Walkabout: Putting out a welcome mat for the North Side
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As beautiful as our city is, it has a lot of aesthetic smash-ups. Some happen at neighborhood gateways.
One portal in particular brings four roads together to say "Unwelcome to the North Side" -- Route 28, East Ohio Street, Chestnut Street and Troy Hill Road. Scary to walk, scarier to bicycle, it is cringe-worthy ugliness in spite of the colorful plantings alongside the Teutonia Mannerchor every summer.
This effect -- seen by residents and people in 20,000 cars every day -- has motivated some charitable giving to the Community Alliance of Spring Garden & East Deutschtown for a green and artistic solution to a triangular weedy half-acre owned by the state Department of Transportation.
Spring Garden resident Ruth Ann Dailey is president of the alliance (and is the same Ruth Ann Dailey whose column appears on this page on Mondays). It received a $25,000 grant from the Design Center through the Pittsburgh Neighborhood Renaissance Fund last month. On the heels of that award, the Colcom Foundation awarded $10,000 for the project. Most recently, the Northside Leadership Council's casino business fund approved $75,000 to help it along.
In several phases, the gateway improvements will cost about $250,000. They will bring landscaping and pedestrian amenities such as sidewalks that connect to each other. A small monument replicating a 16th Street Bridge pier is planned. The alliance is working with PennDOT to enhance bike trail connections. The project will extend toward the 16th Street Bridge by covering suicide fencing on a highway overpass with enameled panels that depict historic rooflines of the neighborhood.
Landscaping will be completed as part of the first phase.
Chris Koch, director of programs at the Design Center, said the project is worthy because "that site is so visible to so many commuters at that neighborhood's front door, and they are in the process of rebranding."
The alliance could possibly get additional funding from the Design Center, she said. "We invite any of our community partners to apply for implementation funding after the design process."
Pashek Associates, a landscape design firm on East Ohio Street, has worked on the plan with the neighborhood alliance since early last year.
Beautification is just one of the goals, Ms. Dailey said.
"We want to improve connectivity," she said. "This place is a nightmare for pedestrians. We want people to be able to walk to the Strip or East Ohio Street without feeling like they're taking their life into their own hands.
"We get a lot of bicyclists now and they want to cross the pedestrian bridge [over Route 28] to go to the riverfront trail."
The current trail connects the riverfront to Troy Hill Road via the pedestrian walkway, but the transitions are awkward. The sidewalk across from the Penn Brewery down Troy Hill Road to the Chestnut Street intersection ends abruptly. A pedestrian's only option to cross East Ohio there is to step into the weeds.
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The alliance is working with PennDOT on an agreement for use of the lot and a traffic study and site plan. Ms. Dailey said the gateway project is both ambitious and doable and has transformative value.
"For $200,000, you could renovate one house, but that much spent here would proclaim that this is a place people care about, not a wasteland," she said. "Route 279 wiped out the middle third of Deutschtown," and with the combination of 279 and Route 28, "nothing has been done to ameliorate the impact of all this concrete.
"We don't think a small gesture will work here," she said. "It would be completely lost because of the traffic."
A small Deutschtown welcome sign several blocks east recognizes the front door of the historic district. The welcome sign at the Chestnut Street gateway "will probably say 'Welcome to the North Side,' but that's under consideration because we are seeking to re-establish that this is Deutschtown, too," she said, referring to the part just east of Route 279. "All of this was once one neighborhood."
First Published December 4, 2012 12:00 am