Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

March 28, 1996

If approved, Bigelow test closing isn't expected until September

Forget about the test closing of Bigelow Boulevard between Forbes Avenue and Fifth Avenue until probably September.

Even if the public hearing on legislation approving the closing set for April 2 at 6:30 p.m. in the Frick International Studies Academy brings a favorable response and City Council approves the action at either its April 9 or 10 meeting, it would be too late in the spring term to conduct a legitimate test.

Quick approval of the plan, though, is doubtful. Council President Jim Ferlo has labeled the test closing of Bigelow as the first step in a "land grab" by Pitt and has vowed to fight it both in Council and in court.

The six-week test closing was scheduled to begin on March 4, but was halted when Ferlo and other Council members suddenly voiced opposition and complained that Mayor Tom Murphy did not have the authority to approve such a test.

Parking and Transportation Director Bob Harkins told Senate Council's plant utilization and planning committee (PUP) on March 14 that the test closing most likely will not take place until September because the spring term will end soon.

To conduct the test during the summer term would be a "no brainer," according to Harkins. It would work without problem, he said, because of the relatively small number of people on campus during the summer and the resulting decrease in traffic.

"If we're going to find out if this thing works, we've got to do the test when the institution is in full operation," he said. According to Harkins, temporary closings of Bigelow for a few days while students moved into the dorms, coupled with traffic models developed by consultants, have shown that a permanent closing of the street is possible without major problems. Harkins pointed out that Pitt has included the closing of Bigelow in its master space plan, which was approved by the city last year, and that he has been discussing the subject with neighborhood groups for nearly three years. He said none of the groups oppose the test. The problem now, Harkins told PUP, is that the test closing has become an emotional issue. He said he will attend the April 2 public hearing and provide technical evidence in support of the test closing, but that other members of the University community and residents of Oakland who favor the test need to speak out.

According to the Parking and Transportation director, it is important for Pitt and its supporters to articulate a vision of Oakland with Bigelow Boulevard closed between Forbes and Fifth.

"The vision of what the area will look like is an open, grassy mall that extends a green space between the Cathedral and the Union," Harkins said. "It will be a place where we can have benches and a park, walks and some place to throw a Frisbee. It will be a park that really pulls the whole campus together." Harkins acknowledged that when he first mentions the plan to people "you can almost see them grab their chests" in horror. However, he added, when it is explained to them what the area will look like after the street is closed and they see a sketch, then their response has been "overwhelmingly favorable." Pitt's Director of Local Relations Jay Roling told PUP that if a planned underground garage is constructed on the Schenley Plaza lot between Hillman Library and the Carnegie Library, and that surface is converted to green space, Schenley Park will begin on Forbes Avenue across from the Cathedral of Learning and give Oakland a vast expanse of highly attractive green space. "We're giving back to the city a park for the use of all the public, not just the University, something that is free to the city," Harkins added. "And we accept the maintenance. It's not something the city has to spend taxes on." Jayne Warnick, director of economic development for the Oakland Planning and Development Corp., said: "We're hearing from the people who are most vocal, but there also are businesses who feel they are not necessarily going to be impacted, negatively or positively, by this. I think the most important thing is that if there is a test that businesses and residents have a way of reporting the effects." Warnick suggested a survey. Harkins said he will seek input on the closing during future meetings with members of the local business community.

As a show of support for the experiment among residents of Oakland, Roling produced two letters favoring the test closing from Laurence Glasco and Joseph Zasloff, residents of Schenley Farms and members of the Pitt faculty.

In a Feb. 27 letter to City Council, Schenley Farms Civic Association President Kenneth Behrend blasted the closing plan as an "outrageous, insensitive and destructive traffic change upon our neighborhood." Civic Association member Zasloff said that since Behrend's comments appeared, he has checked with more than a dozen of his neighbors and "none was consulted by the board of our Civic Association on this issue. All of them were very supportive of the closing. Several noted their anxiety about injuring pedestrians" while driving down Bigelow between Fifth and Forbes.

Glasco said that Behrend's statement was issued without his knowledge, even though he is a resident of the Schenley Farms Historic District. "I am at a total loss as to why there is opposition to this experiment," Glasco concluded.

Zasloff wrote that he was appalled when he saw Behrend's comments and that Behrend was outrageous "in purporting to speak for our entire Civic Association without consulting us." He said there is more support than ever among Schenley Farms residents for the test closing.

PUP co-chair Jim DeAngelis noted: "People in the institution and the community have to express to their elected officials directly that what they are doing [opposing the closing] may seem to be in their political interest by getting them some news coverage, but that in the long run they are not working in either the community's or the institution's best interest." In his report to PUP, Harkins also countered several of City Council President Ferlo's specific complaints about the closing. Ferlo claims that the city will lose more than 90 parking meters on Bigelow, Fifth, Forbes, Bellefield Avenue and Bouquet Street if the plan is approved and approximately $100,000 in parking revenue.

While agreeing that the city will lose about 90 meters and some revenue, Harkins disputed the amount of money involved. He said that Ferlo's total does not take into account broken meters, meters that have been fed slugs, maintenance and collection costs.

"You walk around and look at the meters that are slugged and I think it is an ideal projection to go to that number," he said. "There is no question that there is some revenue cost to the city. The question is can the Parking Authority replace any of those parking meters and regenerate that revenue? Yeah, more than likely it can." According to Harkins, the Parking Authority has acknowledged that there are spaces in Oakland that don't contain meters but could.

He added that there is enough excess capacity in University garages and parking lots, as well as some city facilities, to replace the lost spaces. And even if parkers use Pitt lots and garages, Harkins noted, the city still receives a portion of the parking charge. He pointed out that Pitt pays the city $750,000-$1 million annually in parking taxes.

"We think that the replacement of meters on the street, the pushing of people into the city garage [at Forbes and Semple], which is at 70 percent capacity, or into our lots, which give back [to the city] 20 cents on the dollar, are valid ways of solving the problem and creating a pedestrian mall in the center of Oakland," Harkins said.

Likewise, Harkins continued, Ferlo's allegation that closing Bigelow will hamper police and ambulance service is not supported by fact. According to Harkins, police and emergency medical personnel have said that the closing will not represent a danger to emergency units trying to reach local hospitals.

The test closing of Bigelow also was discussed at the March 18 Senate Council meeting, where both Interim Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and members of the Student Government Board (SGB) expressed concern about the delay.

Nordenberg said he was disappointed in Ferlo's opposition because the city and Pitt were poised to move forward in a broad partnership for the improvement of Oakland. He noted that the University has agreed to split the cost with the city of a new housing inspector for Oakland; has opened a police station on Forbes Avenue that it is sharing with the city, and that Pitt and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center recently entered into talks with local banks about creating a fund to upgrade Oakland housing.

"This [Bigelow] really was the first visible, tangible, symbolic act that was a part of that partnership," Nordenberg said. He pointed out that Mayor Murphy has "gone out on a limb for us" and that the University community needs to support him. He urged Senate Council members who live in the city to lobby their representatives in favor of the closing.

SGB President Andrew Wuertele told Senate Council that SGB is organizing students who reside in the city to lobby their Council members. Marc Friedberg, an SGB representative, said that SGB also is sending letters to Oakland businesses explaining how the closing will benefit Pitt students.

Individuals who want to speak at the April 2 public hearing on the closing of Bigelow Boulevard can register by calling 255-2138.

Parking and Transportation Director Harkins said that members of the University community also can send their comments to Parking and Transportation, Forbes Pavilion, 624-8610, or via e-mail:

–Mike Sajna and Bruce Steele

Leave a Reply