Pittsburgh’s Stairways and the Community

Pittsburgh’s Stairways and the Community

Case Study

The City of Pittsburgh owns more than 800 sets of public stairways that are a critical part of the City’s pedestrian network. Pittsburgh’s unique topography renders residents, especially low-income residents, dependent on these stairways on a daily basis, and many are in need or repairs or enhancements, including lighting and safety improvements. The City initially envisioned conducting engineering studies on each of the stairs to estimate the costs of needed rehabilitation. Instead, the City decided to conduct a public engagement process first to gain additional information about who used the stairs, how they were used, and their role in the transportation network.

By engaging the community first, the City can determine which stairs are most used, and which ones are most relied on by residents who don’t have access to cars. The City can also determine what other features and benefits might serve the community.

In prioritizing the stairway projects, the City will use five factors:

  • Destinations—the number and type of destinations reached by a set of stairs.
  • Population—the number of people using the stairs or in proximity.
  • Demographic factors, such as poverty rates, vehicle ownership rates, and pedestrian mode share.
  • Step detour—the distance a pedestrian would have to walk from the top to the bottom of a set of steps, if the steps did not exist.
  • Step density—a factor to compensate for the fact that neighborhoods with fewer steps would automatically score highly on the step detour factor (since the nearest step would be farther away). Without this factor, neighborhoods with many steps might not receive adequate prioritization.

The City of Pittsburgh owns more than 800 stairways that differ in size, neighborhood context, level of use, and state or repair. The city gathered community input through a Wikimap (as well as through direct outreach to community groups).