When the pedestrian bridge I discuss in “Taking the Long Way Round” was in the process of being built, I was thinking it was the first pedestrian bridge in Pittsburgh. When I started my project of walking the bridges in Pittsburgh, I realized what a ridiculous thought that was. Pittsburgh has many pedestrian bridges, but until the new one was built, I never heard anyone talk about any pedestrian bridge in the city. Many of these pedestrian bridges are not particularly attractive and are not in high traffic areas.
Shadyside has one of these hidden pedestrian bridges. The bridge connects Graham Street across the busway and railroad tracks. The only reason I know about this bridge is from riding buses on the busway. Walking down Graham from Centre Ave (a busy corridor lined with businesses, churches and a hospital and used by several major bus routes and lots of cars), I was impressed how quiet and peaceful the residential area between Centre and the busway was. That is until a train comes by.
As I walked across this bridge, I wondered why it was there. There is a vehicular bridge with sidewalks on both sides across the busway a block in either direction. There are eight other roads between this bridge and the Penn Ave Bridge that end at the busway and have neither a vehicular or pedestrian bridge connecting them to the other side of the busway. In my walk, I speculated that perhaps it was put in to connect the residents on the north side of the busway to places of work on the southern. This was based on the fact that there was a large building on the southern side that now houses the Shadyside Boys and Girls Club (photo below).
When I got home I went to PGHbridges.com, which I have used whenever I’ve had questions like this about the origin or design of Pittsburgh bridges. However, for some reason this website ignores many of the bridges over the busway. In looking up some of the bridges that PGHbridges.com misses, I found several other bridge websites that list and identify many of the bridges in the city, but none of them include the Graham Street Bridge, not even the National Bridge Inventory Database.
So I turned back to my favorite resource–the G.M. Hopkins maps. I also went to the image collection on Historic Pittsburgh, the parent site for the Hopkins maps. In the image collection I found one photo from 1908 of the bridge under construction. The 1904 and 1911 maps show the area immediately adjacent to the bridge as all residential. The building that is now the Boys and Girls Club does not exist. All I’m left with is speculation at this point. However, there is a school a few blocks from the southern end of the bridge and in between 1904 and 1911 another church was built a couple blocks north of the bridge. There already was a large church a block from the site of the newer, smaller one. Perhaps, the bridge was built to facilitate school students and church goers to get to their respective destinations.
Based on the way the bridge is depicted on the 1911 map and the 1939 map, I suspect the bridge may have been rebuilt since 1908. At the very least the stairs were replaced. The southern steps are drawn as coming straight out from the bridge to the road, but today the stairs are perpendicular to the line of the bridge and Graham Street. The northern steps are drawn perpendicular to the bridge and facing the same direction the southern steps face today. However, the steps I walked are switchback style, with the upper portion facing the opposite direction depicted on the 1939 map.