Hot Metal Bridge

After walking the Hot Metal Bridge, I realized that it is really three separate bridges.  One of the bridges is the bike/pedestrian bridge pictured above that crosses over Second Avenue.  The other two are in the background of the image above–one carries all vehicular traffic while the other carries all pedestrians and bicycles.  The bridge pictured above is not structurally connected with either of the other bridges.  The two bridges that span the Monongahela River were built at different times.  While at this end (north) the bridges are at the same level, they are at two different elevations on the other side of the river.

The Hot Metal Bridge is one of the more locally famous and popular bridges in the city.  In my experience of participating in and overhearing people’s conversations locally about Pittsburgh bridges, the Hot Metal and Smithfield Street bridges are the two that come up the most as fun to use and interesting.  In the case of the Hot Metal Bridge, this is perhaps because it used to be a set of railroad bridges which have now been converted.  They were built and used by the Jones & Laughlin Company to connect its sites on opposites of the river.  The name of the bridge (Hot Metal) came from the fact that the trains were carrying molten metal from one factory to another.  There are, or at least there were, placards along Water Street along the South Side Works that describe the history of the J&L steel company on this site and on the bridge.  I don’t know if they are still up as there is currently construction going on in this area.

According to the description attached to the oldest image of the bridge on Historic Pittsburgh, the bridge was built in 1887.  This image, as well as’s page for the bridge, identifies the names of the two structures as the Monongahela Connecting Railroad Bridge (now the vehicular bridge) and the Hot Metal Bridge (now the pedestrian bridge).  The G.M. Hopkins maps tell a slightly different story.  As early as 1882, the maps show a bridge at this location.  That map and the 1889 map identify the bridge as the East End Bridge.  All the maps from 1890 through 1923 of this site call it the Jones & Laughlins Bridge.  Up until 1904, the bridge is depicted as carrying a single track, which I assume would be the bridge that is now the pedestrian bridge.  Starting in 1910, the bridge is depicted with three railroad tracks, meaning the current vehicular bridge was added in that time.

It is amazing to me that as late as 1998 this part of the city was still dominated by steel mill buildings as illustrated by this photo.  I suppose this means that I did not come to this part of the city then.  As the South Side Works mall did not exist yet, I guess there was no reason for me to come over here.  According to, the conversion of the bridges began in 1998, but the larger of the two bridges didn’t open until 2000 while the pedestrian bridge opened in 2007.

My final comment on this bridge is that there is a nice view of downtown from here, although the buildings don’t form any interesting patterns and clusters like they did in the views from the Allegheny River bridges (see 16th Street Bridge post for an example of this).

Pedestrian Bridges: Shadyside

When the pedestrian bridge I discuss in “Taking the Long Way Round” was in the process of being built, I was thinking it was the first pedestrian bridge in Pittsburgh.  When I started my project of walking the bridges in Pittsburgh, I realized what a ridiculous thought that was.  Pittsburgh has many pedestrian bridges, but until the new one was built, I never heard anyone talk about any pedestrian bridge in the city.  Many of these pedestrian bridges are not particularly attractive and are not in high traffic areas.

Shadyside has one of these hidden pedestrian bridges.  The bridge connects Graham Street across the busway and railroad tracks.  The only reason I know about this bridge is from riding buses on the busway.  Walking down Graham from Centre Ave (a busy corridor lined with businesses, churches and a hospital and used by several major bus routes and lots of cars), I was impressed how quiet and peaceful the residential area between Centre and the busway was.  That is until a train comes by.

As I walked across this bridge, I wondered why it was there.  There is a vehicular bridge with sidewalks on both sides across the busway a block in either direction.  There are eight other roads between this bridge and the Penn Ave Bridge that end at the busway and have neither a vehicular or pedestrian bridge connecting them to the other side of the busway.  In my walk, I speculated that perhaps it was put in to connect the residents on the north side of the busway to places of work on the southern.  This was based on the fact that there was a large building on the southern side that now houses the Shadyside Boys and Girls Club (photo below).

When I got home I went to, which I have used whenever I’ve had questions like this about the origin or design of Pittsburgh bridges.  However, for some reason this website ignores many of the bridges over the busway.  In looking up some of the bridges that misses, I found several other bridge websites that list and identify many of the bridges in the city, but none of them include the Graham Street Bridge, not even the National Bridge Inventory Database.

So I turned back to my favorite resource–the G.M. Hopkins maps.  I also went to the image collection on Historic Pittsburgh, the parent site for the Hopkins maps.  In the image collection I found one photo from 1908 of the bridge under construction.  The 1904 and 1911 maps show the area immediately adjacent to the bridge as all residential.  The building that is now the Boys and Girls Club does not exist.  All I’m left with is speculation at this point.  However, there is a school a few blocks from the southern end of the bridge and in between 1904 and 1911 another church was built a couple blocks north of the bridge.  There already was a large church a block from the site of the newer, smaller one.  Perhaps, the bridge was built to facilitate school students and church goers to get to their respective destinations.

Based on the way the bridge is depicted on the 1911 map and the 1939 map, I suspect the bridge may have been rebuilt since 1908.  At the very least the stairs were replaced.  The southern steps are drawn as coming straight out from the bridge to the road, but today the stairs are perpendicular to the line of the bridge and Graham Street.  The northern steps are drawn perpendicular to the bridge and facing the same direction the southern steps face today.  However, the steps I walked are switchback style, with the upper portion facing the opposite direction depicted on the 1939 map.

Birmingham Bridge

Outside of the safety issues of the Birmingham Bridge (see July 30 post), the surroundings and view from the bridge were interesting.  I was particularly interested in the uses along the waterfront around the bridge as there were three distinct types of use.

On the northern shore of the river and western side of the bridge is this gravel/cement? factory. I classify it as an industrial use, but I don’t really know what its purpose is.  I watch for a little while as the excavator scooped gravel from the barge and dumped it on the conveyor belt which passed it along and piled with the rest.  I think it is easy to forget at times that our rivers are still working rivers–some coal and other materials are still shipped by the rivers.  The image above is a reminder of this as the gravel was obviously delivered by river.

On the same shore, but the other side of the bridge, is one of Pittsburgh’s redeveloped brownfields.  This area used to be part of the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company, dominated by the Soho Iron Works (see 1923 map).  Today it is home to several office buildings along Technology Drive, including Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center.  I believe the University of Pittsburgh may also have property on this site.  This site is an illustration of Pittsburgh’s Second Renaissance, the “Eds and Meds,” which was implemented in the 1980s to counteract the job loss and deterioration caused by the decline of the steel industry.  Here the former steel plant was replaced by buildings housing at least the education part of “Eds and Meds.”

The third use of the waterfront at the Birmingham Bridge is recreation (and green space) on the southern shore.  The Three Rivers Heritage Trail travels near the river among the trees and grass.  The trail also passes under the Birmingham Bridge on the north shore, but the technology park and gravel site separate the trail from the river and it passes near the freeway, making it not a very pleasant place for recreation.  The southern branch of the trail on the other hand is pleasant as it passes among greenery and near the river.  The western side of the bridge provides additional opportunities for recreation on the southern shore as there is a boat launch and a parking lot that provides access to the boat launch and some picnic areas nearby.

The area around the Birmingham Bridge captures the various uses which riverfront property has been put in Pittsburgh.  First it was an ideal spot for industry and mills.  This has been replaced in some areas with new developments such as the offices at the technology center.  Now there seems to be an increasing interest in making the river fronts accessible and available for recreational use.

31st Street Bridge

To date I have walked the 31st Street Bridge twice.  The first time was a few years ago when I had over two hours to kill between an event downtown and a meeting in the Strip a few blocks from the bridge.  So I naturally decided to spend it by walking from the first to second location along the Three Rivers Heritage Trail.  It was winter and I saw the first flurries of the season as I crossed this bridge.  For that reason, I remember the walk and the bridge fondly though I was disappointed and surprised when I arrived at the Strip District end of the bridge to realize how far away I was from the stores in the Strip.  I had been planning on getting a snack at one of the nice little ethnic groceries or perhaps at the bakery.  As I was in a car every other time I had been to the Strip, I never realized how little of the neighborhood the stores took up.  Fortunately, there was hot chocolate and a good spread of fruit and pastries at my meeting.

As I sat down to write this post, I realized that I have already discussed most of the observations I had or at least something similar in other posts.  So I went to to look for some inspiration of something new to write.  It has a nice description of the decorations on the bridge (see link), which I completely missed as I walked it this summer either because they aren’t there or because I looked in the wrong places as I thought there might be some decoration.  The other thing that intrigued me on the website was the name of the bridge which is 31st Street Bridge, Number Six Allegheny River.  I thought perhaps this meant it was the sixth bridge at this location; however says that the 31st Street Bridge replaced a former bridge at 30th Street.  While the streets aren’t that far apart, it seems more likely that “number six” refers to it being the sixth bridge up the Allegheny from the Point, yet this would have to be only counting road bridges (not railroad).  The 1929 G.M. Hopkins map shows that the sixth bridge from the point is the 16th Street Bridge when you count the railroad bridge between the 9th and 16th Street bridges.


These are the pictures that go with the topics I’ve discussed in other posts.  On the left is the cookie-cutter, perfectly manicured housing development on Herr’s Island.  In my Converted Railroad Bridge post, I mention how I feel like a trespasser when I walk through this part of the island.  Except for the little lighthouse/widow’s walk attachments on top of the houses (the circular, red peaked roof thing), the development looks identical to some of the newer developments (older being 1960s) in the California town I lived in for several years.

The view downriver, above on the right, shows again the two clusters of tall buildings downtown that I first observed on the 16th Street Bridge (see July 13 post).


Several well-known landmarks (which I have mentioned in other posts) are visible from the 31st Street Bridge.  First on the downstream side (above left) is the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church.  Perhaps because of the lighting and angle, I don’t think it appears as impressive in the picture as it does in real life.  I mentioned this landmark previously in my post about the Fort Duquesne Bridge.  On the other side of the bridge (above right), the most famous landmark is Children’s Hospital, which came up in the 9th Street Bridge post.  Before doing this project, I don’t think I realized just how big Children’s Hospital is.  I thought it was big, but I’ve learned from observing it from the 9th and 31st Street bridges that it is actually huge.  Closer to the bridge a little lower on the hill from the hospital is the St. Augustine Church in Lawrenceville, one of the many large, old, and beautiful churches in the city.  I’d also like to point out the little church on the right-hand side of the photo towering above its surroundings.  I don’t want to go into much detail about it now, but it is one of Pittsburgh’s repurposed churches and I will be coming back to it in a future post.

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)….

Heth’s Run Bridge Part II

I have a few thoughts to add about Heth’s Run Bridge.  First is the map above which identifies the location of the Bridge compared to downtown.  Second is the bridge’s condition.  There recently has been a lot of buzz around town about the terrible condition of all the bridges in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County as well as many in the rest of Pennsylvania.  This gossip tends to give the impression that most of our bridges are ready to collapse at any moment.  Transportation for America’s website describes a report on deficient bridges, which is probably what fueled the gossip above, however the report presents a slightly more favorable picture.  While the Pittsburgh Metro area is identified as the metro area with the highest percentage of deficient bridges in the US, it turns out that only 30% of the bridges are deficient.  While I am unable to comment on the structural integrity of Heth’s Run Bridge or even if there is any need for it to be structural sound (I don’t think the ravine has been completely filled in under the bridge, but I can’t be sure), I can attest to the condition of the sidewalks.

The sidewalk is quite wide, but as the image above shows, it is deteriorated with weeds growing however they please.  The sidewalk on the other side is in similar condition.  The first time I walked this bridge I could not understand why the sidewalk was so wide, particularly as on the other side, the sidewalk narrows considerably.  Across the bridge I’d guess the sidewalk is over 10 feet wide, but once across it is only a couple feet wide, with only about a foot of usable space due to dirt and overgrown weeds.  Clearly this is not an area that the city considers to have a high enough volume of foot traffic to warrant good sidewalk maintenance.  As there often is high vehicular traffic in this area, I say the city should make the sidewalks across the bridge much narrower so that they can add another car lane.  The riverside traffic has two lanes before the bridge and two lanes after, but narrows considerably to make room for a useless wide and deteriorating sidewalk.

In writing the first post on Heth’s Run Bridge (see May 31 post), I believe I discovered the reason for this unusually wide sidewalk that today essentially goes nowhere (at least nowhere that the average pedestrian would wish to go).  The 1911 map of the bridge and surrounding area shows that the bridge connected Butler Street and Washington Boulevard (today’s Allegheny River Blvd), both of which were lined with houses and other buildings.  There is even a school on Washington Boulevard.  As such it was probably only natural that when the current bridge was built in 1914 it would have large sidewalks to help facilitate the movement of people before the prevalence of the car between the houses, businesses, and schools that lined these roads.  Today all the buildings that lined Washington Boulevard at this point do not exist.  The land they once stood on is all wilderness and on the landward side of the road is incorporated into Highland Park.  The large, deteriorating sidewalk of Heth’s Run Bridge is the only reminder of a time when this area was probably busy and vibrant.

Heth’s Run Bridge

Heth’s Run Bridge as seen today presents many mysteries.  Digging into the mysteries uncovers a interesting story.  I have crossed Heth’s Run Bridge many times, usually in a car on the way to the Zoo, but it was only in recent years that I realized it was a bridge.  When looking toward the zoo parking lot from the bridge (as in the picture below) it does not appear that the height of the road differs enough from the surrounding landscape to be a bridge.  However, in the view above (taken from the Zebra Ice Station parking lot on the river side of the road) it looks like a bridge.  The G.M. Hopkins Maps, one of my all-time favorite resources available on the Historic Pittsburgh website, explains the history of and the reason for this bridge.

The 1899 map identifies a bridge in this location called High Bridge, indicating that there was a significant difference in elevation at this point.  A 1912 photograph shows that this was indeed a high bridge, quite unlike the current bridge and its surroundings.  This would have been caused by a small stream called Haight’s Run which flowed under the bridge into the Allegheny River.  By 1911, most of this stream was covered over and Haight’s Avenue ran along its path.  The 1939 map shows no evidence of Haight’s Run, the name on the road and the bridge is now Heth’s, and the road is marked “not open.”  Also in this map, the bridge appears to be a different width than in the others, this is because the current structure was built in 1914, more technical and historical information about the bridge can be found here.  1939 is the most recent year for the G.M. Hopkins Maps.  I speculate that the bridge would still have been raised over the surrounding landscape at that time, based on the similarities in the surroundings between the 1911 and 1939 maps.  However, sometime between then and now, Haight’s/Heth’s Run was filled in and the zoo parking lots built on top, level with the height of Heth’s Bridge.

If I had not passed this way on foot, I doubt that would have realized that this was in fact a bridge or that once not long ago (in geological terms) a stream flowed along this way.  There is a tendency in urban areas for nature to be ignored or in this case built over, which sometimes causes catastrophic results.  Not far from Heth’s Run is Negley Run, another stream that was buried under a road.  The burial of this stream likely contributed to the tragic flood on Washington Boulevard last summer that resulted in several deaths.  I look forward to the day when all our roads and sidewalks will be made of permeable material, allowing for more natural absorption of rain water and reducing flooding.