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February 15, 1996

Trial closing planned of street between WPU, CL

Over 45 years after former Chancellor John Bowman's wife was struck and killed by a car while crossing Bigelow Boulevard in front of the Cathedral of Learning, the city has agreed to a test closing of Bigelow Boulevard to vehicular traffic.

The purpose of the closing, which will last 60 days and was announced yesterday, Feb. 14, at separate meetings of the Oakland Task Force and Senate Council's plant utilization and planning committee (PUP), is to determine the effect of the closing on traffic and the feasibility of making it permanent.

Last year, University officials once again requested the closing of Bigelow Boulevard between Forbes Avenue and Fifth Avenue, this time as part of the master space plan they submitted to the city. The plan pointed to improved safety for students and a better connected campus as reasons for closing the street.

For years, however, city officials have resisted or ignored requests from the University to close Bigelow, citing Oakland's heavy traffic and parking problems.

Both Interim Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy were at yesterday's Oakland Task Force meeting, where Nordenberg praised the mayor for his decision to go ahead with a test closing.

"We're very glad that the mayor has been willing to step forward and say let's give it a try," Nordenberg said. "We do believe that the transformation of that block into an area that is more pedestrian-friendly contributes to the open space that is lacking in our urban setting." Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities Management Tom Hussey told PUP that the city agreed to the experimental closing this time because it is in the master space plan approved by the city's own Planning Commission and has been pushed by Interim Chancellor Nordenberg.

To minimize the expected confusion, tentative plans call for the experiment to begin during the week of spring break, March 4. Jay Roling, Pitt's director of local relations, told PUP that if details involving the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, traffic signs and parking cannot be worked out prior to the start of spring break, the closing probably will be delayed until March 18.

Administrators do not want to start the experiment during the week of March 11 because students will be returning from spring break that week, a high traffic period.

Closing Bigelow will call for a number of changes in traffic patterns and parking in an area extending roughly from Bellefield Avenue to Bouquet Street.

Among the expected changes, according to Roling, are the elimination of all parking on Bouquet Street between Forbes and Fifth, and on Bellefield Avenue from Filmore Street/Bellefield Hall to Fifth Avenue. A left-turn lane will be established next to the bus lane on Fifth Avenue as it approaches Bouquet Street.

Traffic flow on Bellefield Avenue also will be re-configured to contain three lanes, including two turning lanes onto Fifth Avenue. To better accommodate one of the turning lanes, about 200 feet of parking may be removed on the east side of Fifth Avenue in front of Mellon Institute, according to Roling.

A few parking spaces also may be removed along Forbes Avenue at Bouquet Street to provide new loading zones for businesses in the area that will lose their loading zones on Bouquet Street.

Bigelow Boulevard will be closed to vehicular traffic by placing concrete barriers on it near Fifth Avenue and Forbes Avenue. Campus shuttle buses, however, still will be able to use the turn-around on the Fifth Avenue side of the William Pitt Union to load and unload passengers.

There also will be a shuttle bus stop on the Forbes Avenue side of the union. To avoid the dangers of discharging passengers into traffic in that area, a pull-off for buses will be created on Bigelow Boulevard at Forbes Avenue. The traffic lights at Forbes and Bigelow will remain to aid pedestrian traffic. Because traffic flow is "probably going to be screwed up for the first couple of weeks," Roling said, both city and campus police will strictly enforce parking laws. Vehicles illegally parked on Bouquet Street, Bellefield Avenue, Forbes Avenue or other streets affected by the closing will be towed. After the trial closing, the University will apply for the vacating of Bigelow Boulevard between Forbes Avenue and Fifth Avenue. If the street is permanently closed, the University, with the approval of the city, eventually will convert the area to grass with walkways.

The city and PennDOT will make the final decision on whether Bigelow Boulevard will be permanently closed.

–Mike Sajna

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