Accidents like this one are common at Middle Street and North Avenue.  Middle Street resident Joe Renckly urges his neighbors to call 311 whenever they see an accident to request a stop sign at the intersection. (Photo/Joe Renckly)

Everyone loves to complain.

In Pittsburgh, city officials encourage it.

When faced with problems in their neighborhoods, whether an overgrown lot, potholes or missed trash pickup, Northsiders have several avenues through which to seek redress.

One way is to call or email the mayor’s 311 hotline. Established in 2006, the number gives residents a place to report non-emergency violations, like a neighbor leaving trash bags out in front of his house.

Residents can also call their city councilpersons, for District 1, Darlene Harris and for District 6, Daniel Lavelle.

Calling 311

Peg Eichner, a Deutschtown resident, e-mails 311 about three times per month, usually for burnt-out lights in Allegheny Commons Park, street cleaning and dangerous icicles on houses.

All her correspondence with the city employees who work with 311 has been pleasant and every problem she has reported has been addressed, she said.

Eichner’s neighbor and East Allegheny Community Council member Lynn Glorieux, agreed.

“I think they do a good job,” Glorieux said, although, “Sometimes the responses are amazingly quick and sometimes it seems like nothing happens.”

One of Glorieux’s biggest complaints is the sewers, which are never addressed, she said.

Public Works Director Rob Kaczorowksi said 311 requests are forwarded on to the appropriate department, and that it’s up to that department to address the issue.

Wendy Urbanic, 311 director, was unavailable for comment on this story.

Fineview Citizens Council member Erin Gill has also had good experiences with 311, she said.

In July, the trees around Fineview’s Overlook became so overgrown they were obscuring the view of Downtown. Gill called to report it, fearing people would be unable to watch the fireworks display on the Fourth, and she said Public Works responded immediately.

Both Eichner and Gill said they made it a point to thank city workers when a problem is addressed.

Taking problems to city council

Other Northsiders, like Deutschtown resident Joe Renckly, call city council to report problems.

Renckly has been calling Harris each time he witnesses an accident at the corner of Middle Street, where he lives, and North Avenue.

Harris is sympathetic, he said, but the lack of results has driven him to try other avenues, like the 311 hotline, in hopes of bringing the issue to the mayor’s attention.

Harris’s process is similar to the 311 process. Once she receives a complaint, she forwards it on to the appropriate department, and then tries to follow up once a week.

“The squeaky wheel gets the oil and I squeak a lot for my constituents,” she said.

Her office receives about 10 complaints per day, and on many of them she will alert 311 when she sends it on to the appropriate department.

“You have to let the department work on what the issue is,” Harris said.

Lavelle’s office receives fewer complaints that Harris’s—about three to five per day—but he takes them all seriously.

His office assigns a tracking number for each complaint that comes through the door, and someone follows up every week or every other week, and more frequently if a constituent’s health or safety is at risk.

No matter the problem, Lavelle encourages city residents to call as soon as they spot it. He said he doesn’t want residents to think reporting problems puts a burden on the office.

“It becomes more troublesome when you wait until the last second,” he said. “As soon as something occurs, immediately let us know.”