Urbantraipsing Rejuvenated

In Fall 2022, I moved back to a part of Pittsburgh that is more conducive to spontaneous urban traipsing. Since then, I have enjoyed the following discoveries:

An architectural conversation between Eastminster Presbyterian Church and the Liberty Building rising above its surroundings a few blocks away.


Sunset from the East Liberty Busway pedestrian bridge.


The pastel light of a cloudy dusk.


The glow of the architectural features of East Liberty Presbyterian Church at night.


An industrial tower never noticed before despite having walked this way numerous times.


Reflections on a still river.

How this change in location will impact future blog posts is yet to be seen. In the meantime, 2023 will continue to see the monthly public art feature, updates on the aftermath of last year’s Fern Hollow Bridge collapse, and eyes on the developments of Penn Plaza, the Lower Hill, Uptown, and Hazelwood. The Annual Architecture Dessert Masterpiece was delayed by a case of COVID, but will also be forthcoming.

Bridge Collapse: Eleven Months Later

Six months after Pittsburgh’s Fern Hollow Bridge collapse, PennDOT and the Mayor’s office announced that the new bridge would probably open before the end of the year. The ribbon cutting for the new bridge was held on December 21 (Governor Tom Wolf News, WPXI, Pittsburgh Business Times) and the bridge opened to partial traffic the following day. There is one lane of traffic open in each direction and one “shared path” open on the south side of the bridge. Work on the bridge will continue through the spring.

The initial designs showed a bridge designed for highway vehicle traffic with pedestrian and bicycle access tacked on in a thoughtless way. Despite public outcry and professional push-back, the initial designs went primarily unchanged. As the bridge is not fully open, there is a chance that in execution it won’t be as bad as the initial design suggested, but it’s not off to a promising start.

The shared path on the south side – the one that’s now open – connects to sidewalk on the east side of the bridge and to the trails in Frick Park on the west side. There is no existing sidewalk to continue walking along Forbes Avenue to Squirrel Hill. While this path is unusually wide for a bridge, it appeared to be just a sidewalk when I visited it this week. I adopted the term “shared path” based on the videos of the ribbon cutting, which claimed that’s what it is. Perhaps there will be signage added eventually that bikes are also permitted, but I didn’t notice a way for bikes to get up onto this path from the road. While I’m clearly judging this bridge already and finding it wanting, I will continue to monitor its progress and will be open to finding it better than I do now once all the amenities are open and I’m no longer confronted with pedestrian dead end signs.

Below is a slideshow of photos from this month’s traipsing of the bridge followed by the news updates on the Fern Hollow Bridge and other bridge maintenance and replacement efforts in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

  • The City announced traffic pattern changes now that the bridge is reopening, breaking up one of the smooth travel paths for vehicles trying to cross the eastern neighborhoods on a north-south axis. (City Press Release, December 22, 2022)
  • The proposed artwork for the new bridge is among the elements not yet completed. (NextPittsburgh, September 26, 2022)
  • For whatever reason, PennDOT’s project page regarding the reconstruction of the bridge has not been updated since March 2022, making it a completely useless resource.
  • The National Transportation Safety Board’s ongoing investigation into the Fern Hollow Bridge collapse was last updated in May 2022, but this was initially described as a long-term effort.
  • The City created a Commission on Infrastructure Asset Reporting and Investment in March 2022, but this commission has not been added yet to the city’s website listing all Boards and Commissions and I have not seen any announcements of any appointments to the new Commission.
  • WSP USA released it’s Comprehensive Bridge Asset Management Program Report of the 147 bridges owned by the City of Pittsburgh – lots of work needs to be done on Pittsburgh’s bridges. (City Press Release, December 22, 2022; Tribune Review, December 21, 2022; WPXI, December 22, 2022)
  • The City of Pittsburgh’s 2023 Capital Budget includes limited funding for bridge repair and maintenance. (Public Source, December 5 & 22, 2022)
  • The bridge Port Authority closed to repair shortly after the Fern Hollow Bridge collapse, and then had to re-repair in July, seems to be okay now.
  • On July 1, Pittsburgh’s Swindell Bridge was closed due to falling debris. It reopened on September 1. (City Press Release, September 1, 2022; CBS, September 1, 2022; WPXI, September 1, 2022)
  • The Finland Street Pedestrian Bridge underwent an emergency demolition on October after being struck by a crane attempted to pass underneath. (City Press Release, October 7, 2022; City Press Release, October 8, 2022)
  • The City of Pittsburgh announced in November that it was going to close the east sidewalk on the South Negley Avenue Bridge (one of the bridges that the public is concerned about its highly deteriorate appearance) out of an “abundance of caution” to accommodate repairs, however, it was the west sidewalk that ended up closing. (City Press Release, November 23, 2022)
  • A public hearing was held on the Davis Avenue Bridge Reconstruction project in September. (City Press Release, September 28, 2022)


Additional Resources:

Both PennDOT and the Federal Highway Administration have interactive maps of bridges for the state and country respective, and their inspection statuses.


Previous Fern Hollow Bridge Posts:

Six-Month Update

Five-Month Update

Four-Month Update

Two-Month Update

One-Month Update

Two-Week Update

One-Week Update

Day After

Breaking News

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Public Art

Introduction

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.


The Photos


The Map


The Series

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Wayfinding

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Aug. 2022

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Ribbon Cutting

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Nov. 2021

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: May 2021

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Dec. 2020

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Jun. 2020

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Dec. 2019

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Introduction

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Wayfinding

Introduction

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 Photos


The Map


The Series

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Aug. 2022

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Ribbon Cutting

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Nov. 2021

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: May 2021

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Dec. 2020

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Jun. 2020

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Dec. 2019

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Introduction

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Aug. 2022

Introduction

This week, I took a lunch-time walk through the new Frankie Pace Park to see what the completed CAP project looks like and how it is used. There were two men sleeping on benches in the park and a handful of other people walking the paths singly or in pairs. Prior to 2020, I would have interpreted this as a failure of the park to attract users because any green space downtown between 12 and 1 was always full of people. However, in the continuing fallout of the pandemic, a handful of people walking or using the seats is typical even of the parks that you used to need to arrive before 11:59 if you wanted to find a seat to eat your lunch.

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 side-by-side comparison of the four corners of the CAP from November 2019 when I first started this photographic series and from my August 2022 walk. At the end of the post, there are links to all the previous posts in the series.

The Photos


The Map


The Series

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Ribbon Cutting

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Nov. 2021

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: May 2021

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Dec. 2020

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Jun. 2020

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Dec. 2019

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Introduction