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April 11, 1996

City Council votes 4-4 on Bigelow closing test

After two hours of debate, Pittsburgh City Council yesterday, April 10, deadlocked on a vote to approve the test closing of Bigelow Boulevard between the Cathedral of Learning and the William Pitt Union.

The vote was 4 – 4. Council member Bob O'Connor abstained.

An inability to reach a conclusive vote on the issue means that the test closing of Bigelow will again be on Council's agenda when it next meets on April 16.

Council first addressed the closing at its March 5 meeting and conducted a public hearing on the plan on April 2. (See Bigelow Boulevard story on page 1.) Voting in favor of the test closing were Alan Hertzberg, who made the motion for approval, Gene Riccardi, Dan Onorato and Joe Cusak. Opposing the action were Council President Jim Ferlo, the proposal's most vocal opponent, Valerie McDonald, Dan Cohen and Salai Udin.

O'Connor abstained after he asked that rush-hour restrictions on parking along Forbes Avenue be removed and was told by Fred Reginella, the city's director of Engineering and Construction, that such a move was "not in the cards." O'Connor said he wanted the restrictions lifted because businesses in Oakland want more parking along Forbes Avenue to accommodate short-term shoppers. Reginella told O'Connor that Forbes is operating at capacity during the rush hours and that to reduce its open lanes would cause tremendous traffic congestion. O'Connor replied that he was not concerned about commuters trying to get home to the suburbs and suggested that if it was tougher for them to leave the city, they might stay longer and spend more money.

Before voting, Council approved three amendments made by Cusak to the original bill. The amendments, which were unanimously approved, specify a test closing would last only 60 days and that Bigelow would be immediately re-opened to traffic at the end of that period.

The amendments also require Mayor Tom Murphy's administration to supply Council members with a traffic engineer's report on the test and to report back to Council before taking any steps to permanently close the street.

An amendment by Council member McDonald to keep Bigelow open to traffic during the rush hours of 7 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. was defeated by a 6 – 3 vote with McDonald, O'Connor and Ferlo voting in favor.

McDonald said she sought the amendment because opening Bigelow during rush hours would make it easier for people to travel in Oakland, while making the street safer for pedestrians at other times of the day.

Hertzberg said that to keep Bigelow open to traffic during the morning and afternoon rush hours "totally defeats the purpose of the closing." Hertzberg also took issue with what he said are "false premises" about the test closing.

According to Hertzberg, the main reason for closing Bigelow is not safety, but the improvement of the Pitt campus. He pointed out that the closing is only a test and not a "land grab," as Ferlo and other individuals have alleged, and that nobody has ever said the property would be given to Pitt free of charge.

Ferlo again was the most vocal opponent of the test. He questioned the legality of the move, read letters from several people, including Allegheny County Commissioner Larry Dunn, opposing it and accused the Murphy administration of marching "like storm troopers with the University" on the issue.

When Ferlo complained that an "academic idiot" proposed the plan, he was reprimanded by Council member Riccardi who told him there was "no need for public insults." Ferlo apologized.

Hertzberg also criticized Ferlo for saying that the opinions of Pitt students don't matter because they are "here today and gone tomorrow." Hertzberg noted that keeping young people from moving away is one of the biggest problems facing the region, yet Ferlo was attacking "the largest contingent of young people in the city who are thinking about where to go."

–Mike Sajna

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