Bill O'Toole

Bill O’Toole is a staff writer with Pittsburgh Today. His beats include public safety, transportation, government and housing. Before returning to his native Pittsburgh, he spent several years reporting in Myanmar.

CEOs Back a Sustainable Post-COVID Economy

As the pandemic rages on, a group of Pittsburgh business leaders is considering how to contribute to a more environmentally, economically and socially sustainable region in the post-COVID world. “Now is the time for businesses from all sectors to make public their actions toward an economic recovery that benefits everyone,” said Steve Malnight, president and …

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Empty and Ailing, Pittsburgh Stadiums Seek Money

With the pandemic keeping fans at home, Pittsburgh’s major sports teams are facing significant revenue declines for the year. However, to varying degrees, merchandise and media revenues are softening the blow. Their landlord—The Sport and Exhibition Authority (SEA)—is not as fortunate. The SEA is the city-county authority that owns PPG Paints Arena, PNC Park and …

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Employers Add Jobs, but Payrolls Still Lag

The Pittsburgh region continued to add jobs in September, but overall employment numbers reveal an economy still hobbled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Employers in the seven county Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area added 16,000 jobs in September, according to recently U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Still, the region has lost more than 90,000 jobs since …

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Officials Mull Expanding Civilian Police Watchdogs

Lawmakers in Harrisburg and southwestern Pennsylvania are considering proposals that could expand independent police oversight boards in response to widespread civil unrest ignited by the death of George Floyd, who died while being arrested by Minneapolis police. Last month, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed an executive order creating the Pennsylvania State Law Enforcement Citizen Advisory …

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COVID Decks Pittsburgh’s Pro Sports Teams

With stands empty and uncertainty over when and if fans will return, Pittsburgh’s professional sports franchises are bracing for heavy financial shortfalls. Thanks to lucrative media contracts, some pro sports leagues are less vulnerable than others. But overall, the loss of revenue from ticket and concessions sales at stadiums and arenas is a critical hit …

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School Districts See Changes, but Enrollment Holding Steady

Amid uncertainty and rising economic distress, school districts in the Pittsburgh region are reporting relatively steady enrollment numbers entering the new academic year, although demand for online-only education within districts and among cyber charter schools appears to be on the rise. The reopening of schools has been a hot topic of debate in southwestern Pennsylvania …

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Turning Waste Into Energy

John Stolz believes Pittsburgh is flushing a critical source of renewable energy down the toilet. Literally. He proposes the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County join the growing ranks of urban areas upgrading their wastewater treatment plants to renewable power plants that use the process of biodigestion to create energy. Stolz, who is the director …

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Adding Amenities to Bike Trails: What Riders Experience Matters

The City of Pittsburgh is poised to gain dozens of miles of new bike lanes in the next decade. While avid cyclist Tom Vesch welcomes the expansion, he suggests thinking beyond the trails themselves to consider the broader experience of riders. “Our burgeoning trail system in the city could be enhanced to include amenities along …

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Futurists Mull What Changes Lie Ahead

The Futurists tried to warn us. For decades, researchers and experts in the field of Strategic Foresight, or Futurism, have warned that the United States is dangerously unprepared for a pandemic. The U.S. Government Accountability Office produced dozens of studies on the topic since the early 2000s. A 2004 forecast report from the National Intelligence …

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Looking for Answers in the Past to Blunt Pandemic Job Losses

At the entrance of Laurel Hill State Park, a bronze statue of a strapping young worker pays homage to the men who built the verdant park with a lake in Somerset County as part of a federal Citizen Conservation Corps created to ease the pain of crippling job losses during the Great Depression. Almost 90 …

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An Eroding Anomaly

The economic fallout of the pandemic threatens to weaken long-struggling fire and ambulance services in southwestern Pennsylvania that were already strapped for cash. Although the way the region’s fire and ambulance services are structured varies, they share daunting challenges including a dearth of new staff and a perennial lack of funding. And social distancing restrictions …

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Pandemic Widens Pittsburgh’s Digital Divide

In Pittsburgh and across the nation, the coronavirus pandemic has isolated residents in their homes and shifted huge swaths of public life to the digital world that 1 in 10 people in southwestern Pennsylvania are left out of. Closing longstanding gaps in access to the Internet has taken on new urgency as employers, educators, doctors …

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Virus Fallout

Even as it’s leading the fight against the coronavirus in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County is facing a devastating decline in revenue because of the virus. The county depends on a wide array of tax revenues that are certain to decline, at least during the next several months, due to business closures, stay-at-home orders and the slowing …

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The City of Pittsburgh Faces Crisis but Its ‘Rainy-Day Fund’ Leaves It Better Prepared Than Most

In a letter to the White House Monday seeking federal support, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto projected a 21 percent loss in revenues this year. The expected $127 million loss will plunge the city into a financial crisis, but that blow may be softened by a little known rainy-day fund. “Over a five-year period from 2020–2024 …

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When the Spanish Flu Swept In, Pittsburgh Failed the Test

Within days of Allegheny County’s first confirmed case of coronavirus in March, city and county officials moved to shutter nonessential businesses, with their efforts buttressed by stay at home orders from Harrisburg shortly thereafter. This was not the case in 1918, when the Spanish flu ravaged the region, state, nation and world. And Pittsburghers paid …

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Region Gained Jobs in January but Pandemic Fallout Looms

The Pittsburgh region added 3,900 jobs from January 2019 to January 2020—a .33 percent increase that’s a faint bright spot in the rearview mirror of an economy in turmoil from the worldwide spread of the coronavirus. “The year ended much as it began, with modest employment growth,” said Christopher Briem, regional economist at the University …

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Hospitals, State Moving to Expand COVID-19 Testing

UPMC officials yesterday announced the Pittsburgh-based health system is developing a test of its own to detect the coronavirus, known as COVID-19, which could help expand the capacity to quickly determine who has been infected—something that has been a shortcoming of the U.S. response to the worldwide outbreak of the novel strain of virus. Meanwhile, …

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Crime Is Dropping, but So Are Relations With Police

Editor’s note: This story was first published in the Spring 2020 issue of Pittsburgh Quarterly. Southwestern Pennsylvania continues to be one of the safest metropolitan regions in the nation, and the latest data suggest it’s only getting safer. The overall crime rate in the seven-county Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area stood at 1,687.7 per 100,000 residents …

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Sinkholes, Congestion and Amazon

On the morning of Monday, Oct. 28, a massive sinkhole, roughly 20 feet in diameter, suddenly opened on 10th Street in Downtown Pittsburgh, swallowing the back half of a Port Authority bus. There were no serious injuries, and the cartoonish photos shared from the scene were generally met with delight on social media across the …

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Local Unemployment Rises

Unemployment in the Pittsburgh region climbed to 4.5 percent in December, an increase of two-tenths of a percent from the month before and a three-tenths of a percent increase over the rate reported 12 months earlier. The national unemployment rate in December was 3.5 percent. Pennsylvania’s rate was 4.5 percent. Unemployment rates rose in each …

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Region Sees Very Slight Increase in Jobs

After two months of decline, jobs in the seven-county Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area increased by .08 percent from December 2018 through December 2019, according U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The increase was the second-lowest growth among Pittsburgh Today benchmark regions. Gains were largely fueled by the professional and business services sector, and the information …

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Local Unemployment Nudges Upward

Unemployment rates in the Pittsburgh region continued their slight but steady climb in November, according to preliminary figures from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. Overall unemployment for the region stands at 4.3 percent, an increase of two-tenths of a percent since October and one-tenth of a percent increase since November 2018. Unemployment rates …

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