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.
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).
Last month’s look back at the 40th Street Bridge wrapped up the Allegheny River watershed portion of our 10-year anniversary Then & Now series. This month, we start revisiting bridges in the Monongahela River watershed.
The Terminal Way Bridge – now called The Highline – is unique in the Pittsburgh bridges I’ve walked as it is not a through-way. It is an elevated passage that connects five buildings of a former large warehouse operation. The bridge was previously a car road and parking lot. Pure speculation based on the small factoids and selection of historic photos on the Highline website suggests that at one time, this road was were good were loaded onto local delivery vehicles. Now, it is closed to all vehicular traffic and is instead an outdoor amenity space, exclusively for pedestrians and bicyclists.
While I walked over the bridge multiple times before the renovation, I was never inspired to take a photo of the parking lot that it was. I did, however, take photos of it from below which are still able to show the change from car parking to planters. They also show the change from former warehouse to a place poised to become a hip place is town.
The next bridge in the 10-year look back at urbantraipsing bridge walking is the 40th Street Bridge, which is about a mile from last month’s featured bridge: Herron Ave Bridge. The 40th Street Bridge, aka Washington’s Crossing Bridge, crosses the Allegheny River connecting Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood with the Borough of Millvale.
I first walked the 40th Street Bridge before I had the idea to blog about bridge walking, but as I had my camera with me, I took views from the bridge. Since then, the quality of my cameras has grown exponentially and several developments have arisen on the Lawrenceville side of the river. On the upriver side of the bridge, there is a new apartment complex, The Foundry at 41st, and a new office building, TechMill 41 (see the first pair of photos below).
On the downriver side, phase 1 of the large Arsenal 201 mixed-use development was completed on the former site of the Allegheny Arsenal famous for supplying munitions to the Union Army during the Civil War (see the second pair of photos below). The arsenal is perhaps even more famous for the accidental explosion that is identified as the worst civilian casualty of the war killing 78 people, mostly women and girls. Phase 2 of this development is well under way.
Also, on that side of the bridge, some of the new developments on Butler Avenue near Our Lady of the Angels Parish St. Augustine Church are visible including the new Capuchin Friars home (third pair of photos) and one of the new mixed-use buildings that have popped up in the neighborhood over the last 10 years.
There was a lot of news about the bridge this month. PennDOT and the Mayor’s office held a press conference on Monday to announce that the bridge may be completed before the end of the year. This unusually fast pace is because construction is underway while the design is still being worked out. Inspired by the event, I went to Frick Park after work and explored the view of the bridge from the northern approach along the Tranquil Trail.
While the news is good for the Fern Hollow Bridge reconstruction, there were hiccups this month on the Swindell and Port Authority bridges.
Below is a slideshow of photos from my hike this month followed by the news updates on the Fern Hollow Bridge and other bridge maintenance and replacement efforts in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.
The City created a Commission on Infrastructure Asset Reporting and Investment in March 2022, but this commission has not been added yet to the city’s website listing all Boards and Commissions and I have not seen any announcements of any appointments to the new Commission. However, there was a press release this month asking for applicants interested in serving in any of the city’s boards and commissions.
WSP USA was selected to manage the City’s new Bridge Asset Management Program. (Tribune Review, July 19, 2022)
On Tuesday, Port Authority found a crack in one of the rails on the bridge that was just repaired. The inbound T service was discontinued for two days to enable the replacement of this portion of track.
On July 1, Pittsburgh’s Swindell Bridge was closed due to falling debris. The falling debris was noticed during the first phase of repairs, which was repaving the road. (City Press Release, July 1, 2022) The subsequent inspection found that the debris came from the repairs – material accumulated in one of the drainage troughs, putting unusual pressure on the trough and causing it to “tear open and spill” the debris onto route 279 – hours after I had driven under it. (City Press Release, July 5, 2022)
Our next stop on the 10-year anniversary series looking at the changes to and around Pittsburgh’s bridges is the Herron Avenue Bridge. This is another bridge that passes over the MLK Jr or East busway. Traveling down the busway toward downtown from the Baum and Centre Bridges we looked at last month, this bridge is three bridges closer to downtown. It connects the Polish Hill and Lawrenceville neighborhoods in Pittsburgh.
On the northeastern side of the bridge is the former Iron City Brewery. When I walked this bridge in 2012, there were plans in the works to redevelop this complex of 20 or so buildings. Ten years later, not much has changed on this site – other than the clearing away a large pile of dirt and debris near the loading docks (visible in the second photo pair below). According to new articles about the site published in 2019 and 2021, some exterior stabilization has occurred and there are still plans in the works to renovate the site (WPXI, CBS, City Paper, Pittsburgh Business Times).
One the other side of the bridge, a major transformation is underway changing from a warehouse with large parking lots to a dense mixed-use development. The new buildings are visible from many angles of and from the bridge (see all but the second photo pair below). Construction started last summer and the project website says that pre-leasing was to begin in spring of this year, but based on the information on the website it doesn’t look like this has begun yet. One of the amenities listed is the views, which include the views of downtown stolen from the bridge.
My foot is finally healed enough for me to begin to explore the site of the bridge collapse over Fern Hollow in Frick Park. I started at the Frick Environmental Center and explored the western slope into the hollow looking for gaps in the trees to see the progress on the bridge construction. The Clayton, Biddle, Bradema, and Tranquil trails all provided glimpses of the bridge site. According to the Hiking Project’s website, the elevation change between the highest and lowest points I encountered was 250′ and the steepest grades were between 13 and 16%.
It was pleasant hiking through the leafy forest, but the foliage hid most of the bridge site. From what I could see through the gaps in the leaves, construction seems well on its way with the four primary support columns erected. In future updates (barring further injury), I will explore the views from the park along the eastern slope and the northern trails.
Below is a slideshow of photos from this exploration followed by the news updates on the Fern Hollow Bridge and other bridge maintenance and replacement efforts in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.
There are no new updates on PennDOT’s project page regarding the reconstruction of the bridge since my post last month.
The City created a Commission on Infrastructure Asset Reporting and Investment in March 2022, but this commission has not been added yet to the city’s website listing all Boards and Commissions and I have not seen any announcements of any appointments to the new Commission.
The RFP is now closed for the Bridge Asset Management Program that Mayor Gainey announced in early May. (Bidnet.com)
Port Authority’s bridge has been repaired and is back in service. The stop upgrades to the stations in Beechview and Dormont have reached a point where they have reopened to use, though repairs (including morning jackhammering) continue.
Earlier this month, Public Source published an article revisiting the first four months after the bridge collapse. From this article, I learned that the City has launched a separate investigation into the collapse, that the overworked and understaffed Department of Mobility and Infrastructure will need more staff and resources to implement better bridge management in the city, and that a table of the status of Allegheny County’s poor condition bridges was released in February shortly after the Fern Hollow Bridge collapse.
The Campbell’s Run Road bridge replacements identified in the County’s list of poor condition bridges are indeed happening this year. I have gotten caught up in traffic congestion caused by the detour for the work several times. (WTAE, February 3, 2022)
Pittsburgh’s Swindell Bridge is one that has been on the radar since the collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge. The City announced this week that a first phase of repairs will be conducted over the next couple weeks. This initial phase consists of repaving the road surface. (City Press Release, June 24, 2022)
The next look back at the bridges I first walked 10 years ago moves “downstream” or toward downtown on the former riverbed now east busway and railroad route. From the East Liberty Pedestrian Bridge featured in February, the inbound buses and trains pass underneath three bridges in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood (the South Negley Avenue and South Aiken Avenue Bridges and the Graham Street Pedestrian Bridge) before reaching the approximately parallel Centre Avenue and Baum Boulevard Bridges. The bus station next to the Negley Avenue bridge is currently under reconstruction, otherwise the three bridges and their surroundings in Shadyside are relatively unchanged – except perhaps for some deterioration due to long deferred maintenance. On the other hand, the surroundings of the Centre Avenue and Baum Boulevard Bridges have seen a couple new developments since I first walked these bridges.
The first of these developments is the Luna Parking Garage for employees of the local, ever-expanding hospital giant UPMC. UPMC Shadyside is on Centre Avenue two blocks away from this new(ish) garage on Baum Boulevard. Work had already begun on the parking garage when I walked by in 2012. The permit in the first photo in the then & now sets below is to finish the demolition of the structure formerly on the site. In the paired photo, the landscaping appears in good condition several years after completion of the construction. The second set of photos shows the formerly sloped site change into a massive retaining wall with multi-level garage. On a side note: the “Luna” in the garage’s name is a reference to the Luna Park amusement park that had a short life in the early 1900s on a site across the tracks and two blocks up the hill.
Between the Baum Boulevard and Centre Avenue Bridges is a site that has had a much longer life. Originally a Ford plant and showroom, this building and site were redeveloped by the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) into a research and development space with laboratories, offices, an auditorium, and parking (Pittsburgh Business Times, May 5, 2022). Prior to the redevelopment, this site had caught my eye as I rode the bus by every day on my way to Pitt. The floating doorways and loading docks captured my imagination. My imagination now speculates that these openings were used to create connections with the new addition seen in the fourth photo pair. The pedestrian experience walking by the sloped parking lot in the early 2010s wasn’t pleasant. While the sidewalks felt larger now, the experience was still unpleasant as I felt like I was walking through a pedestrian unfriendly loading and service area while the cantilevered building towering over me felt oppressive. The final photo pair shows the sidewalk experience on both sides of the new addition.
Seven years after the initial eviction notices went to the low-income residents of the former Penn Plaza Apartments, the mixed-use redevelopment of the size nears completion of Phase 1.
The former Penn Plaza Apartments was a group of large of apartments buildings that served a low-income population. After years of neglecting these apartments, the owner gave 200 residents notice to vacate within 90 days in the summer of 2015. By then, the surrounding neighborhood of East Liberty was a hopping place to live with low vacancy rates and the average rent much higher than what these residents could afford. There was a large outcry at the time, which only got worse as the owner’s plans for the site were understood. The owner wanted to swap some land with the City and change the zoning district to build a large scale mixed-use development: 54,600 sq ft of retail and 246,090 sq ft of office with accessory parking (see the application materials starting on page 54 from the final Planning Commission review and approval). After months of negotiation with the City and the community, the land and the zone change were given to the development while the affordable housing crisis in Pittsburgh only got worse and the former residents were forced to uproot their lives.
While the construction of Phase 1 of the new development appears to be nearing completion, I did not find any news items specifically about the site. News about affordable housing issues in Pittsburgh continue.
New affordable housing units opened and another project broke ground in October 2021 (Tribune Review).
A brief from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia on the homeownership gap in that city including findings applicable to Pittsburgh and other cities (East Liberty Development Inc, January 4, 2022).
Closing out the East Liberty portion of the Then & Now 10-year anniversary series is the Penn Ave Bridge Ramp. This ramp inspired the second Pittsburgh edition of What is a Bridge?. As best as I can make out from the data on the National Bridge Inventory, the Federal Highway Commission does not consider the ramp a bridge. It is not marked as one of the bridges inventoried by the Commission. And the data for the Penn Avenue Bridge does not include any approach spans. This leaves me wondering who, if anyone, inspects the ramp.
As I cannot find a public source that shares inspection data of the ramp (if it is inspected), its condition rating is anyone’s guess. However, this lack of data may be attributable to the change the ramp underwent in the last ten years. It was originally a ramp for buses to travel from a major bus stop off Penn Avenue onto the East Busway. With the redevelopment of the East Busway Station, this bus stop was redesigned as a regular on-street stop and the ramp was converted to pedestrian access only (second photo set below). The National Bridge Inventory seems to skip over pedestrian bridges as the East Liberty Pedestrian Bridge featured in February is also not listed.
Regardless of the ramp’s condition, its fate now seems tied to the fate of the Penn Avenue Bridge as the gap between the two been filled in with much needed greenspace (first photo set below). The Penn Avenue Bridge was last inspected in May 2020 (which means it probably has been or will be inspected again this month). It received a “poor” condition rating in that inspection – a rating that is worrying for Pittsburghers since the collapse of the “poor” condition Fern Hollow Bridge, despite reassurances from the bridge engineering community that “poor” condition does not necessarily equate to imminent danger.