Tag Archives: Monongahela River
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
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 new “wading” portion of the fountain was enjoyed by families, friends, couples, and pets.
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.
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.
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?
Homestead High Level Bridge
I got off the bus a stop or two before the Homestead High Level Bridge (aka Homestead Grays Bridge). As I walked down Brown’s Hill Road, I was unpleasantly surprised to find that my sidewalk turned into a drain. From a distance it looked like the sidewalk continued all the way to the bridge as it was the same material and same width the whole way down. However, at one point it suddenly changed from being a flat sidewalk to a v-shaped drain. Fortunately it had not rained recently, so the drain was dry and I was able to continue on my way. If I were a person with a mobility disability trying to get down to the bridge, this would have presented a serious problem. There was no warning for this change and the nearest traffic light was some distance back uphill (because of the traffic level this is not a road where it is wise for any person to attempt to j-walk). I did not walk on the other side of the road, so I am only assuming that the sidewalk there would be accessible (that is, not turn into a drain).
The walk across the bridge itself was fine. There is sidewalk on both sides and no fence to cage you in or to block the views. It was a windy crossing, which reminded me that every time I’ve walked the Highland Park Bridge, I’ve noticed the wind. It made me wonder if there is something special about the location of these two bridges or if it is merely coincidence that they are windy. One factor in common between the bridges is that there are the last bridges within the city on their respective rivers when traveling away from downtown.
There are several interesting sites visible from this bridge (most of which are not within the boundaries of the city of Pittsburgh). First is the view above of Homestead. In this shot there are five churches visible, just outside the frame are three more to the left and one more to the right, within several additional churches just a little farther out from this core. I find the close proximity of so many churches interesting first because it is a clear indicator of the past of this town (a major mill town with numerous immigrant groups) and second because about half of these church buildings are vacant or for sale. It is a dream of mine to create a master plan for adapting these churches to new uses that complement each other, address some of the needs of the town and act as a productive catalyst for lifting the town out of decay. As I still haven’t figured out what these uses would be or how to implement the adaption, it currently remains a dream.
A project that I’ve heard was supposed to lead to the revitalization of Homestead was the creation of the Waterfront Mall on the former Homestead Steel Works site (originally part of the Carnegie steel empire before being sold to US Steel). The revitalization plan did not work out and it is popular to criticize the design of the mall and point out all the reasons for this failure. The most glaring reason is that the roads were designed so that people coming from the city can completely avoid going into the town when going to the mall.
Another negative factor about the mall, which doesn’t necessarily have any effect on the potential to revitalize the surrounding area, is the limited walkability of the site. It drives me nuts and definitely is a major factor curtailing my use of the mall. Part of the mall, pictured above, is walking friendly. However, as someone once pointed out to me, this is where all the expensive stores are and chances are that people shopping here have cars. On the other side of the bridge and across a couple parking lots are the rest of the shops laid out in a long string of big box stores including Target and the grocery store (which as the same helpful person pointed out are frequented by people without cars). I have nightmares of the long trek lugging my growing number of purchases all over this site as I travel between stores and then try to find a bus stop that will take me out of this barren landscape toward home (an absurdly difficult feat).
The image above shows the never-ending parking lots along the long string of stores. From this view it looks far more green than it feels on the ground. One other aspect of interest is the black shapes above the America flag, which are the abandoned structures of the Carrie Furnace, one of the few remnants from the Pittsburgh region’s industrial and steel past. I say “abandoned” but this perhaps is not an accurate term as there are plans and efforts underway to use the site. An August article in the Post-Gazette discusses the efforts of volunteers to save the site and turn it into a museum. The first half of another article from June talks about development plans for turning the land surrounding the furnace into an office/industrial park.
A final site of interest visible from the Homestead High Level Bridge is the slag heap which is now home to the “Somerset at Frick Park” housing development. When I get caught up with posting about the walks I’ve done since starting my blog, I’d like to write about some I took before my blog began, including the hike through Frick Park and over this slag heap. I suppose given my interest in seeing vacant property, including brownfields, within a city reused, I should be pleased with this development. I think I’m getting a bit hung up on the irony of the site–once a dump site for the refuse of mines and industrial sites, now the site of luxury homes and condominiums.
Roebling and the Smithfield Street Bridge
For several years, I had been under the impression that Roebling has designed/built the current Smithfield Street Bridge in Pittsburgh. This summer I discovered that while he certainly designed one of the bridges at this location (as well as several others in the city including an earlier rendition of the 9th Street Bridge) he did not create the current structure–here or elsewhere in the city. The current bridge was built in the 1880s by Gustav Lindenthal. However, according to Wikipedia, a part of Roebling’s bridge still stands as the piers were the ones built for his bridge.
As I paused in my walk across the Smithfield Street Bridge to take photos of the views off either side, a Segway tour passed. These seem to be an ever increasing site in downtown Pittsburgh. While walking around downtown last week, I nearly got run over by a straggler on a Segway who had some trouble navigating the turns.
The Smithfield Street Bridge connects downtown with Station Square, which I believe was one of the earliest industrial sites turned into an entertainment complex in Pittsburgh. (Later developments of this kind are South Side Works and the Waterfront.) The Smithfield Street Bridge is probably the most heavily used by pedestrians of any of the bridges in the city. This is in large part because there is a large parking lot attached to Station Square, which many people who work downtown park in. I believe downtown workers are also attracted by the restaurants and river trail which can be reached by walking this bridge. An additional attraction for walking across this bridge from downtown is the Monongahela Incline, the base of which is across the street from Station Square.
I feel like I also hear people talk excitedly about walking the Smithfield Street Bridge as an event in and of itself. I assume this is in part due to the fact that the sidewalks are nice and wide and there is no mesh fence caging the pedestrians in (see my complaints in earlier posts starting with the Highland Park Bridge, but not perfected until I got to the busway bridges such as the Millvale Avenue Bridge). A larger part of the reason for this may be the bridge’s location and uniqueness. One factor distinguishing this bridge from others in the city is the fact that it is basically flat and at street level. Most of the other pedestrian accessible bridges that cross the rivers have inclines/declines. Another distinguishing factor is its blue color. I believe it is the only bridge in the city with this particular deep blue color (the 31st Street Bridge is the only other one I can think of that is any shade of blue). This is especially significant as the Smithfield Street Bridge is located in the heart of downtown where all vehicular river bridges, except this one, are a golden-yellow color. The third significant factor about this bridge is its shape. All the golden bridges are either suspension bridges (see the 6th, 7th, 9th, and 10th Street bridges) or semi-circular truss bridges (see Fort Pitt, Fort Duquesne, 16th Street, and West End bridges). The Smithfield Street Bridge is shaped like two close-set, narrow eyes.
To wrap up this post, I’ll just add that I like this view of downtown. Perhaps I like it because of the smaller scale of the buildings seen here or for the fact that it captures some of the remnants of the old downtown or simply because it makes a nice composition for a photograph.
While many characteristics are shared between the Pittsburgh bridges, each has its own unique combination. The Glenwood Bridge, built in 1966 across the Monongahela, was one of the nicer ones to walk across, but I had a hard time finding a reason for anyone to walk it.
The Glenwood Bridge perhaps has the most in common with the Highland Park Bridge. Both bridges cross over industrial land uses. On the north shore of the Monongahela, the Glenwood Bridge crosses over a railroad yard and on the south shore, the bridge crosses over a scrap yard. The Highland Park Bridge also crosses a scrap yard, but while that one seems to focus on braking up the pieces of scrap metal, the one at the Glenwood Bridge seems to sort it and condense it into cubes.
While the Glenwood Bridge has some similarities with the Highland Park Bridge, there are also some significant differences. Cars travel very fast across this bridge, but they are much more spread out than on the Highland Park Bridge. Also, the sidewalk is very broad and clear of debris (a stark contrast to the Highland Park Bridge where the sidewalk looks similar but is narrow and collects debris). This bridge has the mesh fence that I usually rant against as making me feel caged in, but in this case the fence does not curve inward at the top as many of the others do like the Millvale, Negley and Aiken Avenue bridges. As a result of the straight fence and the width of the sidewalk, I did not feel caged in on this bridge.
Unfortunately the southern end of the bridge does not live up to the standard set by the rest of it. Like the Birmingham Bridge, the sidewalk leaves the bridge before its end and goes down a stairway to ground level. The stairs are not nearly as well-maintained as the rest of the sidewalk. They are overgrown, broken and covered with litter. The sidewalk at the bottom only allows one choice of direction for the pedestrian: to go left underneath the bridge. Following this sidewalk (which is covered in mud and litter in places), the pedestrian crosses another short bridge (carrying a roadway over a roadway) and comes to another stairway in much worse condition than the one above.
This area is a labyrinth of high speed roadways. The picture above is the second bridge taken from the top of the second stairway. These stairs lead to a slower speed road that followed inland leads to some residences and followed toward the river leads to Sandcastle or the scrap yard the Glenwood Bridge crosses.
Given the unpleasantness of the southern end of the bridge for pedestrians and the fact that the main use of that area is an interchange for cars between various high speed roads, I could see very little incentive or reason for pedestrians to actually use the nice, broad, clear sidewalk of the Glenwood Bridge. The only reason I could think of was perhaps if residents of the Hazelwood neighborhood wanted to walk to Sandcastle (the waterpark on the other side of the river).
This lack of purpose for the sidewalks on the Glenwood Bridge is intriguing. The bridge has two wide sidewalks on either side, whereas the Highland Park and Birmingham bridges have sidewalks only on one side. It doesn’t seem likely that whoever built the bridge would have wasted money on two such broad sidewalks if they didn’t expect them to be used. Perhaps when the bridge was built in the 1960s, people still used walking as a common mode of transportation to work. At that time period, I believe that there was much more industrial work to be found along this part of the river. I am not as familiar with this area of the Monongahela as I am with parts farther upstream and downstream, but given that in both directions were large steel mills, this part of the river probably also had some mills or other industry. Therefore the sidewalks might originally have been in high demand as a commuter path.
Fort Pitt Bridge
Pittsburgh has the Three Sisters Bridges with the 6th, 7th, and 9th Street bridges, but I think it should also have the Twin Brothers Bridges with the Fort Pitt and Fort Duquesne (see post) bridges. The two Fort bridges look very much alike as I think my featured images for the bridges show. The roadway connecting them across the Point further suggests a close relationship between the bridges as do the names themselves.
To be honest, I had not been looking forward to my walk across the Fort Pitt Bridge. It carries a freeway and the southern end connects to a highway and dirt. Last spring I was at a conference at a downtown hotel and overheard a hotel employee giving directions to some out-of-town visitors to the Duquesne Incline, which involved crossing the Fort Pitt Bridge and walking along West Carson Street. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I didn’t understand why anyone would send a tourist along that route, as you always want to show tourists the best side of a city. If the tourists had asked me, I would have sent them across the Smithfield Street Bridge and up the Monongahela Incline. Then I would have recommended they walk along Grandview Avenue to the observation platform by the Duquesne Incline as it provides a more iconic view of the city.
After walking the route across the Fort Pitt Bridge to the Duquesne Incline myself, I don’t feel so bad about tourists being sent on it. It wasn’t that bad of a walk and the view from the top is one of the best in the city.
I’ve probably made it quite clear by now that I really don’t like the fenced in bridges. (See for instance thee Busway Bridges posts for Shadyside, East Liberty, and Millvale Avenue.) The Fort Pitt Bridge sidewalk is wide and open, though the traffic is a little loud and it might have been hard to hear if I had wanted to have a conversation with a walking buddy. The worst part was the stretch pictured above alongside the Fort Pitt Museum.
I enjoyed the views from the bridge as I never see the city from this angle. It certainly does not present the most exciting view of the downtown buildings, but that was one of my goals with this project—to see all the views of downtown.
While crossing the bridge, I realized that I never spend any time on the Monongahela side of the Point. I’m not sure why, but I always end up on the Allegheny side (or at the tip of the Point before it was under construction) when I come to the park. This made me realize I really need to explore Point State Park more as the Monongahela side looks quite pleasant.