How does recycling work in this town? Am I supposed to sort, or what?
In a nutshell: Recycling gets picked up every other week, on the same day as regular trash pick-up. There are no bins, and the only sorting necessary is between newspapers and everything else. Newspapers (not magazines) are either bundled together or kept in paper bags; glass, plastic and metal can be bagged together. (City dwellers use blue plastic bags for this purpose, a habit started in the early '90s.) The city does not recycle junk mail or phone books, though these -- along with rubber tires, lawn trash and other items -- can be disposed of at drop-off centers around town. The most popular is at Construction Junction (214 N. Lexington St., 412-243-5025), in North Point Breeze. More info at www.city.pittsburgh.pa.us/pw/html/recycling.html.
I'm trying to reduce my carbon footprint. Any ideas for how I can live without a car?
One option is Zipcar, a car-sharing service which gives members access to a fleet of vehicles around the city for occasional driving needs. You'll find more information about the service at www.zipcar.com/pittsburgh/find-cars.
Allegheny County's transit agency, the Port Authority, works OK -- provided you want to get Downtown. During regular working hours. On weekdays. Otherwise, it can get a little sticky.
Ongoing budget problems make any fare information temporary at best. (Up-to-date fare and schedule information is available at www.portauthority.org, or by calling 412-255-1356.) As of this writing, fares are currently $2 each way -- though if you plan on making a return trip within a few hours, purchase a "transfer" for 50 cents extra, and you can use it to save yourself full fare going home. During regular working hours, you pay when you get on traveling inbound to the city, and pay when getting off while traveling outbound. (At night, you pay when boarding in all directions.)
Pittsburgh's cab service is better than it used to be, though still fairly Downtown-centric. Yellow Cab's dispatch number is 412-655-8100.
What about cycling?
Bike lanes have been incorporated along portions of some streets in the East End, namely Beechwood Boulevard and Liberty Avenue. A network of riverside trails is growing as well, thanks to a newly opened bridge crossing the Monongahela from the South Side. Cycling-advocacy group Bike Pittsburgh offers a map of cycling routes across the city; contact them at bike-pgh.org or 412-353-0291. Bear in mind that the law requires cyclists to stay off sidewalks; both in terms of rights and responsibilities, bikes are treated just like cars.
My landlord is a crook. Who can help?
There are county regulations about what a landlord must provide tenants; you can find them at www.achd.net/housing/pubs/pdf/hrules.pdf. If you cannot get the landlord to make needed repairs, call the county health department's housing division for help (412-350-4046), or file a complaint online: www.achd.net/admin/contact.php. County inspectors will issue citations for lack of heat and hot water, rodent infestations and other problems. (Watch out, though: Tenants can also be cited for problems for which they are responsible.)
What do I do if I'm getting screwed by my utility company?
Unfortunately, your friends in state government have made it easier for utility companies to shut off service -- even in winter. But if you are suffering from economic hardship, or your bill is in error, your best bet is lodging a complaint with the state Office of the Consumer Advocate (800-684-6560). If you're struggling with your bills, you can seek financial help from the Dollar Energy Fund, at 800-683-7036.
I need health care in a hurry, but I don't have insurance. Where can I go?
A couple of options to get you started, all of which offer care for free or on a sliding need-based scale. On the North Side, Allegheny General Hospital supports the Allegheny Adult Ambulatory Clinic (320 E. North Ave., 412-359-3751), which provides immunizations, primary care and other services. East Liberty Family Health Care Center (6023 Harvard St., 412-661-2802) provides pediatric and family care. Women seeking reproductive health services are advised to contact Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, which offers services Downtown (933 Liberty Ave., 412-434-8971) and elsewhere.
I've been mistreated by the police. What can I do?
The city has not one but two places where you can file complaints about police misconduct. One is the Office of Municipal Investigations (412-255-2804); the other is the Citizen Police Review Board (412-765-8023). Here's the rub: While the review board conducts public investigations, it has no disciplinary power -- it can only recommend discipline where warranted. OMI, by contrast, is an internal-affairs division whose recommendations carry more weight, but which operates confidentially.
Our advice: File a complaint with both offices.
What's up with these chairs lining the curbs of local streets?
Those chairs are like bunkers in the war between Old Pittsburgh and New Pittsburgh. In close-knit but trendy neighborhoods like the South Side, where garages are rare, long-standing residents must compete with visitors for parking close to home. The "parking chair" is an attempt to secure curbside space for residents, on the (usually correct) theory that few people will get out of their cars to move it and take the space.
By law, there's no reason you can't do just that. Streets belong to everyone, and parking chairs have no legal standing. Still, we sometimes hear horror stories about what happens to those who ignore them.
I want to get involved politically, but a lot of local Democrats freak me out. Where can I go?
We sympathize. There are a lot of groups out there making a difference, but the closest thing Pittsburgh has to one-stop shopping for political activism is the Thomas Merton Center. Founded in 1972 and located in Garfield, the Merton Center is caught up in just about everything: antiwar activism, single-payer health care ... you name it, and if they aren't involved directly, they'll put you in touch with someone who is. Learn more at 412-361-3022 or www.thomasmertoncenter.org.
I want to get involved politically, but I'm afraid to leave the basement. How can I stay informed?
Again, we sympathize. Pittsburgh has a small-but-vocal blogging community. The 2 Political Junkies site (2politicaljunkies.blogspot.com) largely weighs on national politics, and beats up on a certain idiotic Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Who Shall Not Be Named. The Burgh Report (burghreport.blogspot.com) is an Internet hub for people who hate Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, while 414 Grant Street (414grantstreet.blogspot.com) beats up on both Ravenstahl and some of the people who beat up on him, too. Some online diversity is provided over at www.pghlesbian.com and a sister site, the Pittsburgh Women's blogging Society (pghwomenbloggers.blogspot.com). True policy wonks -- including many a reporter -- check out Null Space (http://nullspace2.blogspot.com), the blog of research guru Chris Briem.