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Restructuring The Centre / Baum Corridor

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There is very little in this world that inspires in my wife violent thoughts like the way a trip to the East End Trader Joe’s can. Every time she goes by herself, she returns with a pledge to never shop there again. Her issue isn’t necessarily with the store itself. She doesn’t always like crowds, but can normally handle the shoulder to shoulder shopping experience. She doesn’t like waiting in line, but can usually suck it up provided the jerks that shop there actually bag their own groceries instead of waiting for the clerks to do it for them. She simply jokes about Soviet-esque shortages there when she visits on Sunday nights. So what’s her big problem?

Baum Boulevard

It’s easy to see her point. The traffic lights are poorly timed. Street parking obstructs lanes in a seemingly random fashion. Cars don’t often make the lefts from Baum, but when they do it can really gum up the works with a lack of true turning lanes. Then you throw a bike into the mix and it honestly feels like someone is going to die on their way to get Cookie Butter that afternoon.

Calling Centre Avenue an “alternative” would be a reach as well. Some of its more prominent features include:

– 4 lanes of parking in front of the Giant Eagle Market District

– drivers waiting for that perfect moment to make a left hand turn

– periods of wide open traffic followed by grinding halts

– harrowing last minute turn signal usage

– somebody attempting parallel park for the very first time ever

– empty store fronts on what should a bustling business district

– buses stopping at each intersection despite the busway being 50 feet away

Generally, I’m not interested in auto-centric solutions to urban problems, but this is a problem created because of cars and poorly thought out design. Something needs to be done, especially as the corridor braces for its transition from its rapidly fading past as the place to buy a car to its present as the place to get food to its future as the place to get food, stay on vacation and work. The Baum/Centre corridor is fittingly the center of the East End and sadly it does little to serve the community or showcase the middle of everything.

I propose a very simple solution. Make Centre Avenue one way outbound toward East Liberty from Millvale Street. Likewise, transform Baum Boulevard one way inbound from either the old East Liberty Circle (now Euclid Avenue) or Negley Avenue. Below is a generalized crayon depiction of what this might look like.



Baum Boulevard would change from having one designated drive lane in each direction along with one sometimes drive/ sometimes park/sometimes right hand turn lane to having two designated drive lanes, one designated for parking on the northern side of the street and one protected bike lane

Centre Avenue goes from two travel lanes and two parking lanes to three outbound travel drive lanes and a single parking lane on the southern side of the road most of the way. Many businesses on the corridor already have designated parking lots. Combine that with additional spaces created on Baum and the underutilized spots on side streets and parking should not be an issue.

So what are the benefits? Number one is safety. Cars no longer have to contest with oncoming traffic when making turns and fender benders should be reduced as the roadways will simply make more sense. This should eliminate the “why the f&^% am I stopping” and the “I better race this guy and beat him to left before the parked car” from the corridor Bikes have a safer, designated place to travel. Some might argue that the unimpeded traffic concept might encourage aggressive, faster driving. For me that depends on the enforcement. Nothing says the police can’t give out more tickets to let drivers know they won’t sacrifice safety for flow. To further enhance pedestrian and bike infrastructure, I would encourage slightly raised crosswalks at each major intersection.

The next benefit would be improved traffic flow. This should lead to reduced congestion and improved gas mileage thanks to less stop and go. Green lights can extend on the main roads potentially cutting drive times in half. There will be fewer obstructions as well, such as parked or parking cars and turning traffic. Buses might also have a place to pull off.

Finally, it gives residents more transportation options. The city would add a mile of designated bike lanes to serve as a spine that connects the dots with existing painted bike infrastructure on Liberty, Negley, Friendship and Morewood Avenues and it would place them within a stone’s throw of the painted lanes in East Liberty Boulevard.

There are some challenges, notably at Millvale Avenue where the transition from eastbound Baum to eastbound Centre would take place. There is limited space and the narrow bike lane and the seldom used after 4 p.m. street parking would need to be eliminated entirely on that block to make way for two lanes of traffic southbound, one that would turn left or go straight into the garage across Centre. The other would turn right towards Oakland and there would continue to be a north bound lane toward the Millvale Bridge. A right hand turning lane would be added to Baum and westbound flow should be virtually unaffected by the changes. However, timing traffic lights will determine how much the restructuring would improve life for drivers on the corridor. The designated bike lane would end and cyclists would need to follow traffic signals to continue on Baum or make the right onto Millvale as if they had been traveling on northbound Millvale. The lane could also end at Morewood to ease confusion. And in case you needed it, here is a crayon depiction of the layout of the transition.


Another issue revolves around the governmental responsibility for the roads. Baum Boulevard is also State Route 380 while Centre Avenue is a City-owned street. The restructuring would divert the eastbound direction of a state highway onto a local road. While this certainly isn’t a deal breaker, the city would need the cooperation of PENNDOT to make it work.

Though it has its challenges, restructuring Baum and Centre could have greater benefits with safer traffic flow over much of the corridor, increased gas efficiency and ideally, shorter travel time and lower stress to drivers all while adding a potentially high volume bike lane that could reduce the number of cars on the road. That said, further testing through computer simulation and roadway measurement would be required before the restructuring ought to be pursued. These studies take money and time of course, but the potential benefits should outweigh the planning costs. At the very least, we would get computer generated images that provide a clear upgrade to the ones I drew.


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Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveDiMiceli

Steve is a naturalized yinzer hailing originally from just north of Allentown, PA. He came to Pittsburgh to attend Duquesne University and decided to stick around after graduation. Steve is best known for his contributions to Duquesne hoops community as the owner of the Duquesne Dukes forum on Yuku and as the former editor of We Wear the Ring on the Fansided network. He is an avid Pirates fan, home cook and policy nerd. He is the co-founder of the Point of Pittsburgh. Easily irritated by people who misuse the word regress.