Bridge Collapse: Eleven Months Later

Six months after Pittsburgh’s Fern Hollow Bridge collapse, PennDOT and the Mayor’s office announced that the new bridge would probably open before the end of the year. The ribbon cutting for the new bridge was held on December 21 (Governor Tom Wolf News, WPXI, Pittsburgh Business Times) and the bridge opened to partial traffic the following day. There is one lane of traffic open in each direction and one “shared path” open on the south side of the bridge. Work on the bridge will continue through the spring.

The initial designs showed a bridge designed for highway vehicle traffic with pedestrian and bicycle access tacked on in a thoughtless way. Despite public outcry and professional push-back, the initial designs went primarily unchanged. As the bridge is not fully open, there is a chance that in execution it won’t be as bad as the initial design suggested, but it’s not off to a promising start.

The shared path on the south side – the one that’s now open – connects to sidewalk on the east side of the bridge and to the trails in Frick Park on the west side. There is no existing sidewalk to continue walking along Forbes Avenue to Squirrel Hill. While this path is unusually wide for a bridge, it appeared to be just a sidewalk when I visited it this week. I adopted the term “shared path” based on the videos of the ribbon cutting, which claimed that’s what it is. Perhaps there will be signage added eventually that bikes are also permitted, but I didn’t notice a way for bikes to get up onto this path from the road. While I’m clearly judging this bridge already and finding it wanting, I will continue to monitor its progress and will be open to finding it better than I do now once all the amenities are open and I’m no longer confronted with pedestrian dead end signs.

Below is a slideshow of photos from this month’s traipsing of the bridge followed by the news updates on the Fern Hollow Bridge and other bridge maintenance and replacement efforts in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

  • The City announced traffic pattern changes now that the bridge is reopening, breaking up one of the smooth travel paths for vehicles trying to cross the eastern neighborhoods on a north-south axis. (City Press Release, December 22, 2022)
  • The proposed artwork for the new bridge is among the elements not yet completed. (NextPittsburgh, September 26, 2022)
  • For whatever reason, PennDOT’s project page regarding the reconstruction of the bridge has not been updated since March 2022, making it a completely useless resource.
  • The National Transportation Safety Board’s ongoing investigation into the Fern Hollow Bridge collapse was last updated in May 2022, but this was initially described as a long-term effort.
  • 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.
  • WSP USA released it’s Comprehensive Bridge Asset Management Program Report of the 147 bridges owned by the City of Pittsburgh – lots of work needs to be done on Pittsburgh’s bridges. (City Press Release, December 22, 2022; Tribune Review, December 21, 2022; WPXI, December 22, 2022)
  • The City of Pittsburgh’s 2023 Capital Budget includes limited funding for bridge repair and maintenance. (Public Source, December 5 & 22, 2022)
  • The bridge Port Authority closed to repair shortly after the Fern Hollow Bridge collapse, and then had to re-repair in July, seems to be okay now.
  • On July 1, Pittsburgh’s Swindell Bridge was closed due to falling debris. It reopened on September 1. (City Press Release, September 1, 2022; CBS, September 1, 2022; WPXI, September 1, 2022)
  • The Finland Street Pedestrian Bridge underwent an emergency demolition on October after being struck by a crane attempted to pass underneath. (City Press Release, October 7, 2022; City Press Release, October 8, 2022)
  • The City of Pittsburgh announced in November that it was going to close the east sidewalk on the South Negley Avenue Bridge (one of the bridges that the public is concerned about its highly deteriorate appearance) out of an “abundance of caution” to accommodate repairs, however, it was the west sidewalk that ended up closing. (City Press Release, November 23, 2022)
  • A public hearing was held on the Davis Avenue Bridge Reconstruction project in September. (City Press Release, September 28, 2022)


Additional Resources:

Both PennDOT and the Federal Highway Administration have interactive maps of bridges for the state and country respective, and their inspection statuses.


Previous Fern Hollow Bridge Posts:

Six-Month Update

Five-Month Update

Four-Month Update

Two-Month Update

One-Month Update

Two-Week Update

One-Week Update

Day After

Breaking News

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).

Then & Now: Terminal Way Bridge

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.

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Public Art

Introduction

At the November 2021 ribbon cutting for the Frankie Pace Park on the CAP, Governor Wolf said, “A great injustice was done in the ’50s and this is finally a way to address that injustice.” He was referring to Pittsburgh’s poster child Urban Renewal project that demolished thousands of homes and businesses that once formed the physical infrastructure of a community whose members were predominantly Black, poor, or both. The buildings of the Lower Hill neighborhood were demolished, and the people dispersed to make way for the Civic Arena, a cultural amenity for the wealthy and White featuring opera performances. This erasure of community was followed in the early 1960s by the construction of a moat between the Lower Hill and downtown for the I-579 freeway, also known as the Crosstown Boulevard. The CAP now covers that moat and provides an educational park (and a pedestrian connection between downtown and the Penguins arena).

In addition to the infrastructure restitching the physical gap between downtown and the Lower Hill, the public art installed throughout the park aims to at least partially stitch the cultural gap that is one of the legacies of Urban Renewal and other segregationist policies. An educational display tells the stories of Frankie Pace, a 20th century activist for the Hill District neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, and Martin Delany, an abolitionist, journalist, and doctor in 19th century Pittsburgh. Throughout the park, proverbs of African heritage are etched on the walls and on metal blocks as reflective as Chicago’s Cloud Gate.

Below is a slideshow of some of the public art in the park. At the end of the post, there are links to all the previous posts in the series.


The Photos


The Map


The Series

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Wayfinding

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Aug. 2022

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Ribbon Cutting

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Nov. 2021

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: May 2021

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Dec. 2020

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Jun. 2020

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Dec. 2019

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Introduction

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Wayfinding

Introduction

When I first explored the interior of the Frankie Pace Park, I was surprised by the wayfinding approach. A series of signs are posted throughout the site describing different features of the park, such as the rain garden. The surprising part was the choice of a Black girl narrator who wants you to join her as you journey through the park. It felt like the intended audience is elementary school-aged children. Given the park’s location adjacent to the tallest office skyscrapers downtown, adjacent to the first new building to be built on the Lower Hill – another office building, and kitty-corner-ish to the Penguins hockey arena, children seem to be a very small percentage of the prospective users of the park.


The CAP is a project in Pittsburgh “fixing the mistakes” of Urban Renewal. The Crosstown Blvd was built in the 1960s creating a freeway in a canyon dividing the Lower Hill neighborhood from downtown. The Lower Hill neighborhood, formerly predominantly poor and black, had already been demolished by this point to make way for the Civic Arena and other cultural amenities that were never built.

The CAP is a park on a bridge built over the Crosstown Blvd and is intended to reconnect downtown and the Lower Hill, while the Lower Hill is being rebuilt by the Penguins hockey team. Construction began in June 2019 and was completed in November 2021.


Below is a slideshow of these wayfinding signs. At the end of the post, there are links to all the previous posts in the series.


The Photos


The Map


The Series

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Aug. 2022

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Ribbon Cutting

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Nov. 2021

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: May 2021

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Dec. 2020

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Jun. 2020

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Dec. 2019

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Introduction

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Aug. 2022

Introduction

This week, I took a lunch-time walk through the new Frankie Pace Park to see what the completed CAP project looks like and how it is used. There were two men sleeping on benches in the park and a handful of other people walking the paths singly or in pairs. Prior to 2020, I would have interpreted this as a failure of the park to attract users because any green space downtown between 12 and 1 was always full of people. However, in the continuing fallout of the pandemic, a handful of people walking or using the seats is typical even of the parks that you used to need to arrive before 11:59 if you wanted to find a seat to eat your lunch.

The CAP is a project in Pittsburgh “fixing the mistakes” of Urban Renewal. The Crosstown Blvd was built in the 1960s creating a freeway in a canyon dividing the Lower Hill neighborhood from downtown. The Lower Hill neighborhood, formerly predominantly poor and black, had already been demolished by this point to make way for the Civic Arena and other cultural amenities that were never built.

The CAP is a park on a bridge built over the Crosstown Blvd and is intended to reconnect downtown and the Lower Hill, while the Lower Hill is being rebuilt by the Penguins hockey team. Construction began in June 2019 and was completed in November 2021.

Below is a side-by-side comparison of the four corners of the CAP from November 2019 when I first started this photographic series and from my August 2022 walk. At the end of the post, there are links to all the previous posts in the series.

The Photos


The Map


The Series

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Ribbon Cutting

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Nov. 2021

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: May 2021

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Dec. 2020

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Jun. 2020

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Dec. 2019

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Introduction

Bridge Collapse: Six Months Later

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 beams for the new Fern Hollow Bridge are being delivered to the site two per day, generating excitement on news and social media. (WTAE video of the first beam delivery, July 26, 2022; CBS article and video, July 25, 2022)
  • Two artists were selected to provide artwork for the new Fern Hollow Bridge (City Press Release, July 25, 2022)
  • Despite the press conference, artist announcement, and beam delivery schedule, there are no new updates on PennDOT’s project page regarding the reconstruction of the bridge.
  • Similarly, no new updates have been posted regarding the National Transportation Safety Board’s ongoing investigation into the Fern Hollow Bridge collapse.
  • 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)


Additional Resources:

Both PennDOT and the Federal Highway Administration have interactive maps of bridges for the state and country respective, and their inspection statuses.


Previous Fern Hollow Bridge Posts:

Five-Month Update

Four-Month Update

Two-Month Update

One-Month Update

Two-Week Update

One-Week Update

Day After

Breaking News

Bridge Collapse: Five Months Later

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.
  • Similarly, no new updates have been posted regarding the National Transportation Safety Board’s ongoing investigation into the Fern Hollow Bridge collapse.
  • 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)


Additional Resources:

Both PennDOT and the Federal Highway Administration have interactive maps of bridges for the state and country respective, and their inspection statuses.


Previous Fern Hollow Bridge Posts:

Four-Month Update

Two-Month Update

One-Month Update

Two-Week Update

One-Week Update

Day After

Breaking News

Keeping an Eye on Penn Plaza: June 2022

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.

The Penn Plaza Support and Action Coalition has more information on what was promised and what happened as the residents were forced to find new housing.

Penn Plaza in the News

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.

Public Source articles discuss:

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).


Previous Posts in the Series

Keeping an Eye on Penn Plaza – Apr. 2021

Keeping an Eye on Penn Plaza – Nov. 2020

Keeping an Eye on Penn Plaza – Aug. 2020

Then & Now: East Liberty Station Bridge(s)

Just beyond the South Highland Bridge from the East Liberty Pedestrian bridge is the busway’s East Liberty Station. When I moved to Pittsburgh over a decade ago, there were two pedestrian bridges over the busway and train tracks – one at either end of the station – and a ramp providing buses on Penn Avenue access to the busway. Across the tracks from the busway was a one-story, graffiti-covered warehouse, a parking lot, and a drive-through bank. Along Penn Avenue and connected by the ramp to the busway was a major bus stop on its own governor’s drive.

All of this was replaced in 2014-2015 with a transit-oriented development. The two boxed-in (a step beyond caged) pedestrian bridges were demolished and replaced by a new open bridge (first photo pair below) and a crosswalk on the busway. The bus ramp was renovated into an accessible pedestrian ramp (seen in the east view, second photo pair). Plantings were introduced on both the bridge and the ramp, changing this portion of the vast paved, treeless area into a desert oasis. It is still a hot and uncomfortable place to be in the summer months, but at least now there are black-eyed Susans to bring cheer.

The warehouse, parking lot, drive-through bank, and Penn Avenue bus stop were replaced with a massive mixed-use complex called EastSide Bond (glimpsed on the right in the final pair of photos, also visible in the South Highland Avenue Bridge Then & Now post). The new development features 360 residential units, 43,000 sq ft of retail (most of which is occupied, except for the promised anchor tenant), 554 parking spaces in a garage under the buildings, and a 120-space bike parking garage (which I’ve only ever seen a handful of bikes in, probably because Penn Avenue is not a bike-friendly thoroughfare).

Similar to the older, new developments near the East Liberty Pedestrian Bridge, this site and its uses cater to a White and moneyed demographic. However, in 2010, East Liberty had a population that was 67% Black (down from 72.5% a decade prior) and the median income was $23,000. This means the site is catering to an audience that currently makes up a minority of the neighborhood. Perhaps that is why whenever I pass by or stop at one of the retail locations at EastSide Bond, I feel like it has a luke-warm success. In contrast, the Target across the street is heavily trafficked as is the busway station – both are used by the current population.

Once upon a time, Black residents were pushed to East Liberty through Urban Renewal and the demolition of their previous lives. Now, we may be witnessing the pushing out of Black residents through redevelopment and the demolition of their current lives. The current proposed redevelopment of the shopping center south of the East Liberty Station promises to bring the grocery store back and to include 35 affordable units out of 232. There is no mention of whether any of the other smaller retail stores that catered to the current population will be returning. I also wonder if the grocery store will still carry beauty products for darker skin tones when it reopens. Down the street, the redevelopment of the former affordable and predominantly Black Penn Plaza apartments is the latest project that is definitely catering to people who are not the majority residents of the neighborhood, after permitting affordable housing units to deteriorate through neglect before demolishing them.