Mayor Bob O'Connor will convene a task force to look at ways to reroute bus traffic in the Fifth and Forbes corridor Downtown and launch an international design competition to shape the future of Market Square.
Both steps were recommended by architect Urban Design Associates in a preliminary strategic development plan for the Fifth and Forbes corridor presented to City Council yesterday.
In addition, the 28-page draft report detailed possible plans by Point Park University to build a performance arts complex in that corridor or in the cultural district. A Point Park spokeswoman said, however, nothing definitive had been decided.
The task force looking at public transit will consider a number of options, including reducing or eliminating buses on Fifth and Forbes avenues.
Other possibilities include the creation of "transit centers" for bus riders on Liberty Avenue and Boulevard of the Allies or the use of free shuttles to circulate in the heart of Downtown to feed larger buses at the fringe.
Urban Design President Don Carter said reducing or eliminating bus traffic on Fifth and Forbes has come up in virtually every development plan for the corridor. Millcraft Industries, the Washington County developer for the Lazarus-Macy's building and 20 city-owned structures Downtown, also has expressed an interest in moving bus traffic off Fifth and Forbes.
Mr. Carter said the task force could address the issue once and for all. But he said he did not think it would be realistic to remove all buses from Fifth and Forbes because of limited alternatives.
He noted any change in bus routing in the corridor would create a "ripple effect" throughout the transit system.
"It is a complex undertaking," he said. "No one should underestimate the complexity of it."
Mr. O'Connor hopes to convene the task force in conjunction with Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato. Among those to be invited are representatives of the Port Authority of Allegheny County, various city and county agencies, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and other stakeholders. Council members also pushed to include riders, Downtown business owners and residents in the process.
City Councilwoman Tonya Payne, whose district includes Downtown and the Hill District, said she has heard from lots of people and business owners who do not want buses removed from Fifth and Forbes. She said Downtown merchants like the foot traffic generated by the buses.
Councilman Bill Peduto, however, supports the use of shuttles to circulate Downtown and feed larger buses at the fringes.
"We wouldn't be denying access to anyone. What we would be providing is less congestion," he said.
Mr. Carter said the last thing anybody wants to do is discourage the use of transit Downtown. But, he added, he believes there is a way to craft a solution that should "solve the majority of the issues" without hurting ridership.
"Clearly there will have to be compromise on all sides," he said.
Port Authority spokesman Bob Grove said the agency is willing to participate on the task force.
A Market Square transformation has been a priority for Mr. O'Connor since he took office. He has described the square as having an "old, tired" look about it.
Mr. Carter said the Heinz Endowments already has pledged funding for the design competition. The first order of business, he said, would be to decide what should or shouldn't be in Market Square -- such as benches, fountains, music, performance space, farmers markets, stages, art, trees, plants and playgrounds.
Once that has been determined, a request for proposals would be sent to designers for the competition. Mr. Carter envisions a process similar to that undertaken in redesigning Schenley Plaza in Oakland and a competition similar to that done by the Riverlife Task Force and the Alcoa Foundation for a pedestrian walkway to complement the West End Bridge.
No cost estimate was available for the competition. Mr. Carter said he expects both the task force effort and the design competition to get started in a month or so. The city Planning Department is spearheading both initiatives.
Urban Design Associates was hired by Mr. O'Connor in April to develop design guidelines and an overall vision for the corridor, and the release of the draft plan is the first fruit of that effort.
The report also calls for regular meetings between the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and merchants and business owners to discuss common concerns and redevelopment-related issues, such as demolitions and sidewalk closings.
It also provides a host of design-related guidelines for the corridor, including the use of granite curbs, ground level retail in all existing and new buildings, and encouraging preservation, restoration and reuse of existing buildings.
The plan includes a brief mention of the Point Park performance arts complex. The university recently acquired several buildings on Forbes and a parking lot on Fourth Avenue that could serve as sites, the report says. Mr. Carter said plans involve three types of theaters and a possible move of the Pittsburgh Playhouse to Downtown.
Point Park spokeswoman Angela Burrows said no decisions have been made involving either a performance arts complex or a possible move of the playhouse.
"There are many things under consideration, but nothing definitive has been decided," she said.
Mr. Carter said the draft plan will be subject to a two-week public comment period before being finalized.
Mark Belko can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1262.