Heth’s Run Bridge: Redux

Heth’s Run Bridge, the first bridge I posted about in my Pittsburgh bridges project, is scheduled to be replaced by the end of next year.  The notice to proceed was expected to be issued last week with construction beginning on Sept. 24 with the installation of a temporary road around the bridge, through the zoo’s parking lot.  According to the schedule that was passed out at a community meeting at the end of August, the bridge is expected to close with all car traffic being diverted to the temporary road on Nov. 1st.  Due to the turning radius constraints with the temporary road, trucks will not be permitted and will instead be by way of the Highland Park Bridge, Route 28 and the 62nd Street Bridge.  If all goes according to schedule the bridge should reopen to all traffic on October 1, 2014.  Additional road work will continue through October.  After final inspections, the project is expected to be officially completed by December 8, 2014.

Heth's Run Bridge's hazardous sidewalk

This is a PennDOT project expected to cost over $18.5 million and is definitely needed.  As I discuss in my Heth’s Run Bridge Part II and Highland Park Bridge posts, the sidewalks here are in desperate need of repair and the proportion of sidewalk to road across the bridge is at least 50 years out of date.  All this is going to be addressed in the reconstruction.  The new bridge is going to have two lanes in each direction to match the roadway on either end.  Additional features of the new bridge will be decorative railing, period lighting, entrance pylons, and “architectural features on the abutments with form liners” (which I believe refers to new urns).  At the community meeting, it was mentioned that the current urns will be saved and kept in a warehouse until a new home is found for them.

In addition to the bridge, about 870 feet of Butler Street are going to be reconstructed including sidewalks.  My understanding is that this is the part of Butler from the Heth’s Run Bridge to the ramps of the Highland Park Bridge, which should take care of my complaints about the condition of the sidewalk for those of us trying to cross the Highland Park Bridge without a car.  This should also clear up the confusion for the outbound traffic of whether this part of the road is one lane or two as the plans include removing the “kink” from the existing alignment.

New signals and ADA ramps will be installed at the intersections of Butler with One Wild Place and with Baker Streets.

Another major part of the project is the excavation under the bridge to an elevation of 762.  According to GoogleEarth, the bridge is at an elevation of 800 ft. I’m not sure if this will restore the bridge to its exact historic height, but it will be close (see the photo of the previous bridge from 1912).  This will also pave the way for connecting this area to the proposed Allegheny Riverfront Green Boulevard project.

This project will no doubt cause some inconveniences during the construction process, but the construction of the temporary road will significantly cut down on this even though it adds over a month to the process.  Imagine instead, everyone having to go on the truck detour or all the Zoo traffic coming down Morningside Ave and Baker Street instead of One Wild Place and Butler Street.  That would be a true nightmare.  Thank you, PennDOT and the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium for the temporary road.  Thank you, PennDOT and any other funders, Sen. Jim Ferlo, Rep. Dom Costa, and anyone else who had a hand in helping bring about this long overdue project.

I can’t wait to walk over the new bridge when it’s finished!

More information about the project including the design of the temporary road can be found here: http://morningside-pa.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/hethsrunbridge.pdf

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Safety while Traipsing

The Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation, a non-profit community development organization in Pittsburgh, is raising funds to buy back guns.  The goal is to get unwanted guns out of the community where they may be stolen and used in a crime or found by a child and played with, causing injury and death.

In the process of raising funds and talking with different people, it’s become clear that not all guns are bad.  Some guns are very useful such as soldering guns, caulking guns, staple guns, salad shooters, glue guns, nail guns, heat guns, cookie guns, water guns, and cameras (which shoot).  Check out the links for each of these guns to see how they can improve communities (more links will be added over the next few weeks).

As an urban traisper, it is important to feel safe as I walk around exploring the city.  I have chosen not to walk the bridges in certain neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, because of safety concerns.  I was excited when I joined the staff of the BGC to hear that they were working on planning a gun buyback to reduce the chances of gun violence in their neighborhoods.  Maybe our work will make a small difference and help lead to broader changes that will improve the safety of the currently troubled areas or those perceived as troubled.

For more about the Gun Buyback Initiative, check out our Razoo page.  While you’re there, please consider giving a donation.  We hope to reach at least $15,000 by August 31.  Thank you!

10th Street Bridge

The 10th Street Bridge (which a reader pointed out is nicknamed the Phillip Murray Bridge after the first president of the United Steelworkers of America) was the last of the bridges over the Monongahela River for me to walk.  Or so I thought.  It turns out that the Liberty Bridge also has a sidewalk despite the fact that it is a freeway bridge like the Veteran’s Bridge (see post).  So I’ll have to come back to the Liberty Bridge at some point.

I delayed my walk of the 10th Street Bridge in part because it seemed like an awkward one to get to and from.  One end is in the middle of the South Side, but the other connects to the Armstrong Tunnel, which would obviously not be pedestrian friendly.  Last week, I finally went out and walked it and as I hoped, it turns out there is a pedestrian access over the hill to the high-bus-traffic corridor of Fifth and Forbes avenues in the form of a giant staircase that I will address in another post.  This end of the 10th Street Bridge was more well-connected than I had anticipated.  Not only do the stairs provide access to the top of the hill when Duquesne University sits, but there is also access to a parking lot down by the river which also connects to the Three Rivers Trail System.  The best proof of this bridge’s connectivity is the number of other pedestrians I saw walking the bridge.  While I did not keep a count, I noticed that there was a comparatively high level of pedestrian traffic.  It certainly wasn’t as much as the Smithfield Street Bridge (see post), but it was comparable to or higher than that on the other downtown bridges.

My favorite part about this bridge was the dinosaurs painted at the top of the southern tower.  I couldn’t tell if they were official or freelance graffiti, but it seemed appropriate given that Pittsburgh is famous for dinosaurs.  Andrew Carnegie brought the first dinosaur skeletons on display anywhere in the world to his natural history museum.  I found someone else wrote a post about the dinosaurs on the bridge, which the artist apparently calls geese, which suggests that the painting may not have been officially sanctioned.

The post mentioned above about the dinosaurs also comments on the “rusty” condition of the bridge.  While I didn’t notice the rust much (it wasn’t nearly as bad as the 28th Street Bridge), I did notice the condition of the sidewalk.  I thought my theory that the top of the sidewalk had worn away to expose the metal framework supporting the structure rather farfetched, as how could the entire sidewalk (on both sides as far as I could tell) wear out so evenly.  Yet, I cannot think of any other sidewalk I’ve walked that looks like this and given the other bloggers comments on the poor physical condition of the bridge, perhaps my idea isn’t totally crazy?

Busway Bridges: 28th Street

The 28th Street Bridge is one of Polish Hill’s two points of access to the lower regions between it and the Allegheny River, the second is the Herron Street Bridge (see post).  This bridge is also the last pedestrian accessible bridge across the busway before downtown.  Several of the views from this bridge are similar to, but better than, the ones from the Herron Street Bridge.

For instance, the images of downtown from the 28th Street Bridge have fewer non-downtown buildings blocking the view than those from the Herron Street Bridge.

Also, the Children’s Hospital and Choir Loft Condominiums are visible from both bridges, but on the Herron Street Bridge only the tops of the buildings were visible while from the 28th Street Bridge most of the buildings are visible.

Across the river in Troy Hill, another site of contention within the city is visible.  The former St. Nicholas Church pictured above is the sister to the St. Nicholas Church I saw from the 40th Street Bridge (see post), has been vacant since 2004, and has been locked in a battle between preservationists and the parish for over a year.  The parish wants to demolish the building that it cannot afford to maintain and many people have called an eyesore, while the preservationists want to preserve the building.  This summer a county judge ruled in favor of the parish (see article), but the city has threatened to appeal this decision (see article).  The building is certainly architecturally interesting, however it is in a horrible location, smack up against route 28, which I believe provides the only access to the building.

Earlier this summer, when I was talking with someone about my project to walk the bridges of Pittsburgh, he asked me which bridge was my favorite so far.  I hadn’t thought about it before, but when he asked, I decided that the Heth’s Run Bridge was my favorite because its design and its existence called up many questions (see May 31 and June 9 posts).  Now I would say that the 28th Street Bridge is my favorite, despite the fact that it is rusting, the sidewalk is crumbling, and it has the cage-like fence I generally dislike.  I think the bridge is rather cute (if a bridge can be called cute)….Or perhaps I like it so much because it has a stone-lined approach.  I love stone.

Busway Bridges: Herron Street

Polish Hill, the neighborhood which is home to the Immaculate Heart of Mary’s Church I’ve pointed out in some posts (see 31st Street Bridge and A Sidewalk to Nowhere), has only two points of access to the lower ground along the Allegheny River.  These are the Herron Street Bridge (above) and the 28th Street Bridge (see post) which cross over the busway and parallel railroad tracks to reach Lawrenceville and The Strip District, respectively.

There are a few sites of interest from the Herron Street Bridge.  The first of which is the former Iron City Brewery site, which up until a few years ago was the oldest (and only remaining) brewery within the city limits.  It closed and the site has been vacant ever since.  This summer, it became a site of contention.  The property was purchased earlier in the year by a development company, who this summer demolished some of the buildings on the site.  The site is a designated historic landmark, but the company received permission to demolish one building that was structurally unsound.  As I read it in articles in the Post-Gazette and elsewhere, the company said that when this building was demolished others became unstable requiring immediate demolition.  The Lawrenceville Stakeholders Historic Preservation Committee petitioned the city to site the company for unauthorized demolitions.  At the end of August, the development company was fined $20,000 for the demolitions (see article).  Despite the argument over the demolitions, the company and the neighborhood are supposedly working together to come up with a plan to (re)develop the site.

Also visible from the bridge are two of Pittsburgh’s repurposed churches.  The one in the first picture is the Church Brew Works, the city’s most infamous adaptive reuse of a church building.  The one in the second picture is the Choir Loft Condominiums which have been visible from other bridges as well (see Bloomfield Bridge and 31st Street Bridge posts).

Other views from this bridge show downtown and the busway.

Homestead High Level Bridge

I got off the bus a stop or two before the Homestead High Level Bridge (aka Homestead Grays Bridge).  As I walked down Brown’s Hill Road, I was unpleasantly surprised to find that my sidewalk turned into a drain.  From a distance it looked like the sidewalk continued all the way to the bridge as it was the same material and same width the whole way down.  However, at one point it suddenly changed from being a flat sidewalk to a v-shaped drain.  Fortunately it had not rained recently, so the drain was dry and I was able to continue on my way.  If I were a person with a mobility disability trying to get down to the bridge, this would have presented a serious problem. There was no warning for this change and the nearest traffic light was some distance back uphill (because of the traffic level this is not a road where it is wise for any person to attempt to j-walk).  I did not walk on the other side of the road, so I am only assuming that the sidewalk there would be accessible (that is, not turn into a drain).

The walk across the bridge itself was fine.  There is sidewalk on both sides and no fence to cage you in or to block the views.  It was a windy crossing, which reminded me that every time I’ve walked the Highland Park Bridge, I’ve noticed the wind.  It made me wonder if there is something special about the location of these two bridges or if it is merely coincidence that they are windy.  One factor in common between the bridges is that there are the last bridges within the city on their respective rivers when traveling away from downtown.

There are several interesting sites visible from this bridge (most of which are not within the boundaries of the city of Pittsburgh).  First is the view above of Homestead.  In this shot there are five churches visible, just outside the frame are three more to the left and one more to the right, within several additional churches just a little farther out from this core.  I find the close proximity of so many churches interesting first because it is a clear indicator of the past of this town (a major mill town with numerous immigrant groups) and second because about half of these church buildings are vacant or for sale.  It is a dream of mine to create a master plan for adapting these churches to new uses that complement each other, address some of the needs of the town and act as a productive catalyst for lifting the town out of decay.  As I still haven’t figured out what these uses would be or how to implement the adaption, it currently remains a dream.

A project that I’ve heard was supposed to lead to the revitalization of Homestead was the creation of the Waterfront Mall on the former Homestead Steel Works site (originally part of the Carnegie steel empire before being sold to US Steel).  The revitalization plan did not work out and it is popular to criticize the design of the mall and point out all the reasons for this failure.  The most glaring reason is that the roads were designed so that people coming from the city can completely avoid going into the town when going to the mall.

Another negative factor about the mall, which doesn’t necessarily have any effect on the potential to revitalize the surrounding area, is the limited walkability of the site.  It drives me nuts and definitely is a major factor curtailing my use of the mall.  Part of the mall, pictured above, is walking friendly.  However, as someone once pointed out to me, this is where all the expensive stores are and chances are that people shopping here have cars.  On the other side of the bridge and across a couple parking lots are the rest of the shops laid out in a long string of big box stores including Target and the grocery store (which as the same helpful person pointed out are frequented by people without cars).  I have nightmares of the long trek lugging my growing number of purchases all over this site as I travel between stores and then try to find a bus stop that will take me out of this barren landscape toward home (an absurdly difficult feat).

The image above shows the never-ending parking lots along the long string of stores.  From this view it looks far more green than it feels on the ground.  One other aspect of interest is the black shapes above the America flag, which are the abandoned structures of the Carrie Furnace, one of the few remnants from the Pittsburgh region’s industrial and steel past.  I say “abandoned” but this perhaps is not an accurate term as there are plans and efforts underway to use the site.  An August article in the Post-Gazette discusses the efforts of volunteers to save the site and turn it into a museum.  The first half of another article from June talks about development plans for turning the land surrounding the furnace into an office/industrial park.

A final site of interest visible from the Homestead High Level Bridge is the slag heap which is now home to the “Somerset at Frick Park” housing development.  When I get caught up with posting about the walks I’ve done since starting my blog, I’d like to write about some I took before my blog began, including the hike through Frick Park and over this slag heap.  I suppose given my interest in seeing vacant property, including brownfields, within a city reused, I should be pleased with this development.  I think I’m getting a bit hung up on the irony of the site–once a dump site for the refuse of mines and industrial sites, now the site of luxury homes and condominiums.

Roebling and the Smithfield Street Bridge

For several years, I had been under the impression that Roebling has designed/built the current Smithfield Street Bridge in Pittsburgh. This summer I discovered that while he certainly designed one of the bridges at this location (as well as several others in the city including an earlier rendition of the 9th Street Bridge) he did not create the current structure–here or elsewhere in the city.  The current bridge was built in the 1880s by Gustav Lindenthal.  However, according to Wikipedia, a part of Roebling’s bridge still stands as the piers were the ones built for his bridge.

As I paused in my walk across the Smithfield Street Bridge to take photos of the views off either side, a Segway tour passed.  These seem to be an ever increasing site in downtown Pittsburgh.  While walking around downtown last week, I nearly got run over by a straggler on a Segway who had some trouble navigating the turns.

The Smithfield Street Bridge connects downtown with Station Square, which I believe was one of the earliest industrial sites turned into an entertainment complex in Pittsburgh.  (Later developments of this kind are South Side Works and the Waterfront.)  The Smithfield Street Bridge is probably the most heavily used by pedestrians of any of the bridges in the city.  This is in large part because there is a large parking lot attached to Station Square, which many people who work downtown park in.  I believe downtown workers are also attracted by the restaurants and river trail which can be reached by walking this bridge.  An additional attraction for walking across this bridge from downtown is the Monongahela Incline, the base of which is across the street from Station Square.

I feel like I also hear people talk excitedly about walking the Smithfield Street Bridge as an event in and of itself.  I assume this is in part due to the fact that the sidewalks are nice and wide and there is no mesh fence caging the pedestrians in (see my complaints in earlier posts starting with the Highland Park Bridge, but not perfected until I got to the busway bridges such as the Millvale Avenue Bridge).  A larger part of the reason for this may be the bridge’s location and uniqueness.  One factor distinguishing this bridge from others in the city is the fact that it is basically flat and at street level.  Most of the other pedestrian accessible bridges that cross the rivers have inclines/declines.  Another distinguishing factor is its blue color.  I believe it is the only bridge in the city with this particular deep blue color (the 31st Street Bridge is the only other one I can think of that is any shade of blue).  This is especially significant as the Smithfield Street Bridge is located in the heart of downtown where all vehicular river bridges, except this one, are a golden-yellow color.  The third significant factor about this bridge is its shape.  All the golden bridges are either suspension bridges (see the 6th, 7th, 9th, and 10th Street bridges) or semi-circular truss bridges (see Fort Pitt, Fort Duquesne, 16th Street, and West End bridges).  The Smithfield Street Bridge is shaped like two close-set, narrow eyes.

To wrap up this post, I’ll just add that I like this view of downtown.  Perhaps I like it because of the smaller scale of the buildings seen here or for the fact that it captures some of the remnants of the old downtown or simply because it makes a nice composition for a photograph.