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).

Keeping an Eye on Hazelwood Green: Jul. 2021

Overview

Hazelwood is a neighborhood about 4 miles down the Monongahela River from downtown Pittsburgh. It is currently experiencing significant change. Between Hazelwood’s main street (2nd Avenue) and the Monongahela River is a 178-acre site of the former Jones and Laughlin Steel Company. Most of the structures from the mill were demolished, leaving a large brownfield. In 2002, the site was purchased for redevelopment by Almono LP (at the time, an entity made up of four Pittsburgh foundations). After years of planning and a rebranding of the site as Hazelwood Green, a series of public streets and the first building opened for use in 2019. Construction is underway for more buildings and a public plaza.

During the planning and preparation stages, a question arose as to the effects of this redevelopment on the surrounding neighborhood. Hazelwood is one of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods that has experienced high vacancy rates and subsequent demolition in its residential and business districts. While the building stock of the neighborhood has experienced a long downward trend, the community of people is strong. Only time will tell if the redevelopment of Hazelwood Green will connect with this community or if Hazelwood Green will become and isolated spot of prosperity for others.

Through three photographic series, Keeping an Eye on Hazelwood Green, Keeping an Eye on Hazelwood Flats, and Keeping an Eye on Hazelwood Slope, I will periodically document the physical changes to the former steel mill site and to the surrounding neighborhood.

What’s New

Since the last time I photographed Hazelwood Green, the most significant changes are the near completion of the public plaza (photo 24a) and the Roundhouse (photo 8), a former mill building converted to office space. Construction is also underway for the final building in Mill 19 (photos 29, 31, and 33), the remaining steel frame of one of the former mill buildings.

The Photos

Hazelwood Green in the News

The May 2021 opening of the public plaza was covered by NextPittsburgh (May 6, 2021), Pittsburgh Business Times (May 7, 20201), and KDKA (May 8, 2021).

Almono LP led a process to develop a riverfront master plan for the site. The Post-Gazette and Tribune Review announced the proposal to seek input on the plan in September 2020. The Pennsylvania Environment Council updated their September 2020 announcement of the planning process with a link to the report on the fall planning process. WPXI and Pittsburgh Business Times reported on the release of the riverfront master plan in April 2021.

The Roundhouse renovation’s press is skewed toward the stories on the construction from October 2020 (WPXI, Tribune Review, NextPittsburgh, Post-Gazette) and the stories on the start-up challenge that coincided with OneValley’s February 2021 announcement that they would be opening an innovation center at the Roundhouse (NextPittsburgh, technical.ly, OneValley, Innovate PGH, PR Newswire). Technical.ly’s article is the only one I found on the opening of OneValley’s innovation center this month.

In other news, a grant was awarded to abate asbestos and lead in Mill 19 (PA Environment Digest Blog, October 13, 2020), a contested shuttle proposal between Hazelwood and Oakland is moving forward again (WESA, October 20, 2020), a green manufacturing plant may come to the site (Post-Gazette, May 6, 2021), Michael Keaton, aka Batman, visited Hazelwood Green in May 2021 (Pittsburgh Business Times, May 20, 2021), artists will be designing bus stops for Hazelwood Green (evolveEA, May 21, 2021), Carnegie Mellon University announced a proposal for a new robotics innovation center while the community works to make sure development supports residents (technical.ly, June 23, 2021), and Tishman Speyer may become a private development investing partner with Almono LP (Pittsburgh Business Times, July 9, 2021)

Locating Hazelwood Green


Previous posts in series

Keeping an Eye on Hazelwood Green: Aug 2020

Keeping an Eye on Hazelwood Green: Mar. 2020

Keeping an Eye on Hazelwood: Introduction

Keeping an Eye on Hazelwood Green: Aug. 2020

Hazelwood Green in the News:

Roundhouse Renovation Next For Hazelwood Green (Next Pittsburgh, January 26, 2020)

Locomotive Roundhouse to Host Co-working Space (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 28, 2020)

Tenant Landed for Roundhouse (Pittsburgh Business Times, February 25, 2020)

From Blight to Tech Node? (CoStar, June 3, 2020)

Largest Solar Installation (Next Pittsburgh, June 29, 2020)

Hazelwood Green – Mill 19 Building A Named 2020 Best Project (ENR MidAtlantic, July 29, 2020)

Largest Solar Installation Completed (Solar Power World, August 13, 2020)

Drive-In Arts Festival at Hazelwood Green (Twitter, August 13, 2020)


Previous posts in series:

Keeping an Eye on Hazelwood Green: Mar. 2020

Keeping an Eye on Hazelwood: Introduction

Keeping an Eye on Hazelwood Green: Mar. 2020

Keeping an Eye on Hazelwood: Introduction

After introducing my series of Keeping an Eye on Uptown, the CAP, and the Lower Hill, I remembered that Hazelwood is another neighborhood expected to experience changes over the next several years. Between Hazelwood’s main street (2nd Avenue) and the Monongahela River is a 178-acre site of the former Jones and Laughlin Steel Company. Most of the structures from the mill have been demolished, leaving a large brownfield. In 2002, the site was purchased for redevelopment by Almono LP (at the time, an entity made up of four Pittsburgh foundations). After years of planning and a rebranding of the site as Hazelwood Green, a series of public streets and the first building opened for use in 2019. Construction is underway for more buildings and a public plaza.

During the planning and preparation stages, a question arose as to the effects of this redevelopment on the surrounding neighborhood. Hazelwood is one of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods that has experienced high vacancy rates and subsequent demolition in its residential and business districts. While the building stock of the neighborhood has experienced a long downward trend, the community of people is strong. Only time will tell if the redevelopment of Hazelwood Green will connect with this community or if Hazelwood Green will become and isolated spot of prosperity for others.

Through two more photographic series, Keeping an Eye on Hazelwood Green and Keeping an Eye on Hazelwood, I will periodically document the physical changes to the former steel mill site and to the surrounding neighborhood.

Checking on the Rivers

 

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Silt deposit after the flooding rivers receded enough to uncover the fountain at The Point (February 20, 2018)

 

Over the last few years, I have developed a habit of “checking on the rivers” regularly by crossing them on my way to various activities or eating my lunch on their shores.  This habit started as a way to get a break from the office and clear my mind.  After having read several books by John Muir and James Fennimore Cooper, I found a deeper meaning in these “check-ups”.  Both authors wrote wonderfully descriptive passages of nature scenes and kayaking on rivers and oceans.  While crossing the Allegheny one day, something about the view recalled some of these passages.  I was filled with a sense of wonder and awe that this river running through the heart of our city is still the same force of nature described by Muir and Cooper in other locations, despite the man-made attempts at controlling it through dams and bridges and concrete lining the shores.

This winter, the weather patterns are reinforcing the power of nature as exhibited by the rivers.  During our cold snap over MLK Jr Day weekend, the rivers froze.  The Allegheny had some pockets of open water surrounded by thick ice, but the Monongahela froze all the way across.  Commercial traffic on the Monongahela started up again on Tuesday, breaking a path through the ice along the shipping lane, but on the coldest days that week, the channel remained clogged with chunks of ice that appeared to be refreezing together between shipments.  As the weather warmed up slightly, the rest of the river remained frozen, but the shipping lane cleared of ice, until it got cold again and refroze.

Marveling at the sight of the frozen rivers, I found myself beset by the feeling that impels people to walk across frozen bodies of water without knowing whether or not the ice is actually thick enough to hold you.

Since then, an extended period of unseasonably high temperatures and record pushing rainfall has brought on over a week of flooding and high water on the rivers. The fountain at The Point is supposed to have gone underwater at least twice in that time. Multiple roads and ramps downtown have been forced to close off and on due to high water. The highest I saw the water, a few hours before it’s first peak, it appeared to be within a few feet of the base of PNC Park.

Every time I pass by one or the other, I compare the water height against the familiar features. On the Monongahela, several of the trees lining the shore have been standing in water for days. I wonder how long they will hold out before they join the other logs floating down the middle of the swollen torrent. On the Allegheny, the trails on both sides of the river are either more or less under water. As I look down from the high perch of the bridges or the sidewalk along Fort Duquesne Blvd, I am amazed at how effortless it seems the water just slips over the edge of the trail. Whenever I’ve walked that same path, the water always seemed far below.

As I spent my lunch breaks this week running from one to another of the rivers to check on the effects of all this water, I laughed at my eager curiosity to explore these flooded shores compared to the terror I experienced as a kid when my Dad took my brother and I along on similar exploration of the flooded Delaware River. My heart clutched as the waters of the Delaware bubbled and gurgled inches from the road we traveled. When we pulled off to park and watch the water a uniformed personnel directed us to move to higher ground. That area was being evacuated due to the rupture of an ice dam upstream that released a 50 ft high wall of water expected to hit that part in 10-20 minutes. My Dad got us back in the car and headed up the road again at what seemed to me to be a snail’s pace. My eyes detected signs of the water being even closer to the level of the road as we went back the way we came. I only breathed freely again, when we reached a lookout off the Appalachian Trail hundreds of feet above the bed of the river. We waited and watched for a long time, but never saw the promised wall of water.

Ever since that day, my mind has contemplated the idea of a wall of water traveling down a river with interest trying to picture and understand how that would work. The extreme variations in the heights of Pittsburgh’s three rivers the last couple weeks are the closest real-life examples I’ve had of massive amounts of extra water flowing downriver. My curiosity is teased by this, impelling me to explore, urging me to go on, go closer. Yet, the fear of the water’s power still remains tucked up in the corners of my mind. It mingled with wonder and awe as I stood at the edge of the silt deposited by the rivers around the fountain at The Point.

 

The Point…of Gathering

A renewed downtown Pittsburgh attraction is a great place on a hot day.  With last weekend’s temperatures reaching near 90, the revitalized Fountain on the point of Point State Park was a popular place to be.

The Fountain

The new “wading” portion of the fountain was enjoyed by families, friends, couples, and pets.

Bathers

Families and Pets

Pittsburghers and Icons

The fountain was also a gathering point for bikers enjoying the Three Rivers Heritage Trail System and Pittsburgh’s bike rental program and kayakers taking advantage of Venture Outdoors’ Kayak Pittsburgh rentals.

Kayakers and Bikers enjoy the Point

The Point is one of the key geographical features that influenced the creation and history of Pittsburgh.  With the rebirth of the fountain, it will continue to be an important attraction in the city.

The Point of...

 

10th Street Bridge

The 10th Street Bridge (which a reader pointed out is nicknamed the Phillip Murray Bridge after the first president of the United Steelworkers of America) was the last of the bridges over the Monongahela River for me to walk.  Or so I thought.  It turns out that the Liberty Bridge also has a sidewalk despite the fact that it is a freeway bridge like the Veteran’s Bridge (see post).  So I’ll have to come back to the Liberty Bridge at some point.

I delayed my walk of the 10th Street Bridge in part because it seemed like an awkward one to get to and from.  One end is in the middle of the South Side, but the other connects to the Armstrong Tunnel, which would obviously not be pedestrian friendly.  Last week, I finally went out and walked it and as I hoped, it turns out there is a pedestrian access over the hill to the high-bus-traffic corridor of Fifth and Forbes avenues in the form of a giant staircase that I will address in another post.  This end of the 10th Street Bridge was more well-connected than I had anticipated.  Not only do the stairs provide access to the top of the hill when Duquesne University sits, but there is also access to a parking lot down by the river which also connects to the Three Rivers Trail System.  The best proof of this bridge’s connectivity is the number of other pedestrians I saw walking the bridge.  While I did not keep a count, I noticed that there was a comparatively high level of pedestrian traffic.  It certainly wasn’t as much as the Smithfield Street Bridge (see post), but it was comparable to or higher than that on the other downtown bridges.

My favorite part about this bridge was the dinosaurs painted at the top of the southern tower.  I couldn’t tell if they were official or freelance graffiti, but it seemed appropriate given that Pittsburgh is famous for dinosaurs.  Andrew Carnegie brought the first dinosaur skeletons on display anywhere in the world to his natural history museum.  I found someone else wrote a post about the dinosaurs on the bridge, which the artist apparently calls geese, which suggests that the painting may not have been officially sanctioned.

The post mentioned above about the dinosaurs also comments on the “rusty” condition of the bridge.  While I didn’t notice the rust much (it wasn’t nearly as bad as the 28th Street Bridge), I did notice the condition of the sidewalk.  I thought my theory that the top of the sidewalk had worn away to expose the metal framework supporting the structure rather farfetched, as how could the entire sidewalk (on both sides as far as I could tell) wear out so evenly.  Yet, I cannot think of any other sidewalk I’ve walked that looks like this and given the other bloggers comments on the poor physical condition of the bridge, perhaps my idea isn’t totally crazy?