Pedestrian Bridges: Bates Street

The trail bridge over Bates Street, which opened in 2011, is the second newest bridge in Pittsburgh.  The newest is the pedestrian bridge in East Liberty (see Taking the Long Way Round post).  The East Liberty bridge was a completely new bridge, whereas there was a trail bridge over Bates Street before.  This bridge carries the Eliza Furnace Trail.  This trail is part of the larger Three Rivers Heritage Trail.  I believe that this is the only bridge over a road along the Three Rivers Trail system.  There is a converted railroad bridge that carries the trial over part of the Allegheny River (see July 15 post).  The Hot Metal (Aug 9 post), Smithfield Street and Fort Duquesne (June 19 post) bridges are also considered part of the trail system according to the trail map.

As I mentioned in the Birmingham Bridge post, the part of the Three Rivers Trail system that travels on the northern side of the Monongahela is not a very pleasant stretch.  This area around the Bates Street Bridge is one of the worst sections.  The trail is caught between a freeway and the high traffic, through way of Second Avenue.  There is no vegetation or anything else to act as barriers to the noise of the traffic on these two roads and to the sun on a hot day.

Further away from town (in the direction the picture above looks), the trail improves some as it comes to an elevation between that of the freeway and Second Avenue and there is more space between the trail and the roads.  I’ve traveled on this trail toward town only once or twice, so I don’t remember specifics about it.  I do remember that it does continue to lean toward being unpleasant.  The times I traveled on it, I was biking.  From that experience I know I would never choose to walk it.  On a bike, you go fast enough to ignore much of the harshness of the trail, but walking you would be forced to take it all in.

Perhaps the biggest problem with this part of the trail system is that it doesn’t approach anywhere near the river.  This is a significant flaw for a trail considered part of a river trail system.  At the Bates Street Bridge, the trail is separated from the Monongahela River by Second Avenue and the office/technology park I reference in the Birmingham Bridge post.

One of my original fascinations with my walking bridge project was the different views of the city captured from the various bridges.  The Bates Street Bridge adds to the views of downtown I’ve collected so far:

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.

Millennium Bridge

The Millennium Bridge is the first of two pedestrian bridges that cross the Thames.  The second, the Jubilee Bridge (click to see post), opened 3 years later in 2003.  While the Millennium Bridge is sadly only one color, I think it was probably the most photogenic bridge I walked in London.  Although I like the picture above less for the bridge and more for the buildings behind it, which show the city’s transition from a time when church steeples were the tallest thing around to today when that honor belongs to the skyscrapers.

The location of the bridge was very good.  It leads directly to St. Paul’s Cathedral.  In some ways I am surprised that it wasn’t until 2000 that a bridge was built at this location.  (I picked up some souvenir maps while in London depicting the city in 1520, 1666, 1843 and 1902 and none have a bridge or even ferry boat at this location.)  On the other hand, the other side of the bridge connects to the Tate Modern, which didn’t open as the international modern and contemporary art museum until 2000.  Before then the site was a power plant from 1947 until 1981 when it became redundant and closed, remaining vacant until the Tate took it.

The views from the Millennium Bridge show two things of interest related to the other city bridges.  First, upriver is a view of the first rail station to span the Thames and the longest solar bridge in the world (see July 31 post).  Downriver, the Tower Bridge, which I believe is the most iconic London bridge, comes into view for the first time.

I started this post by claiming that the Millennium Bridge was the most photogenic of the London bridges.  The views of it above are pretty interesting, but the best shot was the one I took from the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral looking down.

Busway Bridges: East Liberty

There are currently two pedestrian bridges across the busway in East Liberty to give bus riders access to and from the busway and surrounding neighborhoods.  I have used the larger of the two many times to get to and from the busway, but the smaller one (pictured above) always seemed out of the way, scary, and a bit useless.  It ended up not be as scary as I imagined, but it is not a path I would choose to use after dark.  It seemed useless, and out of the way, as it connects very low traffic areas to the busway and the Highland Ave Bridge (see July 26 post) or the other pedestrian bridge provide access between the busway and high traffic areas.

Both these bridges are scheduled to be demolished and replaced with one bridge.  In June, there was an announcement that a TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) Grant was awarded for a new transit center at this location (see June 20 and June 23 articles in the Post-Gazette).  In this new transit center, the busway station will be shifted closer to Penn Avenue, making the smaller pedestrian bridge truly obsolete.  The larger pedestrian bridge is planned to be rebuilt and the former bus ramp (see July 27 post) will be made into a pedestrian/bicycle connection to the busway (near the top of the ramp a bicycle garage is planned to be built).  The articles say that the developer hopes to start construction in the spring.  Perhaps in a year, or a little more, there will be a new bridge for me to walk.

Both the current pedestrian bridges take the caged feeling that several of the bridges I’ve crossed to a new level (see Highland Park Bridge, Taking the Long Way Round posts).  I have heard that the new bridge planned for this area will be more open and thereby more pleasant.  Whether this means it will be more open like the pedestrian bridge in Taking the Long Way Round or it will be truly open without any cage-like fencing, only time will tell.

When I first heard about the planned new transit center, I thought the whole idea was ridiculous–there already are bus stops on the busway and on Penn Avenue and there already are bridges connecting these areas, also public transit across the city has been in serious danger for the last couple years and there is no indication that its downward spiral with increasing route cuts and fare increases is going to stop anytime soon.  However after learning more about the new transit center, it seems like it might actually be helpful/useful by making the busway easier to access and more attractive to access.  Also after observing the behavior of a pedestrian in Taking the Long Way Round, I wonder if the new transit center might encourage more people to use alternative transit options.

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)

Taking the Long Way Round

This week while I was walking some more bridges, I witnessed a fascinating phenomenon. I had an architectural design class a few years ago where we had an assignment to create a theoretical “intervention” for an assigned two block area of Pittsburgh (which coincidentally included a bridge).  Several of my classmates noticed in observing the area a significant number of j-walkers and so designed interventions that were pathways going over or under the road to stop pedestrians from crossing the road dangerously.  The reaction that I, the professors and other reviewers had to these projects was the theory and design is nice, but no one is going to go out of their way to climb up or down just to cross the road.  Similarly to this was a conversation some classmates of mine had about the paths pedestrians created across the school’s lawn.  These paths were formed because the pedestrians recognized that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, yet every year for many years the school insisted on replanting the grass on these paths. If I remember correctly the school eventually gave up on this and instead of replanting the grass they paved the paths.

The phenomenon I witnessed this week was a pedestrian contradicting all the observations above.  I was walking several of the bridges over the busway in the East End neighborhoods.  As I walked to the Highland Ave Bridge, I was behind another pedestrian who looked like he might have been on his way to work.  He continued straight on the road while I climbed the steps pictured above to cross the bridge.  After I crossed the Highland Ave Bridge I crossed through the EastSide parking lot to cross the new pedestrian bridge.  As I approached this new bridge, I crossed paths with the man I had been walking behind.  He had crossed the pedestrian bridge and was now doubling back to get to his location.  The shortest route for him would have been to cross the Highland Ave Bridge; instead he made the choice to go out of his way and cross the new pedestrian bridge instead.  Apparently my architectural design classmates were not as far off as I thought–given an attractive enough alternative pedestrians will go out of their way.

The new pedestrian bridge is probably the newest bridge in Pittsburgh, being less than a year old.  I had been waiting for it for over two years before it finally opened.  Shortly after it opened I took the opportunity to walk across it for the first time and was very disappointed.  I thought it looked incredibly ridiculous and with the planters on either side I didn’t feel like I was on a bridge.  I think I had imagined it as something a little closer to a swinging bridge that this heavy and solid construction.  However, the incident this week with the pedestrian has caused me to reconsider this bridge.  Comparing this bridge to the Highland Ave Bridge, I have to admit it does have many good points.  Though I still think the pedestrian bridge leans to the ridiculous, it is much more pleasant looking that the Highland Ave Bridge.  While crossing the Highland Ave Bridge, I can’t help wondering if the wooden planks that make up the sidewalk are still strong enough.  What if the wood has become rotten or termites have eaten away its integrity?

Given the proximity of these two bridges (they are about a block apart) I don’t blame the man for walking a little bit out of his way to cross the pedestrian bridge instead of the Highland Ave one.  The one complaint I have left about the new pedestrian bridge is the enclosed, caged feeling it has.  While it certainly is the most dressed up caged bridge in the city, it is still a cage.

What is a Bridge? Pittsburgh Edition I

When I reached the next pedestrian accessible bridge to get off of Herr’s Island/Washington’s Landing (after having got on it by the converted railroad bridge), the question of what is a bridge stared me in the face.  I’ve skirted that question since starting this blog, sometimes alluding to it in passing, but never really dealing with it head on.  It came up first with Heth’s Run Bridge.  While in the posts on this bridge (see Part I and Part II) I mention that the deep ravine that the bridge once spanned has been filled in, I don’t discuss what this means for the structure’s status as a bridge.  The question there is: Is a bridge still a bridge if what it bridged has been filled in and the bridge isn’t actually bridging anything anymore?

Then, when I wrote about the Bridge Under a Bridge, I couldn’t help wondering if it was cheating to include this bridge as it was purely an aesthetic bridge built so that a man-made pond could go underneath.  A different aesthetic choice could have led instead to a path bordered by two man-made ponds.  Yet I still refused to address the question of what is a bridge?

At this point, I feel it is necessary to face the question, this point being where the 30th Street Bridge connects to the River Avenue ramp which connects to the 31st Street Bridge.  From the view pictured above of the 30th Street Bridge, it looks like a bridge.  However, from where I got on it (the lower end on the left side in the image above) it looked to me like a ramp taking traffic from a low point to merge onto another road at a higher elevation.  Besides, it connects to the River Avenue ramp and in the junction of these two structures (pictured below), it felt like one continuous ramp system.  Yet, a portion of this system is called a bridge.    So I ask myself, “what is a bridge?”

First, I thought, “a bridge is a structure that connects two points which would otherwise not be accessible to each other.”  Then I realized this definition includes ramps. In my current example, there is no other way that River Avenue, which for most of its course runs at the same level as the bike path in the picture above, would be able to access the 31st Street Bridge without a ramp.  Therefore, according to my definition above the ramp is a bridge.

Another thought I had was “a bridge is a structure that spans a geological obstacle.”  Well then, that means that the bridges that only exist to cross over a road or railroad aren’t really bridges.  I discuss these types of bridges some in my post on Cleveland Bridges.  In that post, I don’t question whether or not they are bridges, but whether they are significant enough to be counted in comparing the number of bridges cities have.  Though I didn’t state it, I also wondered if they were significant enough for me to include these types of bridges in my bridge walking.  Regardless of their significance, I consider them bridges.

Merriam-Webster defines a bridge as “a structure carrying a pathway or roadway over a depression or obstacle.”  This definition seems pretty good as it excludes ramps but includes the bridges over man-made obstacles.  I’d say this definition also would include the Bridge Under a Bridge.  However, it doesn’t address the situation of Heth’s Run Bridge prior to its renovation.  What if the structure “carrying a pathway or roadway” at one time crossed over “a depression or obstacle,” but does so no longer though the structure is still there?  Is it still a bridge?

There is one other dilemma suggested by the 30th Street Bridge/River Avenue Ramp/31st Street Bridge structures, the Fort Duquesne Bridge, the Veterans Bridge, and London’s Jubilee Bridge.  This dilemma is perhaps best expressed by “what makes one bridge?”

In the Veterans Bridge example, three separate structures cross over the obstacle of the lower elevation of the parking lots in the Strip before joining to become one structure across the obstacle of the Allegheny River.  So, is this one bridge or three?

When I walked the Fort Duquesne Bridge, I was walking a pedestrian bridge built approximately 40 years after the Fort Duquesne Bridge.  The pedestrian bridge is attached to the Fort Duquesne Bridge over the Allegheny River, but on either end it is separate with its own supports.  Is this one bridge or two?

London’s Jubilee Bridge has two separate pathways, but one name and dedication date.  They are separated by a bridge for the underground, which, as far as I can tell, they are attached to for structural support.  So is this one, two or three bridges?

The 30th Street Bridge/River Avenue Ramp/31st Street Bridge structures appear to me to be one conglomeration, similar to the three structures that merge in the Veterans Bridge.  Yet while the elements in the Veterans Bridge appear to be considered one structure, the 30th Street Bridge is considered a separate structure from the 31st Street Bridge, at least in so far as it has its own name and its own page on  What makes the 30th Street and 31st Street bridges different from the other examples I’ve listed above?

For a continuation of this discussion see What is a Bridge? Pittsburgh Edition II

Other posts in this series:

What is a Bridge? Pittsburgh Edition II (July 27, 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)

Converted Railroad Bridge

This is the bridge that I missed when identifying the river bridges to cross on GoogleEarth.  I missed it because it doesn’t cross the entire width of the Allegheny River.  About 2.5 miles upriver from Downtown Pittsburgh is Herr’s Island, also known as Washington’s Landing.  The name Washington’s Landing refers to the story that this was where George Washington spent the night after a crossing of the Allegheny River during which he fell into the river.  (The folk song “The Forks of the Ohio” describes the incident.)  Herr’s Island refers to one of the original landowners of the island, Benjamin Herr.

One of the names of this bridge is Herr’s Island Railroad Bridge.  While lists multiple names for the bridge, none of them refer to the new use of the bridge as a pedestrian bridge.  The bridge connects the northern shore of the Allegheny with Herr’s Island and I image was very well used while the island was covered with industry.  Now is it a very pleasant pedestrian bridge connecting the northern branch of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail with Herr’s Island, which now features a swanky residential area.


The view upstream shows the little stretch of the Allegheny that separates the northern shore from Herr’s Island, while the downstream view captures downtown.

At the Herr’s Island end of the bridge is a nice look-out space featuring this compass with the three rivers.  While this part is nice and seems to welcome the public, I always feel very awkward as I continue on the trail along Herr’s Island.  The way the island was developed, it feel like it’s a private, gated community and people like me who use the trail but don’t live there are interlopers and trespassers.

Jubilee Bridge

The Jubilee Bridge is quite unique, at least compared to the other bridges in London.  First, it is the newest bridge I crossed–Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra dedicated the bridge on July 2, 2003.  Second, it is one of only two pedestrian bridges.  Third, it crosses the Thames twice.

Built on either side of one of the underground bridges which connects to the Embankment station, this bridge is really two bridges.  Particularly for my project, it was very thoughtful of the builders to put a bridge on either side of the underground one so that pedestrians can choose which view of the river they get.

Downriver shows a great view of the changing skyline of London Town.  St. Paul’s Cathedral still dominates its part of the skyline, but more towers are popping up around it.  It almost seems like there are more cranes than buildings in this view of London.

The upriver span of the bridge provides an excellent view of the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament.  And speaking of Parliament, I recently saw that Big Ben has been renamed Elizabeth Tower (see article in the BBC news).  While I agree that it is a great accomplishment for Queen Elizabeth to have reached her 60th year on the throne, I am quite dismayed by the decision to rename Big Ben.  Big Ben is such an iconic and catchy name.  I don’t see how Elizabeth Tower could possibly catch on.  It is one thing to rename the King’s Tower as Victoria Tower, but quite another to rename Big Ben.  It seems like there surely must be something else that Parliament could rename to honor the Queen.