Heat lamps warm up some Downtown Pittsburgh bus shelters

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This morning, Sylvester Lighty held his hand near the heat lamp recently installed on the ceiling of the Liberty Avenue and Ninth Street bus shelter Downtown.

It was 20 degrees outside, but Mr. Lighty said he wasn’t warming his hand. He was just curious about how much heat the lamp radiated.

“It’s good on a cold day,” said Mr. Lighty, who lives a couple blocks away. “It’s good all the way around.”

When the heat lamp turned off, he pushed a button on the wall to get it going again.

The heat lamp, wedged into a corner of the bus shelter’s ceiling like a metal wasp’s nest, is among four that have been installed by Pittsburgh insurer Highmark Inc. since early January.

The others are Downtown at Fifth Avenue and Ross Street, and at the Boulevard of the Allies and Stanwix Street; and on the North Side at Reedsdale and Boyce streets.

They are part of an advertising campaign for Highmark’s Community Blue healthcare plan. The exteriors of the stops invite bus riders to “step in, warm up.”

“This was done as a small gesture,” Highmark spokesman Doug Braunsdorf said. “As a company, we care about the community, and this is a way to say it.”

The heat lamps will remain up until early March, Mr. Braunsdorf said.

The bus stops are owned by Lamar Advertising through a contract with the city, said Jim Ritchie, communications officer at the Port Authority.

The idea for the heat lamps has been in the works since fall, Mr. Braunsdorf said. The advertisements went up shortly before Pittsburgh’s first run-in with the polar vortex and the sub-zero temperatures that came with it.

“Are we going to come back and do it next year? It’s too early to say,” he said.

Encouraged by a favorable reaction to the heat lamps, Highmark is considering similar outreach efforts, Mr. Braunsdorf said. One idea floating around the company is to install devices to take the edge off this summer’s heat, such as mist sprayers.

At this point, summer heat is a laughable concern. According to the National Weather Service, Pittsburgh is set to be hit by a mixture of snow and freezing rain tonight. The service has issued a winter storm warning for Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland counties that takes effect at 7 p.m. and lasts until 1 p.m. Wednesday.

The forecast calls for as much as a quarter-inch of ice and 3 to 7 inches of snow, with the heaviest accumulations north of Pittsburgh, meteorologist Fred McMullen said.

The precipitation will begin before midnight and continue through Wednesday morning, Mr. McMullen said. It will be a wintry mix, with the possibility of icing that could bring down smaller tree branches.

“We’re not expecting widespread power outages,” he said. “The main impact will be on travel.”

Port Authority spokeswoman Heather Pharo said crews will work overnight to keep overhead lines on the Light Rail Transit system from icing over. Light rail vehicles will make trips after the end of service hours, and the first LRVs out for the morning commute will be equipped with sleet cutters designed to scrape ice from the wires to preserve the flow of electricity to the vehicles, she said.

After a low in the mid-20s tonight and a high around freezing on Wednesday, temperatures will fall into the teens on Wednesday night and barely breach the 20s on Thursday.

Any snowfall will add to a seasonal total that as of Saturday was running 20 inches above the normal amount.

Richard Webner: 412-263-4903 or rwebner@post-gazette.com

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