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here are in desperate need of repair and the proportion of sidewalk to road across the bridge is at least 50 years out of date.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


The Point…of Gathering

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 Fountain

The new “wading” portion of the fountain was enjoyed by families, friends, couples, and pets.


Families and Pets

Pittsburghers and Icons

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.

Kayakers and Bikers enjoy the Point

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.

The Point of...


Pedestrian Bridges: Chicago

BP Bridge

There are two pedestrian bridges connecting to Millennium Park in Chicago.  The first I encountered was the BP Bridge.  I admired the undulating silver sculpture above as I walked past and was thrilled to discover it was a pedestrian bridge.  My excited was quickly crushed as the bridge was closed to traffic due to construction at the other end.  I realized that I have become quite addicted to bridge-walking.  I was on my way to see The Bean before renting a bike to ride along the lake, when seeing this bridge completely sidetracked me.  I had a desperate urge to walk a bridge.  Fortunately, there was another pedestrian bridge nearby and while it was not nearly as enticing, it had some interesting parts.

BP Bridge The Nichols Bridgeway

The Nichols Bridgeway connects Millennium Park with the Art Institute of Chicago.  Both ends had space-age-like toughs, which I assumed were supposed to be a fancy drainage system.  If their purpose is a drainage system, the upper end by the Institute has failed and been turned into a wishing well.

Lower Trough Upper Trough/Wishing Well

The part I liked best about this bridge was that while it looked like the surface was level, there were ridges or “speed-bumps” every few feet.  I wondered if these were merely artistic or if they had a functional value like reducing the slipperiness of the bridge during icy conditions.

Bumpy Walkway The Nichols Bridgeway

Frick Park Bridges

Some of my favorite Pittsburgh amenities are the city parks, which I don’t use nearly as much as I would like.  Each park has a slightly different flavor.  Highland Park has a reservoir that is popular among locals for walking and jogging exercising.  When I was a kid, I loved Highland Park because it had the best playground in the city–the wooden playground, perfect for all kinds of imaginary games including those set in pirate ships and castles.  Schenley Park is good for disc golf, ice skating and other sports.  Frick Park is best for hiking and provides a good escape from the noise and traffic of the city.

I walked 7 “bridges” in Frick Park.  Only one of these bridges can be counted toward the 446 non-railroad bridges of Pittsburgh.  Three of them I consider bridges, but the actual bridging portion was significantly less than eight feet.  While the other three are also called bridges on the map of Frick Park, they are really just glorified drain pipes.  I do not have a lot to say about any of these bridges, so the rest of the post will be short on words and long on pictures.

The one bridge that counts toward my goal of walking as many of the 446 bridges I can carries Forbes Avenue over the park.  It’s hard to see from the bridge because of all the trees, but one of the park’s main trails passes underneath the bridge.

The three structures I considered bridges crossed over a little stream that runs as parallel to the path mentioned above as nature allows.

The glorified drains are along the hillside where little stream-lets run down to the stream below.

A Sidewalk to Nowhere

For those who may not want to walk the 6th Street Bridge (click to view June 14th’s post) to get from downtown Pittsburgh to a Steelers or Pitt football game, the Fort Duquesne Bridge provides a pleasant alternative.  As the picture above indicates, the sidewalk is not directly connected to the bridge for most of the way.  The walkway starts from a pleasant path through Point State Park (which means crossing the Bridge Under a Bridge, June 15th’s post) and ends on the North Side about halfway between PNC Park and Heinz Field.

I was surprised by how new and clean this bridge appeared.  Before crossing, I had my doubts as to whether there was a pedestrian path across the Allegheny at this point as Fort Duquesne Bridge carries one of the interstates and pedestrians and interstates do not usually go together.  At first I thought the newness of this pedestrian bridge accounted for the presence of the pedestrian access, but then I saw the sidewalk to nowhere on the Fort Duquesne Bridge itself.

This suggested that at the time the bridge was built in the late 1950s and early 1960s, people were not quite as adverse to having pedestrians and interstates share infrastructure.  However, this is evidence of the violence of the feelings against such an arrangement today.  PGHbridges.com has a picture of this severely truncated sidewalk that includes a remnant of the staircase that used to lead to it.  I do not believe that the staircase remnant exists any longer.  When I saw the sidewalk to nowhere I looked around for some sign of where it used to go and did not find any, but I cannot remember if I looked down.  I have walked around the part of Point State Park near where the staircase would have been several times and never noticed any steps.  I will look carefully the next time I am there to make sure they have been completely removed.

While I have been referring to the Fort Duquesne Pedestrian Bridge as new, it is actually over 10 years old.  Though I have not been able to find an exact date for its construction and/or opening, it was in use before the demolition of Three Rivers Stadium in 2001.  (Here are two YouTube videos of the demolition: one and two.  I find it fascinating that the demolition was celebrated with fireworks.)  A website with directions between North Side, Point State Park, and the Duquesne Incline refers to the “new pedestrian bridge” that provides access to Three Rivers Stadium accompanied by a photo of the stadium taken before the start of the construction of Heinz Field in 1999.  This website has no dates, but based on this information the pedestrian bridge must be over 13 years old, which I suppose is still fairly new for a bridge, but it is older than I had imagined.

There is a nice view downriver from this bridge.  Several famous Pittsburgh sites are included in the view: the Point, the Duquesne Incline, and Heinz Field.  Other sites of interest in this view are the Carnegie Science Center, the West End Bridge, and the remnant of a former bridge across the Allegheny.  The view upriver is partially obstructed by the wire mesh fence along the interstate bridge.  I did get a couple of shots that you can mostly make out what is there.  One shows downtown Pittsburgh and the other shows the bridges upriver including the Three Sisters (see June 14th, June 21, and June 22 post) and a railroad bridge.  There is an item of interest I want to point out in this second view: just about in the middle of the frame, the domes of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church on Polish Hill.  This is one of my favorite buildings in Pittsburgh, because of its unique green domes that are a significant landmark visible for miles up and down the Allegheny River.


I have to add that I chose the name for this post (A Sidewalk to Nowhere) before I was aware that the Fort Duquesne Bridge’s nickname is “The Bridge to Nowhere.”  While the pedestrian bridge attachment connects two points, the Bridge itself does not directly connect any points of interest.  Instead it ferries cars from one interstate to another.  The north end of the bridge continues onto elevated ramps in between various highways and freeways.  The south end connects seamlessly to the Fort Pitt Bridge and Tunnels by way of the Portal Bridge (mentioned in June 15th’s post) and though there is also some access to downtown it is directed to the roadways along the rivers that permit cars to bypass downtown.

A Bridge under a Bridge

This pedestrian bridge is located in downtown Pittsburgh.  As best as I can tell, this bridge was built in the early 1960s.  The upper bridge is called the Portal Bridge, carries one of the interstates over the Point, and does not have pedestrian access so I will not be walking it or posting about it.  The pedestrian bridge does not have its own name and is not included in PGHbridges.com’s list of bridges in Pittsburgh.  It crosses over a reflecting pool to connect the two parts of Point State Park which are divided by the highway.  It is the only access point from downtown to the park.

The Point hosted both British (Fort Pitt) and French (Fort Duquesne) forts early in its European history.  (The outlines of these forts are laid out on the grounds of the park.)  This area became a railroad and warehouse district before the first (we are apparently now on our third) “Pittsburgh Renaissance” in the 1930s/40s/50s at which time it was turned into a park with the interstate transecting it.

The view above is looking toward the pedestrian bridge and the park away from downtown.  This side of the bridge is a large, unexciting field.  During festivals and events there will often be tents and kiosks here.  On the other side of the bridge are the interesting parts of the park.  My favorite feature is the fountain, which unfortunately has been turned off and under reconstruction for the last three years.  According to a press release, the fountain will be back in working order next summer and better than ever.  Also found on the other side of the pedestrian bridge is the Fort Pitt Museum (which I believe I went to once and keep saying I should visit again), the steps along the Allegheny River used for watching boat races and the Three Rivers Regatta which will be held June 30-July 4 this year, and some tree-lined walks.


Heth’s Run Bridge Part II

I have a few thoughts to add about Heth’s Run Bridge.  First is the map above which identifies the location of the Bridge compared to downtown.  Second is the bridge’s condition.  There recently has been a lot of buzz around town about the terrible condition of all the bridges in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County as well as many in the rest of Pennsylvania.  This gossip tends to give the impression that most of our bridges are ready to collapse at any moment.  Transportation for America’s website describes a report on deficient bridges, which is probably what fueled the gossip above, however the report presents a slightly more favorable picture.  While the Pittsburgh Metro area is identified as the metro area with the highest percentage of deficient bridges in the US, it turns out that only 30% of the bridges are deficient.  While I am unable to comment on the structural integrity of Heth’s Run Bridge or even if there is any need for it to be structural sound (I don’t think the ravine has been completely filled in under the bridge, but I can’t be sure), I can attest to the condition of the sidewalks.

The sidewalk is quite wide, but as the image above shows, it is deteriorated with weeds growing however they please.  The sidewalk on the other side is in similar condition.  The first time I walked this bridge I could not understand why the sidewalk was so wide, particularly as on the other side, the sidewalk narrows considerably.  Across the bridge I’d guess the sidewalk is over 10 feet wide, but once across it is only a couple feet wide, with only about a foot of usable space due to dirt and overgrown weeds.  Clearly this is not an area that the city considers to have a high enough volume of foot traffic to warrant good sidewalk maintenance.  As there often is high vehicular traffic in this area, I say the city should make the sidewalks across the bridge much narrower so that they can add another car lane.  The riverside traffic has two lanes before the bridge and two lanes after, but narrows considerably to make room for a useless wide and deteriorating sidewalk.

In writing the first post on Heth’s Run Bridge (see May 31 post), I believe I discovered the reason for this unusually wide sidewalk that today essentially goes nowhere (at least nowhere that the average pedestrian would wish to go).  The 1911 map of the bridge and surrounding area shows that the bridge connected Butler Street and Washington Boulevard (today’s Allegheny River Blvd), both of which were lined with houses and other buildings.  There is even a school on Washington Boulevard.  As such it was probably only natural that when the current bridge was built in 1914 it would have large sidewalks to help facilitate the movement of people before the prevalence of the car between the houses, businesses, and schools that lined these roads.  Today all the buildings that lined Washington Boulevard at this point do not exist.  The land they once stood on is all wilderness and on the landward side of the road is incorporated into Highland Park.  The large, deteriorating sidewalk of Heth’s Run Bridge is the only reminder of a time when this area was probably busy and vibrant.