Checking on the Rivers

 

20180220_131344

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...

 

Science Dino – Pittsburgh DinoMite Parade 1

While walking the Three Rivers Trail System on my way to the West End Bridge (post to come), I found a dinosaur that I had not seen before.  As I mentioned in my Cleveland Guitar post, Pittsburgh has dinosaurs like this spread out across the city.  It has been another idea of mine to try and find them all, but for now I’m just stumbling upon them on my other explorations of the city.  Like most of the dinosaurs I’ve come across, this one is appropriately located.  The science theme of the dinosaur’s design fits with its location next to the Carnegie Science Center.

Renaming Bridges

There is a proposal to rename at least one of Pittsburgh’s bridges.  Apparently, Allegheny County has been considering renaming its bridges for at least the last year.  According to a July 25th article in the Post-Gazette, the county council’s public works committee passed a motion to rename the 16th Street Bridge after the historian David McCullough, who is from Pittsburgh.  I must not have read the paper that day as I’m sure the headline would have grabbed my attention: “Allegheny County May Rename the 16th Street Bridge for McCullough.”

The first that I became aware of this proposal was Wednesday this week (Aug. 22nd) when another article announced that the whole county council voted on the proposal and passed it.  This article does not commit to which bridge will be renamed.  Though it later says that the 16th Street bridge is the most likely, it starts by saying “a major span” may be named after McCullough.  This really got me interested.  As I’ve discovered from walking and writing about Pittsburgh’s bridges, many of the bridges already have alternative names that honor someone.  I believe that most people in Pittsburgh are aware that the Three Sisters Bridges have alternative names, but I don’t think people are as aware that the 40th Street Bridge also has an alternative name.  So, I wondered, which “major spans” in Pittsburgh are left to be renamed?

I believe that “major spans” probably translates to bridges over the three rivers.  Here follows a list of the bridges spanning the rivers and any alternative names they have.

On the Allegheny River:

Fort Duquesne Bridge-The Bridge to Nowhere (see post)

6th Street Bridge-Roberto Clemente Bridge (see post)

7th Street Bridge-Andy Warhol Bridge (see post)

9th Street Bridge-Rachel Carson Bridge (see post)

Fort Wayne Railroad Bridge

Veteran’s Bridge (see post)

16th Street Bridge (see post)

31st Street Bridge (see post)

33rd Street Railroad Bridge-B&O Railroad Bridge

40th Street Bridge-Washington’s Crossing Bridge (see post)

62nd Street Bridge-R. D. Fleming Bridge (see post)

Highland Park Bridge (see post)

Brilliant Branch Railroad Bridge

On the Monongahela River:

Fort Pitt Bridge-Parkway West (see post)

Smithfield Street Bridge (see post)

Monongahela Bridge-Panhandle Bridge (railroad)

Liberty Bridge-South Hills Bridge

(South) 10th Street Bridge (see post)

Birmingham Bridge (see post and post)

Monongahela Connecting Railroad Bridge (see post)

Hot Metal Bridge (see post)

Glenwood Bridge (see post)

Bridge Number 73-Glenwood Bridge: B&O Railroad

Homestead Grays Bridge-Homestead High Level Bridge (see post)

On the Ohio River:

West End Bridge-West End/North Side Bridge

Ohio Connecting Railroad Bridge

McKees Rocks Bridge

The 16th, 31st, and 10th Street Bridges are the most likely candidates for being renamed.  Other bridges like the Highland Park Bridge and the West End Bridge could be renamed to honor someone or something.  Some bridges with only one name such as the Hot Metal and Veteran’s bridges already honor or refer to something historical and it would be a shame to replace with a new name.  (Of course not all of these bridges are within the county’s jurisdiction.)

While I am talking about bridge names, I realize I should have had a discussion about the name of the Birmingham Bridge when I posted about that bridge as its name is somewhat significant.  Pittsburgh’s South Side, before it was annexed to the city, was the village of Birmingham.  So this is another bridge that should not be renamed as this tidbit of history could then be easier to lose.

The Aug. 22nd article in the paper said that there is an unofficial suggestion that a bridge should be renamed for Art Rooney, Sr., the founding owner of the Steelers.  If McCullough gets the 16th Street Bridge, perhaps the West End Bridge or 31st Street Bridge should be the one to be renamed for Rooney as he lived on the North Side and they are the only significant bridges left that connect to that part of Pittsburgh.

Another article of interest relating to the discussion of renaming bridges was published yesterday.  It discusses the dilemma of whether or not a living person should be honored in such a way.

What is a Bridge? Pittsburgh Edition II

When I wrote the first “What is a Bridge?” post, I felt confident that Merriam-Webster’s definition of a bridge, “a structure carrying a pathway or roadway over a depression or obstacle,” was sufficiently explicit to exclude ramps.  However, while crossing the Penn Avenue Bridge in East Liberty I found a new structure to challenge the definition of a bridge.

The former bus ramp from the former Penn Avenue (Bus) Station to the (not former) East Liberty Busway Station meets the above definition of a bridge as it carries a roadway over the obstacle presented by the railroad bordering the busway.  On the other hand, it also meets the definition of a ramp, “a slope or inclined plane for joining two different levels,” as the busway is significantly lower than most of the surrounding area.  So, is it a bridge or a ramp?  It almost feels like asking is a tomato a fruit or vegetable? or perhaps even which came first, the chicken or the egg?  Are these equally impossible questions to answer or is it rather the case that there are exceptions to every rule?  There aren’t always easy or straight-forward answers.  I suppose in this case the structure is both a bridge and a ramp.

Perhaps a way to answer the question a little more specifically is to look at the way it is used.  In its previous use, the point of the structure was to get buses down onto or up out of the lower busway level.  While it was used in this fashion, I’d say it was more a ramp than a bridge.  There is a future plan for it to be turned into a pedestrian bridge to transport pedestrians safely across the railroad and busway to the busway station (see Busway Bridges: East Liberty).  At that point, in function the structure will be more of a bridge, though I suppose the ramp end will still function as a ramp to provide an accessible route to the station.  Whether it is a ramp or a bridge, I did not walk it yet as it is not currently designed for pedestrian access.  After its conversion is complete in the next couple years, I will come back to walk it.


Other posts in this series:

What is a Bridge? Pittsburgh Edition I (July 18, 2012)

What is a Bridge? Chicago Edition I (April 18, 2013)

What is a Bridge? Chicago Edition II (February 1, 2020)

What is a Bridge? Bethlehem Edition I (July 1, 2020)

What is a Bridge? Bethlehem Edition II (July 15, 2020)