Checking on the Rivers

 

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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.

 

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Dogs in the City

Dogs Chilling in Istanbul

Not being a dog person, I have been fascinated by different dog behaviors and treatment that I have seen in traveling.  In New York City, I was surprised to see people bring their pet dogs onto public transit, both on the metro and on the bus.  I wasn’t sure if this behavior was like eating on the buses in Pittsburgh–it’s not permitted, yet people do it anyway–or if pets are allowed on public transportation in NYC.  It also seemed unusual to me that most of the dogs I saw were small.  But then, thinking it through, I decided it made sense as if you live in a stereotypical tiny New York apartment, you wouldn’t have the space to keep a big dog.

In Pittsburgh, dogs seem to be more like what you would find in suburban areas.  They are often big and they tend to bark a lot and strain toward people they pass on the street.  After coming back from New York City, I realized that you don’t see dogs in downtown Pittsburgh.  However, as more people have moved downtown, dogs on the streets downtown have become much more common.  Including ones that are pushed around in what look like baby strollers, but given how some people feel about pets, they might have been strollers designed for dogs.

Istanbul dogs were quite different from the average dog in America.  I believe most of them were strays, but they appeared to be quite self-sufficient (such as the ones in the photo above).  They minded their own business and let everyone around go about their business.  It was quite refreshing to me to see numerous dogs that did not feel the need to bark their heads off just because someone was walking by.  I regret that I did not get a picture of the most notable dog I passed.  He had a human companion, but no leash, instead he was decked out in sunglasses and other bling like mardi gras beads.

Mural of Weeds

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I love this mural.  It was put up two years ago along one of the worst stretches of the trail along the Allegheny River.  This is in downtown Pittsburgh, feet away from The Point, and yet it is a barren wasteland of concrete.  Next to one highway ramp and underneath another, the only good features are the river and the view to the north side where the trail has many features and improvements including the well-loved water steps.

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For me, this mural by Kim Beck is aptly named Adjutant, the non-military definition of which is “one who helps” according to Merriam-Webster.  While this stretch of trail is still a wasteland of concrete and weeds (which the mural accurately depicts), it is no longer a creepy section of trail to be hurried through as fast as possible.  Somehow by acknowledging the barrenness, the mural has taken away the edge.

The deadline has just passed on a call for ideas for a new installation at this location, but I am torn about this call.  While it would be nice to have this section of trail feel more connected with the rest of the trail, a part of me is going to miss the honesty of this mural of weeds.

Brooklyn Bridge

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Yesterday, as I was writing my post about the Wheeling Suspension Bridge by Roebling’s competitor, I was fascinated to discover that I never wrote a post about my walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. I decided to rectify the situation. The more I worked on it; the more fascinated I became. At this point, nearly 5 years after having walked it, all I can surmise is that I must have been very tired and/or hungry while crossing it.

In my post on the Manhattan Bridge, I mention how much more I liked that bridge than the Brooklyn Bridge. I can remember how much more thought provoking I found the Manhattan Bridge, but in looking back at my photos, I am shocked at how uninspiring I found the Brooklyn Bridge. I think it may hold the record for the fewest number of photos I’ve taken of any of the bridges I have walked. Especially, if we look at number of photos versus the length of the bridge. I suppose there may have been some other factors such as the construction zone on parts of the bridge.

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Another factor may have been the fact that the walkway is in the center of the bridge and above level of the traffic. While I remember this as a highlight and an intriguing part of the bridge, I also seem to recall that it may have caused interference with framing any potential photos.

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I will take back some of my comments on the Wheeling Suspension Bridge. While both bridges do have a lot of structural parts holding them up, those of the Wheeling bridge were much more fascinating. This may in part have been because you were able to get up close with them.

Below are the views of the surroundings. On one side you have the Manhattan Bridge and on the other the Statue of Liberty. That is just about the extent of the photos I took from the Brooklyn Bridge.

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I feel that I ought to give this bridge a second chance. If/when I ever make it back to New York City, I think I will have to walk it again (maybe after a good meal). The problem here is that my last trip there in 2012 when I first walked the bridge confirmed for me that New York is really not the city for me and I have no plans to make a trip back anytime soon.

 

Wheeling Suspension Bridge

Wheeling Bridge - straight on

I had a blast with the Wheeling Suspension Bridge.  First, I was fascinated by how it was squeezed between the buildings on the mainland side.  Second, as an early suspension bridge, it has many parts to ensure that it would stay up, which provided more than the average opportunity to attempt to be artistic in photographing it.

Artsy shot 1

Artsy shot 2

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The Wheeling Suspension Bridge was the largest suspension bridge in the world when it was built.  Charles Ellet won the competition to design the bridge over John Roebling.  There are some similarities in style between this bridge and Roebling’s Brooklyn Bridge with the stone piers and suspension ropes.  Before we walked across this one and read the plaque, we were under the impression that it was a Roebling.

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To continue my discussion with the riverfront uses by the bridges I walk, Wheeling has two different trends than those found in Stuebenville.  On one side of the river (island side), is riverfront housing of surprisingly old construction.  On the other side (city side), is a modern riverfront park with bike trail.

Riverfront homes

Riverfront park

Market St, Steubenville

 

Market St Bridge

On a road trip this summer, one of the goals was to search out and walk interesting bridges.  The first bridge we stopped at was an unplanned eye-catcher.  We went to Steubenville in order to drive across the iconic Veteran’s Memorial Bridge.  Heading south from that bridge, our eyes were caught by this one.  So we took an unscheduled stop to walk across.

This is the Market Street Bridge in Steubenville, OH.  The best part about this bridge was that it marked the first time I walked across a state line by bridge.

West Virginia sign

The other thing that fascinated me while walking this bridge was the uses on along the river.  On the West Virginia side, it was all wilderness at the end of the bridge, but further downriver an active mill could be seen.

Mill view

On the Ohio side, the feature river-side uses were the sewage treatment plant and the jail.

Sewage Plant view

Jail view

The innocent looking brick building is the Jefferson County Justice Center and Jail.  While I can image the sewage plant was probably a long standing use on the river side, the jail appears to be of more recent construction.  After a short internet search, I wasn’t able to find the date of construction of this building, but did find out that this was the third jail.  The second jail was built around 1950 and converted to offices when this building was constructed.  If I were to hazard a guess, I would say this third jail was probably built around the time that the Allegheny County Jail was built on riverside property in the Pittsburgh, PA.  That jail opened in 1995.

I find it fascinating that riverfront property has been used more than once to locate a jail.  Historically, industry settled along the rivers because that was either its main transportation or power source.  Recently, cities have been taking strides to reclaim their riverfront properties as economic boosters in the form of parks and entertainment venues or housing.  In both these scenarios, the uses are placed on the rivers due to the greater economic benefit to be gained from the interaction between the use and the river.  Placing a jail on a river seems contradictory to the view of rivers as the heart of a city’s economy (previously industrially based, now tourist based).

However, the rivers may confer a benefit of another sort to the use of the property as a jail.  When I was recently confined to a hospital room for a week, the sight of the small sliver of river that I could see from my window went a long way toward helping me stay sane.  It also prompted some more contemplation about the siting of hospitals in a way I had never considered before.  The view I had of the river was beyond a sea of parking associated with the hospital and partially blocked by the buildings for a water treatment facility.  There was little of interest to see in the immediate vicinity.  I hope that in the case of the jails, the river view windows are for rooms and the non-river view windows are for offices and/or back-of-house operations.

Beth Abraham Cemetery

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Yesterday, while exploring Carrick and the surrounding neighborhoods looking for adaptively reused religious buildings, we took a detour through the Beth Abraham Jewish Cemetery.  According to the map we had there were multiple roads through the cemetery. We started on one that went through a section of the cemetery with newer graves and came to a T-intersection with a sign to the right that said Do Not Enter One Way, so we turned left. The road was wide at that point, but went around a sharp bend and quickly narrowed to just barely the width of the car.

This was the original section of the cemetery. The graves were clearly older and were placed head to toe with sides touching. It was the most densely plotted cemetery that I have seen.

Our awe at the density was soon interrupted by the termination of the road we were traveling. Despite my confidence that the map was telling us we could get back to the main road by going straight, that was clearly not an option. Fortunately, there was a side leg of the road right at the point we realized we could go no further.  The width of both paths was perhaps a foot wider than the car. My friend who was driving predicted that a 21-point turn would be required to get us out.  I think we managed it in 10-points.

Once turned around, we went back the way we came. As we reached the main roads and started down the public road that bisects the cemetery, I realized I had been so distracted by looking around and then directing the u-turn, that I missed my opportunity to take a picture of the old section of the cemetery.  Instead, I got some shots of the section to the east of Stewart Ave, which is newer, but almost as dense as the old section.

If you decide to take a trip to this cemetery, I recommend entering through the main gates off of Stewart Ave and pulling off at the wide section of road at the sharp bend. From there, the old section and one of the newer sections are easily accessible by foot, though there may be some steep and uneven portions.