Floating boats and new parks are a part of Riverlife’s imaginative and prescient to enhance Pittsburgh’s riverside

Pittsburgh’s riversides were very different in 1999 when the Riverlife nonprofit began envisioning their future. After decades of neglect and abuse by heavy industry, they were seen in a new light – as thriving, vibrant places where people wanted to gather.

More than 20 years later, Riverlife estimates that 85 percent of the land between the West End, 31st Street, and the Hot Metal Bridges has been improved and / or added to hiking trails and public open spaces.

But that last 15 percent is going to be the hard part.

After Riverlife invited more than 3,600 Pittsburghers, owners, developers, and community leaders for public contributions, Riverlife previewed its Completing The Loop technical report on Thursday, February 25th, via Zoom.

The biggest changes proposed involve two new parks – one under the very pedestrian-unfriendly West End Bridge and another in the city’s long-standing tow in the Strip District.

“There are so many reasons to be excited about the future of the city’s riverside,” said Matthew Galluzzo, President and CEO of Riverlife, during the presentation. “The banks are full of economic activity. And people, as we’ve seen over the past six months, demand a world-class experience. That encouraged us to really think hard about our future. “

Photo courtesy Riverlife.

Riverlife worked with evolutionEA, a Pittsburgh-based design company, to work out the plan.

On the former tow of the city beneath the 31st Street Bridge in the Strip District is a huge chunk of land next to a thriving neighborhood. There is space for a park and affordable housing with commercial space on the ground floor.

“There should be some kind of active commercial area like a café or a kiosk that brings people to the river, but also encourages people to come from the river to the park … a real goal,” said Christine Mondor of evolutionEA.

Mondor envisions “outdoor spaces” with quiet rooms where you can gather with trees and shade and organize activities from beach volleyball to napping. There could also be a dog park. The site would be connected to the road network and have a serpentine ramp from the bridge to the river bank.

“A lot of people have been talking for years about the ways to get on the river and swim, maybe not in the river but on the river,” said Mondor. “And so this would be a great place to have a public berth for seasonal amenities like a barge.”

Plans for the city’s former tow near 31st Street Bridge. Rendered courtesy of DevelopEA and Riverlife.

Below the West End Bridge, there are plans for Saw Mill Run Park with improved, pedestrian-friendly connections to the bridge and the network of trails on the north side of the Ohio River. The bridge could offer a view of the city center and extended paths for pedestrians, bikers and strollers.

Getting on the West End Bridge as it is now is “difficult, but it’s worth it,” said Mondor.

The area around this section of the riverbank is just as uninviting at the moment.

“If you haven’t been to this place, it’s no surprise,” said Mondor. “Not many people go to this place. This is the furthest point on the loop.

“The big steps for Saw Mill Run Park are to celebrate the West End Bridge, set it on fire to bring this incredible piece of bridge architecture more into focus than it is now, and to create Saw Mill Run as Gateway Park and Portal to the future To catalyze road links to the city’s West End that no longer exist today. “

The plan could include public docks, a trailhead, public plaza, and / or a riverside cafe.

The project was funded by the Henry L. Hillman Foundation, Riverlife, and the Environmental Stewardship Fund, a grant program of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and the Bureau of Recreation and Conservation for Natural Resources.

The public is invited to contribute to the technical report on completing the loop here. Community feedback will be collected through March 21st.

RiverlifeStrip Districttow PoundWest End Bridge

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