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

Then & Now: Hot Metal Bridge

The final bridge in our 10-year anniversary look back at the Pittsburgh bridges and their environs is the Hot Metal Bridge. This is upriver from the Birmingham Bridge and the last bridge on the Monongahela before the big bend that hides downtown from view.

The Hot Metal Bridge was built to connect the Jones and Laughlin Steel Mill’s sites on opposite sides of the Monongahela River. With the industrial decline of Pittsburgh’s steelmaking industry in the mid- to late-20th century, Jones and Laughlin’s operations ceased over the 1980s. The first redevelopment of a portion of their property began in 1981. The redevelopment continues today.

On the south side of the river, the former site of milling operations is now the South Side Works shopping, dining, and residential area. Since 2012, the first marina in the city limits was added here and buildings under construction have opened (first photo pair), other buildings not pictured have been added.

On the north side downriver, the former site of the blast furnaces is now the Pittsburgh Technology Park containing office buildings, parking, and a hotel. The hotel was added in the last ten years as well as several other buildings outside the frame in the second and third set of photos.

On the north side upriver, the former Hazelwood Works is now the Hazelwood Green site a planned mixed-use, multi-block redevelopment. The remaining mill buildings on the site have been redeveloped as office and research facilities with the Mill 19 building visible on the left side of the river in the fourth photo pairing. The space between and around these buildings is expected to be filled in with other buildings of a variety of uses in the coming years.

The final photo pair features the former St Josaphat’s Catholic Church on the South Side Slopes, which is a building I have an eye as one of Pittsburgh’s pending adaptively reused religious buildings. This view shows another angle of the growth of the South Side Works development.

While both South Side Works and the Pittsburgh Technology Park were substantially developed by 2012, they continue to expand. On the other hand, Hazelwood Green is just beginning to be developed and is still predominantly vacant land. In another 10 years, perhaps, the upriver view from the Hot Metal Bridge will be significantly altered.

Then & Now: Birmingham Bridge

The penultimate installment of the Then & Now series is the Birmingham Bridge just upriver from the Duquesne University Pedestrian Bridge. This is a bridge that I’ve walked multiple times from necessity despite the fact that it was not well-designed for pedestrians, which I complained about in my first post about the bridge.

It would be nice to think that the pedestrian access upgrade it underwent in 2021 was in response to my complaints of the accessibility issues with the bridge design. However, the upgrade only partly resolves those issues.

On the south end of the bridge, pedestrians are no longer forced to leave the bridge and take steps down into the park. Instead, there is an option to continue along the level of the bridge. (See the first pair of photos.) This new option at first pushes pedestrians into the edge of the pavement beside the bike lane with no physical separation from the bikes or speeding cars. Once the bridge reaches the ground, a raised sidewalk appears.

On the north end of the bridge, there was no change for pedestrian’s use of the bridge (second photo pair). The options remain to walk in the painted buffer of the bike lane from where the bridge leaves Fifth Avenue or walk several blocks out of the way down the equivalent of multiple stories only to walk back up them on the sidewalk on the ramp from Forbes Avenue.

The view of Oakland from the bridge (third photo pair) shows a building that I regretted not taking photos of before it was demolished and one of the new buildings built along Fifth and Forbes in recent years. Looking downriver toward downtown (final photo pair), the new vision center as part of UPMC Mercy Hospital is clearly visible, though its coloring blends in well from this distance. Both of these views are expected to change further in the coming years with additional growth in Oakland and the redevelopment of the Lower Hill adjacent to downtown.

Then & Now: Duquesne University Pedestrian Bridge

I first walked the Duquesne University Pedestrian Bridge as part of my 10th Street Bridge walk in September 2012. However, by that point I was walking bridges faster than I could post about them. This is one of the bridges that I hadn’t posted about until now. It is accessed by a multi-story staircase from the northern end of the 10th Street Bridge and it crosses the speedy Blvd of the Allies. Students who prefer walking (and climbing) to transit and who live or party on the South Side use the 10th Street Bridge-staircase-pedestrian bridge path to get to and from campus.

Because of this bridge’s perch on The Bluff, it has great views up and down the Monongahela River. Some of the developments that have happened since 2012 along this river are visible from this bridge. The first pair of photos show a new construction self-storage complex that was built on a vacant, but complex, industrial site. Zooming out some in the second pair, a now brightly colored set of warehouses stand out (which incidentally are next to the Highline/Terminal Way Bridge). Less clearly visible is the white smudge that is the extension into the river built by the gravel company just on the other side of the Liberty Bridge.

The most surprising thing to me on this return trip is that the new UPMC Mercy Vision Rehabilitation Center that is still under construction and looks massive from the views in my Keeping an Eye on Uptown series is not very visible from this bridge. If it had been a sunny day when I was out taking photos, perhaps the glass would have glinted a little more behind the freeway sign, but as it is, the dark spot visible under the freeway sign now isn’t much different than the dark spot from 10 years unless you zoom in close (final photo pair).

Then & Now: Terminal Way Bridge

Last month’s look back at the 40th Street Bridge wrapped up the Allegheny River watershed portion of our 10-year anniversary Then & Now series. This month, we start revisiting bridges in the Monongahela River watershed.

The Terminal Way Bridge – now called The Highline – is unique in the Pittsburgh bridges I’ve walked as it is not a through-way. It is an elevated passage that connects five buildings of a former large warehouse operation. The bridge was previously a car road and parking lot. Pure speculation based on the small factoids and selection of historic photos on the Highline website suggests that at one time, this road was were good were loaded onto local delivery vehicles. Now, it is closed to all vehicular traffic and is instead an outdoor amenity space, exclusively for pedestrians and bicyclists.

While I walked over the bridge multiple times before the renovation, I was never inspired to take a photo of the parking lot that it was. I did, however, take photos of it from below which are still able to show the change from car parking to planters. They also show the change from former warehouse to a place poised to become a hip place is town.

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

Then & Now: 40th Street Bridge

The next bridge in the 10-year look back at urbantraipsing bridge walking is the 40th Street Bridge, which is about a mile from last month’s featured bridge: Herron Ave Bridge. The 40th Street Bridge, aka Washington’s Crossing Bridge, crosses the Allegheny River connecting Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood with the Borough of Millvale.

I first walked the 40th Street Bridge before I had the idea to blog about bridge walking, but as I had my camera with me, I took views from the bridge. Since then, the quality of my cameras has grown exponentially and several developments have arisen on the Lawrenceville side of the river. On the upriver side of the bridge, there is a new apartment complex, The Foundry at 41st, and a new office building, TechMill 41 (see the first pair of photos below).

On the downriver side, phase 1 of the large Arsenal 201 mixed-use development was completed on the former site of the Allegheny Arsenal famous for supplying munitions to the Union Army during the Civil War (see the second pair of photos below). The arsenal is perhaps even more famous for the accidental explosion that is identified as the worst civilian casualty of the war killing 78 people, mostly women and girls. Phase 2 of this development is well under way.

Also, on that side of the bridge, some of the new developments on Butler Avenue near Our Lady of the Angels Parish St. Augustine Church are visible including the new Capuchin Friars home (third pair of photos) and one of the new mixed-use buildings that have popped up in the neighborhood over the last 10 years.

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