The penultimate installment of the Then & Now series is the Birmingham Bridge just upriver from the Duquesne University Pedestrian Bridge. This is a bridge that I’ve walked multiple times from necessity despite the fact that it was not well-designed for pedestrians, which I complained about in my first post about the bridge.
It would be nice to think that the pedestrian access upgrade it underwent in 2021 was in response to my complaints of the accessibility issues with the bridge design. However, the upgrade only partly resolves those issues.
On the south end of the bridge, pedestrians are no longer forced to leave the bridge and take steps down into the park. Instead, there is an option to continue along the level of the bridge. (See the first pair of photos.) This new option at first pushes pedestrians into the edge of the pavement beside the bike lane with no physical separation from the bikes or speeding cars. Once the bridge reaches the ground, a raised sidewalk appears.
On the north end of the bridge, there was no change for pedestrian’s use of the bridge (second photo pair). The options remain to walk in the painted buffer of the bike lane from where the bridge leaves Fifth Avenue or walk several blocks out of the way down the equivalent of multiple stories only to walk back up them on the sidewalk on the ramp from Forbes Avenue.
The view of Oakland from the bridge (third photo pair) shows a building that I regretted not taking photos of before it was demolished and one of the new buildings built along Fifth and Forbes in recent years. Looking downriver toward downtown (final photo pair), the new vision center as part of UPMC Mercy Hospital is clearly visible, though its coloring blends in well from this distance. Both of these views are expected to change further in the coming years with additional growth in Oakland and the redevelopment of the Lower Hill adjacent to downtown.
I first walked the Duquesne University Pedestrian Bridge as part of my 10th Street Bridge walk in September 2012. However, by that point I was walking bridges faster than I could post about them. This is one of the bridges that I hadn’t posted about until now. It is accessed by a multi-story staircase from the northern end of the 10th Street Bridge and it crosses the speedy Blvd of the Allies. Students who prefer walking (and climbing) to transit and who live or party on the South Side use the 10th Street Bridge-staircase-pedestrian bridge path to get to and from campus.
Because of this bridge’s perch on The Bluff, it has great views up and down the Monongahela River. Some of the developments that have happened since 2012 along this river are visible from this bridge. The first pair of photos show a new construction self-storage complex that was built on a vacant, but complex, industrial site. Zooming out some in the second pair, a now brightly colored set of warehouses stand out (which incidentally are next to the Highline/Terminal Way Bridge). Less clearly visible is the white smudge that is the extension into the river built by the gravel company just on the other side of the Liberty Bridge.
The most surprising thing to me on this return trip is that the new UPMC Mercy Vision Rehabilitation Center that is still under construction and looks massive from the views in my Keeping an Eye on Uptown series is not very visible from this bridge. If it had been a sunny day when I was out taking photos, perhaps the glass would have glinted a little more behind the freeway sign, but as it is, the dark spot visible under the freeway sign now isn’t much different than the dark spot from 10 years unless you zoom in close (final photo pair).
Last month’s look back at the 40th Street Bridge wrapped up the Allegheny River watershed portion of our 10-year anniversary Then & Now series. This month, we start revisiting bridges in the Monongahela River watershed.
The Terminal Way Bridge – now called The Highline – is unique in the Pittsburgh bridges I’ve walked as it is not a through-way. It is an elevated passage that connects five buildings of a former large warehouse operation. The bridge was previously a car road and parking lot. Pure speculation based on the small factoids and selection of historic photos on the Highline website suggests that at one time, this road was were good were loaded onto local delivery vehicles. Now, it is closed to all vehicular traffic and is instead an outdoor amenity space, exclusively for pedestrians and bicyclists.
While I walked over the bridge multiple times before the renovation, I was never inspired to take a photo of the parking lot that it was. I did, however, take photos of it from below which are still able to show the change from car parking to planters. They also show the change from former warehouse to a place poised to become a hip place is town.
At the November 2021 ribbon cutting for the Frankie Pace Park on the CAP, Governor Wolf said, “A great injustice was done in the ’50s and this is finally a way to address that injustice.” He was referring to Pittsburgh’s poster child Urban Renewal project that demolished thousands of homes and businesses that once formed the physical infrastructure of a community whose members were predominantly Black, poor, or both. The buildings of the Lower Hill neighborhood were demolished, and the people dispersed to make way for the Civic Arena, a cultural amenity for the wealthy and White featuring opera performances. This erasure of community was followed in the early 1960s by the construction of a moat between the Lower Hill and downtown for the I-579 freeway, also known as the Crosstown Boulevard. The CAP now covers that moat and provides an educational park (and a pedestrian connection between downtown and the Penguins arena).
In addition to the infrastructure restitching the physical gap between downtown and the Lower Hill, the public art installed throughout the park aims to at least partially stitch the cultural gap that is one of the legacies of Urban Renewal and other segregationist policies. An educational display tells the stories of Frankie Pace, a 20th century activist for the Hill District neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, and Martin Delany, an abolitionist, journalist, and doctor in 19th century Pittsburgh. Throughout the park, proverbs of African heritage are etched on the walls and on metal blocks as reflective as Chicago’s Cloud Gate.
Below is a slideshow of some of the public art in the park. At the end of the post, there are links to all the previous posts in the series.
When I first explored the interior of the Frankie Pace Park, I was surprised by the wayfinding approach. A series of signs are posted throughout the site describing different features of the park, such as the rain garden. The surprising part was the choice of a Black girl narrator who wants you to join her as you journey through the park. It felt like the intended audience is elementary school-aged children. Given the park’s location adjacent to the tallest office skyscrapers downtown, adjacent to the first new building to be built on the Lower Hill – another office building, and kitty-corner-ish to the Penguins hockey arena, children seem to be a very small percentage of the prospective users of the park.
The CAP is a project in Pittsburgh “fixing the mistakes” of Urban Renewal. The Crosstown Blvd was built in the 1960s creating a freeway in a canyon dividing the Lower Hill neighborhood from downtown. The Lower Hill neighborhood, formerly predominantly poor and black, had already been demolished by this point to make way for the Civic Arena and other cultural amenities that were never built.
The CAP is a park on a bridge built over the Crosstown Blvd and is intended to reconnect downtown and the Lower Hill, while the Lower Hill is being rebuilt by the Penguins hockey team. Construction began in June 2019 and was completed in November 2021.
Below is a slideshow of these wayfinding signs. At the end of the post, there are links to all the previous posts in the series.
The next bridge in the 10-year look back at urbantraipsing bridge walking is the 40th Street Bridge, which is about a mile from last month’s featured bridge: Herron Ave Bridge. The 40th Street Bridge, aka Washington’s Crossing Bridge, crosses the Allegheny River connecting Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood with the Borough of Millvale.
I first walked the 40th Street Bridge before I had the idea to blog about bridge walking, but as I had my camera with me, I took views from the bridge. Since then, the quality of my cameras has grown exponentially and several developments have arisen on the Lawrenceville side of the river. On the upriver side of the bridge, there is a new apartment complex, The Foundry at 41st, and a new office building, TechMill 41 (see the first pair of photos below).
On the downriver side, phase 1 of the large Arsenal 201 mixed-use development was completed on the former site of the Allegheny Arsenal famous for supplying munitions to the Union Army during the Civil War (see the second pair of photos below). The arsenal is perhaps even more famous for the accidental explosion that is identified as the worst civilian casualty of the war killing 78 people, mostly women and girls. Phase 2 of this development is well under way.
Also, on that side of the bridge, some of the new developments on Butler Avenue near Our Lady of the Angels Parish St. Augustine Church are visible including the new Capuchin Friars home (third pair of photos) and one of the new mixed-use buildings that have popped up in the neighborhood over the last 10 years.