This week while I was walking some more bridges, I witnessed a fascinating phenomenon. I had an architectural design class a few years ago where we had an assignment to create a theoretical “intervention” for an assigned two block area of Pittsburgh (which coincidentally included a bridge). Several of my classmates noticed in observing the area a significant number of j-walkers and so designed interventions that were pathways going over or under the road to stop pedestrians from crossing the road dangerously. The reaction that I, the professors and other reviewers had to these projects was the theory and design is nice, but no one is going to go out of their way to climb up or down just to cross the road. Similarly to this was a conversation some classmates of mine had about the paths pedestrians created across the school’s lawn. These paths were formed because the pedestrians recognized that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, yet every year for many years the school insisted on replanting the grass on these paths. If I remember correctly the school eventually gave up on this and instead of replanting the grass they paved the paths.
The phenomenon I witnessed this week was a pedestrian contradicting all the observations above. I was walking several of the bridges over the busway in the East End neighborhoods. As I walked to the Highland Ave Bridge, I was behind another pedestrian who looked like he might have been on his way to work. He continued straight on the road while I climbed the steps pictured above to cross the bridge. After I crossed the Highland Ave Bridge I crossed through the EastSide parking lot to cross the new pedestrian bridge. As I approached this new bridge, I crossed paths with the man I had been walking behind. He had crossed the pedestrian bridge and was now doubling back to get to his location. The shortest route for him would have been to cross the Highland Ave Bridge; instead he made the choice to go out of his way and cross the new pedestrian bridge instead. Apparently my architectural design classmates were not as far off as I thought–given an attractive enough alternative pedestrians will go out of their way.
The new pedestrian bridge is probably the newest bridge in Pittsburgh, being less than a year old. I had been waiting for it for over two years before it finally opened. Shortly after it opened I took the opportunity to walk across it for the first time and was very disappointed. I thought it looked incredibly ridiculous and with the planters on either side I didn’t feel like I was on a bridge. I think I had imagined it as something a little closer to a swinging bridge that this heavy and solid construction. However, the incident this week with the pedestrian has caused me to reconsider this bridge. Comparing this bridge to the Highland Ave Bridge, I have to admit it does have many good points. Though I still think the pedestrian bridge leans to the ridiculous, it is much more pleasant looking that the Highland Ave Bridge. While crossing the Highland Ave Bridge, I can’t help wondering if the wooden planks that make up the sidewalk are still strong enough. What if the wood has become rotten or termites have eaten away its integrity?
Given the proximity of these two bridges (they are about a block apart) I don’t blame the man for walking a little bit out of his way to cross the pedestrian bridge instead of the Highland Ave one. The one complaint I have left about the new pedestrian bridge is the enclosed, caged feeling it has. While it certainly is the most dressed up caged bridge in the city, it is still a cage.