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The tree-lined area that I've highlighted could be considered to be the entrance to downtown Pittsburgh.  It's a portion of  Liberty Avenue, between Point State Park (bottom) and Stanwix Street (top).

Multiple streets intersect, resulting in dangerous congestion.  Several dozen experts gathered in the city last week to study it.

“We saw all kinds of behaviors where people weren’t obeying the rules,” Florida traffic engineer Ian Lockwood told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  “It takes a long time for everyone to get a green light.  The thing’s not working.”

So they came up with a radical idea.  First, divert some of the traffic off Liberty Avenue to parallel streets on either side.

But then, remove all the lane markings and crosswalks from that block!  Remove all the signs and traffic lights!  Even level all the curbs and sidewalks!  Just let all the cars and trucks and buses and bicycles and pedestrians go wherever they like, whenever they like, using their common sense to share the space with everyone else.

That’s nuts.  Or so it seems, one participant admitted.  But it might just work.  Shared space has been successful in several European cities.  We’ve even seen it in the U.S.; this video is a few years old, but it shows San Francisco’s bustling Market Street without signs and signals.

“The key to a shared space,” the newspaper explained, “is creating a design that causes drivers to slow down, which improves safety.”  Paradoxically, the resulting slow but steady traffic can actually move through the congested area in less time, because no one is standing still, idling, waiting two minutes for a light to change.

“Doing away with the rules forces drivers and pedestrians to interact and cooperate.  Ownership of the entire street vests with everyone.  Drivers pay attention to pedestrians and other drivers rather than signals and signs.  Foot traffic increases, stimulating retail development.”

It occurs to me that it won’t be possible to eliminate all signs.  It will be necessary to explain to drivers and pedestrians before they reach the shared space that they’re about to enter the Wild West, a lawless open free-for-all.  They should not expect any government-painted lines on the pavement nor any stop signs granting them the right of way over other people.  They should be prepared to respect their fellow citizens and defer to them.

I imagined what such a notification might look like.  It's in the traditional Pittsburgh colors.  It’s in the traditional shape of a Yield sign.  And it alludes to the traditional nickname of Pittsburgh’s downtown, the Golden Triangle.

Will city planners approve the shared space concept?  Personally, I doubt it.

However, “if this got done,” says Robert Ping from the state of Washington, “it would be on the national radar screen.  People would come here to see it!”


JUNE 26, 2015    12C BUZZWORD

In introductory college chemistry, organic chemistry is a more difficult laboratory course than inorganic, because the molecules are more complex.

In broad terms, organic chemistry means “containing carbon” — specifically, carbon compounds like proteins and carbohydrates.  Inorganic chemistry includes everything else like metals and acids and salts.

I just brewed myself a cup of chai tea.  The package of teabags says it’s “organic.”  Of course it is.  To me, all food is organic, not because of how it’s grown but because it contains carbon.  Inorganic tea would not taste good.  So there.


JUNE 20, 2015    HE SAID, SHE SAID

In the misty past some members of my Richwood High School class, nearing graduation, climbed the iconic water tower that loomed over our village.  On the side of the big black tank under the RICHWOOD they proudly painted “Class of ’65.”

Since then this escapade has often been mentioned, but I never heard the full story.

Denny Roberts wrote that he got “in big trouble for it.”  That was in a book of memories we exchanged last weekend at our reunion.  So I asked him about it.  He told me he did the painting with the help of Gene Somerlot and Pete Ransome.  Also, our class wasn’t the only mischievous one; the tower had been tagged by older classes in prior years.

However, Pat Ransome Kyle-Beatley told a different tale.  She wrote, “I can recall climbing the water tower with Sheila Ward to paint ‘Class of ’65.’  Don’t believe what Denny Roberts had to say.  Too bad the girls were responsible for this.  Where were our guys?”

Alas, we may never know the truth.  Nevertheless, I went ahead and tabulated some of the details and statistics from that book of memories.  I also added a whole bunch of Tonya Davis Payne’s reunion photos.  It’s all in a follow-up story, More on the 50th Reunion.


JUNE 16, 2015    

I’m back from my high school reunion!  And I’m sporting this shirt that was being sold by Criss Somerlot.

Many more photos and comments are in my article called Tigers Roar.



They were inside jokes when they were written.  Half a century later, even fewer people can understand them.  Nevertheless, they're in my files, so now they're online, whether you "get" them or not.

They're the bequests made by the members of the Class of 1965, as read at the very last Richwood High School Junior-Senior Banquet.  They're known as The Will.



Looking forward to my 50-year high school reunion, it’s time for another guest article from a classmate.  In this case, the article is also 50 years old.

Looking backward in 1965 on our four years of high school, Roxye Carter Cieply (seen here in a recent Facebook photo) wrote a memoir that was included in a publication called The Merger.



At the beginning of your correspondent’s career, 62 years ago, I was all prepared to conduct an exclusive interview with the king! 

Notice my hands; I seem to be holding my notebook like an accordion.  As I recall, old King Cole was a merry old soul, and a merry old soul was he.  But then our one-on-one was upstaged by the arrival of Daffy-down-Dilly. 

Actually, we were all in costume for our kindergarten operetta.  It was the spring of 1953.  I played Mother Goose's secretary, Kelly Drake portrayed the king, and Sherry Keigley was the daffodil.  As Nathaniel Hawthorne observed,

     Has come to town
With a yellow petticoat
     And a pretty green gown.

And thus have I colorized this portion of the cast photo.

The story of this epic production is this month’s 100 Moons article.

I’ll get another chance to talk to the king later in the month when our high school class holds its 50-year reunion.



As my 50-year high school reunion approaches, I've been sorting through the old papers in my files.  A couple of the documents turned out to be essays for English class.

The cutting-edge photographic technology of the time was a camera whose prints developed themselves in 60 seconds, as demonstrated here by Durward Kirby in a live commercial on the Garry Moore Show.

On September 28, 1961, in my first month as a freshman, I penned the following otherwise-unremarkable tale of my frustration with the process.

I had bad luck that day trying to photograph my grandmother’s house with a Polaroid camera.

Walking confidently across the street to get a good angle, I set the exposure and the focus.  I took what I thought would be a good picture, but when I pulled the “tab” to start the developing process, half of the film roll came with it.  This ruined exposures 5 and 6 of an eight-exposure roll.

I clicked the shutter again and this time pulled the tab more carefully.  Out came exposures 7 and 8.  Disgusted, I went into the house, checked the tab-release mechanism inside the camera, reloaded, and marched back to my position.

“Oh-oh,” I thought, “I’d better reset the exposure.  The sun went behind a cloud.”  Making the change, I took the picture and, holding my breath, pulled the tab.  It stopped where it was supposed to!

But when I lifted out the print, I found that I had been right the first time about the exposure; this picture was badly “washed out.”

I grimly corrected my mistake and, for the fourth time, pressed the shutter.  This shot was perfect.

However, Grandma wanted two copies of it, so I had to go through the whole process once more.  By the time I got through, I had used nearly a dollar’s worth of film for two pictures of a house.

Later, as a senior, I had mastered the Polaroid sufficiently to show it to my speech class by taking a picture of Carl Martin and my other classmates, who watched my demonstration with rapt fascination.


MAY 24, 2015    CAP & GOWN

Fifty years ago this evening, dressed in this odd but time-honored fashion, I posed for pictures in my back yard.

From there I went to the stage of the high school auditorium, 300 yards to the west, where I delivered a seven-minute speech to my fellow graduates.

The text of my valedictory is this month’s 100 Moons article.


MAY 23, 2015    IRE-BOWS

Mark Evanier posted this afternoon:

As I'm sure you've heard, Ireland has legalized Gay Marriage by a pretty resounding majority vote.  One hopes that opponents of that kind of thing in this country will realize that if that's the view of a nation as solidly Catholic as Ireland, that's the way the civilized world is headed and it ain't going back.

For years now, we've been hearing foes of Gay Marriage tell us that it will lead to the destruction of Straight Marriage, waves of Polygamy and men marrying cocker spaniels — all this then trumped by an angry God sending hell and damnation unto us all.

It's been eleven years since Massachusetts began allowing same-gender couples to wed.  There have been no reports of Straight Marriage going bye-bye and no evidence of Polygamy replacing it.  Nor has The Lord rained down burning sulfur on Boston.

On the contrary, Gay Marriage was approved today in Ireland, and what appeared immediately in the skies?  Not burning sulfur, but rainbow after rainbow!

If I were gay, I’d be inspired by these scenes.  If I believed in signs from God, I’d say loving couples whom some Christians revile have been promised God’s blessing.

“I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”  Genesis 9:13

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

“Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.”  Matthew 5:11-12



It was a Friday afternoon in New York City, August 6, 1993.  Traveling with KDKA’s crew for Pittsburgh Pirates telecasts, I had flown in from Chicago that morning.

The Pirates had the day off before playing a Sign Day doubleheader against the Mets on Saturday.  Therefore, I had the day off too.

There was much discussion in the TV industry about late-night host David Letterman’s move from NBC to CBS.  Massive renovations were taking place at New York’s Ed Sullivan Theater.  Some wondered whether the studio would be ready in time for Dave’s CBS premiere on August 30.

On a map of Manhattan I located the theater.  From our hotel next to Grand Central Station, it was eleven blocks north and about the same distance west.  That wasn’t far away, little more than a mile, so I decided to walk over there to see what was going on.

The theater's lobby is on Broadway, but I remembered from watching the original Ed Sullivan show that the auditorium has ground-level exit doors on the left side of the audience.  From the map, I learned that those doors open onto West 53rd Street.  If during a show, Dave wanted to leave the studio and talk to people on the street or something, it would be very convenient — unlike NBC’s Studio 6A, from which one needed an elevator to access the outside world.

When I arrived, there were those doors, and they were open.  Crews were carrying in various pieces of scenery and seats and equipment.  I walked up and down the sidewalk a few times, glimpsing a few details of the interior through the open doors.  I didn’t see much.  There was a magenta light on the stage, which didn’t mean anything.  But apparently the technical work was progressing on schedule, because a monitor hanging from the underside of the balcony was functioning and displaying a color-bars test signal.

Yesterday, as shown in pictures from the New York Post, those doors onto West 53rd Street were open again.  Crews were again carrying scenery, but this time it was coming out.

They have only 15 weeks to remodel the theater again for the next late-night host, Stephen Colbert.


MAY 20, 2015

Last week, a juvenile bear was found exploring the suburb of Monroeville, 15 miles south of here.

The state game commission was alerted.  So were the news media; these images are from KDKA-TV.

If these critters ever learn to read, we'll be defenseless!

But the bait (doughnuts) worked this time, and all is well.

MAY 15, 2015    STEEL TOWN

Though I grew up in Ohio, I moved to the environs of Pittsburgh (the Steel City) in 1974.  Around that time, most of the dirty old mills were shutting down.  Nowadays visitors are surprised to find that this region, despite its former reputation as a home of heavy industry, is no longer smoky.

But steel hasn’t faded away in my neighborhood.  Only eight blocks from my suburban apartment, there’s a brand new billion-dollar mill!  A company official says, “You're not going to find another factory like this one in the world.”

In the 19th century, coal-fired steel mills made Pittsburgh an industrial giant and a fearsome sight to behold.  James Parton famously described the view from atop one of the surrounding hills as “looking over into hell with the lid taken off.”

In the 20th century, my uncle and many others noted that in the middle of the day, street lights had to stay on and businessmen had to replace their white shirts with clean ones.

However, a 1959 strike shut down the mills for four months.  Other industries needed the metal, so for the first time in American history they began importing large amounts of cheaper steel from foreign countries.  That virtually killed the domestic steel industry.  Within 30 years, over 75% of Pittsburgh’s steelmaking capacity was shut down.

When Monday Night Football started coming to Pittsburgh to cover the Steelers in the early 1970s, television producers still depicted the city by showing blue-collar industrial scenes.





Then the mills closed, the air cleared, and Pittsburgh was transformed.

Now our iconic image includes a blue sky and a leafy hillside with a picturesque incline.

But as I mentioned, not all the steel mills are gone.  There’s a gleaming new hot-rolling mill along the Allegheny River, only half a mile down the hill from my apartment.

Built just downriver from Allegheny Technologies Inc.'s existing plant (formerly Allegheny Ludlum), the $1.2-billion dollar facility is the largest investment in the company’s history.  Last week, ATI gave the media a tour. 

Out back there's a railroad (incidentally following the route of the old Pennsylvania Canal).  Three times a week, trains deliver huge 8½-inch thick metal slabs of specialty steel and various alloys from six ATI melt shops.

Inside the new building, the metal is re-heated to 2,250 degrees in one of two primary furnaces.  Then a roughing mill described as “the most powerful of its kind in the world” squeezes it down to 1½ inches within 90 seconds.

Additional “stands” incrementally reduce the thickness to 0.08 inch.  If the metal is stainless steel, the ribbons can be as much as five feet wide.

The steel is cooled, coiled if that's what the product calls for, and bar-coded before being shipped out for finishing.

Computers monitor the process for quality, and engineers and technicians in an elevated “pulpit” monitor the computers.

“Jobs are changing from manual labor to process control,” said ATI executive Robert Wetherbee.  “There are not a lot of people on the shop floor.  People are in the control rooms.”  They’ve undergone as much as two years of specialized training, and their average salary is $92,000.

So is the company hiring?  Well, not right now.  To get government approval for the construction, ATI pledged not to reduce its work force, but it didn’t promise to increase it either.  When current employees eventually retire, new workers will be added to replace them.  However, unlike the old days, laborers won’t be able to get a job straight out of high school.  Wetherbee said any new hires will likely need at least an associate degree in engineering, electronics, or other technical fields.


ATI may not be reducing its work force with traditional layoffs.  However, times are tough in the steel industry, and the company has used other means to reduce its work force for now.  When ATI proposed a contract to replace the one expiring June 30, the United Steelworkers couldn't accept it.  Union officials refused even to put the “drastic” ATI proposal to a vote by members.

On August 15 the company locked out about 2,200 union workers in six states, including about 600 locally.  Only some of those work at the new automated mill, and Wetherbee said today that only 32 are needed to operate it.  It seems the union members have hardly been missed.  Their jobs have been filled by managers and replacement workers, and after three months, productivity levels have recovered to pre-lockout levels.

UPDATE, MARCH 14, 2016

The company was in no hurry to negotiate a new contract, but agreement was finally reached after seven months.  Union members will be returning to work this week.

But you’re wondering how I like living close to a steel mill.

It’s no problem.  The only noise pollution came from pile drivers building the foundation a few years ago, but that’s all gone now.  A street next to the plant had to be relocated, but it’s open again now.  And the mill is clean.

ATI spokesman Dan Greenfield said, “The whole vision of a dusty, grimy facility is just not the right image of this facility.  There's no smoke.  There's no coal being burned there.  There are no pollutants.”  The plant operates on electricity and the re-heat furnaces run on natural gas.

As far as water quality is concerned, project manager Darin Sarin said the plant re-uses water taken from the Allegheny River, and “what does go back into the river will be cleaner than when it came in.  The EPA has said it will use this as an example for other companies building new plants.”

So far, my neighborhood hot-rolling mill has proven to be a good citizen. 


MAY 11, 2015    LADIES’ CHOICE

Fifty years ago this month, I graduated from Richwood High School.  Our Class of 1965 broke the mold.  The authorities, despairing that any better class would ever come along, retired the school’s name.  By that fall it had become North Union High School.

Next month we’re holding our 50-year reunion.  It'll be a time to get together, catch up with each other, and talk about old times — including some youthful moments we might prefer not to relive.

To reassure us, class president Ed Olson (left) told an embarrasing story on himself a few months ago via e-mail.

Here's Ed's tale, to which I've added images from our junior and senior yearbooks.

I remember the Homecoming Dance of ’63 during our junior year.  At that time, I had developed a teenage crush on Kay Clevenger (right), who was a senior.

I was sitting in the senior class section of the auditorium / gym at RHS listening to the melodious tones from the “Sunset Serenaders” from Pharisburg, Ohio, with their talent lineup of a drummer, a piano player, some guy on a bass or guitar ...

and our journalism teacher, Miss LeVan (left), on the saxophone.

I can still remember the band leader announcing, “And the next number is a ladies’ choice.”

Kay Clevenger walked off the gym floor and started up the steps.  I could have sworn that we made eye contact.

She got a little closer and smiled.  I smiled back, with my heart having passed the throat and continuing to ascend into my mouth.

As she reached the row where I was sitting, I stood up to accept her invitation.

Unfortunately, it was not until then that I realized Dick Hill (senior football /  basketball / track star and all-around heartthrob for many RHS girls) was in the row behind me, also standing.

As Kay and Dick descended the stairs, there was only one way to save face.  I started brushing my trousers as if they had become bunched up while I was sitting.

So, you see, even if there are memories you want to forget from high school, I can top yours.

Fortunately, when our senior prom came around the next year, the theme was “Arabian Nights,” and Ed found a beautiful girl who wanted to dance with him.


The local headlines mentioned hockey players.

Sid To Play In Worlds
Ailing Pens Eye Returns

I interpreted the second one the wrong way.  Who or what is the Pens Eye?  Apparently it has recovered its health, and the second coming of the Eye sounds like good news.

Reading further, I discovered the headline was trying to say, “Ailing Penguins Each Look Forward To Returning.”  Oh.  I suppose that would not have fit the allotted space.

Speaking of ailing eyes, however, mine are no longer ailing!  They’re still egg-shaped, but compared to last year, I see life much better now, thank you.

In a new article called The Hyperope, I describe my recent surgery to install clear lenses.