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

March 3, 2005

Schenley Plaza Reconstruction Expected to Improve Pedestrian Safety, Reduce Traffic Congestion

As the Pittsburgh campus braces for nearly a year of construction in the Schenley Plaza area between Carnegie and Hillman libraries, Pitt officials offered some advice for coping: Relax and go with the flow.

“We’re asking the University community to be patient,” said G. Reynolds Clark, Pitt vice chancellor for Community and Governmental Relations. “The new plaza, once it’s complete, will be an attractive park area that we think will also benefit the University.”

Schenley Plaza’s surface parking lot and its 278 parking spaces are being replaced by a public park, in a $10 million Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy project. Traffic patterns will be reconfigured around the park, an area that eventually will have 100-125 on-street public parking spaces, Clark told the Senate community relations committee Feb. 16. Construction is expected to last through 2005.

(Six city-licensed ethnic food vendor trucks, staples in Oakland for many years, have been displaced by the construction, which began March 1.)

According to Clark, the new plaza park will make Oakland more of a destination spot than a traffic viaduct and potentially will lessen traffic congestion and increase pedestrian safety in the Bigelow Boulevard stretch between Forbes and Fifth avenues due to the revised traffic patterns and reconfiguration of streets.

“It’s a matter of breaking old habits,” said Clark, adding that the overall loss of 150-175 parking spaces is not necessarily a huge concern. “Recent studies show that almost 80 percent of the parkers in Schenley Plaza were day-long University of Pittsburgh staff or faculty and some students,” Clark said. “Our concern is getting the word out, with the closing of Schenley Plaza lot, about where there are other parking spaces available.”

Nearby public lots at Sennott Square and at Sennott and Semple streets operate at less than 75 percent occupancy on a typical day, Clark said. “A lot of people don’t even know they exist,” he said.

“In addition, the OC Lot, for example, costs less than the Schenley Plaza lot and some of the other Oakland lots also are cheaper. There is lots of room at the OC Lot, but it’s a matter of getting used to the University’s shuttle service,” Clark said.

He added that Pitt’s Office of Parking and Transportation is available to field commuters’ questions. (Call 412/624-4034 or access:

John Wilds, director of Community Relations, said that new signage directing drivers to public parking garages in Oakland already is in the works at the Oakland Task Force (OTF), a group of local businesses, community groups and institutions, including Pitt.

“The OTF pedestrian committee is looking at parking in its totality, but specifically into alerting people of their options,” Wilds said. He added that as Pitt’s liaison to OTF he will continue to report to the Senate community relations committee during the duration of the construction.

Regarding Bigelow Boulevard, a long-standing nemesis for both vehicles and pedestrians, the traffic patterns and a reconfiguring of the street itself may alleviate some of the problems there, Clark said.

“Some roads will become two-way roads later this spring,” before the plaza park construction is completed, Clark said. For example, vehicles coming from Schenley Park will be able to go straight past Frick Fine Arts directly to Roberto Clemente Drive, he said. The contra-flow lane currently between Forbes Avenue and the parking lot, used to access Bigelow and Pennant Place (the street in front of Hillman Library) will be eliminated, he noted.

“We’re hoping some of the traffic will decrease on Bigelow, because of people coming through Schenley Park down to the streets south of Forbes like Oakland Avenue before heading up to where they’re going on Fifth. They may find it’s a shorter way to the health center to work your way down than to use Bigelow” to access Fifth Avenue, he said.

Pennant Place also will become two-way, with parking only on the plaza side of the street. Drivers from Schenley Park will be able to turn right at the south end of Pennant Place, which will provide a straight shot to Bigelow Boulevard once the intersection at Bigelow and Forbes Avenue is reconfigured, according to Clark.

“Bigelow will be adjusted so Pennant Place and Bigelow will line up perfectly across Forbes,” Clark said. Bigelow will be narrowed significantly, when about 20 feet of public sidewalk will be eliminated on the William Pitt Union side of Bigelow, and the additional feet of sidewalk will be added to the Stephen Foster Memorial side of the street. “So the crosswalk distance will be significantly shorter, and the vehicles turning from Forbes onto Bigelow will be less able to cut into the traffic coming down from Fifth,” Clark said.

Once Pennant Place becomes two-way, traffic flow should improve in front of Hillman Library, because that will be a vehicle-only lane, eliminating the chronic double-parking situation that exists there currently, Wilds said.

“There will be a new pedestrian crosswalk from the area between Posvar and Hillman across to the new Schenley Plaza across Pennant Place,” Clark added. “It’s all one big puzzle right now,” Clark conceded. “So, we’ll have to wait and see how traffic patterns will develop. Our goal is safety first, but we want to address that in context of the traffic changes that are going to take place around Schenley Plaza.”

Community relations committee members urged a wider net for disseminating information on the construction project and its attendant parking and traffic concerns, including links to the University’s home web page, Audix messages and printed maps alerting the University community of traffic and pedestrian pattern changes.

The Oakland Traffic Management Association also is a source for information, according to OTMA’s executive director Maevis Rainey, who attended the Feb. 16 meeting. The OTMA web address is:

-Peter Hart

Leave a Reply