South Side neighborhood group gets funds to address crumbling Slopes steps

In recent years, Pittsburgh has budgeted $200,000 for repairs to public steps, much less than needed to keep pace with deteriorating conditions. Recent repairs to one set of steps in Crafton Heights cost $65,000.

Now Allegheny County has come through with a $100,000 grant for the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association to evaluate conditions of its 68 sets — the most of any neighborhood — and to make repairs, said Brad Palmisiano, a member of the neighborhood association’s board and the grant writer.

In an independent effort, the city plans to assign summer interns to evaluate conditions of steps citywide, said Guy Costa, the city’s chief operating officer.

“They will evaluate which ones are closed, their locations, which appear to have a lot of damage,” he said.

He had not heard about the county’‍s Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund grant for the Slopes, but he added, “Any funding made available would be wonderful to help with restoration efforts.”

Mr. Palmisiano said he hopes the Slopes can use the city interns’‍ results so as not to duplicate efforts.

“If the city is doing an assessment, it would be great to use our money just for repairs,” he said.

Patrick Earley, assistant director of development for Allegheny County Economic Development, said the grant “went to study and repair but could be used for either or a combination. I would assume that after the study they will find out how far that money could go” for repairs.

The $200,000 the city budgets for steps each year “doesn’t go very far,” said Mr. Costa, in part because repairs that the city can’t do itself require contractors to use equipment with long nozzles and hoses to move concrete up steep hillsides.

Over the years, the number of city steps reported has varied. In 1999, software mapping consultant Bob Regan handed the city an inventory more thorough than any it previously had: 700,360 of which the city designates as independent streets. The next year, Mr. Regan’‍s vision for an event to promote the steps led to the first Step Trek, now an annual event that draws more than 1,000 city residents and tourists.

When the Project for Public Spaces brings its Pro Walk Pro Bike Pro Place convention to Pittsburgh in September, the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association will conduct a mini-Step Trek for the conventioneers, Mr. Palmisiano said.

In 2008, the Slopes association used Elm Street funding to commission an engineering study and to repair damage to steps along 18th Street for $55,000. The next year it received a $105,000 Duquesne Light grant to spectacularly light them.

“The 18th street project was a model for what we would like to do” in the future, Mr. Palmisiano said.

“Understanding the financial limitations of the city and knowing the infrastructure is old and in need of a lot of work, we realize how important it is to advocate for the steps by seeking alternative sources,” he said.

“This [county] grant is a really big deal and a big step for us as an organization. We made the case that property values in the Slopes are dependent on walkability. For some people, the condition of steps is more important than the condition of the streets.”

The county’s grant is an indication that years of advocacy on behalf of the steps might be getting some momentum, he said. “People are starting to take notice.”

First Published June 25, 2014 1:52 PM

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