Best Pittsburgh Bridge?

From time to time, someone will ask me which Pittsburgh bridge is my favorite. I typically answer the Smithfield Street Bridge. The shape and color of its trusses are unique in a city of golden bridges. The lights gently rising and falling along the curves the the trusses create a soft reflection on the river. Walking over it placed the stress of work on the other side of the river. Walking over it, it’s best not to look down at the holes rusted through the sidewalk that reveal the rushing water underneath.

This question came up again when my family was visiting for the holidays. I had postponed my first walk across the new Fern Hollow Bridge about a week to share the experience with them. While we were walking across it, I was asked what bridge(s) I liked in Pittsburgh. While I answered that the Smithfield Bridge is probably my favorite, we had experienced that one multiple times in the past, so I started to think about what are the other bridges I find interesting that are less visible than the Smithfield Bridge. This spurred an impromptu driving tour of bridges in Pittsburgh.

We went from the Fern Hollow Bridge to the Greenfield Bridge, as the last time we were all in Pittsburgh together we watched the cloud of dust from the implosion of the former bridge through the trees of Schenley Park. We passed the Hot Metal Bridge, Birmingham Bridge, and South 10th Street Bridge before passing through the Armstrong Tunnel for the fun of it. That positioned us to encounter the CAP – which is one of those bridges that doesn’t look like a bridge – on our way toward the Allegheny River. I added an extra turn so that we could pass over the 28th Street Bridge – the only through truss bridge over the busway – before crossing the 31st Street Bridge (my other favorite bridge to walk, except for the fact that it is out of the way). We got out of the car at this point to walk the pedestrian/bike trail bridge to Herr’s Island. While that was the end of this unofficial tour, we did pass by the 40th Street Bridge and cross the R.D. Fleming or 62nd Street Bridge to complete our loop.

Your Choice

In March, you will have the chance to vote for your favorite Pittsburgh River Bridges in the 2023 Bridge Madness Tournament. Details will be announced on March 7.

Bridge Photos

Tour Map

The Last Allegheny River Bridge

The last bridge across the Allegheny I needed to cross was the 62nd Street Bridge.  While the approach to the bridge less than inviting, the bridge itself was surprisingly pleasant to cross.  The approach was a skinny sidewalk overgrown and broken in spots connected directly to a very fast-paced road.  This approach is similar to the one for the Highland Park Bridge (see June 10 post).  For this reason and because the 62nd Street and Highland Park bridges are the two farthest from downtown on the Allegheny, I compared the experience of walking across these two bridges.  The 62nd won by a long shot.  Its sidewalk is much wider and it has sidewalk on both sides.  The Highland Park Bridge has a high mesh fence enclosing you in, while the 62nd Street Bridge has a shorter waist-/chest-height railing similar to those on the 31st and 40th Street bridges (see July 19 and July 20 posts).  The traffic was also much lighter on the 62nd compared to the Highland Park Bridge, although I imagine that at rush hour the 62nd might get busier than when I crossed it.

I was surprised that there is still a good view of downtown from the 62nd Street Bridge.  The river bends quite a bit before getting to 62nd Street, so much so that the 40th Street Bridge is not visible from the 62nd.  However, there is a significant stretch of flat land on the southern shore which permits the view of downtown from the northern end of the bridge, by the middle of the bridge only part of downtown is visible, and by the southern end downtown is hidden from sight.

While most of the area surrounding the bridge is industrial or former industrial, the northern end connects to the edge of Sharpsburg, PA, which has a couple interesting looking churches and likely housed industrial workers for many years.

The 62nd Street Bridge also passes by a future site of redevelopment.  I thought I read somewhere last summer about something interesting that was planned for this site, yet when I searched for it today, I could not find what I thought I was looking for.  However, there looks like there is a different interesting story connected with this site.  It seems the site is being considered for a distribution center for the company trying to redevelop the parking lots and produce terminal near the 16th Street Bridge (see July 14 post).  The Post-Gazette has an article explaining that not only does Councilman Dowd have issues with the redevelopment in the Strip (the 16th Street Bridge area), but he also has issues with this redevelopment scheme.  I was sorry to learn that the plans for the site are leaning away from something interesting and more publicly accessible such as a park/retail area.  However based on the surrounding area, it makes sense.  There are only a very few residences nearby and what traffic that does come by is looking for a quick way to get between other points in the city and surrounding region.  Also, there is very minimal bus access to the site.  (There used to be more when the site belonged to the bus company, see article.  There are still bus stop signs along Butler Street from this time.)

Here’s one final note on the 62nd Street Bridge.  Like many of the numbered street bridges, this bridge has an alternative name (see posts on 6th Street, 7th Street, 9th Street, and 40th Street bridges).  The 62nd Street Bridge is also known as the R.D. Fleming Bridge.  For years, I have assumed that R.D. Fleming was in the medical profession, he name suggested medical to me when I was in grade school and the idea has stuck for years.  It would make sense as Pittsburgh has a good reputation for things medical.  However, it turns out that R.D. Fleming was a Republican senator whose district included the region near the bridge.  I could not find an explanation for why this former senator, of all the former senators Pittsburgh has had, was honored by having a bridge named after him.  If anyone knows what made him unique, please share.