Walkabout: Crosswalks created by the underground around Polish Hill
September 25, 2012 4:00 AM
Anonymous sign at the corner of Finland Street and Melwood Avenue.
By Diana Nelson Jones Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Polish Hill is one of the most spirited do-it-yourself neighborhoods in the city. In large numbers on each other's behalf, residents turn out to clear snow from sidewalks and city steps, to clean up litter and plant flowers.
It may have been in the same spirit that four newly painted crosswalks, each of slightly different width, recently appeared at the intersection of Melwood Avenue and Finland Street.
Originally reported on the Polish Hill Civic Association's Blogski, this do-it-yourself solution to a traffic problem is illegal, but some residents are delighted that if the city wouldn't help slow down vehicles, someone did. The civic association reports that intersection is "one of the problem spots ... where residents have been suffering the impact of speeding and careless drivers for years."
The civic association has formally requested that the city paint crosswalks at that intersection and reports on its blog -- blogski.phcapgh.org -- that while it "didn't initiate this action and doesn't know who did, we share the concern that motivated it."
Alexis Miller, president of the civic association, said the group has been "voicing concerns on behalf of the community for over a year. The response from the city was that it doesn't have the means to paint crosswalks at every four-way stop intersection and that it prioritizes based on pedestrian traffic," she said.
Pedestrian volume at Melwood and Finland apparently isn't high enough to merit crosswalks.
"One success we have had was to get stop signs at Gold Way and Denver Street, behind Pittsburgh Filmmakers, after a serious accident in May. Gold Way becomes Melwood, and it is so narrow and a lot of people who live on that street have had their cars hit and mirrors taken off," Ms. Miller said.
"The fact that people painted the crosswalks themselves says more than I can say," she added. "People are willing to take action into their own hands. The city said that it would be removed."
My calls to the city for comment were not returned.
There are standards that apply to the painting of crosswalks, foremost among them that the city is the only legal entity that can do the work. Each has to measure up with an accessible curb cut. The law requires that curb cuts be at least 36 inches wide, not counting the flared sides. When federal funds are involved, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that crosswalks be at least 6 feet wide, but the standards are less clear when there's no federal expenditure.
The current Pittsburgh master planning process will include street design standards to clarify minimum widths based on location.
I walked each of the vigilante painter's crosswalks and the least wide is just 4 feet. Each one does meet up with a curb cut.
Polish Hill's daily pedestrian density is dictated by a small population of about 1,200, but the neighborhood has standards, too.
In a parklet on the southeast corner, a homemade sign posted on a wooden signboard that's meant for neighborhood notices reads: "Dear crosswalk vigilantes: Thank you! You made my day. A neighbor."
While walking her dogs on Melwood Monday, Mary Hughes said that "Polish Hill people are ..." and she paused to smile, "unique. I'm proud of this neighborhood, of people who don't hesitate to do what's right. I saw the aftermath of an accident" between a van and a car near the intersection a few months ago. "I know cars speed through here. It's a shame people don't recognize this is a neighborhood and take the time to be careful."
Also walking her dog, Meghan Dutton said of the clandestine crosswalk action, "I love it. Honestly, a lot of people cut through here and don't realize there are people walking. I think it's awesome that people here take action when the city doesn't."
"I am so proud of our little community," said resident Mark Knobil. "I think it's the perfect solution to a very real problem. Of course the city has to say that it's not to spec and you can't do that, but it is the best solution. Cars run those stop signs all the time; they just don't see them. People just blow through there at high rates of speed. It's a massive cut-through" between Oakland and Downtown.
The civic association reports that it "will continue to lobby for painted crosswalks at Melwood & Finland and Dobson & Hancock because this would help pedestrians feel more safe regardless of enforcement issues. Crosswalks send a clear message to automobiles that pedestrians are important, and they give pedestrians a sense of security."