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Pittsburgh Taking Steps to Fix Crumbling Stairways

By Margaret Harding
Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tiffany Eberhardt recently fell through the broken city steps at the top of Oltman Street in Chartiers City, injuring her wrist and knee. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Tiffany Eberhardt’s trip to visit her grandmother recently took on a new meaning.

Eberhardt, 33, of Jefferson Hills broke her wrist and tore knee ligaments after falling through city-owned suspended concrete stairs in Pittsburgh’s Chartiers City neighborhood in April.

“I love the fact that they’re here,” Eberhardt said about the steps. “They just need to be fixed.”

The city’s 311 response line has logged more than 600 complaints about the city’s 555 stairways since the hot line’s inception in 2006, officials said.

About 96 percent of complaints are marked “completed,” but that doesn’t mean stairs were repaired, said Wendy Urbanic, hot line coordinator. Steps are fixed when “time and funds permit,” she said.

Crews inspect steps when a complaint arises, Public Works Director Rob Kaczorowski said, but “we won’t maintain the steps unless we get a request.”

The stairway off Oltman Street that Eberhardt fell through is missing steps and plagued by a loose railing and wobbly steps, Eberhardt said.

“As long as you know the steps that aren’t there, you think you’d be OK,” said Eberhardt, who undergoes weekly physical therapy since falling.

Public Works closed the stairway.

Since 2005, the city has received 17 steps-related claims, Solicitor Dan Regan said. Of those, the city paid on one — $240 to someone whose eyeglasses broke during a fall down steps that were being repaired, Regan said. Three lawsuits are pending against the city for stair-related issues, Regan said. The lawsuits were filed after claims were denied, he said.

Eberhardt said she didn’t file a claim, but plans to sue for compensation for her injuries.

Kaczorowski blamed part of the problem on crew size — he has no more than four people devoted to step repairs. In past years, he said, maintenance workers in each of Public Works’ six divisions repaired steps.

“We’re in the process of training people in the maintenance division to go back to the old way,” Kaczorowski said.

Public Works averages about 50 repairs a year, said Robert Vavro, construction supervisor.

The cost of minor step repair comes from Public Works’ budget, but the city allocates $100,000 for major repairs or new stairways, Kaczorowski said. That money goes toward wall and fence maintenance.

Despite the hot line complaints, Bob Regan, a research professor at the University of Pittsburgh, said most steps are in acceptable shape.

“I would say 90 percent of them are in quite good condition,” said Regan, who counted about 742 sets of steps, including “jumper walks” — stairways with platforms — and authored “The Steps of Pittsburgh: Portrait of a City” in 2004.

Still, Bob Amend, 43, who lives next to the Oltman Street steps, would like the stairway removed. Eberhardt is the second person he helped after a spill.

“They’re cracking all the way down,” Amend said. “You get one or two people using them. They’re looking around, and the next thing you know they’re in the hole.”

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