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Nov. 30 Sylvan Avenue Trail Project public meeting | The Homepage

DOMI pledges greater transparency and responsiveness

By Juliet Martinez

People sit in an auditorium with rows of blue chairs, a pale blue and white ceiling and a large slide projected onto the screen at the front of the auditorium.
At the Sylvan Avenue project meeting, Rebekkah Ranallo of Neighborhood Services holds the mic. Seated at the table in front are Lisa Frank, Kim Lucas, Felicity Williams, Michael Panzitta and Emily Bourne. Photo by Tiffany Taulton

Residents of Hazelwood and Four Mile Run got updates on the makeover of a quiet street while challenging the city’s representatives to be more transparent at the November 30 public meeting for the Sylvan Avenue Trail Project.

The plan will add traffic-calming measures and re-pave the side street and its sidewalks between Hazelwood Avenue and Home Rule Street. The work on the north-south street three blocks east of Irvine Street in Hazelwood should begin in June of 2023 and finish in November.

Overview of the Sylvan Avenue Project. Screenshot from presentation, courtesy of the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure.

Neighborway and safer crosswalk planned

Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) project manager Mr. Panzitta said the plans now include a pedestrian island for people crossing Hazelwood Avenue at Sylvan Avenue. This is a response to input at the online meeting in April. The concrete platform will give pedestrians a safe place to stand between lanes of traffic if they must stop while crossing the street. The island also narrows the street. Mayor Ed Gainey's chief operating and administrative officer, Lisa Frank, explained this narrowing causes drivers to slow down.

Instead of the bike lanes proposed in the original plan, the street will now be a Neighborway, which is a street designed for slower car traffic and bikes to share the road.

Some Sylvan Avenue residents said they look forward to a newly paved street, new sidewalks and driveways with ADA-compliant curb cuts. Other residents applauded it as well.

“I walked from my house with my nephew to Schenley Park and he was really really scared going along Second Avenue,” Hazelwood resident Tiffany Taulton said. “I'm happy to have a safer way to take a child to Schenley Park that's calmer, that doesn't have any cars around.”

"We do not trust DOMI."

But the shadow of the now-defunct Mon-Oakland Connector hung over the discussion.

Many of those present spent years fighting to stop DOMI from building the planned shuttle road through Schenley Park and Four Mile Run. Mayor Gainey announced the end of the shuttle road project in February, but some at the meeting wondered aloud if the Sylvan Avenue project is simply the Mon-Oakland Connector minus the shuttle road and a name laden with controversy.

Questions swirled about why the Sylvan Avenue project was happening before traffic calming on Johnston Avenue, where a child was hit and killed by a motorist in July, or on Hazelwood Avenue, where vehicle crashes are common. One attendee asked if Sylvan Avenue would be getting this makeover without the economic development happening at Hazelwood Green. Ray Gerard, a resident of Four Mile Run who worked to defeat the project, asked why DOMI had not adopted a set of communication demands from the group Junction Coalition.

“We've been through this for seven years now,” Mr. Gerard said of the history of opacity and poor communication from the department. “We do not trust DOMI.”

The demands include advertising public meetings at least two weeks ahead of time, posting the presentation online at that time, including a question-and-answer session in each meeting, having all meetings be hybrid and posting a complete meeting recording afterward.

Ms. Frank, invited Mr. Gerard to email her the demands, which she said sounded achievable.

The nice and the necessary

Four Mile Run resident, community activist opposing the connector project and newly elected District 5 council member, Barb Warwick, asked for the mic.

“I do want to step in,” she said. “Just sort of as an intermediary.”

Ms. Warwick acknowledged the mistrust, and that its roots predated the current administration. She motioned to the DOMI officials and representatives from Mayor Gainey’s administration seated facing the auditorium. But, she said, "This is a new administration.”

She observed that after years of disinvestment and neglect, Hazelwood and Four Mile Run are no longer used to having nice things. But now, Ms. Warwick said, these communities can look forward to getting not only the “nice-to-have" things, but also the “must-haves.” She described the completed Sylvan Avenue project as a place to take walks and ride bikes as a family.

It’s a nice thing, she said, but “We’re also getting Johnston Avenue, right? Not tomorrow, but it’s coming,” she said. “We’ve just heard we’re getting traffic calming - I mean, for years we've been asking right? - for that upper Hazelwood corridor traffic calming.”

Mayor Gainey’s deputy chief of staff, Felicity Williams, said the administration knows safety is a top priority in Hazelwood, which is why DOMI added a safety element to this project and scheduled the speed humps to be installed on Johnston Avenue in the spring. Ms. Frank mentioned earlier that DOMI is working on an audit of city steps and has completed an audit of traffic safety needs that will form the basis for their traffic calming plans.

DOMI director Kim Lucas said the department is analyzing crash data, vehicle speeds and other information, which will be publicly available in a map portal that she said was soon to be released. The department uses an equity index that considers economic and mobility disadvantages like the average distance to get to public transportation.

“By being transparent and by actually using data to make those decisions is how we're moving the needle on proper investment and righting the wrongs of the past,” Ms. Lucas said.

After the meeting, I asked her whether DOMI will be relying on 311 calls as part of its data collection. She said she has seen 311 data from some neighborhoods with hundreds of calls while other neighborhoods have zero.

“We know that 311 is not a complete picture,” Ms. Lucas said, adding that there is a balance to be struck. “It's like [people are saying,] ‘Listen more!’ but also, make sure that the people you're listening to are representative.”

Sylvan Avenue’s northern portion is closed because of a landslide in the 1960s. Mr. Panzitta replied to a follow-up email to say that the trail through the closed portion will be built in 2024 at the earliest.

Juliet Martinez is the managing editor of The Homepage.

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