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Release Date: Sunday, January 24th 2016

Bus stop upgrades on Smithfield Street part of bigger transformation

By Melissa Daniels / Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Overhead shelter, lean rails and extra space to stand are little changes making a big difference at Downtown Pittsburgh's busiest bus stop.

The Smithfield Street bus stop at the corner of Sixth Avenue is the test site for Envision Downtown's transit system upgrades, designed to make riders more comfortable.

“We had this huge volume of passengers and such a skinny sidewalk with no amenities,” said Sean Luther, executive director of Envision Downtown, a public-private partnership with the city.

The agency is a foundation-funded and city-backed initiative that is paired with the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. It is tasked with coming up with ideas and designs to make it easier to get around Downtown.

The Smithfield Street bus stop gets an average of 6,500 riders a day, making it the busiest Downtown stop in Port Authority of Allegheny County's system.

Plans began in May to transform the site into a “superstop” with new concrete sidewalks jutting into the street, an overhead roof above lean rails and planters. Parking spaces in the corridor were bumped up from part-time to full-time possibilities.

Bruce Curry, 47, of Swissvale leaned against a rail in the shelter Friday morning, the day after crews removed construction fences. He said he hoped for a structure that was more enclosed, to block the wind, but appreciates the shelter.

“It definitely helps,” he said. “I really like it.”

Envision Downtown plans to install digital notification systems in storefront windows near the stop, so riders can see estimated arrival times. In spring, its next project will include painting and upgrading Strawberry Way to make it more pedestrian-friendly.

“This is going to prototype what the transit experience could be like around Downtown,” Luther said. “The bus system itself is going to be really crucial to maintaining Downtown's position as the region's job center.”

No public money went toward the improvements, which are supported by the Colcom Foundation. PPG Industries is a partner on the project.

Molly Nichols and Casey Stelitano from Pittsburghers for Public Transit rider advocacy group made note of the improvements during Port Authority's board meeting Friday. They trekked over to the intersection to have riders sign thank-you cards to Mayor Bill Peduto and Envision Downtown.

Nichols hopes the concept can be replicated, calling it “a small improvement that makes a big difference.”

It's a new way of thinking about transit in the region, said Chris Sandvig, regional policy director with the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group. Making buses more accessible isn't just Port Authority's responsibility, Sandvig said.

“We all own it and we all must step up,” he said. “The streets, sidewalks, intersections and traffic signals influence transit's attractiveness at least as much as how Port Authority puts buses on those streets.”

Melissa Daniels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8511 ormdaniels@tribweb.com.

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