like crap."

Craig Hamman, general manager of Primanti Brothers restaurant, believes the plaza's condition has hindered business. He noted Market Square property owners are required by city ordinance to keep their sidewalks clear of snow and ice.

"The other day I walked across it and it was like an ice skating rink," he said.

Peter Landis, manager of NOLA restaurant, said the icy plaza hasn't affected his business, but "it's affecting the perception of Market Square, being as it is the new spotlight in the city."

Many pedestrians have avoided the shortcut through the piazza. But those who risked crossing it Tuesday described conditions as dangerous or treacherous. They said at the very least the city could clear a couple of paths.

Lawrence White, a Kingston, Okla., resident in Pittsburgh on business, was not impressed as he and co-workers trudged across the plaza at lunchtime. "It looks like a waste. You've got a big ice field. Maybe we can get some cross-country skis," he said.

Jeremy Waldrup, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, which oversees much of the square's programming, said the piazza's condition these days is a valid concern. He said the city is responsible for snow removal.

"I don't think this is a typical occurrence for that space. We typically don't have snow around this long. Maybe it warrants a conversation with the city about maintenance during a situation like this," he said.

Sonya Toler, spokeswoman for Mayor Bill Peduto, said the city's commitment in terms of snow removal in the piazza is to clear two paths -- one going north and south, and another east and west.

"There should be a plus sign, basically, cutting through that snow," she said.

While Ms. Toler couldn't pinpoint the last time crews had removed snow from the plaza, she said they have done so "during this January and February cycle." The mayor's office has not received any complaints about the condition of the square.

Mr. Waldrup said the PDP will provide some relief for pedestrians starting Thursday. It will be removing some of the snow and ice in preparation for the debut of the new Market Square Public Art Program. The partnership will keep the square clear of snow for the three-week run of the first exhibit, "Congregation," which starts Feb. 21.

But the Downtown group doesn't want the long-term responsibility. "We don't want to assume the liability of removing snow from publicly owned space," he said.

Market Square pedestrians weren't the only ones dealing with the effects of snow and ice Tuesday. Pittsburgh fire companies were ordered to put chains on all fire trucks because some side streets remained covered.

Fire Chief Darryl Jones said the use of chains was a precaution. The order went out shortly before 11 a.m.

At the same time, fire companies were advised that response to fire alarms will be by a single engine or truck until further notice. Chief Jones said most alarms are false and trucks outfitted with chains have difficulty operating on dry pavement.

"You lose traction on dry roads," he said. "They're great on snow and ice ... but they cause problems on dry roads," including breakage of the chains that can damage a fire truck.

Ms. Toler said Public Works trucks also were using chains Tuesday. Because of the extreme cold, salt has not been effective in melting ice and snow on some secondary and tertiary streets. With sunshine and a slight warm-up Tuesday, "the salt right now is just beginning to become effective," she said.

All city streets have been treated at least once and crews were making a second pass where needed, she said. They also were repairing potholes Tuesday. "We're doing the best we can," Ms. Toler said. "This winter weather just doesn't want to let up."

Mark Belko: or 412-263-1262. Jon Schmitz: or 412-263-1868.

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