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Transportation Challenges during the NSSE

Protestors were present during the G-20 Summit, as can be common at many NSSEs since world leaders and/or the US President are usually present.  While there were no reports of major transportation difficulties, protestors caused some delays and property damage.  No one at the Pittsburgh Police Bureau chose to participate in this case study, so the measures taken to protect city employees supporting the bureau are unclear.  Additionally, this case study found no information on the overall impact to transportation during the protests.  Open-source information, while critical of the police bureau, does not suggest that city employees were in harm’s way, and no significant transportation issues occurred as a result.   

As can be the case with an NSSE, the G-20 Summit permitted some protest events, and there were designated areas and routes within which protesters could exercise their first amendment rights.  The benefit of these kinds of organized activities is that city officials are able to develop planning contingencies and/or alternatives in advance.  However, as is also the case with NSSEs, individuals with differing agendas can join these permitted events or will organize spontaneously.  The City of Pittsburgh reported having some intelligence concerning protestors not associated with permitted events, but it is unclear whether the police bureau conducted any advance planning with the DPW.  According to one city official, issues with protestors involved law enforcement and did not include transportation.  However, DPW officials were aware of issues, because they were present in the EOC where all communications were routed and monitored. 

The City of Pittsburgh Police Bureau initially did not permit buses through the soft perimeter, as the Transportation Committee had originally agreed upon.  This action backed the transit buses up for a short time, causing delays until the issue was resolved and service was restored, allowing buses back into the soft perimeter. 

The City of Pittsburgh DPW receives and reviews permits for the use of public space.  Prior to the NSSE, there was a permit request to use an area inside the hard perimeter during the G-20 Summit.  While the NSSE was still in the planning stages, the City of Pittsburgh DPW forwarded this request to the USSS to determine its legitimacy.  The USSS determined the request was not legitimate, and the request was denied.  Requests to jurisdictions for the use of public space should be monitored closely when an NSSE is announced.  Failure to identify requests impacting the NSSE venue can create problems if the permit request is approved and then must be revoked. 

Overall, the City of Pittsburgh did not experience significant transportation delays during the G-20 Summit.  While some incidents did occur, planning and flexibility on the part of the City of Pittsburgh facilitated the successful resolution of these incidents.  Protestors, as discussed, can be an unpredictable factor that transportation planners planning for an NSSE must address.  They must remain flexible and be prepared to make the necessary changes to support the transportation needs and requirements of the public and the jurisdiction.

After-Action Report

Although not made available for this case study, the City of Pittsburgh developed an after-action report for its internal tracking.  This came at the request of the Pittsburgh Emergency Management/Homeland Security Agency and DPW leadership.  The DPW provided information to this report reflecting those costs that were captured before, during, and after the NSSE.  A single individual for the DPW had responsibility for tracking, recording, and delivering this information for the organization. 

Lessons Learned

Hosting the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh presented some challenges that were successfully met through good planning, well-executed coordination, and pre-established partnerships.  PennDOT, many outside jurisdictions and organizations, and the City of Pittsburgh’s DPW and Emergency Management/Agency, among others, provided significant resources and support to this NSSE. 

The City of Pittsburgh DPW observed that cooperation was essential to the success of the G-20 Summit.  It took many people to coordinate the NSSE across varying disciplines.  Each had their own priorities based on their area of expertise, which required significant cooperation. 

Additionally, the DPW suggested that it would experiment with a smaller soft perimeter if there was another NSSE.  There were significant closures in the downtown area of Pittsburgh that worked well for the event; however, a smaller closure area may have also worked, possibly allowing for less impact to downtown residents, employees, and businesses.  The result may have allowed for fewer detours due to road closures, more parking lots or meters available, and an increased level of access to the central business district. 
From the perspective of the City of Pittsburgh DPW, the USSS’s support worked well.  Their experience and expertise with NSSEs helped guide the planning process as well as the successful implementation of the plan.  The USSS kept committees on track and the planning moving forward. 

The initial communications breakdown with the Pittsburgh Police Bureau and the soft perimeter entry and exit points for public transportation were cited as an example of what did not work.  While the confusion involving who had access to the soft perimeter was resolved quickly, it highlights a breakdown either within the police bureau and its officers on post or within the planning process itself.  However, the quick and incident-free resolution of this issue shows the importance of communication and cooperation. 

For future NSSEs, the City of Pittsburgh DPW suggests that individuals in a jurisdiction facing an upcoming NSSE should listen to the thoughts and opinions of all stakeholders, to accommodate everyone’s needs.  This is true from the planning stage on through to implementation.  It is important to fully understand the position of other stakeholders and to work as a partner to be able to help accommodate the requests. 



Frank V. Cippel, P.E., Assistant District Traffic Engineer, PA Department of Transportation, Engineering District 11-0, Traffic Engineering Unit

Amanda Purcell, P.E., Municipal Traffic Engineer, City of Pittsburgh, Department of Public Works


Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, A Great Place to Live, Work, & Play & Home of America’s Most Livable City

“Amtrak Suspending Pittsburgh Service For G-20: No Trips Booked To, From Pittsburgh Sept. 24-26.”

“Boisterous Protestors March at G-20 Summit: Thousands Take to Streets; Few Disturbances on Second Day.”

Pittsburgh, America’s Most Livable City.

Pittsburgh Department of Public Safety, Official G-20 Information. 

Pittsburgh Public Safety, Pittsburgh Emergency Operation Plan

“Secret Service Details Closures Set for G-20 Pittsburgh Summit: Protesters’ Access to G-20 Economic Summit Remains Unknown.”

The Pittsburgh G-20 Partnership, Pittsburgh Welcomes the World.

“What’s Closed During G-20 Summit?  Schools, Courts, Trains, More, Closures Announced In, Around Downtown Pittsburgh.”

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May 2011
Publication #FHWA-HOP-11-012