A series of urban analyses and planning strategies for integrating Autonomous Vehicle technology into Pittsburgh’s architecture & landscape.


Speculative futures of an autonomous vehicle enabled city tend to question if AV technology will totally transform urban landscapes, just as the automobile did upon its introduction, or merely resolve current logistical issues with intelligent and networked infrastructure. This speculative investigation of an urbanism that must contend with the potential impacts of AV technology, good and bad. Focused on equity, connectivity, and pedestrian-prioritized access, this proposal attempts to maintain the social worlds or existing neighborhoods, and keep people engaged to the world they inhabit.

Autumn 2017 with supervising professor Christine Mondor

Restructured streetscapes

One of the potential dangers this investigation identified within an AV future is the enabling of an "airport" effect. This effect is characterized by a future where new developments in essence function as small islands that attempt to consume as many facets of an individual’s life as possible, from housing, to food access, to social community, to work, and transit. This effect would in effect only further exarcerbate the segregation that already characterizes so much of the American landscape. And AV technology has the potential to further this effect by allowing one to summon a vehicle to their homogenous, and aesthetically bland arcology of life, and take the vehicle to the next, identically homogenous and bland island. While this already characterizes so many Americans experiences in their daily commute by car, the Autonomous Vehicle takes even that small interaction of allowing somebody to merge, or giving the finger to somebody who honks at you and even quells even that.

Therefore, it was a priority of this project to identify methods which would avoid this effect, which would, in effect, keep people connected to their landscape, even as their means of transit become further removed from it. One of the major decisions then, was to integrate AV technology within existing street landscapes and not disturb the urban fabric even further. This was paired with pedestrian-prioritized street-edge development of slow-streets and pedestrian crossing, wherein cars, even Autonomous Vehicles, must yield to the needs of pedestrians and bikers. This establishes a hierarchy wherein Autonomous Vehicles are not at the top, and it creates the opportunity for even new, AV-enabled, multi-modal and mixed-used developments to strengthen a socially diverse and accessible realm.


Regional Analysis

In order to determine potential sites to test AV strategies, an urban analysis of Pittsburgh and the greater metropolitan area was conducted, analyzing the city's existing transit network of railroads, inclines, light-rail, highways, and busways. This analysis determined major roads with signficant regional connections, which if enabled for AV-technology would maximize the potential regional impact of an AV network.


Corridor Analysis

The regional analysis, in particular revealed the significance of the Baum-Centre corridor as an E-W connector with significant regional connections. Then, through an analysis of the existing building typologies and vacancies along the corridor, the unique “districts” which characterize the larger area were identified for both their spatial footprint and character. The typologies examined included major Institutions (black), Mixed-Use developments (red), Retail (grey), Cultural Buildings (blue), Grocery Stores & Restaurants (green), and Auto-Related buildings (yellow). This allowed for the identification of four sites along the Baum-Center corridor that are currently underutilized within the urban fabric and represent sites of potential for early models of an inclusive development of the future.


Potential sites of intervention

Neville bus Ramp - Lateral Transfer

The MLK Busway is the primary E-W public transit connector from Pittsburgh's downtown to its East End. Towards the western end of the Baum-Centre corridor is an existing bus-only ramp connecting the corridor and busway. The top of this ramp is currently under-developed, but turning the busway into an AV HOV highway could increase ridership and provide a point of lateral transfer between the E-W busway and the N-S Neville St..


Ford Motors Bldg - Mode Tranfer

Where the MLK Busway crosses beneath the Baum-Centre corridor sits the historic Ford Motors Building, a former automobile factory that vertically bridges the 7-stories from the Busway to street level. Adjacent to UPMC Shadyside, the building is an ideal point for a new Busway stop, and point of mode transfer from automobile to bus, and from a citywide HOV AV highway to more local pedestrian and bicycle connections.


Ellsworth-centre connection - pedestrian access

Where Negley Ave meets the Baum-Centre corridor, there is both intense traffic congestion and a high-traffic destination in the Giant-Eagle Market District. To address both conditions, pedestrian bridges can span the Busway and link the Ellsworth and Baum-Centre corridors, creating longitudinally connective points that strengthen pedestrian connections between neighborhoods to the north and south of the corridor. 


Shakespeare giant eagle - all of the above

Anchoring the eastern end of the Baum-Centre corridor is a site that contends with all of the opportunities and challenges of the previous three sites, and therefore presents the ideal test site for studying an AV future. Surrounding, the existing Shakespeare Giant Eagle is a series of oversized parking lots that present the opportunity for a series of connective opportunities through pedestrian connections towards the underserved Larimer community, developing the northern terminus of Shady Ave. into a densified retail corridor, and to extend pedestrian connections from the existing E. Bond development and MLK Busway stop.


Working through sample site

Working off of the site's connective opportunities to the Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, E. Liberty, Larimer, and Garfield neighborhoods, the above massing strategy was developed to take maximum advantage of the site's edge condition. The creation of an interior automotive slow-street that deflects off of the terminus of Shady Ave creates makes the site an ideal point to transfer from automobiles or pedestrian route to the Busway. In addition, pedestrian connections to Larimer and downtown E. Liberty strengthen the site's and existing grocery store's pedestrian connections to the undeserved communities they serve*.


*Demographic Analysis for the Shakespeare Giant Eagle and neighboring Trader Joes and Whole Foods were based upon research conducted under the guidance of Professor Kristen Hughes' survey Designing With Community.


Thus the resultant TOD strategy was developed which focuses on creating an internal pedestrian 'plaza' with pedestrian-prioritzed slow-streets and significant street-edge amenities. This creates a maximized amount of frontage within the site and allows for mixed-use additions to be made to the existing Giant Eagle building. Capitalizing on the lack of open space in the surrounding area then, a cross-Busway pedestrian park is made that links to the surrounding developments and reflects a prediction of increasingly blurred distinction of public and private investment in an AV society, as it links numerous private developments but provides an equitable and open public amenity for all.