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GIS Lab Spotlight

Hi folks, this is Nick from the P+MTR GIS lab! Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of helping a community redraw its voting ward maps—a job, I thought, that was reserved for political think tanks. But after years of GIS training, classes, certificates, and finally a GIS Professional certification, I felt equipped to tackle the task.

The municipality tasked me with analyzing the new decennial census data release to examine how the community is changing and whether redistricting its ward boundaries would be necessary. This involved a thorough analysis of the data, which required more than a simple factfinder export. I used Microsoft Access, ArcGIS Pro, and Excel pivot tables to properly join the census data to the geospatial block shapes, test configurations and make recommendations that served local goals. But that’s all inside baseball.

Next came visualizing the results. I believe that all maps and reports should be intuitive and easy to follow for readers of all levels. I stare at maps All. Day. Long. but most people aren’t cartography fanatics like myself… I chose an analogous color palette that would distinguish all nine wards from one another but not clash with each other. Each ward color corresponded to population bar graphs that supplemented the maps.

The result was a simple yet effective document that clearly tells a story with graphics and communicates the recommendations effectively. At Pashek+MTR, we’re about not only providing analysis and recommendations, but making each map, graph, and report tell a story for all people to understand.

If you’d like to understand and visualize data about your community, Pashek+MTR offers services to help break down and illustrate vital information. Change is happening in your community, and we can create a clear picture of what data tells us about how your community functions, relevant existing conditions and trends, its demographic make-up and other insights that will support informed policy decisions that directly impact citizens.

Welcome Nick Sisco!

We are excited to announce that Nick Sisco will be joining Pashek + MTR as a community planner! Nick will join Adriana Bowman, Jenni Easton, Elaine Kramer, and Jim Pashek in advancing the firm’s work in community planning.

Inspired by Ian McHarg and as both an outdoor thrill-seeker (climbing and whitewater kayaking) and passionate urbanite, Nick envisions communities that can balance both the built and natural environments while meeting the needs of all residents (human or otherwise). He specializes in GIS analysis, cartography, and graphic design. He believes that complex concepts and data can be easily translated through minimalist design aesthetics. 

Nick has over five years in the planning profession in the public, private, and federal sectors. He has conducted planning efforts in communities across the US and in Germany. He has a breadth of experience in the fields of green infrastructure and resiliency planning.  

Nick holds a Master of Community Planning degree from the University of Cincinnati; a Bachelor of Science degree, Major: Geology and Environmental Science, Minor: Geography, from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; and a GIS Certificate recognized by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.  He holds certification through the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) and is currently pursuing his Geographic Information Systems Professional (GISP) certification. 

When not at work, you can find Nick climbing at Seneca Rocks, WV, kayaking the Lower Youghiogheny River, or at a concert near you.  

Lessons Learned from Barcelona: An Intern’s Perspective

Our intern, Tori Frydrych, was fortunate enough to study in Barcelona, Spain earlier this summer.  Before she left to go back to school, she wrote about her experience:

During my time abroad, I received an entirely new perspective on design, one that differed greatly from design practices here in the United States. To begin the six-week courses, I was introduced to the history of Barcelona and how it has become the bustling tourist destination that it is today. We learned first of the four main concepts of Ildefons Cerda’s Theory of Urbanization; hygiene, circulation, public services, and code of urban ordinances. These four areas were the main building blocks for the unique gridded expansion of the city in the mid-19th century, otherwise known as L’Eixample. He saw the need for more natural lighting, green spaces, public services, and the seamless movement of people, goods, and services within the City of Barcelona.

To achieve this, Cerda’s new grid system was laid out with an even ratio of roadway and sidewalk width. In other words, the sidewalk would reach out from the buildings 10 meters, followed by 20 meters of roadway, followed by another 10 meters of sidewalk. The corners of all blocks were also cut off at 45-degree angles, making crossing streets safer and helping breezes move through the city more easily.  The interior of each block was meant for public greenspaces.

My focus was then narrowed specifically on the coastline of Barcelona. The goal of my design studio was to transform an outdated, underutilized beach athletic club into a coastline destination that would better link the urban fabric of the city to the shore. The history of Barcelona’s shoreline is not one of nature but one of man’s alteration and construction. As industry grew, it became a dumping and transportation nightmare, only to be manually overhauled in time for the 1992 Olympic Games.

In order to accommodate the Olympics, intense urban renewal occurred throughout the city to prepare for the Games and the immense amount of people that would arrive in the city.  Most of these improvements occurred in the coastal shoreline areas of the city.  Additionally, it was relatively blocked off from people because of the many rail lines that were running along the coast.  In preparation for the Games, these rail lines were redirected and new transportation highways were added. This opened access to the shore and six artificial beaches were created to be used during the Olympics and to attract tourism long afterwards.

Keeping this history in mind, I created a site that both physically connected the land and sea while also visually mirroring the two domains, showing that they will be forever linked in the city’s history of expansion and growth. Overall, I created a design that allowed for public gathering plazas, cafés featuring locally caught fish, performance spaces, recreation areas, and largely a better connection from the nearby commercial district to the popular beaches.

I greatly enjoyed my time abroad and will keep Cerda’s design principles in mind as I enter my fourth year studying Landscape Architecture at Penn State University. I will be studying abroad in Bonn, Germany next fall and I am eager to see how other areas of Europe approach the design process.



















A Grass Roots Success Story – East Ohio St Ped/Bike Improvements

East Ohio Concept Plan 3-03-15 cropIn late 2014, the Northside Leadership Conference Pedestrian and Bicycle Committee learned PennDOT District 11-0 was in the final design process for improvements to the section of East Ohio Street between East Street and Chestnut Street. This corridor has one of the highest rates of vehicular/pedestrian accidents in PennDOT District 11-0, a three-county area.

Representatives of the North Side committee asked to review the PennDOT plans, and realized there was an opportunity to include pedestrian and bicycle improvements in the design. Nick Ross, chair of the committee said, “Everyone is a pedestrian at some point during their trip, and many also ride bicycles. We need to be thinking beyond car rides, and incorporating healthy transportation choices into our daily routine.” Abe Stucky, the Leadership Conference’s community organizer, then mobilized and coordinated the committee’s efforts with PennDOT, the City of Pittsburgh Pedestrian and Bicycle Coordinator Kristin Saunders, City Transportation Engineer Amanda Broadwater, and representatives of BikePGH.

At that point Pashek Associates, a landscape architecture and community planning firm with its office adjacent to the project area, offered assistance. John Buerkle, president of Pashek Associates and a member of the committee, and Sara Thompson, a Pashek Associates principal, reviewed and evaluated PennDOT’s proposed improvements. Then, with input from Stucky and the above organizations, they prepared a plan demonstrating how best practices for bicycle and pedestrian facilities (from the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials and the National Association of City Transportation Officials) could be incorporated into the plan.

East-Ohio-Concept-Plan-3-03-15-webCheryl Moon-Sirianni, PennDOT District 11-0 Assistant District Executive for design, said, “Pashek’s design made a convincing argument for the improvements, as they took into consideration PennDOT’s goals and objectives for the vehicular improvements and worked within the constraints of the physical environment to incorporate these pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements along the corridor.”

On March 4th, PennDOT held a public meeting to unveil the final design for the East Ohio Street Improvements project. Citizens attending the meeting supported the proposed pedestrian and bicycle improvements.

Nick Ross said, “Our proposal was a long shot. We approached PennDOT at the 11th hour in their design process. They had every reason to say we came too late into the process, and therefore our proposed improvements could not be implemented. However, PennDOT recognized the improvements would improve the safety of the pedestrian and bicycling environment, and was committed to incorporating those improvements into their design.”

John Buerkle said Pashek Associates, located along East Ohio Street since the 1990s, was pleased to donate work for this endeavor. “We want to give back to the neighborhood through our design work, and we truly believe these improvements will not only improve safety for pedestrian and bicyclists, but also will have a positive impact on the East Ohio Street business district.”

He added that the improvements are a small piece of a larger plan for bike-pedestrian corridors. The North Side committee is working toward an overall pedestrian and bicycle master plan for the neighborhood. Immediate goals include extending bike lanes along East Street to the northern neighborhoods and Riverview Park, and working with the city and county to extend bike lanes along Chestnut Street and the 16th Bridge to connect to the protected bike lane along Penn Avenue through the Downtown/Lawrenceville corridor.

The East Ohio Street improvements will be constructed over the next two years, beginning this summer and concluding in fall 2016.

As Planners What Can We do to Accommodate Bicyclists? Part Two

The Secret: It’s all about making bicycling both convenient and comfortable.

In 2008, a paper by Roger Geller, Bicycle Coordinator for the Portland, Oregon, Office of Transportation, titled “Four Types of Cyclists,” explained the continuum of cyclists as follows:


Geller indicates the separation between these four broad groups is not generally as clear-cut as represented. There is likely quite a bit of blurring between the “enthused,” the “interested,” and those not at all interested, but this has proven to be a reasonable way to understand existing and potential cyclists.

In 1999, a Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities written by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials defined four types of bicycle accommodations: 1.) Shared Roadways, 2.) Signed Shared Roadways, 3.) Bike Lanes and 4.) Shared Use Paths.

Recognizing that these accommodations typically were only improving conditions for Strong and Fearless and the Enthused and Confident cyclists – just 8 percent of the population – planners, transportation officials and many others looked to develop bicycle accommodations that provide an increased level of comfort for everyone else, by looking for solutions beyond that of bicycle lanes. This resulted in new facilities, including Cycle Tracks/Protected Bike Lanes and Bicycle Boulevards. In 2012, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NATCO) formalized these best practices in its Urban Bikeway Design Guide.   The results are now being measured, and they are showing:

  • Decreases in injuries to all street users
  • Decreases in speeding
  • Fewer commercial vacancies
  • Increases in retail sales along the street
  • Increase in users who prefer the new configuration

We have learned that providing bicycle accommodations that are comfortable and convenient have real impacts and benefits to our health, economy and environment. And, as noted in Part One – more and more people are choosing bikes over cars.

So, how does Pashek Associates put new ideas into action? Part Three to follow next week.

As Planners What Can We do to Accommodate Bicyclists? Part One

BicyclingintheUS_4ed37e7bb5be3_w618For quite some time we have heard in the news about the economic, environmental and health benefits of bicycling.

These infographics clearly illustrate those benefits:

What we haven’t heard is why we are even talking about bicycling.

Our society has been car-centric since Henry Ford’s invention of the Model T in 1908, but now our national mindset appears to be changing.

In the 20th century, we geared nearly all development toward car travel. Want more convenience? Sure! Let’s build more two-car garages and large suburban parking lots. Want more efficient routes? Of course! Let’s cut down on starts, stops and red lights, and add more highways.

As we entered the 21st century, we learned that what was good for the car was not necessarily good for our health, our environment and our economy: More sedentary lifestyles fostered skyrocketing obesity rates; carbon emissions from car exhaust exacerbated climate change; and the rise of car-oriented suburban shopping malls hollowed out our once-thriving Main Streets.

There is reason to have great hope for the future, though. Upcoming generations appear to be far less reliant on motor vehicles. Fewer young people are getting a driver’s license. In 1983 about 92 percent of 20- to 24 year olds had one, but in 2011, only 79 percent did. The percentage of 16- to 19 year olds who had licenses fell from 72% to 51% in the same time period.

Young People are Driving Less Today

As a society, we are beginning to realize that that there are more convenient and desirable transportation choices with demonstrated health, environmental and economic benefits. Therefore, many of us are taking a more balanced approach. A recent study by the American Public Transportation Association indicates more Americans used public transportation in 2013 than in any year since 1956. From 1995 to 2013, transit ridership rose 37 percent.

Bike Commuting Growth is Fastest - 2014 American Community Survey State ReportThe 2013 American Community Survey shows a 62 percent increase, since 2000, in bicycle commuting nationwide. Pittsburgh’s increase was a whopping 408 percent, the largest increase of any city in the nation.

So, how can we accommodate bicycling without compromising the efficiency of vehicle travel? Part Two to follow next week.



Trails Revitalize River Towns

Montour-Trail-Lower-TrailThis morning Jim Pashek was riding into the office on his bike and had a nice chat with Chris, a young man riding his bike to work downtown. Chris works in the Mental Health field and is studying at Pitt in Social Work. Chris recently moved to Millvale from the East End. He loves Pamela’s and the other great shops in Millvale but the primary reason he moved there was the trail connection from Millvale Riverfront Park to downtown. Chris’s story is a great example of how trails revitalize river towns.

Not only do trails provide recreational opportunities, but they truly are alternatives to driving and parking in the City. They become magnets for young professionals like Chris (and older professionals like Jim) who want to live near a trail so they can ride their bike to work or school.

Chris, thanks for talking with Jim and making the 7 mile trip seem much shorter today.

When is a Charrette Appropriate?

Jim Pashek recently attended a Charrette planning workshop sponsored by the National Charrette Institute (NCI) and Harvard Graduate School of Design.  The Charrette, typically involving 6-9 months of activities, centered around an intensive 7 day workshop has been used to bring together disparate viewpoints, build consensus, and generate products that can often move forward projects that may have been on hold for years.

Route 30 Charrette
Route 30 Charrette

Although there are usually months devoted to workshop preparation, often including a public meeting, the heart is the seven day charrette.  This involves representatives from all sides of an issue, at least three “feedback loops” to make sure the proposals at the end are incorporating stakeholder views and a range of professional participants depending on the type of project.  It is not unusual to have at the seven day charrette, 12- 15 professionals, from land use planners, architects, landscape architects, illustrators, economists, developers, engineers and ecologists.  The cost of a charrette obviously varies depending on the complexity of the project. The NCI suggests that these charrettes often cost from as little as $125,000 to more than $350,000 for very complex projects.

The 9 steps for a successful charrette include:

  1. Working in a collaborative way – don’t start designing until seeking input
  2. Design cross-functionally – multiple disciplines will result in a realistic product, avoiding re-work
  3. Compress work sessions – facilitates creative problem solving and “thinking outside the box”
  4. Communicate in short feedback loops – quickly builds trust and project understanding
  5. Study the details and the whole – designs of varying scales will reduce likelihood of “fatal flaw”
  6. Produce a feasible plan – decisions must be fully informed regarding legal, financial and political
  7. Use design to achieve a shared vision and create holistic solutions – can contribute to resolving conflict
  8. Conduct a multiple day charrette – need time for at least three feedback loops with stakeholders to build trust and make sure design is going to be accepted
  9. Hold the charrettes on or near the site – allows design team to better understand project

Workshop in Prague
Workshop in Prague

Because we were in Cambridge for the training, we had the added benefit of a session with Stacie Smith from the Consensus Building Institute (CBI).  The Institute, who started as a group of professors at MIT and who authored the book “Getting to Yes,” have developed an interesting process for getting groups with polarized positions to identify common values that they can build on (the CBI is just beginning to do work in the middle east).

There are situations when viewpoints are so entrenched that consensus building might be a more appropriate process than a charrette.  Other times, this process might be a logical precursor to a charrette workshop.

The NCI has great resources for agencies including a standard scope of work for running a charrette process.  Check out www.charretteinstitute.orgor call them at 503-233-8486.  I would encourage everyone to become more familiar with this great public process tool and consider using it in the appropriate situation.  Anyone who is interested in more information could also give Jim Pashek a call at 412-321-6362 x111.