The Smithfield at Sixth Avenue bus stop is the busiest in Port Authority’s system. On an average weekday 6,500 local transit riders (plus hundreds of additional regional transit riders) get on and off at the stop. The Smithfield Street stop serves as the main Downtown stop for the heavily used East Busway routes. Despite the critical role it played in the region’s transit system, the location lacked any amenities for transit riders apart from a standard blue bus stop sign. In addition, the ten foot wide sidewalks often became so crowded with transit passengers that pedestrians could not easily traverse the corridor.
The pedestrian experience was improved with the installation a concrete sidewalk extension, shelters, lean bars and real time information. This provided comfortable, dedicated waiting space for transit riders while also clearing the sidewalk to allow increased ease of movement for passing pedestrians.
The bus stop at Smithfield and Sixth Street sees an average of nearly 6,500 Port Authority riders boarding and alighting each weekday. There are also three regional transit providers (Mid Mon Valley Transit, Fayette County Transit and Freedom Transit [Washington City/County]) that use the stop.
Pedestrian counts done at the location in October 2015 showed average hourly weekday pedestrian traffic of 800 people an hour peaking at afternoon rush hour with over 2,000 pedestrians. Weekend traffic was much lower with an average of 235 pedestrians per hour and a peak of 440 in the early afternoon.
The existing sidewalk at Smithfield Street was just under 12’ wide. The only transit amenity was a standard blue bus stop sign. There was no seating and no protection from the elements.
Between 4pm and 6pm the numbers of transit riders waiting for buses often reaches close to 100 at any given moment. Assuming a 3’ pedestrian walkway for those travelling through the stop on the sidewalk the waiting area left for transit riders was approximately 6-7 s.f. per person. The Transit Capacity and Quality of Service Manual rates this a Level of Service D in which “circulation is severely restricted”, forward movement is only possible at a group” and “long term waiting at this density is discomforting”.
The existing road allocation consisted of a 13’ 5” westbound bus lane, an 11’ eastbound travel lane and an 11’ 7” peak travel lane/off-peak parking lane.
The main goal of the project was to provide additional space for transit passengers waiting at the bus stop and some additional amenities but we also wanted to better delineate the space and create a more “station” like waiting experience. The four major aspects of the project included a sidewalk extension, roadway reallocation, new transit shelters and painted bumpouts with planters.
After exploration of a number of different material options (decking, rubber paving, and asphalt) our partners at Port Authority and DPW felt most comfortable with a full concrete build out. Although this reduces the “temporary” character of the project somewhat, it was the safest and most inexpensive option.
Using NACTO standards as a guide we proposed a reduction of the eastbound travel lane down to 10’ and the parking lane down to 8’ while leaving the bus lane at 11’. This allowed us to add an additional 6’ of sidewalk and also created additional full time parking as the curbside eastbound lane would no longer switch to a travel lane on peak hours.
The shelters selected were an off-the-shelf bike shelter product made by Brasco. The shelters chosen had open sides to allow for better flow of transit riders getting on and off at the stop. A lean bar was added in each shelter to better delineate and organize the station space as well as to provide a place for those waiting to rest. The shelter and lean bars were taken to Art Commission for courtesy review.
Traffic Transitions, Bumpouts and Planters
Painted bumpouts were proposed either side of the sidewalk extension, these helped to reduce crossing distance at the Sixth Ave crosswalk and improve pedestrian safety as well as allow for transition of traffic into the new road pattern. Planters were also proposed for the painted zones to add greening and additional protection for pedestrians and those using the transit stop.
We contracted with Mackin Engineering to design and document the technical aspects of the road allocation changes. Mackin used a number of national engineering standards and NACTO recommendations to identify:
• Turning radii
• Stop bar positioning
• Transition distances buses would need to get in and out of new traffic pattern
• Crosswalk site lines
These drawings where then reviewed with the City's Traffic Engineer for project approval. They also served as the site drawings for the paint and concrete contractors. Both the paint and concrete contractors were City approved and have contracts with the City for ongoing line painting and sidewalk work.
Drainage and utility access were the two main concerns of the curb extension. Manholes dictated positioning and length of extension. With these constraints we were still able to increase the sidewalk area by 600 square feet. This would increase personal waiting space to 11-13 s.f. per person or Level of Service B “standing and partially restricted circulation to avoid disturbing others within the queue is possible”.
Note: As indicated, the location of utility access points was a limiting factor the location and length of the platform. Has there been no manhole covers, we would have preferred to begin the sidewalk extension at the corner of Smithfield and Sixth as opposed to the slight setback present in the final design.
The preliminary solution for drainage was to construct a channel between the extension and the existing curb. However, the concrete contractor identified a pre-fabricated plastic channel and grate product that could be installed directly into the concrete as it was poured. Based on the limited drainage requirements and the significant cost savings, the pre-fabricated option was selected.
Permits, Installation and Project Management
Repaving and Painting
Smithfield Street from Seventh Avenue to Sixth Avenue was repaved by the City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Public Works and the road was restriped to reduce the width of its existing travel and parking lanes as per the designs. The repaving was coordinated with the City’s existing repaving schedule. The City was the project manager for both pieces of work, the resurfacing and the painting of the new traffic pattern, but Envision Downtown was directly responsible for payment to the painting contractor.
Sidewalk Extension Installation
Once the asphalt was milled our concrete contractor began to pour the platform. The contractor installed a deck curb (that is, no additional excavation was required for the curb) and repaired any spots on the existing curb that were failing. The platform itself was then poured in two halves directly onto the asphalt binder before the new asphalt was laid so that it would adhere. The 18” of the new concrete was reinforced with rebar in preparation for the shelter installation. The contractor was managed by Envision Downtown and the contractor was responsible for the traffic management plan during installation.
All independent organization and citizens wishing to install permanent or semi-permanent structures on the city right-of-way must first secure authorization from the City of Pittsburgh. To fulfil this legal requirement, Envision Downtown petitioned the city for an encroachment permit. This process involved an application, approval from adjacent property owners, proof of insurance and approval from City Council. Note: as Envision Downtown is not a formal or independent organization, the encroachment permit and insurance certificate is held by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.
Once the encroachment permit was received we worked with general contractor PJ Dick to install the shelters. We managed this project and the contractors pulled the necessary permits to complete the work – traffic obstruction permits etc.
As required by their individual traffic management plans, Envision Downtown, the contracting parties and the City’s Department of Public Works worked with the Port Authority to reroute service as necessary during construction. This included a complete rerouting of service for three weekdays while the curb and concrete were poured. Once the platform was installed the Port Authority communicated with bus drivers to advise them of the new traffic pattern.
Real Time Information and Signage
During the development of this project the Port Authority also completed a new plan for bus stop signage and real time information at select bus stops in Downtown. As such, Envision Downtown commissioned and installed temporary bus signage (in the form of two large A-Frames) at the Smithfield stop for six weeks until the arrival of Port Authority’s updated signage package and real time bus arrival technology.
Project Evaluation + Impact
In order to quantify the impact of the changes made at the Smithfield Street bus stop an on the street survey was given before and after the improvements. Overall 74% of those asked believed the stop was better now than before, 25% thought it was the same and 1% thought it was worse. The top three priorities for the stop as attained from the original survey; shelter, seating/leaning, and Real Time information, were all delivered successfully.
Those waiting for transit were also asked on a scale from 1 – 5, where 1 was disagree and 5 was completely agree about the ease of getting on and off at the stop, the space at the stop and their perception of safety at the stop and we saw an improvement in all three areas. We saw an increase in those who felt the stop had enough space with a weighted average of 4.20 up from 2.86. Only 3% of people now said they disagreed the stop had enough space whereas in the original survey 37% disagreed the stop had enough space. Additionally more than 79% of people surveyed now completely or somewhat agreed that the stop now has enough space compared to 43% beforehand.
The weighted average for the ease of getting on and off the bus went up to 4.46 from 4.25. In addition perception of safety both during the day and at night increased with, 78% of respondents completely agreeing they felt safe there during the day, compared to 66% beforehand, and 34% saying they completely agreed they would feel safe there at night, compared to 25%.
Funding and Budget
Envision Downtown is a partnership between City of Pittsburgh Mayor, Bill Peduto and the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. Transit improvements on Smithfield Street were supported by the City of Pittsburgh's Department of Public Works and the Port Authority of Allegheny County.
The "Super Stop", and the adjacent pedestrian improvements on Strawberry Way, were made possible with support from the Colcom Foundation and PPG Paints.