Stanwix versus Stanwyck: Crossing signal snubs man who built Fort Pitt

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Somewhere in the great beyond, Gen. John Stanwix might be twitching.

Elsewhere in the hereafter, the ghost of actress Barbara Stanwyck might have cracked a small smile.

It is Stanwix for whom a Downtown Pittsburgh street is named, not far from the site of Fort Pitt, which he is credited with building in 1759.

But it is "Stanwyck" coming out of new audible pedestrian signals installed at the Boulevard of the Allies intersection with Stanwix Street.

A $2.3 million Pennsylvania Department of Transportation project replaced old traffic signals and installed accessible pedestrian facilities at four Boulevard of the Allies intersections over the past two years. The new signals were activated last month at Commonwealth Place, Stanwix, Market Street and Cherry Way.

The intersections have up-to-date technology that includes crossing buttons that pedestrians can press to activate signals, countdown clocks and recorded messages that help sight-impaired people (and, possibly, those with temporary tunnel vision brought on by texting or other gadget use) cross safely.

With flawless diction, the computer-generated voice at Allies and Stanwix says: "Wait to cross Stanwyck and Allies." Or: "Stanwyck. Walk sign is on to cross Stanwyck."

PennDOT's contractor on the installation, Wellington Power Corp., did not return phone and email messages.

PennDOT spokesman Steve Cowan said with the project completed, the signals are the city of Pittsburgh's responsibility to maintain, including making any change to the recorded voice.

Amanda Purcell, a city traffic engineer, said Tuesday that she was looking into whether the recording could be changed, but joked that she thought "Stanwyck" might be Pittsburghese for Stanwix.

Stanwix was a British general and politician assigned to oversee erection of Fort Pitt after the eviction of the French from Fort Duquesne, which they blew up as they departed. The fort was one of several notable achievements in a life that ended with Stanwix being lost at sea in 1766.

And now, this lesser indignity.

Stanwyck, the late actress perhaps best known for the TV series "The Big Valley," performed here but didn't contribute a fort or anything else that would necessarily rate having a street named for her.

The Stanwix-Stanwyck boo-boo is not the first time that public voice-overs fumbled the pronunciations.

Years ago, recorded stop announcements on Port Authority buses had to be redone when an out-of-towner gave us "Winna-biddle" street and "CAR-ne-gie." And that dulcet voice on the T still says "Mount Leb-a-NON."

Leave it to the folks in Indiana, Pa., to get it right. Several years ago, they had impersonator Rich Little record crosswalk messages in the voice of favorite son Jimmy Stewart.

Mr. Cowan said that sort of thing could be done with Pittsburgh's signals as well (Myron Cope? Sophie Masloff? Mister Rogers?) but that no one has made such a request.

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Jon Schmitz: or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at Twitter: @pgtraffic. First Published August 1, 2013 4:00 AM


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