Then & Now: East Liberty Pedestrian Bridge

Just after I began my 10-year anniversary celebration of bridge walking, the Forbes Ave Bridge over Fern Hollow collapsed on January 28, 2022. This accident shone a light on a pattern of infrastructure funding in the time since I became a bridge person. Ten years ago, there were several bridges built, repaired, or replaced in Pittsburgh. Five years later, the flurry of long overdue investment in our infrastructure stopped – before all the bridges that needed help received it. An article on the aftermath of last month’s bridge collapse reminded me that federal funds were allocated toward infrastructure under the Obama administration. As a result, many bridges that were falling apart were fixed or replaced. It seems that when that funding stopped, so did the repairs. Now that new funding has been allocated under the Biden administration, we should see a similar spurt of investment in our infrastructure, starting with the now missing Fern Hollow Bridge.

One of the bridges presumably supported by the Obama infrastructure funding was the brand-new pedestrian bridge across the East Busway connecting the Shadyside and East Liberty neighborhoods. This bridge is 10-years old this month. The “road” surface of the bridge hasn’t held up very well: the paint was faded and the top surface was patchy when I returned this month. On the other hand, the over-the-top lamps and giant glitter looked like they have held up well. Though it’s hard to say in wintertime, the landscaping between the cage and the bridge walls also appeared to be well maintained.

From the bridge, some of the new developments in East Liberty are visible. Looking southwest toward the current location of Whole Foods (soon to relocate), one of the several new apartment buildings along the Baum-Centre corridor is visibly under construction in the far right of the second set of photos. In the third set, the northeast view shows the new South Highland Avenue Bridge and (to the left of the bridge) the final phase of the East Side Bond development that brought several buildings of first floor commercial with residences above.

I was surprised to find that the highly controversial and massive redevelopment of the former Penn Plaza affordable housing complex was not visible from this bridge. Despite being only a quarter mile apart, the first phase of redevelopment is blocked from the bridge’s view by the iconic Motor Square Gardens building. One of the controversies of this new development is that affordable housing units were demolished without replacement for a series of commercial buildings which include the feature anchor of the pricey Whole Foods grocery store.

The pedestrian bridge was controversial when it was proposed and built. It connects the wealthy Shadyside neighborhood to the expensive Whole Foods, a high-end liquor store, and other luxury shops. It is also redundant as the South Highland Avenue bridge is only 0.1 miles away. A quarter mile away, is the neighborhood of Larimar whose residents are primarily living on low-incomes and do not have a walkable route to the lower cost Giant Eagle grocery store or Trader Joes that are just on the other side of the busway from their homes. For years, the residents have been asking for a pedestrian bridge over the busway to give them better access to these stores. Instead of a bridge serving those who need it, an ornamental bridge was built to provide access for those who already have abundant options.

Around the same time that this bridge was built, the Port Authority altered its bus service by eliminating the 94B bus that connected the low-income residents of Larimar with a shopping center featuring Walmart, Giant Eagle, TJ Maxx and similar clothing retailers, and other stores. In addition to providing shopping opportunities for necessities, these locations provided jobs. The 94B bus was never less than half-full (an unusual condition for Pittsburgh buses outside of rush hour). This bus was replaced by the 75 bus, which connected the higher-end shopping centers of South Side Works and Bakery Square through the wealthy residential neighborhood of Shadyside. For years, it was common to be the only person or one of a handful of people riding the 75. Eventually, the Port Authority acknowledged the value of the 94B route and tact it on to the end of the 75 route.

Presumably both the pedestrian bridge and bus route changes of 2012 were supported at least in part by the federal infrastructure funds of the time. With the current round of federal funding, it would be nice to see a greater focus of infrastructure investment for those who need it and not on additional luxury options.

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Ribbon-Cutting

The ribbon-cutting for the CAP, now called the Frankie Pace Park, happened on schedule on November 22, 2021. The Tribune-Review, Pittsburgh Post=Gazette, WTAE, KDKA/CBS, and SAI Consulting Engineers reported on the ceremony. The Tribune-Review and WTAE also have articles on the resolution earlier this month by City Council to name the park after Frankie Pace (1905-1989), a community activist and business owner in the Lower Hill.

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.

This post is an update on the on-going photographic series to watch the development and usage patterns of the CAP. Periodically, once or twice a year, I return to the site to take new photographs. I plan to take the next series of photos next year in the warmer weather to see who uses the park and how. At the end of the post, there are links to the previous posts in this series.

Locating the CAP


Previous Posts in the Series

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 Lower Hill: Dec. 2021

Overview

The Lower Hill is a notorious site in Pittsburgh, a scar on the city from the height of Urban Renewal. A vibrant (but poor and predominately Black) neighborhood was demolished in the 1950s so the City could build a cultural mecca centered on a Civic Arena, but most of the site ended up not being built and was left as parking lots.

Now that the arena has been demolished and replaced adjacent to the former location, the Penguins hockey team has the development rights to rebuild the Lower Hill, stitching back together the fabric of the city and reconnecting the remainder of the Hill District neighborhoods with downtown.

However, grand language describing the wonderful benefits to a city are part and parcel of any major development project, including the 1950’s Urban Renewal of the Lower Hill. Fifty years later, the Urban Renewal of the Lower Hill is rarely, if ever, described as a good thing. In fact, the current redevelopment is sometimes described as undoing the mistakes of that project. However, can the negative financial, social, and emotional repercussions of the original demolition and decades of disconnect be undone simply by reinstating (most of) the former street grid?

This blog post is part of an on-going photographic series to watch the redevelopment of the Lower Hill. Periodically, approximately once every six months, I return to the site to take new photographs. In addition, I include links to articles about the project that I’ve encountered since the previous post in the series. At the end of the post, there are links to all the previous posts in the series.

What’s New

Ground has broken! There are a large hole, giant piles of dirt and debris, and closed sidewalks as construction begins for the new FNB Tower, the first building to be built on the site.

This was also the first time that I’ve visited the site on the day of a Penguins game, which was interesting to see how the sea of parking lots get used for events. At least one of the lots is reserved for employees only during events. There is also a slight price differential, the lot closet to the arena costs $30 to park for the event, while the one at the top of the hill is “only” $25.

Photos

Lower Hill in the News

Controversy and concerns continue over the redevelopment of the Lower Hill from the Executive Management Committee that was appointed to answer how the redevelopment would benefit the entire Hill District in private meetings (September 17, 2021, Public Source, & September 23, 2021, NextPittsburgh) to the impact of a pending change in owner of the Penguins (November 23, NextPittsburgh) and the pending registration of a second community organization in the Lower Hill, which would then also participate in the Lower Hill development activities meetings (November 19, 2021, Public Source). The potential new owner has previously been involved in real estate development around sports arenas (November 21, 2021, Post-Gazette).

Locating the Lower Hill


Previous posts in series

Keeping an Eye on the Lower Hill: May 2021

Keeping an Eye on the Lower Hill: Dec. 2020

Keeping an Eye on the Lower Hill: Jun. 2020

Keeping an Eye on the Lower Hill: Jan. 2020

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Introduction

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Dec. 2021

Overview

Uptown is one of the many neighborhoods in Pittsburgh that experienced decades of neglect. For this neighborhood, the neglect was despite Uptown being sandwiched between Oakland and downtown, two places among the state’s strongest economic regions. Zipping through Uptown from Oakland to downtown on Fifth Avenue or from downtown to Oakland on Forbes Avenue, it is easy to overlook or dismiss the hodgepodge of ruined home foundations turning back to forest; scattered vacant lots, parking lots, and industrial uses; and the intricate architectural details on abandoned and renovated townhomes.

In recent years, new buildings started springing up here and there. Some of these new projects are the work of the two institutions in the neighborhood: UPMC Mercy Hospital and Duquesne University. Others are the work of a variety of commercial and residential developers. Two reasons for this recent investment are the proposed Bus Rapid Transit system, which will eventually run through the neighborhood, and the in-progress redevelopment of the Lower Hill, an adjacent neighborhood.

The Uptown community saw these changes coming and prepared. Between 2015 and 2017, the community organization Uptown Partners collaborated UPMC Mercy, Duquesne University, the City of Pittsburgh, and others to create the EcoInnovation District Plan and the Uptown Public Realm zoning district. The plan and new zoning district are intended to guide future development and leverage their economic investment for the greater good of the neighborhood. Ideally, this will reduce the number of those who will be left behind.

This blog post is part of an on-going series watching the changes in Uptown. Periodically, once or twice a year, I return to the neighborhood to take new photographs of the same areas. In addition, I include links to articles about the project that I’ve encountered since the previous post in the series. At the end of the post, there is a map showing the location of the neighborhood and links to the previous posts in the series.

What’s new

Since the last walk through the neighborhood, several buildings have been demolished while those that have been under construction continue to make progress. Progress also continues on a handful of housing renovations in the neighborhood.

The roads and sidewalks were even more rough and patched from the utility line replacements started this spring. According to a recent press release from the Mayor’s office, this utility work will continue next year, so a temporary repaving will be happening shortly to smooth out the roads for the winter season.

While I believe that this utility work is part of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s lead line replacement project, there were new signs up in the neighborhood apologizing for the mess as the neighborhood prepares for the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). The utility replacement mess has happened in various neighborhoods throughout the city including those that are not part of the BRT routes. However, there was no other obvious mess, yet, that would be more directly associated with the construction of a BRT and need signs of apology.

The Photos

Uptown in the News & on the Web:

The pending Fifth and Dinwiddie development (image 8 above) proposes to be Passive House certified, include double the number of affordable housing units required by the URA as a condition of sale, and provide training on clean energy jobs. (September 20, 2021: NextPittsburgh)

UPMC’s Vision and Rehabilitation Center (images 19, 9, 12 above) is on track to open in 2023 despite construction disruptions, supply shortages, and the pressure placed on existing healthcare systems by COVID. (November 16, 2021: Pittsburgh Business Times, Tribune Review)

Locating Uptown


Previous posts in series:

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Jul. 2021

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Nov. 2020

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: May 2020

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Nov. 2019

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Introduction (November 15, 2019)

Moral Economics (September 1, 2019)

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Nov. 2021

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 being 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 expected to be completed in November 2021. As the photos below show, it appears to be predominantly completed mid-November 2021, but the construction fence was still up. There are still a couple weeks left in the month to meet the project schedule. There do not appear to be any news articles about this project since the May post of Keeping an Eye on the CAP. The next bit of news about the site will probably be either announcing the ribbon cutting or a project delay.

This post is part of an on-going photographic series to watch the development and usage patterns of the CAP. Periodically, approximately once every six months, I return to the site to take new photographs. At the end of the post, there are links to all the previous posts in the series.


Previous Posts in the Series:

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