By Juliet Martinez
The calls for traffic calming from Hazelwood and Glen Hazel residents grew louder and more anguished after 6-year-old Jamel Austin was hit and killed by a motorist on Johnston Avenue on July 26. Community leaders say they have asked for speed bumps and other safety measures near schools, parks and playgrounds for many years, but city government has not acted.
“Our children need to feel safe,” POORLAW founder, Saundra Cole, said on a recent call. “Not just our children but the residents of the Hazelwood community. We’ve been saying this for years.”
Ms. Cole, a lifelong Hazelwood resident who organized a community vigil following Jamel’s death, said several areas in the neighborhood need traffic calming. Motorists speed through Johnston Avenue to get from Second Avenue to Browns Hill Road. They fly down Mansion Street past Propel School and Burgwin Field. She said they do not stop at the stop sign next to the Burgwin spray park at Johnston and Mansion streets. Ms. Cole said traffic safety measures are not distributed fairly throughout the city.
“I went through Squirrel Hill yesterday just counting how many green, fluorescent signs there were, letting people know there’s a walkway coming up,” she said. “15 miles an hour, countless speed bumps.”
The city’s own traffic calming data proves her point. Of 24 traffic calming interventions listed on the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure section of the City of Pittsburgh website, five are in District 5, every one in Squirrel Hill South.
“Before, we were just talking: 'Somebody could get hurt.' No. This kid is gone. This is real.” - James Cole
Eric Boerer, advocacy director for BikePgh, emailed that the traffic-calming program is popular and effective but underfunded.
“There are over 900 traffic calming requests, yet less than 30 have actually been installed,” Mr. Boerer wrote. “The neighbors are right, it's not fair to have a fast-moving street that is used as a cut-through right in front of their homes.”
Maria Montaño, press secretary to Mayor Gainey, replied to a request for comment saying the mayor is organizing a community meeting and had no comment about traffic calming measures on Johnston Avenue.
Rev. Michael Murray, chair of the Greater Hazelwood Community Collaborative, pointed out that the two playgrounds on Johnston Avenue do not even have signs warning drivers that children are at play nearby. But he said the Gainey administration is doing the right thing by getting the community together and listening to them.
James Cole sees the planned meeting differently. "It's a slap in the face,” he said. "A child has died."
Mr. Cole runs the Hazelwood Cobras youth football program and the Cobras afterschool program at Burgwin Park. When we spoke in August he said hundreds of kids travel along Johnston going to school, football and cheerleading and to play at the two playgrounds.
“All this foot traffic of children all day every day, and we can’t get speed bumps,” he said. “And now a child has died."
When the Gainey administration held a public meeting in Hazelwood in February, Mr. Cole made an impassioned plea for traffic-calming measures on Mansion and Johnston streets.
In August, he told me, “Before, we were just talking: 'Somebody could get hurt.' No. This kid is gone. This is real.”
To sign a petition asking for speed bumps around Propel School, Burgwin Field and along Johnston Avenue, go to https://tinyurl.com/speed-bump-petition.
Juliet Martinez is the managing editor of The Homepage.