Strawberry Way

Envision Downtown’s Strawberry Way project is a demonstration of the future of public space priority in Downtown Pittsburgh. Pedestrian safety, the downtown experience and public life are prioritized through a package of creative and high profile urban innovations. In doing so, this critical section of downtown has been reoriented to serve its most prolific users, pedestrians, while maintaining access for limited car traffic and deliveries (currently) required for a robust street level economic ecosystem. Moreover, the project demonstrated the ability to rapidly and cost effectively install mobility and public life infrastructure in a new model public/private partnership. 

Long thought of as just an alley, Strawberry Way is a key pedestrian corridor for Downtown Pittsburgh, connecting large employment centers on Grant Street to the Cultural District. In April 2016 pedestrian counts showed close to 700 people an hour were walking through the alley during the hours of 11am to 1pm, while only 3 cars were counted. Strawberry Way also intersects Smithfield Street just as the later turns into a major regional transit hub.

Pedestrian counts and stationary activity counts (such as number of people sitting, standing, or undertaking commercial activity - buying a coffee) were performed before (April 2016) and after (August 2016) the installation of the mural and street furniture. This was done to understand how successfully the alley was functioning as a public space. Results of these counts showed the average number of pedestrians per hour between 8am and 6pm recorded on Strawberry Way increased from 243 to 347 (43% increase). While stationary activity rose exponentially with an average hourly increase (also between 8am & 6pm) of 462% from 13 to 73 people.

Strawberry Way, like all Envision Downtown projects, is an opportunity for iterative design and public engagement. Simultaneously, Strawberry Way is designed to inspire action in underutilized urban spaces throughout the City of Pittsburgh (and beyond). Here’s how we did it…

Baseline Conditions

Top most portion of Strawberry Way before project installation. Note predominance of pedestrians despite no dedicated infrastructure

Top most portion of Strawberry Way before project installation. Note predominance of pedestrians despite no dedicated infrastructure

Traffic

Strawberry Way is a key pedestrian corridor for Downtown Pittsburgh, connecting large employment centers on Grant Street to the Cultural District. In April 2016 pedestrian counts showed close to 700 people an hour walking through the alley during the hours of 11am to 1pm, while only 3 cars were counted. Strawberry Way also intersects Smithfield Street just as the later turns into a major regional transit hub.

Need for seating

This area of Downtown has a number of high density office buildings and in proportion little available open space/public seating. All the tables and seating across the street at Steel Plaza are regularly full during lunch. In 2014 the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (PDP) managed a very successful lunch time pop-up patio at the bottom of Strawberry Way. Tables and chairs were added on the lunch break next to Weiner World and Villa Reale and they were highly utilized throughout the program showing that a demand for seating was present.

Violation of pedestrianized section

The Grant Street adjacent section of Strawberry Way has long been restricted to pedestrian traffic. Despite this car traffic consistently violated that condition often turning off Grant Street onto the alley. The church tried a number of different interventions to prevent this from happening including placing a large Road Closed sign at the top, even then the sign was often moved or knocked down. There was a general lack of signage showing that the pedestrian nature of that stretch of road leading to confusion among all road users.

Previous Public Art

The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership has undertaken a number of public art and pop-up initiatives in Strawberry for the past 10 years.  They commissioned several public art pieces for the alleyway including sound and light installations. 

Material Selection

Paint

In making a paint selection for the project there were two major considerations to be made. First that the paint would be durable enough to stand up to the traffic volumes on Strawberry Way and second that it had sufficient anti-slip quality to it. An MMAX product (used for bike lanes in Pittsburgh) was considered but deemed too expensive. A PPG Marine Paint product was also considered but, although it met the durability and anti-slip requirements, it did not provide enough flexibility for the artist.

After consultation with the Oval Mural Project in Philadelphia, the final paint solution consisted of three parts:

The Manor Hall and Perma-Crete products were donated by Downtown Pittsburgh based PPG Paints.

Street Furnishings

There were a number of criteria considered in the selection of tables and chairs. We wanted chairs that contributed to brightening the alley and added a sense of fun. They needed to be durable and heavy enough that they were not easily blown away or moved too far. We wanted the chairs to be comfortable but not so comfortable that they invited loitering. For the tables the main concern was that they not pool water in the event of rain.

The planters were to serve a dual purpose of adding greenery and beauty to the alley as well as an additional barrier between pedestrians and traffic. They along with the bollards needed to provide protection but at the same time be moveable by emergency vehicles. The planters and bollards for the project were repurposed from other sites and given a fresh coat of paint.

Permitting Process and Artist Selection

Art Commission 1 – June 2015

The initial design for Strawberry Way was taken before the City of Pittsburgh’s Art Commission as a single project for courtesy review. As the project was deemed temporary (under 18 months) only courtesy approval was required.

Art Commission in general liked the design of both aspects of the project but commented on the “dull” paint color choice for Strawberry Way. After conversations with local stakeholders and the City of Pittsburgh Art Commission it was clear there was an appetite to take a more innovative approach and the project moved ahead to commission a local artist to design and paint a street mural. 

Artist Selection – April 2016

The Office of Public Art (OPA) organized an artist invitational, inviting select artists on the Pittsburgh Artists registry to submit samples of their work. Local stakeholders (that included retailers, property managers as well as Church and hotel management) reviewed the submissions and short-listed three artists who were then invited to interview.

From this short list Deanna Mance was selected to create 3 designs and the final design (chosen by stakeholders) was brought before the Art Commission for full review. This meant the design went up for both Preliminary Review (April 2016) and Final Review (May 2016). In its agreement with the City of Pittsburgh (see below), the PDP was granted a 3 year temporary license for the establishment of a street mural painting on the surface of the road. No longer a temporary project in the eyes of the Art Commission we were required to go through the full review process (preliminary and final).

The designed was approved on the condition that we met all requirements put forward by DPW. 

Memorandum with City of Pittsburgh – May 2016

DPW Requirements for Project

  • Artwork not to be painted inside crosswalks but allowed between crosswalks in middle of the intersection – no reflective paint allowed
  • Outreach to adjacent owners/businesses (including timeline) 
  • No paint on manhole covers
  • Traffic management plan (MPT) for installation and permit for traffic obstruction required
  • Sidewalks must stay open during installation
  • In order to pedestrianize the block between Montour Way and William Penn Place outreach and letters of support needed form the following: 
    • Service providers and utilities 
    • Adjacent property managers/owner/businesses/residents 
    • City Councilman Lavelle

Based on these requirements we submitted a MPT and applied for a 1 month traffic obstruction permit for Strawberry Way between Smithfield Street and Grant Street. 

The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (PDP) entered into Temporary License and Maintenance Agreement with the City of Pittsburgh for the approval, installation and maintenance public artwork on Strawberry Way. The agreement outlines responsibilities of The City of Pittsburgh and the PDP as co-sponsors of the Strawberry Way project:

  • The City of Pittsburgh owns the right of way on Strawberry Way and has agreed to permit the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership to establish and maintain a street mural painting on the surface of the road, and patio areas including tables, chairs, and plants extending from the intersection of Strawberry Way and Grant Street to the intersection of Strawberry Way and Smithfield Street
  • The PDP will be responsible for 100% of maintenance of the jointly-sponsored Project at a proper condition.  Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership will maintain the jointly-sponsored project with necessary paint touchups and other needed repairs.  Any proposed changes in maintenance must be approved in writing by the Director of Public Works
  • Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership agrees that at the conclusion of the three (3) year term or upon earlier termination of this Temporary License and Maintenance Agreement, Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership will at its sole cost remove the jointly-sponsored Project and restore the roadway to City standards
  • A maintenance fund (including the amount needed to repave) has been created from the remaining grant funds to cover all the costs listed above

Installation

The design was installed as a 3 block mural painted directly onto the road bed using paint and materials donated by PPG Paint. Installation was broken into 3 phases. 

Strawberry Way artist, Deanna Mance, designed and coordinated installation of the roadway mural.

First the design was painted on all blocks in white paint by the artist with the help of her assistant. They began at Smithfield Street, completing one block at a time and keeping that block fully closed to traffic during the painting process. Then color was added to the design using the same installment process. Finally the Perma-Crete clear sealer was combined with the Skid-Tex anti-skid additive and painted over all the paint markings. This layer, sealed in the paint and provided some texture to prevent slipping. 

Three full weeks were scheduled, to allow for delay in case of wet weather. The base paint could not be painted onto wet asphalt and if the clear sealer got wet once applied then it may have turned cloudy. The weather however, remained dry so the timeline was accelerated and all painting was complete in under 2 weeks. 

Tables, chairs, and planters were then added into the previously pedestrianized half block from Garland Way to Grant Street. In addition, we pedestrianize the block from Montour Way to William Penn Place adding tables, chairs and planters. The additional public seating and planters solidified that Strawberry Way is a place to stay and not just pass through. Strawberry Way now functions effectively as a spill over space as well as a destination in its own right.

The PDP has an ongoing maintenance agreement with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy for watering and replanting of the planters, to be paid for with remaining funds from the grant budget. The PDP Clean Team will be responsible for monitoring the cleanliness and organization of the table and chairs. As we approach the winter months we will assess the need to move tables and chairs into storage, to then be placed outside again in the spring.

Evaluation

Pedestrian counts and stationary activity counts were performed on Strawberry Way before and after the installation of the mural and street furniture. This was done to understand how successfully the alley was functioning as a public space. The alley was functioning as a high trafficked through corridor for pedestrians with very little stationary activity other than those taking smoke breaks. Post evaluation we saw an increase in pedestrian traffic as well as a dramatic increase in staying activities demonstrating Strawberry Way’s new role as a destination space as well as place to pass through.

The number of average pedestrians per hour between 8:00am and 6:00pm recorded on Strawberry Way increased from 243 to 347 (43% increase). Stationary activity rose exponentially with an average hourly increase of 462% from 13 to 73 people.

Funding and Budget

Envision Downtown is a partnership between City of Pittsburgh Mayor, Bill Peduto and the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. Pedestrian improvements on Strawberry Way were supported bythe City of Pittsburgh's Department of Public Works.

Strawberry Way improvements, and the adjacent transit improvements on Smithfield Street, were made possible with support from the Colcom Foundation and PPG Paints.

Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership