As I continued Checking on the Rivers throughout the spring months, I found different signs of the effects of the severe flooding along the Allegheny River this winter.
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.
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.
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
A renewed downtown Pittsburgh attraction is a great place on a hot day. With last weekend’s temperatures reaching near 90, the revitalized Fountain on the point of Point State Park was a popular place to be.
The new “wading” portion of the fountain was enjoyed by families, friends, couples, and pets.
The fountain was also a gathering point for bikers enjoying the Three Rivers Heritage Trail System and Pittsburgh’s bike rental program and kayakers taking advantage of Venture Outdoors’ Kayak Pittsburgh rentals.
The Point is one of the key geographical features that influenced the creation and history of Pittsburgh. With the rebirth of the fountain, it will continue to be an important attraction in the city.
This little gem in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood is full of surprises. In the 20-some years I’ve been passing through this area, I never noticed the building. It was brought to my attention a few years ago when I began researching adapted church buildings in Pittsburgh. If you are in the nearby vicinity, the building blends into its surroundings. But from other parts of the city it stands out (see 31st Street Bridge, Bloomfield Bridge, Busway Bridges: Herron Street, Busway Bridges: 28th Street). It is also visible standing out along the ridge in the second photo in my Washington’s Crossing Bridge post.
There are two characteristics that make it stand out from a distance. The first is its location at the highest point on 40th Street in Lawrenceville.
The second characteristic is one of the most intriguing parts of this building: the fellowship hall is at ground level and the sanctuary is above, reached by a flight of stairs. This is the only church building I have been in where the sanctuary is a full flight of stairs above ground level. I’m very curious to know if there are any others–please share, if you’ve come across one!
The building was built in 1896-97 for the German Evangelical Lutheran St. John’s Congregation, which later became St. John’s German Evangelical Lutheran Church. In 2002, the congregation merged with St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church and closed the doors on this location. A real estate agent purchased the property and prepped it for conversion into 3 condominiums–one unit each for the sanctuary, fellowship hall, and parish house–before the current owners purchased the property and completed most of the rehab work creating the Choir Loft Condominiums. (A side note that may be of interest is that the current owners considered purchasing the building that is now the Union Project but chose this one instead.)
The owner reported that the building was essentially empty for nearly 2 years before he acquired it. The floors were in bad condition–the pews had been ripped out, tearing the sanctuary’s floor, and the choir loft’s floor was completely missing. He said his goal in renovating the building was to “not destroy the architecture and the interior. We wanted it to feel like a church still because it is a church.”
Having gotten a tour of the interior of the sanctuary unit, I’d say they succeeded in this goal. The former sanctuary space is an open loft configuration with hardwood floors. The raised steps for the altar area were kept and made into the kitchen. The choir loft remained open and served as the bedroom. The gorgeous stain glass windows were also intact. While I was there on a winter evening after sunset, I loved the description of how the colored pattern from the stain glass gradually moves across the floor like a very colorful sundial. My other favorite part was that there was still a bell in the tower, which the owner rang for me. While inside the sound was muffled, it sounded like it could have woken sleeping neighbors.
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.
Pittsburgh has the Three Sisters Bridges with the 6th, 7th, and 9th Street bridges, but I think it should also have the Twin Brothers Bridges with the Fort Pitt and Fort Duquesne (see post) bridges. The two Fort bridges look very much alike as I think my featured images for the bridges show. The roadway connecting them across the Point further suggests a close relationship between the bridges as do the names themselves.
To be honest, I had not been looking forward to my walk across the Fort Pitt Bridge. It carries a freeway and the southern end connects to a highway and dirt. Last spring I was at a conference at a downtown hotel and overheard a hotel employee giving directions to some out-of-town visitors to the Duquesne Incline, which involved crossing the Fort Pitt Bridge and walking along West Carson Street. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I didn’t understand why anyone would send a tourist along that route, as you always want to show tourists the best side of a city. If the tourists had asked me, I would have sent them across the Smithfield Street Bridge and up the Monongahela Incline. Then I would have recommended they walk along Grandview Avenue to the observation platform by the Duquesne Incline as it provides a more iconic view of the city.
After walking the route across the Fort Pitt Bridge to the Duquesne Incline myself, I don’t feel so bad about tourists being sent on it. It wasn’t that bad of a walk and the view from the top is one of the best in the city.
I’ve probably made it quite clear by now that I really don’t like the fenced in bridges. (See for instance thee Busway Bridges posts for Shadyside, East Liberty, and Millvale Avenue.) The Fort Pitt Bridge sidewalk is wide and open, though the traffic is a little loud and it might have been hard to hear if I had wanted to have a conversation with a walking buddy. The worst part was the stretch pictured above alongside the Fort Pitt Museum.
I enjoyed the views from the bridge as I never see the city from this angle. It certainly does not present the most exciting view of the downtown buildings, but that was one of my goals with this project—to see all the views of downtown.
While crossing the bridge, I realized that I never spend any time on the Monongahela side of the Point. I’m not sure why, but I always end up on the Allegheny side (or at the tip of the Point before it was under construction) when I come to the park. This made me realize I really need to explore Point State Park more as the Monongahela side looks quite pleasant.