Blackfriars Bridge

One thing that stuck out to me while in London was the amount of construction going on.  It seemed like everywhere I went in the city there were cranes and/or something was being built, and I didn’t go anywhere near any of the sites for the Olympics.  While on the bridges, cranes could often be seen at a distance, but the Blackfriars Bridge seemed to be in the heart of a construction area.

Cranes can be seen on the southern shore in the first image above.  The downriver view from the bridge was completely blocked and will remain blocked by “London’s first station to span the Thames.”  At first I find this very annoying, as I think there would be a good view of the city looking downstream from Blackfriars Bridge.  However, building a station over the Thames is actually an interesting idea.  In a city as dense as London there isn’t much room for expansion.  There doesn’t appear to be anywhere else this close to the heart of the city to build a new large station.  The rail website explains that this station, which is being built on top of a Victorian railway bridge, will allow for longer commuter trains and improve access to the Tate Modern and the Globe Theater.  Another piece of note about the bridge is that it is being fully equipped with solar panels and will be the longest solar bridge in the world.  Apparently, the competition for the title “World’s Longest Solar Bridge” is not particularly tough at the moment as there is only one other known solar bridge in the world which is the pedestrian Kurilpa Bridge in Australia.

My favorite part about this revamped railway bridge is that it challenges the function of a bridge.  Today, most bridges function simply as a way to get from point A to point B.  One exception to this is the Galata Bridge in Istanbul (see June 25 post).  I remember seeing and using a bridge in Bath, England, when I was a kid that had shops on both sides so that you couldn’t even tell you were on a bridge while crossing it.  Bridges like this seem to have been popular in medieval Europe.  In a class I took on the history of cities, we looked at medieval Paris which had multiple bridges with buildings lining both sides.  Perhaps with the invention of transportation technologies that permit sprawling cities, there is no reason to use bridges as anything more than a connector.

I suppose if there were more bridges with mixed functions like carrying shops as well as roads, then there would be less great views, still it’s an interesting concept.  Bridges often end up adding to the dead space of a city, but this might be more because of what they connect than because of their function to move people along.

Bridge Safety

The first time I walked across the Birmingham Bridge was before I came up with the idea of walking all the bridges in Pittsburgh.  I was going to an event on the South Side and according to the bus schedule, the best method for getting to this event was to take one of the Fifth Avenue buses to the Birmingham Bridge and walk across the bridge and down a few blocks on East Carson Street to the event.  I was quite dismayed when I got off the bus and saw that there was no sidewalk across the bridge–it turns out there is a sidewalk but it only connects to Forbes Avenue which is significantly lower than Fifth Avenue at this point.  Fortunately, there is a bike lane, clearly marked with a buffer zone across the bridge.  I kept as far to the right as I possibly could, hoped that cars recognized and honored the bike lane (I have noticed this is an issue for drivers in Pittsburgh at least in some areas), and headed across.  Nearly a quarter mile from Fifth Avenue, a ramp comes up from Forbes Avenue with a sidewalk.  I climbed over the cement barrier and crossed the core of the bridge on the sidewalk.  However on the southern half of the bridge, the sidewalk goes down a set of steps and comes out between the back of a parking lot and the underside of the bridge.  This seemed like a potentially unsafe place for a lone pedestrian, so I climbed back over the barrier and finished crossing the bridge as I had started, separated from the cars by only the painted lines of the bike lane.

I have walked this bridge a few times since then, employing this same method every time.  I have also observed other pedestrians using the same method, though some don’t bother climbing over the barrier onto the sidewalk when that becomes an option.  This is truly the case of a bridge that may be pedestrian accessible, but is not at all pedestrian friendly.  In my post “One River Down,” I mention that Highland Park Bridge, Washington’s Crossing Bridge, and the 62nd Street Bridge are less than pedestrian friendly.  The Birmingham Bridge beats these bridges as the least pedestrian friendly bridge I’ve walked in Pittsburgh to the point that it is potentially unsafe for pedestrian use.

While the bridge is designed so that pedestrians can use a buffered sidewalk across the length of the bridge, the access points to this sidewalk are not convenient.  I discuss in “Taking the Long Way Round” that there are times and situations when pedestrians will go out of their way, but the Birmingham Bridge sidewalk does not meet them.  The northern access point is in a hollow surrounding by vacant or industrial-use lots and passes under several ramps/bridges/elevated roads carrying an interstate before reaching the level of the bridge.  Also there is no easy way to get there from Fifth Avenue at the bridge.  A pedestrian has to go down a block to a road that connects Fifth and Forbes avenues and then come back down toward the bridge to reach the sidewalk for it.  There is no incentive for a pedestrian on Fifth Avenue to go so far out of their way when the bridge is right in front of them.  The staircase at the other end of the bridge, which I mentioned earlier makes about as much sense as this inaccessible sidewalk access.  Not to mention that the staircase excludes anyone using a wheelchair from access to the sidewalk (it looks like there used to be a ramp on this end as well, but it is now sealed off and cut off).

Waterloo Bridge: The Finest Non-inspiration

To pick up where I left off with the London bridges I walked earlier this year, the next bridge is Waterloo Bridge.  (The last one I discussed was Jubilee Bridge on July 10.)  The Waterloo Bridge was the most boring bridge in London, though I didn’t realize it at the time.  When I got home however, I realized I only took two pictures from it and hadn’t taken any of the bridge itself.  The picture above was one I took from the Jubilee Bridge to show the downriver view from the bridge, which happens to include the Waterloo Bridge.

I was expecting that the London Bridge would be boring.  Sometime before my trip, I mistakenly identified the Tower Bridge as the London Bridge.  The discussion that ensued, in which I was corrected, led me to believe that the London Bridge was plain and uninteresting and as such, I was not the first to mistake the Tower Bridge for it.  While the London Bridge itself was boring and like the Waterloo Bridge lacked the colors and sculpture found on the other bridges (see the examples of the Albert Bridge and Vauxhall Bridge), it there were many interesting things to see from the London Bridge.  While crossing the Waterloo Bridge, I was only inspired to take shots of the downriver and upriver views.

The most interesting thing to note about these views, is in comparing the downriver view from the Jubilee Bridge with the downriver view from the Waterloo Bridge (pictured above) it appears that the new buildings are pushing the classical buildings such as St. Paul’s out of the frame.

When I come across a situation like this, where there isn’t much to say from my experience, I turn to the internet to give me something to fill out with.  I found two intriguing bits in my Google search.  First is that while I found the views from Waterloo Bridge uninspiring, Wikipedia suggests that the views of the city from this bridge “are widely held to be the finest from any spot at the ground level.”  The second is that Hollywood has made two films called “Waterloo Bridge” in 1931 and 1940 in which the main characters meet on the Waterloo Bridge.  The interesting part is that the movie Production Codes changed in between which resulted in two fairly different films–the first about a scarlet woman accidentally killed, the second about a proper woman who commits suicide to save the man she loves from scandal.

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? Part 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 Ave Bridge in East Liberty I found a new structure to challenge the definition of a bridge.  The former bus ramp from the former Penn Ave (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 bus.  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 post for more information).  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 more accessible access to the station than stairs.  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.

To return to the Penn Ave Bridge, which is the one I did walk, as you travel west on the Busway from its beginning in Swissvale, the Penn Ave Bridge is the first of many to cross the Busway within the borders of the City of Pittsburgh.  According to a book I read recently, the valley that the Busway and the parallel railway travel through was created before the last Ice Age.  Before that time, the book explained, the Monongahela River (the “Mon”) traveled north to the region that is now Lake Erie and this valley was its route; however the ice flows during the Ice Age diverted the river into its current path toward the west where it meets the Allegheny to form the Ohio River.  The valley formed from the former riverbed of the Mon contributes to Pittsburgh’s hilly landscape and its high bridge count.  See the Taking the Long Way Round post, Busway Bridges: East Liberty post and more future posts with the header “Busway Bridges” for more on these bridges.

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.

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.