Brian O’Neill: Residents fear impact of a techie transit link

Panther Hollow Lake in Schenley Park
Panther Hollow Lake in Schenley Park – Darrell Sapp/Post-Gazette

Brian O’Neill: Residents fear impact of a techie transit link

October 11, 2015
By Brian O’Neill / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Panther Hollow is a quiet, hear-the-birds-chirp kind of neighborhood in the heart of the city, and its most outspoken resident wants to make sure it doesn’t go from bucolic to bus thoroughfare overnight.

Carlino Giampolo, 69, a semi-regular at City Council meetings, grew up in a house at the end of Boundary Street. As a boy, he was surrounded by 250 neighbors who could all trace their lineage to two villages in Italy’s mountainous Abruzzi region.

His parents’ generation of homeowners is nearly all gone or widowed, but this valley in Central Oakland remains sacred ground to Mr. Giampolo and others. We sat at a neighborhood picnic table striped in the green, white and red of the Italian flag as he unloaded his concerns about a proposed transit link between the nearby universities and the billion-dollar development planned for the Hazelwood Flats.

Those rubber-tire shuttles would have to come through Panther Hollow.

Tommy D’Andrea, 42, a city firefighter and Democratic committeeman, lives about a quarter-mile south. He says the residents of his stretch of Greenfield popularly known as “The Run’’ also don’t want the $7.2 million roadway through their quiet neighborhood.

What these men also don’t like is finding out about it in the newspaper.

Now, given that there’s already a rail line carrying at least eight trains a day through the hollow, there ought to be a way to do this without high impact on Panther Hollow. The worst-case scenario was taken off the picnic table for Mr. Giampolo when I relayed the assertion by Kevin Acklin, Mayor Bill Peduto’s chief of staff, that the shuttle could use city right-of-way on either side of the railroad on the hill and not run through the grassy area where we sat.

But Mr. Giampolo said he’ll stand with M. D’Andrea and the people of ”The Run’’ — officially Four Mile Run — to make sure that neighborhood isn’t hurt either.

Again, with the railroad skirting the western boundary of The Run, there should be a way to satisfy the neighborhood and still link university brainiacs to the development in Hazelwood. That 178-acre Almono site, owned by four Pittsburgh foundations, is where an LTV steel plant once stood. The tech boom has sent rents soaring in Oakland, so easily accessed offices just a bit farther south should do well. This new wrinkle in public transit could also benefit the communities now wary of it.

But no one can blame these longtime residents for feeling incidental, not integral, to the city’s plans. Mr. Acklin, who also chairs the Urban Redevelopment Authority, said the transit announcement came before there were any neighborhood meetings because the URA needed to meet a deadline to apply for a $3 million state grant.

Neighborhood meetings will come before the year is out, he said. Meantime, the city is still fleshing out the details for this project that could break ground in June.

Officials should expect an earful when those meetings commence.

Mr. D’Andrea said at least one street in his neighborhood hasn’t been paved in 30 years, flood issues have lingered unaddressed and vacant, blighted homes still stand. The answer from city hall is always a lack of money.

“We get no love,’’ he says. So it irked him to pick up his Post-Gazette and read that the city is suddenly moving at warp speed to devote $7.2 million to “basically coddle tax-free entities.’’

When those entities spin off private-sector jobs in the city, that’s good for Pittsburgh. Taking cars out of Oakland also is a good idea — as long as commuters’ cars aren’t simply transferred to residential neighborhoods such as The Run. Those are the nittty-gritty details that are best figured out at street level by the people who have been living on them for decades.

Mr. Giampolo loves his Panther Hollow neighborhood so much his other home in Honolulu can’t hold him. He says, “I’m pretty much here until we get this resolved.’’ A longtime critic of the universities for not addressing the problems students cause in the old neighborhoods, he’s focused on this single issue now.

“He’ll have a seat at the table,’’ Mr. Acklin promised,”but he doesn’t run the table.’’

The grant application was accelerated to meet a deadline, but there should be plenty of time to tinker. The city’s asking for money from a state that doesn’t even have a budget yet.

Brian O’Neill: or 412-263-1947.