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here are in desperate need of repair and the proportion of sidewalk to road across the bridge is at least 50 years out of date.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

Meter Row

As I was walking down Penn Avenue this week, I stopped to take this picture before it was gone forever.  Pittsburgh is joining the ranks of cities that use multispace meter systems.  The city’s individual parking meters are slowly disappearing as they are replaced by the multispace system.  Yet even before the transition began, Pittsburgh’s parking meters were suffering.  A complete row of intact meters marching off into the distance, such as those pictured, has been a rare sight in the city for years.  Usually there are at least a few with their heads chopped off or their stalks bent.  On close inspection, this row did have graffiti on many of the heads and at least one meter was out of order.  However, in the spring sunshine, these meters looked almost pristine with their gold heads gleaming.

Manhattan Bridge: A Multimodal Link

The Manhattan Bridge

When I was planning my walk across the Brooklyn Bridge while in New York City last December, I noticed there was a bridge nearby called the Manhattan Bridge.  I decided to cross to Brooklyn by the Manhattan Bridge and return to Manhattan by the Brooklyn Bridge.  The Manhattan Bridge ended up being the more interesting of the two bridges.

Gateway to the Manhattan Bridge

I found my way from the subway stop to the Manhattan Bridge by following the way-finding signs for the bike lanes in the Lower East End.   This brought me to the left side of the bridge, where I was temporarily upset to see that pedestrians were not permitted to use the sidewalk on that side of the bridge–it was dedicated to two-way bicycle traffic.  I was concerned that I was not going to be able to walk across this bridge and instead would have to cross the Brooklyn Bridge twice (I try to avoid walking across a bridge just to walk back across it; doing so gives me a sense of pointlessness).  Luckily, there are sidewalks on both sides of this bridge (from walking Pittsburgh bridges I know not to assume that bridges have sidewalks on two sides) and the sidewalk on the right side is dedicated to pedestrians.

I suggest that NYC puts up a sign on the bicycle side to direct pedestrians to the other side, which might help encourage pedestrians to follow the traffic directions set up on this bridge–I watched a pedestrian ignore the bicycle-only signs to cross the bridge on the bike lanes.

The Pedestrian Side

This bridge is the most multimodal bridge I have walked with the bike lanes on one side, pedestrian way on the other, and the subway and roadway in between.  While I approve of this welcoming of alternative transportation methods, I am not sure about placing the pedestrians next to the subway tracks.  This does give a barrier between the pedestrians and the noise of the cars, but instead, the pedestrians have to deal with the noise of the subway, which while it is less constant than the cars, it is a little more startling/disturbing.

The Manhattan Side The Brooklyn Bridge

The neighborhoods the Manhattan Bridge links had some similar physical elements, but are clearly used by different populations.  The populations on both the Manhattan and Brooklyn sides use their rooftops, but for different purposes.  On the Manhattan side, the rooftops were covered in graffiti, while the Brooklyn rooftops had new additions and places to sit.  There were also parks on both sides of the East River.  However, the Manhattan side only had a baseball diamond while the Brooklyn side had a carousel and a pirate-ship playground.

Manhattan side park

Carosel Pirate Ship Playground

What intrigues me most about the Manhattan Bridge is that I had never seen or heard of it before and yet it is the bridge shown in the background (multiple times) in the Doctor Who episode “The Angels Take Manhattan.”  Based on my walk on the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, it looks like these shots were taken on the Brooklyn side of the river, in which case it seems like it possible to get the Brooklyn Bridge in the background instead as these two are close together on that side.  To me the images of the Brooklyn Bridge say New York, while (at least before I walked it) images of the Manhattan Bridge just say a place with a bridge and hence water.  I wonder if the Manhattan Bridge is better known in the UK than in my circle?

View like that used in Doctor Who

Caerphilly, Castles and Cheese

Caerphilly Castle

When I arrived in the UK last spring, I realized I had one major flaw in my trip: I hadn’t planned to visit any castles.  Cardiff has a castle in the center of town and my hotel was right across the street from it.  However, I visited this castle on my last trip and remembered much of it: the Roman wall in the basement, the ornate room in the clock tower, the nursery painted with scenes from fairy tales, and the view from the keep.  Looking for a new castle to visit, my guidebook recommended Caerphilly.

Caerphilly is a twenty minute train ride north of the center of Cardiff.  It is a small town and features a castle begun in 1268.  In addition, the guidebook noted that the town is noted for Caerphilly Cheese, a mild relative of cheddar cheese.  As I love cheese, especially cheddar, Caerphilly was an appealing destination to satiate my interest in castles and cheese.

So one morning, I went down to the Central Cardiff station, purchased an open, round-trip ticket to Caerphilly for just a few pounds and enjoyed the short train ride through the Welsh country-side.  Cardiff is very flat, but Caerphilly and the surrounding area are quite hilly.  The castle wasn’t visible from the train station, so I started walking in what seemed the most promising direction: downhill on the main commercial street.  After a short walk, the road made a bend and the shops stopped on one side, leaving a wide view over a green park to the castle and the valley and hills beyond.

Views from the Castle's Keep Views from the Castle's Keep

Views from the Castle's Keep

A Welshman once told me that the only real castles are those in ruins.  Ones like Cardiff Castle that have been fixed-up, renovated, or refurbished in any way are not real.  I thought that he would have approved of Caerphilly Castle.

When I finished exploring every corner of the castle, I returned to the town looking for cheese and lunch.  There were no signs of Caerphilly Cheese anywhere.  There were lots of tourist-y areas and signs directing the way to tourist-like attractions, but none mentioned cheese.  Wikipedia claims that there is a cheese sculpture somewhere in town, but I didn’t see it.  I ended up choosing a quaint little diner (of the early 20th century style, not the 1950s/60s style we think of in the US) as the place to eat my lunch in the hopes that perhaps they used Caerphilly Cheese on their sandwiches, but they did not.

Feeling let down in my hunt for cheese, I returned to Cardiff shortly after my lunch.  Caerphilly’s castle was well worth the trip, but I was beginning to believe that Caerphilly Cheese was a myth.

….

Seven months later, my family and I were visiting New York City for Christmas.  On our last day, we made the requisite visit to Zabar’s.  I had been particularly looking forward to this stop on our trip as the last time I was in Zabar’s I was a kid who knew that there was something special about the shop, but didn’t understand why as I thought the height of culinary perfection was Kraft Mac’N’Cheese.

The first thing that caught my eye on entering Zabar’s was the cheese display.  I quickly went over and scanned the names of all the various cheeses, looking for the exotic one that I was going to take home to try.  Most had names that sounded familiar.  On my second look through, my heart stopped.  There on the shelf right in front of me was Caerphilly Cheese!!

I was shocked.  I had gone to Caerphilly to get their cheese and been disappointed.  Now, months later on the other side of the ocean, in a small store in NYC, I’d found it.  Needless to say, I purchased a brick.  It was a nice cheese, almost like a cross between a mozzarella and a mild cheddar: smooth, almost creamy, with a slight hint of the cheddar kick.

Church Brew Works

Church Brew Works

January 8, 2013, has been declared by City Council as Church Brew Works Day in the city of Pittsburgh to recognize the work of the restaurant’s founder/president, head brewer, and staff.  Council’s proclamation highlights the success of this group in adapting a vacant church “into a premiere, nationally recognized craft brewery, neighborhood fixture, and regional asset.”

The Church Brew Works is probably the most infamous of Pittsburgh’s adaptively reused churches.  Its notoriety stems from the fact that the brew house is located in the former altar.  A friend of mine told me that this positioning bothers her and if she eats at the Church Brew Works, she has to sit with her back to the altar.  I have heard that other people consider it sacrilegious to have the brew house on the former altar area and that these people refuse to patronize the restaurant.

This building was formerly an Eastern European Catholic Church and was purchased in 1996 to be converted into a restaurant and brewery.  I interviewed the founder/president for a paper on adaptively reused church buildings in Pittsburgh.  He explained that the idea for the restaurant started in 1994.  The first building selected for the project was an old fire hall two blocks away from the church.  The church was chosen in the end because of the availability of parking and the “great architecture.”  It was also easily accessible by car, which he felt was important for the success of the restaurant as Pittsburgh “lacks good public transit.”  Five months after the purchase was completed, the restaurant opened.

The church had been empty for two years by the time it was purchased in 1996.  The school attached to the church had been closed for twenty-five years.  The president felt that this added to the decrease in the congregation.  The closing of the mills drove church members away to search for new jobs while the closing of the school drove them away to find a new school for their children.  As a result of these pressures, the congregation dropped from 2000 to 200 parishioners.  When acquired for the restaurant, the church was “worn out” from a lack of reinvestment over the years and there was additional damage as a result of being completely closed for two years.  While the initial renovations of the building were completed in five months, paving the parking lot and completing the patio took longer.  Fifteen years later, work is still being done because of the “age of the building.”

Church Brew Works Sign

Much of the original building was reused or adapted in the conversion from a church to a restaurant.  The history section of the restaurant’s website explains how the pews were reused as benches for the tables and the bricks from the confessional that was taken down were used to create the pillars for the restaurant’s sign outside.  The original floor and lanterns were restored.  The result is a beautiful and unique interior for this restaurant.  To see what the interior looks like, check out the website or stop by for a meal.  I’ve enjoyed the food the few times I’ve eaten here.

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?

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.