Allegheny County adopted a comprehensive plan for active transportation in 2010 called Active Allegheny. The document identifies places throughout the county that would benefit from transportation initiatives as well as placemaking says Ann Ogoreuc, manager of transportation initiatives for Allegheny County’s Department of Economic Development.

But here’s the thing. Allegheny County is stitched together from 130 municipalities. To build a trail or an on-road bike facility that crosses from one boundary to the next requires getting local elected officials in each municipality to approve. Ogoreuc discussed the issue in a breakout session at the Pro Walk / Pro Bike / Pro Place conference underway at the David L. Lawrence convention center. She says coordinating buy-in is no easy task.

“In the Pennsylvania commonwealth, the state constitution gives local municipalities the right to self-govern and adopt a zoning code.”

Translation: Each place has its own rules and owns its own land rights (or a third party does) and there is no requirement to do what the county recommends. In order to develop active infrastructure—such as connecting the Great Allegheny Passage from town to town—requires making friends, all over the county, who might be willing to share their land rights and team up to find funding.

The sharing economy has come to infrastructure.

Special projects coordinator for the County Executive’s office Darla Carvotta says collaborating with nonprofit organizations is essential for driving change.

While it would take a substantial amount of time for the county to buy land to develop as active infrastructure projects, (a “lumbering government agency,” Carvotta jokes) nonprofits are much more nimble. Carvotta uses a longstanding partnership with Friends of the Riverfront as an example.

“We have foundations in our community that will give Friends of the Riverfront the money [to buy land] and that money comes to our communities—our nonprofit partners can hire somebody quickly, do the work quickly, and know they have the credibility of the county, too,” she says.

Once Friends of the Riverfront has developed the land, they give it back to the community, says executive director Tom Baxter.

“We want them to be invested. We tell people, this is a part of the health and the vitality of your community, you need to take care of it.”

The sharing of resources between nonprofits and county, state, or federal officials is just that. Sharing. With no strings attached.

“At the end of the day, this is about regional placemaking and making the region better,” says Carvotta. “It’s a gift.”

Carvotta added that building infrastructure requires partnership, strategic thinking, and sometimes, luck.

“Along the Allegheny there were 17 miles of high speed Norfolk Southern rail. We worked with the railroad on and off starting in 1993. You know how we finally closed the deal? The chairman of U.S. Steel rode a bike and he played golf with the chairman of Norfolk Southern.” Carvotta shrugged. “You never know.”

The three-day Pro Walk / Pro Bike / Pro Place conference concludes tomorrow.

Margaret J Krauss

Margaret J. Krauss is a writer, radio producer, and researcher. If not biking Pittsburgh's streets or swimming its rivers, she is likely geeking out about a really good story.