Vibrant Uptown Moves into Next Phase

The first stage of the plan for a revitalized Washington Road streetscape is moving closer to beginning. Bids are scheduled to be awarded this month for new sidewalks, lighting, planters, seating and electrical conduit.  

Formed in August 2019, the Vibrant Uptown steering committee is composed of commissioners, municipal staff, members of several municipal boards and authorities and representatives from the Mt. Lebanon Partnership, Gateway Engineers and the planning and design firm of LaQuatra Bonci. First task was securing money for the $3.86 million project, which came in the form of grant money and a bond issue, before beginning the design development phase, which would define the scope of the project.  Mt. Lebanon is concluding the development phase and moving into the construction phase. The first step in the construction phase is to prepare  documents to  put the project out for bidding, then to award the bids, and finally to hammer out details in a pre-construction period, before beginning construction, which is expected to begin in May. All businesses will remain open during the construction phase. 

Brushed concrete and exposed aggregate will replace the existing sidewalks in the Washington Road business district as one of several improvements planned for Uptown.

Funds allocated for the streetscape portion of the project total close to $2.1 million, split evenly between grant money and a bond issue. 

Other components of the project include sidewalk, signage and lighting along Parse Way, at a projected cost of $555,552, and placemaking, the development of community gathering spaces in areas like the municipal building and the clock tower by the entrance to the Washington Road T station, at a projected cost of $903,000.  Mt. Lebanon is retaining an additional contingency fund of $307,153 for any unforeseen expenses. 

The Uptown sidewalks will be in slabs of brushed concrete, which will make for easy replacement and continuity of design if the ground is broken for utility line repairs.  A decorative border of pavers between the sidewalk and the road will give a visual and textural signal that pedestrians are nearing traffic.

A trend in streetscape design is the “blank slate” concept, which allows for no permanent fixtures, such as a stage, or concrete tables, but rather allows for more adaptability to a broad range of events, says Assistant Manager/Planner Ian McMeans, who, along with Commercial Districts Manager Eric Milliron, is staff liaison to the project. One example of the blank slate trend was the relocation of several tables from the closed-down Mt. Lebanon Swim Center to Clearview Common and the clock tower area. The concept will make it easier for vendors to set up booths and tables for events, McMeans said. 

The high-level overview of the project is a vision of the Uptown district, from the public safety center to Washington Elementary School, as a “linear park,” McMeans said. “We’ll add greenery where we can,” he said. The plans, which call for more trees and more planters, with a new design aimed at making more greenspace and allowing for congregation of people without interrupting the flow of pedestrian traffic, will add an additional 1,600 to 1,700 square feet of greenspace, according to estimates from LaQuatra Bonci. 

The project also calls for alcove seating in the areas of the trees and planters. Pre-cast concrete seat walls will face each other next to the planters. Penny Reddy, an accessibility consultant retained for the project, says the small change in seating from facing the street to facing each other, will make a big difference. 

“The inset seating is good for the hearing-impaired,” she said. “It makes it easier for lip-readers to have a conversation.” 

The plans entail the removal of parking spaces on either side of the clock tower and at the intersection of Washington Road and Alfred Street. A significant component of the project is bringing Uptown curb ramps into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). McMeans says 33 ramps will receive improvements, however five of them, while getting an upgrade, still will not be fully in compliance with the ADA. The area that proved the most difficult to upgrade is the space that surrounds the T tracks on Alfred Street. Port Authority buses require a turning radius so great that it leaves little room for changing the curb. In response to requests that the Port Authority re-route those buses, McMeans says a meeting with officials  made it clear that that was not in the cards.

“Alfred Street is a very important street for them,” he said. “Not only for existing buses, but for detours and rerouting passengers from the T when it isn’t running.” 

Still, a net gain of 28 ADA-compliant ramps is a plus, said Reddy.

“I’m thrilled we were able to provide compliance on that many curb ramps,” she said.