New city data paints picture of Oakland


Top Ten 311 data for Oakland | Harrison Kaminsky

By Annemarie Carr / Staff Writer

To fill you in — from from Feb. 20 through Nov. 2., the city received 148 calls about potholes in South Oakland.

According to data recently released by the city, Oakland residents also wish students would pipe down, pick up their trash and stop stealing street signs already.

In October 2006, the city launched a phone line, 311, where residents can report non-emergencies. For the first time since it’s conception, the city made call records public to the community. In September, the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center — a coalition of the University of Pittsburgh, the city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County — released a database of its call records from 2015 as part of a transparency initiative to make public information more accessible. See for the full, interactive set of Pittsburgh’s 311 data.

The dataset includes 28,651 call records from Feb. 20 through Nov. 2. Of those, 877 calls came from Oakland, including 148 for potholes in the streets and 82 for broken, damaged or missing street signs.

Behind the numbers lies a picture of the people in charge of fielding callers’ problems.

Assistant 311 supervisor Naomi Johnson, for example, said she remembers a woman calling about being locked in her house while she was in possession of her keys. The woman did not realize she could have unlocked the door herself and instead called 311.  Johnson said they tried to find a way for someone to check on her and eventually got in touch with the woman’s daughter.

“Not everyone realizes we are not an emergency line, and we get some off-the-wall calls sometimes,” Johnson said, remembering a time when someone called to ask the phone number of the McDonald’s on Penn Avenue.

Johnson said the number of calls Pittsburghers make to 311 varies by season, but the most commonly reported problems are potholes and repaving needs. The number of calls increases drastically during the city’s annual pothole blitz, an around-the-clock pothole filling day usually in March.

“We get an extreme [number] of calls during the pothole blitz, but right now we get about 300 to 325 a day,” Johnson said.

Johnson said about five to nine 311 operators answer calls and record information about incidents happening in the city every weekday between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Operators then send the information to the corresponding city department, such as the Department of Public Works, and provide the caller with a reference number.

Though Pitt Police don’t receive 311 calls directly, officer Guy Johnson said 311 sends a representative to monthly Oakwatch meetings to notify  police of code and ordinance violations.. Oakwatch is a division of the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation whose members are city officials and local Oakland residents.

Oakwatch enforces codes in the Oakland neighborhood including negligent property owners, housing and parking violations, disruptive behavior, excessive noise and underage drinking, according to the OPDC communications manager, Rebekkah Ranallo.

“We promote 311, so people know about it,” Ranallo said. “We’re in touch with 311 staff to follow up on issues [after they are reported].”

Oakwatch board members encourage community members to call 311 about issues they discuss at its meetings, Ranallo said.

Johnson said it can take a few days for departments to respond to the problems. The City usually fixes bigger issues, such as electricity outages, within 48 hours, but for longer jobs, such as potholes or properties with overgrowth, they try to get someone to take a look within three days.

“We act as a liaison between the residents and the departments,” Johnson said.

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