Flood Measures


There is an enormous floodwall on the Covington, KY, side of the Roebling bridge, which spans the Ohio River.  It shocked me to see such a huge wall when I was there last year.  I wondered if there couldn’t have been some other means of flood control that would not have produced such a large barrier.  It reminded me of the significant physical barriers to the waterfront that I observed in Erie, Pittsburgh, Homestead, PA, and Cleveland.  Unlike Erie, Homestead, and Cleveland, Covington did not have any significant economic drivers separated from the town by the barrier wall.  The river side only had a small park and parking lot.

In addition to acting as a barrier, the sheer massiveness of the flat concrete wall bothered me.  I wanted to see it broken up into staggered segments, even though I knew that would not be useful in a structure intended to block the path of water.  However, Covington handled the flat wall with style by turning it into a canvas for a giant mural.  Almost as long as the wall itself, this mural depicts the history of the crossing at this location from 8000 BCE to the present day.  While the mural did not help with the scale of the wall, it broke the monotony while turning it into a destination for its own sake.

In the back of my mind, this wall continued to bother me until observing the effects of the significant flooding experienced in Pittsburgh this year at the forks of the Ohio River (see Checking on the Rivers and The Aftermath).  A google search showed me that the flooding Pittsburgh experienced in February this year also affected the Covington-Cincinnati region in the worst flood in that area since 1997.  The concept of a wall still bothers me, but this one probably prevents a lot of property damage and Covington has taken steps to soften its negative effects.

Erie Churches

Erie has a variety of attractive church buildings.  As I walked around admiring them, I was surprised to see that they were all still used as churches.  I did not find a single adaptively reused church building.  Given Erie’s location, relatively close to Cleveland, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh, I assumed it had similar significant population loss creating a need to either abandon, demolish or adapt some church buildings.  It turns out, that at least on the county level, this assumption was false.  Since 1900, the population of Erie County has grown every decade, except from 1980 to 1990 when there was a slight (1.5%) population loss, from 98,509 to 280,843 (2000’s population).  Allegheny County (Pittsburgh’s county), on the other hand saw growth from 775,058 in 1900 to 1,628,587 in 1960 after which the population has declined steadily to 1,223,348 in 2010.

I could not find statistics for the population change of the city of Erie; it is possible that there was a different trend within the city.  There were signs of abandonment and decay in other buildings and aspects of the town.  Yet the churches are still intact and appear to be thriving.  In fact, one of the larger churches was undergoing a major renovation while I was there.

Whatever the reason for the churches’ continued use, I enjoyed my treasure hunt chasing down as many steeples as I could in two hours:


St. Patrick's Church 1903

Russian Old Believers Church of the Holy Trinity 1984

Russian Orthodox Church of the Nativity of Christ (Old Rite) 1987


St. Peter Cathedral 1872

Cathedral School

St. Paul's United Church of Christ


Methodist Church

First United Presbyterian Church of the Covenant 1929

Isolated Waterfronts

I recently spent a few days in Erie, PA, to attend a conference.  Before arriving, I had looked at the map to figure out how to get from the bus station to my accommodations to the convention center.  On the map it looked pretty straight forward and simple.  All the places I had to get were within a mile of each other—piece of cake.  I often walk that far just to get to a bus in Pittsburgh.  Shortly after arriving in Erie, I realized that purely considering distance does not capture the true picture.  The seemingly short mile-long paths that I had to take included significant geographical and man-made barriers.

The main drag ran up through the town and straight out to the waterfront ending at the convention center hotel.  From the town square (6th Street), most of the buildings are flush with the sidewalk, except for the parking-lot-centric McDonald’s in the middle of these older buildings.  At 3rd Street, this changes.  The next two blocks are dominated by the campus of a UPMC hospital.  Then the barriers come.

First there is a small hill down toward the waterfront, then a wide parkway, followed by a barren strip of land on one side of the road and a marina on the other.  Finally, there is the convention center hotel.  Of course you have to pass the long parking garage, the lobby and rooms of the hotel, go up an elevator across a pedestrian bridge over the entrance to the marina, and down another elevator before you get to the convention center.

I was staying in a Bed and Breakfast near the town square, so several times a day I walked back and forth along this route to attend the conference events.  Even though the walk was only about a mile long, it seemed to take forever because of the barriers of the hill, road, vacant land, and water.  After going back and forth a few times, I realized that the set up was not much different from what I had seen in Cleveland this summer.  That city also has a major roadway cutting off the town from the shores of Lake Erie.  This road of course was much bigger than the one in Erie as the city is correspondingly bigger.

Despite the fact that there is a major freeway dividing the waterfront from downtown Cleveland, I still felt welcome to cross this barrier to reach the waterfront park or the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.  In Erie, I got a very clear impression that the downtown residents were not welcome to cross the barriers to get to the convention center/hotel or the little public jetty next to it and that the visitors at the hotel/conference center were not encouraged to explore into downtown Erie.  This situation seems to defeat part of the purpose of convention centers to bring economic benefits to the surrounding area, by bringing in more people to use local services.

Cleveland Guitars

As I mentioned in my Maps Are Awesome! post, I intended to walk over some of Cleveland’s bridges, but got distracted.  First I got distracted with some of the artwork on the street, such as the sculpture and fire hydrant below.


Then I got distracted by the gardens and the way the vacant property was dressed up as discussed in my Oh, Cleveland! post.  I also became fascinated by the map kiosk scattered throughout downtown (see Maps Are Awesome!).  Finally, and probably what clinched the deal, was the Guitar Mania.  Guitar Mania is one of the latest of fiberglass art fundraisers put together by a city.  In these fundraisers, a figure that is iconic to the city is chosen and artists decorate each uniquely and they are displayed all over the city.  After a certain time period of being on public display, these sculptures are auctioned off and the money goes to support charities and such.  An article I found online about Cleveland’s Guitar Mania mentions a few of the other cities that have done this, though they left out Pittsburgh.  Pittsburgh has actually done this twice now.  First was Penguins on Parade in 2002.  This was followed by DinoMite Days in 2003.  Though I haven’t seen a penguin since they were publicly on display in 2002, some of the dinosaurs can still be spotted around the city, mostly on corporate or institutional properties, but at least one is in someone’s private yard.  Other cities were I have personally experienced these kinds of events are Willimatic, CT, which had frogs sitting on spools (the city symbol due to a pre-Revolutionary War legend about frogs and the city and the city’s past as the headquarters of the largest thread company in the world) and Mystic, CT, which did whales.

However, getting back to Cleveland, this was the first time I was in a city while the statues were on public display and when I had the freedom to hunt for them.  I intended to still get to a bridge; however, I kept getting sidetracked as I spotted a guitar down one street or another.  In the end, I found 19 of the 100 guitars and photographed 18 and I decided it was a much better use of my time as the bridges will still be there the next time I’m in Cleveland, but the guitars will not be.  Later, I noticed a couple of decorated fiberglass Chinese dragon sculptures, but as I was passing in the car I was not able to take photos of them.  It turns out that Cleveland is doing a separate display of the Chinese dragons (see website, with link to locations) in addition to the guitar event.


Cleveland’s Bridges

I was surprised how many bridges there are in Cleveland, as I’ve always considered it a flat city.  There are several bridges across the Cuyahoga River which flows through the city, but there are also many bridges elsewhere in the city.  These other bridges cross over railroad tracks or the highways or are railroads and highways crossing over regular roads.  This realization (that even flat cities have can have lots of bridges) is causing me to reconsider what bridges are significant.  For instance in the claim that Pittsburgh has more bridges than Venice, if Pittsburgh has more bridges because highway overpass bridges are included in the count then is that kind of cheating as there was no geological reason for those bridges?  In other words, when cities compete for who has the most bridges, it seems like it would only be fair to count the ones that exist because of geological formations.  On the other hand, this almost sounds like I am calling some bridges more natural than others, but as they are all man-made how can any be natural?  Anyway, this is something to ponder.

In the meantime, I’ll return to Cleveland’s Bridges.  I did not cross over any of the river bridges while I was visiting recently.  Instead, I went under them on the Goodtime III boat tour of the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie.  As seen on the map above, the boat entered the river in the upper left-hand corner, traveled downriver for over three miles (though as the bird flies it was only about 1.75 miles), and turned around in the last “corner” of the river seen in the lower right-hand corner.  In the process, we passed under 13 bridges, while a 14th bridge swung out of our way.

While I call Cleveland a flat city, there are at least two significant changes in elevation.  One is located out by University Circle and though it continues farther out, I am most familiar with it because it separates the frats and some dorms of Case Western Reserve University’s southern campus from the rest of the campus.  This is a moraine formed by glaciers during the last ice age (or so I’ve been told).  The second elevation change is next to downtown.  The Flats district along the river is significantly lower than the surrounding areas, including downtown and whatever the neighborhood on the western side of the river is.


All the bridges we traveled under on the Cuyahoga River were interesting and unique, at least compared to the bridges in Pittsburgh.  About half the bridges were railroad bridges.  The railroads tended to travel along the flats and so crossed the river with very low clearance.  To allow the passage of larger vessels, such as the one we were on, these bridges raised and lowered like elevators.  On the other hand, the bridges carrying roads were very tall as they traveled at the height of downtown and the western neighborhoods.  This also meant that most of them were very long as they not only crossed the river, but also crossed the flats which were sometimes very broad.

This bridge was the only one of its kind on the river.  Instead of raising and lowering like all the other low clearance bridges, this one rotates in either direction to swing out of the way of boats.

Here was a railroad bridge higher than the others.  Though it still had the mechanisms for rising up, if it needed to, it appeared that our boat was short enough to pass under without this.  A car bridge passes over this bridge before passing over the river as well, however this one will be demolished in the near future, after the one under construction is finished.

These bridges were interesting as they were two railroad bridges right next to each other, which seemed rather odd.  My theories for this are that either the tracks belong to different railroad companies or one was built first and then the railroad grew, expanding to two tracks, and instead of replacing the bridge with one for two tracks just built a second one right next to the first.  Either way, it’s a sight you don’t see every day.

Though Pittsburgh’s Fort Duquesne Bridge is nicknamed “The Bridge to Nowhere” (see June 19th post), this Cleveland bridge deserves the title more as the road or railroad it used to connect across the river no longer exists.  I wonder why they keep the bridge in place, when its purpose is gone.  It seems to me that this could easily become a hazard as the bridge weathers and there is no reason to maintain it.  In the meantime, before it comes crashing down, it does make an entertaining sight.



And of course, since I was passing underneath the bridges, I had to take a shot at the undersides!

Maps are Awesome!

While talking with someone recently, we discovered we shared a seemingly rare love of maps.  Maps are truly awesome and useful tools and not just for figuring out how to get from one place to another.  Maps provide insight into what a place looks like, giving clues about the layout and geography of a place you’ve never been.  Street names and other labels can hint at the history of the place.  Historical maps show what a place looked like in times past.

I have used maps several times to help me with writing my blog and there are many more times when I should have gone to a map first. As I mentioned in the first Heth’s Run Bridge post, the G.M. Hopkins maps on Historic Pittsburgh are probably my favorite resource for Pittsburgh.  Heth’s Run Bridge presented many puzzles that the maps helped me understand.  I realized yesterday that I probably should have gone to these maps first when wanting to figure out which bridge remnant I saw from the Fort Duquesne Bridge (see June 19’s post).  While writing that post, I did a search on the internet, but came up with nothing.  The G.M. Hopkins maps came to the rescue, although there are two possibilities for which bridge the remnant belonged to.  The first possibility I found on the 1900 map.  This one was called the Union Bridge.  By 1929, the Union Bridge was gone and another bridge connected the Point to the North Side.  This one was called Manchester Bridge.  This bridge was demolished in 1970, by which time the Fort Duquesne Bridge was built (see June 19th post).  I made a few other discoveries about Pittsburgh while looking at the 1929 map.  First, Penn and Liberty avenues used to come straight through to Water Road which ran along the northern shore of the Monongahela River.  Today these avenues stop much further inland.  The second major discovery was that Point Park already existed in 1929.  It was significantly smaller than it is today, but it is there.

Google Maps helped me with identify the buildings near Lambeth Bridge (see June 28th post) that I didn’t take the time to stop and investigate while I was walking the bridge.  Several of the buildings I was able to identify from labels that Google Maps conveniently placed on the map.  The Parliament View Apartments weren’t labeled, but using Google Maps’s other wonderful feature–Street View–I was able to find a sign on the building identifying it.

The image leading this post is of another highly convenient map.  On my recent trip to Cleveland, I arrived Downtown 2 hours before the person I was visiting finished work.  We arranged to meet at their place of work, but I was only familiar with two or three of the streets in downtown Cleveland, and the meeting place wasn’t on any of them.  I had just decided to use my skills of logic to find it (which would have been feasible in this case as one of the cross streets was a numbered street and the other was called Lakeside) when I came across this map on a street corner.  It turns out that these maps are posted regularly around downtown Cleveland, which I thought was very considerate of the city.  It made the city feel like it welcomed visitors with open arms, engaging them in being engaged in the city.  Even though I had a plan for finding where I was going without a map, I prefer being safe rather than sorry, so I took the easy way out and used the map to figure out where I was supposed to end up.  I also used it to plot out how I could spend the time I had until my friend got out of work to cross at least one of Cleveland’s bridges over the river Cuyahoga.  I ended up getting distracted from this goal, but that is a story for another day….(see July 9 post)….

OH, Cleveland!

I spent my freshman year of college in Cleveland, OH.  University Circle, the neighborhood my campus was in, was beautiful and pleasant, but the rest of the city stuck in my mind as rather ugly and dull.  In fact, my friends and I referred to it as “the city that always sleeps.”  Outside of campus there didn’t seem to be anything to do, particularly after 7 p.m.

I often compare Cleveland and Pittsburgh in my mind and for years, Cleveland came up the less favorable of the two.  This is in part due to the unfavorable impression I developed of downtown Cleveland while in school there and in part due to the vast fields of vacant lots that separate downtown from University Circle.  In the last couple years, I made several quick trips to Cleveland.  Every time I come home more amazed by the city.

First, I started noticing the street art and fancy trash cans.  The next trip, I was awed by Cleveland’s BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) system.  Pittsburgh’s bus system is loosing routes and cutting back on service hours and here Cleveland was able to institute a BRT with fancy new buses, new bus shelters at every stop along the BRT route that include fare boxes and electric signs that tell you how many minutes until the next bus arrives, and dedicated lanes and traffic lights for the BRT.  Last weekend when I visited was the first time I’ve spent any significant amount of time walking downtown and I was impressed with what I saw.

There is vacant property all over the city.  Cleveland’s population decline over the last 60 years was much more severe than Pittsburgh’s.  It went from a peak of around 900,000 to just under 400,000 in 2010, whereas Pittsburgh only got up to 600,000 and fell to 300,000.  Yet, downtown, the city’s managed to still look beautiful despite the vacant buildings with greenery such as the garden in the road divider above.

I saw another method for reducing the blightedness of vacant properties in another part of the city 8 miles from downtown.  Here they placed art installations in vacant lots that were for sale.

Things definitely seem to be looking up for Cleveland.  I read recently that the County Executive for Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) met with the one for Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) to pick up some tips on how to help turn a struggling rust belt region around.  However, I think that Pittsburgh/Allegheny County could pick up some tips from Cleveland/Cuyahoga County.