When I crossed the Millvale Avenue Bridge over the busway, I was thinking a lot about the “caged” aspect of many of Pittsburgh’s bridges. I wrote about this idea in my Highland Park Bridge, Taking the Long Way Round, and Busway Bridges: East Liberty posts. While a lot of bridges in Pittsburgh have the mess fencing, which often makes me as a pedestrian feel caged in, there are several that do not. As I prepared to cross this bridge I wondered why that is.
I wondered if perhaps it was to prevent people from jumping off the bridges. This theory did not make sense though. First, if that is the case shouldn’t all the bridges have the fences? One of the times I crossed the Birmingham Bridge, I witnessed a scene that I believe was a group of people working to dissuade a jumper. The Birmingham Bridge is one of the bridges without a fence. The second reason this theory doesn’t fit is that on the Millvale Bridge, the fencing is only along part of it. There is a significant stretch not fenced with a big drop. The part that is fenced is the stretch over the railroad tracks and the busway.
My next ideas were that perhaps the fences are meant to stop litter from blowing off the bridge and onto the tracks/road/river below or to stop people from throwing things over the bridge. Again, these don’t make sense. Litter can blow in from any direction and could blow over the fence. There is also a parking lot under the Millvale Bridge, so if the concern is about people tossing things over the bridge, why isn’t the fence extended to protect the cars in the lot?
I mention in Busway Bridges: Baum-Centre Corridor that most of the bridges across the busway between Penn Avenue and the Bloomfield Bridge are ugly and unpleasant. Millvale Avenue Bridge is mostly exempted from this. The design of the bridge is more aesthetically pleasing than the concrete of the Baum and Centre bridges and the rusty metal of the Highland and Negley bridges. The area surrounding this bridge is also more residential and less used than the commercial arteries of Baum and Centre.
I thought the aesthetic difference might be explained by the years in which the bridges were built, but that is not the case. The Highland, Negley, Aiken, Baum, and Millvale bridges across the busway were built in the 1910s or 1920s. They were all reconstructed while the Penn, Centre, and Bloomfield bridges were all built in the 1960s, ’70s, or ’80s. The Negley and Aiken bridges also connect with residential areas, so the land use around the bridge cannot explain the slightly different and better design of the Millvale Bridge.