Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority early this summer initiated a water and sewer reconstruction project on Smallman Street between 16th and 21st streets, as part of its capital improvement program via the City’s engineering department. The Smallman Street Sewer and Water Line Project, when complete, will have installed 2,000 feet of 12-inch waterline and 1,625 feet of 36-inch waterline. Storm and sanitary
    sewers will also have been newly installed.

    Artist’s rendering of the new roadway improvements on Smallman Street, from 18th Street looking toward Lawrenceville (courtesy City of Pittsburgh).

    Artist’s rendering of the new roadway improvements on Smallman Street, from 18th Street looking toward Lawrenceville (courtesy City of Pittsburgh).

    The work is being done on one side of the street at a time, starting with the side closest to Penn Avenue. In early September the PWSA moves to the other side of Smallman to work on the sewers there; it means that the traffic pattern will be slightly different. The merchants and property owners of the Strip will continue to be given regular updates on the project until its completion, scheduled for January 2019.

    “The benefits to the area will be extensive, including new water infrastructure and separated storm and sanitary sewers on Smallman. This work is also coming at a good time, when there are additional plans for local development and a redesign of the street by the City of Pittsburgh. We can all work in coordination to make long-lasting upgrades to the neighborhood,” says Mora McLaughlin, the Authority’s communications associate.

    Of major concern for the Strip shoppers and businesses, of course, is the ultimate plan for improved parking and street redesign. Several existing parking lots near 21st Street will probably be accessible for at least the near future, and there are also large lots near the Heinz History Center.

    As the project continues this fall, some of our merchants in the construction zone have commented on the inconveniences and eventual changes. KC Lapiana of In the Kitchen says: “Any infrastructure work in the Strip is a positive. Parking has always been a major issue and we certainly need better road safety. During the reconstruction I haven’t noticed any customers complaining. Any city goes through multiple changes, and although we may be inconvenienced now, the goal is to make the Strip a better place.”

    Sue Cosgrove of Mahla & Co. Antiques has noted the effects of the project and is hopeful about the improvements: “After 23 years in business, we’ve weathered pretty much everything, but by knowing in advance that Smallman Street was to lose its parking and be torn up for at least eight months starting in June, we felt we could prepare for the change. It was a very frustrating time for merchants and Strip shoppers alike. That was then, this is now … a more vibrant Strip. By August everyone had become more aware of alternative parking lots and the cross streets began to open up, making it easier to drive throughout the Strip. Our annual 50% Off Sale saw more foot traffic and the Strip was bustling again. The antiquated sewer and water lines had to be replaced; afterward, the City will resurface and reconfigure the iconic Strip roadway, and Smallman Street will be different and better.”

    The Department of Mobility and Infrastructure will be leading the roadway resurfacing and reconfiguration as well as “traffic calming,” streetscaping, and on-street parking improvements. The project limits, again, extend from 16th Street to 21st Street. DOMI’s portion of the work will begin in March 2019 and should be substantially complete by May 2019. The unique concept design for Smallman is the vision of the directors of City Planning (Ray Gastil) and Mobility and Infrastructure (Karina Ricks).

    Emily Jo Gaspich, the DOMI Project Manager (Streets Division) has provided specific details on what Strip visitors, residents, and merchants can expect for the “new” Smallman Steet by spring.

    The roadway resurfacing involves milling and overlay of the existing asphalt. “Plazas, bump outs, and other pedestrian areas will be distinguished with stamped and tinted asphalt; existing curb and sidewalk will be replaced, but in general it is a curbless street design,“ notes Gaspich.

    The roadway will be converted from two very wide travel lanes—with head-in, 90-degree angled parking on both sides—to a boulevard-type street (a street having a median) with parallel parking on all sides. Colville Street will become “right in, right out” only; and left turns will be restricted at 19th Street. In addition, travel lanes are being narrowed to 10 feet wide, and this will have a major impact on vehicle speeds. There will be stop signs added at 17th and 18th streets, and high-visibility crosswalks will be installed at major intersections.

    The streetscaping aspect involves lighting, waste receptacles, bike racks, and planters.

    Gaspich also offers a few more details about parking: “On-street parking comes into play with the roadway configuration. There will be on-street parking on Smallman to supplement what is available in the many public garages and lots that are in the Strip District. The on-street parking on Smallman will have some time restrictions in the area of 17th/18th streets on weekday mornings so that the businesses can continue their loading operations. There will be 114 spaces when loading occurs and 150 outside of loading hours.”

    Greg Suriano edits The Strip! and writes on cultural subjects—and occasionally delves into “newsy” topics.