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Pittsburgh's Civil Engineering News Blog

YMF-Pittsburgh Learns About Innovative City Improvement Projects at the National Aviary

18 Jan 2018 8:58 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

By Erin Feichtner

On December 7, 2017 the Younger Member Forum hosted the annual December Dinner.  This year the dinner was held at the National Aviary.  Attendees were able to explore the exhibits, learn about the various birds, and even take a picture with one of the Aviary’s penguins, Disco.  The evening also allowed for great networking and discussions during a delicious buffet dinner.   

The keynote presentation was given by Sean Luther of Innovate PGH and Jeremy Waldrup of Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.  Mr. Luther, who was formally with the Envision Downtown committee of Downtown Partnership, started out by presenting how Pittsburgh is using Private/ Public Partnerships between local residents, business owners, and the Mayor’s office to create and test projects with the goal of continuing economic growth and improving the overall experience for all within the “golden triangle”.  They do this with small scale projects, collecting data and feedback, proposing improvements, implement projects, and collect data on how effective those changes are.  Some examples of completed projects are the remake of Strawberry Way and improving the busy Penn and 11th St intersection.  Both projects pedestrian traffic safer and more enjoyable in under developed areas.  Using local artists and well placed pavement markings, these projects made pedestrian travel ways more clear, safe, and attractive.  This also improves motorist’s ability to navigate intersections in Pittsburgh’s notoriously confusing downtown grid.

The project at the Smithfield & 6th St. bus stop took the “simple” task of providing more space and amenities to accommodate queued passengers at one of Pittsburgh busiest transit stops. This needed to be accomplished in a complicated roadway footprint of transitioning lane count and on street parking.  The project was completed by looking at the street and intersection as a whole, and realigning the pavement marks and roadway widths.  This allowed for a wider sidewalk with shelter, all without negatively impacting traffic flow patterns.

Such projects move downtown Pittsburgh into the modern age of urbanscapes that are multi-use, safe, and reflect the history and local art of a community.  Mr. Waldrup spoke on the projects that are currently in conception and design.  “Life on Liberty” is a project under way that is trying to increase the use of Liberty Avenue through identifying short comings of current amenities, encourage foot traffic, and promote local businesses.  Broad scope projects include 1) looking at the data on traffic flows through the central downtown area to identify if bus stops are in appropriate locations, 2) identify if the street’s typical sections are fitting for the primary user and vehicle type, 3) finding a sidewalk surface material that is durable and attractive, and 4) trying methods for business owner’s trash disposal that are attractive and safe to the overall city system.  As the new Pittsburgh City Department of Mobility and Infrastructure develops Mr. Waldrup hopes it will use the data and projects Envision Downtown has done to continue the great work done.

More about Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership can be found at  Also consider attending a community feedback meeting if you live or work downtown and are interested in any of the projects of Envision Downtown or the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure.  For ages, visitors and longtime residents have asked engineers “Why would someone design things this way?” or “Why can’t someone fix this so it works better?” Whether you are a traffic engineer or water treatment engineer, we all have skills and knowledge that can be useful in these conversations and projects that are taking action to fix and answer these common questions about Downtown Pittsburgh. 

An event like this is never possible without the support from company sponsors. Our Gold Level sponsors this year were Borton-Lawson Engineering and Architecture and Tetra Tech.  The Silver Level sponsors were Gannett Fleming, MS Consultants, Inc., and SAI Consulting Engineers.  The penguin bird encounter was sponsored by University of Pittsburgh Johnstown Alumni. 

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