Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Another idea for US Steel's roof.

Ever since Bill Peduto announced his vision for the US Steel Tower's rooftop, I began thinking of how else it could be re-purposed aside from a park or open space as well as a reopened Top of the Triangle. Suppose the roof top were to have a lounge, either as part of the Top of the Triangle or as its own entity?

I've been reading up on other observation-uses in some other prominent structures, such as the proposed Comcast Innovation and Technology Center and 19 at the Bellevue, both of which are in Philadelphia. With the opening of US Steel's 840-foot tall new headquarters tower, Pittsburgh once had a top-floor high-end restaurant. Sadly, this restaurant closed its doors in July, 2001, and in 2008 UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) leased the space on the 62nd floor, ending any hope of having a restaurant or other public use on that floor.

A few years ago, then-mayoral candidate Bill Peduto, who at the time was a City Councilman representing Pittsburgh's east end neighborhoods, proposed an idea of converting the roof-top space into a recreational space. Some ideas called for an expanse of green space encompassing the entire one-acre roof-top, while others call for some type of rooftop glass enclosure allowing for more of a year-round all-weather-type of use. Below are images of my idea for this unique piece of real estate. I consider adding a couple of extra floors for restaurant/indoor observation use as well as a rooftop promenade.

Adding a few additional floors will transform this prominent office tower into a true destination for the city. People will not only come here to work, but they can come to take in the city's sights once again from this prominent location, dine at the restored Top of the Triangle, attend a banquet, meeting or a conference among other things. My idea also suggests extending the 21 vertical outer cor-ten columns that will house electricity-producing windmills, similar to those found on the exterior of Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field. PNC Financial Services is building its new headquarters tower as the greenest skyscraper in the world, why shouldn't Pittsburgh's tallest follow suit?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Possible expansion of Chester County Airport; its impact on surrounding land

Just last week, courtesy of a local who is trying to erect a deck on the back of our house, I heard plans for expanding the Chester County Airport. These plans involve expanded hangar and other facilities as well as extending the existing runway to accommodate larger aircraft. This gentleman stated that Chester County's intention is to eventually handle commercial aircraft operations; people residing in the surrounding area would no longer have to schlep to Philadelphia International Airport but could travel a much shorter distance to travel to that (or those) popular destination(s).

Aside from generating some additional commercial traffic in the Greater Philadelphia region, what else does this mean? Adjacent to the airport is the Keystone Heliplex. Here, helicopters are repaired and/or manufactured. Having the runway extended would bring in more traffic to this manufacturing site. Naturally, Keystone is very in favor of this expansion.

With airport expansion projects, the subject regarding property value and aircraft noise seems to arise. Sure, many commercial airports adversely impact property values considering the increased noise and the associated industrial properties and uses that are also close-by. However, such impacts are usually associated with the larger commercial airports. This expansion would make the Chester County Airport more of a regional commercial operation. Perhaps one airline or two would likely come in to offer a few flights to some select cities. Perhaps Frontier or Spirit Airlines might consider commencing narrow-body Airbus service to Orlando, Myrtle Beach, or another top leisure destination. I think such an expansion would be large enough to actually send property values soaring. The airport already handles quite a bit of private propeller and jet operations, and today's aircraft, especially Airbuses, are technologically advanced pieces of engineering designed to be quieter than those jets of yesteryear.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Massive Vacant Valley Township Land near Route 30 Bypass, Single Detached Housing Complex or Mixed Use Development?

Just a short walk from my house is a large tract of land ripe for development. The image above illustrates the geographic location, portraying its proximity to highway access and other notable landmarks such as the Chester County Airport, helicopter factory, and the Airport Road Shopping Center. Right near the access point to US 30 are signs indicating the size and zoning of this land. Apparently, Valley Township is attempting to lure even more residential use to the already burgeoning municipality.

Considering how the Chester County Airport is just across Business 30 from this site, one would assume this parcel of land would be ripe for commercial or even mixed use. I believe there are a handful of "retail pad" sites available for development on this parcel of land, but most of it is set aside for single detached residential use. The question is, would single houses be the best use of this land, or should the township try to lure commercial, restaurant, and retail uses to this rapidly growing municipality? In my opinion, I am going with the latter.

Single detached housing

I will discuss the impacts of mixed use development later on. For now, let's look further at the idea of single detached housing. There is already an abundance of single detached homes not just in Valley or the surrounding vicinity, but all over Chester County as a whole. Outside of a few townhouse communities and apartment complexes in the more urban parts of the county, single homes dominate the housing landscape in the county. From a planning perspective, single detached subdivisions are very auto-centric in their design and layout. Such developments often lead to increased traffic volumes on local roads; without any nearby amenities, people often have to drive to such destinations for groceries and other necessities.

Mixed-use development and traditional new development (TND)

Clustering multiple uses in one place ultimately reduces travel demand, especially when such travel can require the use of an automobile. Valley Township, and even Sadsbury Township are very lacking in commercial and restaurant use. With public transportation rather sparse at best in this part of the county, people have to resort to driving to Downingtown, West Chester, Exton, or King of Prussia for any retail outside of going to Wal-Mart or Bottom Dollar. Having these options nearby, especially when discussing new housing communities in the vicinity such as Sadsbury Village, Round Hill, and the under-construction Sadsbury Park, these residences are going to benefit from having a variety of options within walking distance or even a short bike ride to a variety of commercial, restaurant, and retail uses. Aside from this location, there is another vacant piece of land directly adjacent to Sadsbury Village along Lincoln Highway.

My take is the township should consider developing this parcel as a mixed use development and consider incorporating traditional new development designs. These include sidewalks, lamp posts and the buildings fronting the streets with parking in the rear. Such a design will encourage pedestrian and bike use for nearby residents while still catering to those who wish to drive to this location. Since the Transportation Management Association of Chester County (TMACC) has a scheduled bus route that routinely stops at Sadsbury Commons as well as the Airport Road shopping center, perhaps bus shelters could be considered to encourage transit riders to visit these new commercial/retail complexes.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

What will transportation look like in 2030?

I came across this topic in one of my groups on LinkedIn.


This is an article illustrating five ways our transportation infrastructure will change within the next 16 years. The central theme appears to be that 60 percent of the world's population will live in urban areas by then, and the main focus will be improvements to our bike/pedestrian infrastructure to accommodate these commuters as well as our automobile traffic. The following is my opinion after reading this article:

As cities become more and more dense with the global population becoming more urban, we need to think about what modes work well in our cities and how to integrate them with each other to make for a cohesive transportation network that adequately serves the residents and employees.

I belong to skyscraperpage.com, which, more or less, is a discussion forum on highrise development that also touches base on other areas of development, including transportation. Our infrastructure has a significant impact on our land use policies. I spend a lot of time on the Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and occasionally New York discussion threads, and in the Pittsburgh discussion, the Caracas cable car referenced in this article was also mentioned there. Many of us are playing with the idea of having a cable car system connecting the Oakland neighborhood with a few surrounding areas, particularly the East End.

On a broader scale, I think in general we'll be looking at ways of accommodating bike and pedestrian traffic as we redesign our streets. Other areas of focus include BRT investment (Downtown-to-Oakland in Pittsburgh, 34th Street in Manhattan) as well as the reintroduction of street cars/trolleys in some areas (Cincinnati).

To come back to the subject of bikes/pedestrians, I think there will be some kind of focus on long-distance bike trails. I forgot to reference the recent completion of the Great Allegheny Passage trail that links the Steel City with the Nation's Capital. I think other parts of the USA will follow suit, if anything on more of a regional level. In the greater Philly area, there's talk of having a bike network linking Downingtown with West Chester and ultimately King of Prussia. There might be a future link with the bike trail running from Conshohocken down through Manayunk toward Center City. Speaking of Center City, some vehicle lanes are being converted into bike lanes...

Articles like these should, at the very least, set the foundation for where we as city/transportation planners want to take our cities as they evolve into the live-work-and-play centers of tomorrow. Cities that rank high on livability rankings (see Forbes Magazine's "Most Livable Cities" list) are those with ample open/recreational space as well as those that rank high in terms of their walkability and safe bicycling infrastructure. In addition to improving public transportation, which should be a given anyway considering increased ridership across the board for just about all of our largest urbanized areas, it is in the areas of bike and pedestrian infrastructure planning where we need to focus...

Friday, January 17, 2014

Redevelopment of Overbrook Middle School; Is Senior Living the best use, or are Conventional Market-Rate Apartments?

In Skyscraperpage.com this morning, I came across a rendering of a proposal for the long-since closed Overbrook Middle School building. A developer wants to convert this building into an assisted living community and construct a new independent-living community adjacent to the existing building as well as construct a foot path to the nearby light rail and bus stops. While senior living is something constantly in high demand, so are market rate apartments within the city of Pittsburgh. The question is, is Senior Living the best use for this piece of land, or is it more suitable to put conventional market-rate apartments this close to decent rail and bus rapid transit?

The Blue Line, which is one of the two light rail lines serving Pittsburgh and its South Hills communities, is actually a renovated old trolley line. Prior to the reconstruction, the line had fallen into a state of disrepair and was therefore closed in 1993. The reconstruction brought the system up to current standard so that the more modern light rail cars could use it. Regarding the old Overbrook school, the school building itself had been closed for some time. Within the last ten years or so the city shuttered several school buildings in order to cut costs, and I recall Overbrook being among thsoe schools. Just down the street from the school was a neighborhood consisting of about a dozen homes, and these homes were condemned and torn down several years ago due to flooding of Saw Mill Run Creek.

Ever since the trolley line was brought up to current standards, and given the already existing access to the busway, this area is ripe for some investment in some housing or commercial use. Given that this proposal could be considered as both (a senior living community managed by a private company more or less), it is considered a good use for the land, especially given the handicapped accessible transit nearby. As asked above, is this the best use?

As an apartment community:

Given the latest trends in apartment data, Pittsburgh cannot keep up with the pace at which apartments are being leased. Residents are signing leases faster than developers can build them. This school is in a prime location given the close proximity to adequate public transit as well as a major arterial roadway, Saw Mill Run Boulevard. There is also an existing recreational field that could be used as open recreational space for apartment residents.

The aforementioned road could be a bit of a deterrent for residents. The road handles supreme levels of traffic during peak travel times. It is the main arterial road from many South Hills neighborhoods into Downtown Pittsburgh as drivers approach the Liberty and Fort Pitt Bridge and Tunnel. Plus, there is the issue with flooding along the Saw Mill Run Creek. As mentioned before, existing houses nearby were condemned and demolished due to the flood threat. Considering that was further downstream, perhaps flood mitigation work could occur here if it has not already.

As senior living

The direct access to public transportation does make this attractive for a senior living community. The light rail platforms are elevated, and the developer wishes to construct an access path to the light rail stop and busway from the proposed community. Giving the aging population, senior living communities are also in high demand. The one issue I see with this, however, is how much traffic would this generate along Saw Mill Run Boulevard? Will some take advantage of the public transit available at their doorstep, or would most of them drive their personal vehicles? Also, the community may provide its own transportation for doctors and other healthcare reasons at several times throughout the course of a regular business day. Saw Mill Run Boulevard already handles traffic beyond its designed capacity.

My take...

Given the traffic on Saw Mill Run Boulevard and the traffic generated by an assisted living community, I would think that conventional market-rate apartments would be the best use for this particular piece of land. Most senior living communities are auto-centric when it comes to their design, and this is going to use a building that itself was a rather auto-centric design. Sure, it will provide access to public transportation, but I think the vast majority of the users are going to be employees traveling to and from work.

With regular apartment residences, you can target people who work in Downtown, Station Square, South Hills Village, or the North Side. As this system is expanded in the future, people working in places north and west of the city could be sought after as potential renters.

Are van pools the future of public transportation in suburbia?

As we know, public transportation doesn't work quite as well in less dense suburban areas as it does in and around our urban core locations. In any metropolitan area's hinterlands, you will find commuters who would rather drive than use public transport. This is likely due to a catch-22. Aside from those who prefer the independence their cars bring, people would rather drive because of little public transit availability. At the same time, there is little public transit available due to the very auto-centric environment of our suburbs. The unfortunate thing about the lack of public transit is that there are many suburbanites who cannot afford a personal vehicle. These folks cannot travel between home and work or healthcare.

Could van pools possibly be the answer?

Van pools provide transportation access to those who do lack access and mobility to the transportation network without the high cost associated with fixed route systems. They also do not require the higher densities in order to be feasible and viable. Given the relatively light passenger load, they generally require the use of a small passenger van rather than the expensive full-sized buses.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Giant Eagle considering a Downtown Pittsburgh location


Recently, local officials conducted a survey among Downtown residents of how they'd like to see their community improved. One of the items on the survey included a grocery store as one of the top amenities sought after among residents. Of the main choices when considering a food store, Giant Eagle topped the list. The Post-Gazette article mentions that Giant Eagle apparently is not only listening to the some 7,000 residents (and growing) of Downtown, but it looks like they might take action.

The article mentions at least two possible locations for a store in which the grocer will likely employ a Giant Eagle Express layout rather than a full-scale grocery store, some of which can be as large as 60,000 square feet. An express location will likely take up to 15,000 square feet and offer a varied, yet limited selection of fresh produce, meats, prepared foods, and other grocery items. Two of the locations include the vacated Saks 5th Avenue store on the corner of Oliver Avenue and Smithfield Street and the former food court in the basement of Two PPG Place.

When looking at this from a land use perspective, it would be interesting if they were to consider a two-level layout rather than the single-story layout you would typically find just about anywhere. Other typical uni-level retail establishments (Target, Wal-mart, etc) have already employed multilevel locations in some urban areas. Speaking of Target, they recently opened up a two-level store in East Liberty. Giant Eagle could follow suit, even with a Giant Eagle Express configuration and offer an even wider variety of groceries and other services and amenities. Considering the idea of the Saks location, such a configuration would definitely be beneficial considering this building is slated for a mixed-use development that includes structured parking and residential, as well as ground-level retail...