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Ohio River to get landmark ped bridge!


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The West End Bridge in Pittsburgh is a huge archway built back in the 1930s which is on the West End of the city facing the confluence and the point (with downtown and the stadiums and inclines there). It is a fantastic view and the bridge was made "interstate grade" as a temporary I-279 for two summers in the early part of the decade. Now Pittsburgh is looking for a design to extend the pedestrian and bike trails/bridge to the West End (there are already foot traffic connections on the Smithfield, Andy Warhol, Clemente, 9th, Ft. Duquesne and Ft. Pitt Bridges encircling downtown.

"Riverlife Task Force plans competition to design footbridge across Ohio River

Monday, April 04, 2005

By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In cities as diverse as Paris, Chicago, and Bilbao, Spain, footbridges have become striking additions to the urban landscape. And now the Riverlife Task Force and Alcoa Foundation want to do the same for Pittsburgh, the city of bridges.

The task force is preparing to launch an international design competition to come up with ideas for building a world-class pedestrian crossing over the Ohio River, most likely as an addition to the West End Bridge.

Alcoa Foundation will provide $413,000 to fund the competition, which is being announced today and is expected to start by the end of the summer.

"It's a real chance for our foundation to give an enduring gift to Pittsburgh," said Kathleen W. Buechel, president and treasurer of Alcoa Foundation.

The Riverlife Task Force plans to seek proposals from designers throughout the world in a competition that Executive Director Lisa Schroeder likened to the one that produced the widely praised Rafael Vinoly design for the David L. Lawrence Convention Center Downtown.

Designers most likely will be asked to create an extension or appendage to the West End Bridge, with its majestic arches and its postcard view of the city skyline.

The bridge, erected in 1931-32, was chosen for the project in part because of its critical role in the task force's proposal to create a 10-mile-long Three Rivers Park stretching from the West End to the 10th Street Bridge over the Monongahela River and to the 16th Street Bridge over the Allegheny.

Part of the task force's plan calls for making the bridges that straddle the city's three rivers a key element of the park, particularly in connecting public areas, trails and green space at the edge of the water.

"It's the last challenging connection in the river in the Three Rivers Park," Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy said.

The proposed footbridge also fits in with Riverlife's goal of extending the reach of Downtown, traditionally seen as ending at the Point, to the West End, and its ambitious plan to link the city's riverfront trails in one giant unimpeded loop.

The design competition, Schroeder said, "underscores our desire to have creative minds from all over the world" help to make the links.

In that regard, officials aren't looking for a nondescript concrete pedestrian crossing. Schroeder said the goal is to create a footbridge that is both inspired and realistic. They hope to get a "signature" piece that will be as famous for Pittsburgh as the glass-enclosed Campo Volantin footbridge is for Bilbao; as the BP Bridge, a serpentine pathway, is for Chicago; and as the crisscrossing Bercy-Tolbiac Footbridge is for Paris.

"It's just a terrific project for Pittsburgh, for Pittsburghers and to make this a destination," Buechel said.

Schroeder said an important aspect of the competition will be in creatively linking the riverfront and trails to the deck that will span the Ohio River.

"There's some really challenging issues there and I'd be interested in seeing how they solve it," said Murphy, who jogs across the West End Bridge. "There's a big height differential" between the bridge deck and the trails.

Although Schroeder would not rule out the possibility of a separate foot and bike path across the river, she said the final product mostly likely would be an appendage or extension of the West End Bridge.

The task force has created an eight-member steering committee to oversee the competition and to develop guidelines for architectural and design firms interested in participating. Among its tasks, the committee will come up with cost parameters and decide what should be required as part of the design and what should be encouraged. Schroeder said, for example, there appears to be a lot of sentiment for observation decks on the footbridge so users can take in the view of the skyline and the three rivers.

"The steering committee really has been set up to very carefully consider all questions of design before the competition begins so the design is both inspired and based on practical considerations," Schroeder said.

Riverlife also is looking to increase the width of the crossing, enough to at least accommodate two adults and two children on bicycles, and muffle the sound of traffic from the bridge. There also must be access for people with disabilities.

The West End Bridge now has sidewalks on both sides, but they are narrow. The railings also are in dire need of attention, with chipping paint and blotches of rust.

Pedestrian access is limited to a steep set of stairs on the north side and the south side of the bridge. On the north side, a trail runs under the bridge, but to get onto the span itself pedestrians or bicyclists have to cross a parking lot and then climb the stairs.

To get to the stairs on the south side from Station Square, pedestrians have to follow a sidewalk on Carson Street past a gasoline station, a junkyard, and a row of buildings. There is no trail access.

Murphy, who counts the West End Bridge among his favorites, said there continues to be a need to develop the riverfronts, particularly in those areas facing the city skyline. He said he sees such development as critical to the city's growth.

"It does kill me when I come off the West End Bridge that we have one of the most spectacular urban views in America and you have a junkyard there," Murphy said. "The land value there should be better than just simply for a junkyard and I think that's what we're finally beginning to realize."

The steering committee is expected to begin meeting soon to develop guidelines for the competition. The goal is to begin the actual competition by the end of summer, with completion by the end of the year.

Once a design has been chosen and a cost established, the task force hopes to tap public and private sources to fund the crossing."

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