Riverlife has published a plan to create a continuous loop of parks and trails along Pittsburgh’s downtown riverfronts. The nonprofit estimates that the cost of completing the loop will come in at $246.8 million.
The 248-page set of proposals describes new parks and improved accessibility of bridges and trails along a 15-mile stretch from the 31st Street Bridge on the Allegheny River to the West End Bridge on the Ohio River over to the Hot Metal Bridge on the Monongahela River.
It would extend the South Side Riverfront Park to Station Square; add more pedestrian amenities and scenic outlooks to the West End Bridge as well as parks on either side; and convert an old city tow pound in the Strip District to a park that includes a river barge for swimming.
The plan has been developed over the last two years with insight from thousands of residents and stakeholders, according to Riverlife CEO Matthew Galluzzo.
“We’ve taken stock of what’s been done, what needs to be done to address the remaining gaps in the system,” said Galluzzo. “We can improve the riverfront experience so that it is equitably enjoyed by everyone.”
The report separates sections of the 15-mile loop into “rooms”: the Allegheny River Room includes the Strip District, Washington’s Landing and the River Avenue corridor; the Confluence River Room includes the West End Bridge, Golden Triangle, North Shore and Station Square and the Monongahela River Room includes the South Side and Second Avenue corridor.
West End Bridge Proposal
The plan breaks down six projects that together would total $246.8 million. At an estimated $115.9 million, the West End Bridge proposal is the largest project in the plan.
It calls for a park on the riverbanks of the West End Bridge in Manchester and one in the West End. The park would provide both neighborhoods with a direct connection to the river and a switchback ramp to better access the bridge. On the Manchester side of the bridge, the project would convert a parking lot into an area with shops, a trailhead and public art installations.
“Creating public spaces on either side of the West End Bridge will close a major gap in the Loop and celebrate the West End Bridge,” the plan argues.
The proposals are tied to another project already scheduled by PennDOT to renovate the West End Bridge by 2028.
Pittsburgh City Council President Theresa Kail-Smith said she is eager to get started on restoring the West End Bridge and adding a park to her district.
“I think residents are excited to see something wonderful happen on our side of town,” she said. “It would be nice for us to enjoy our waters [in the West End] as much as everyone else gets to do” in other neighborhoods along the rivers, she said.
Kail-Smith said the West End Bridge proposal included insight from her office, Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure and state lawmakers.
“It was a project everybody could get behind,” she said. “We waited for everyone else in the city and now it’s our turn” in the West End.
Strip District Proposal
Near the Strip District, developments along the Allegheny River are estimated to cost $68.7 million. A keynote project in this area would convert a city-owned tow pound site downstream from the 31st Street Bridge into a publicly accessible riverfront park. A water landing on the site would include canoe and kayak launches and a space to repurpose a barge for a swimming pool or concert venue.
On the South Side, a $27 million proposal would include the expansion of the South Side Riverfront Park to 4th Street and install a new bridge ramp at the 10th Street Bridge that connects directly to the trail.
Riverlife suggests the South Side upgrades happen in concert with the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority’s plans to develop a regional tunnel system, which is expected to impact the Monongahela River after 2031. The organization proposes ALCOSAN include creating connections between the South Side Flats neighborhood and the riverfront in their plans.
To push the plans forward, Riverlife will partner with private property owners, other nonprofits, and local and state leaders, Galluzzo said. But support from city officials like Mayor Gainey will be key.
Gainey “has a bold and community-driven vision for the future of our city,” Galluzzo said. “We’re excited that riverfronts that belong to everyone will play a central role in realizing that vision.”
A spokesperson for Mayor Ed Gainey said the city will look for opportunities to help support the proposals laid out by Riverlife.
“We are proud to collaborate with Riverlife because they are an organization that does tremendous work to bring the benefits of river life to our city. We look forward to reviewing the plan over the coming weeks to learn how we can collaborate to expand riverfront access in our city.”
The plan to complete the loop calls for dedicated funding for maintaining the city’s riverfronts. About 41% of the loop is not adequately taken care of, according to Riverlife. While that isn’t a majority, the report argues that inconsistent maintenance along the loop detracts from the overall experience.
Additional economic benefits
Developing the city’s riverfronts could lead to billions of dollars in private investment at adjacent properties, Riverlife argues. A 2015 study by the organization found that $132 million in riverfront improvements between 2000 and 2015 catalyzed $2.6 billion in riverfront development and nearly $4.1 billion in total riverfront and adjacent development.
“The riverfronts are now the green front door for the region,” Galluzzo said. “Developers, property owners see the tangible benefits of creating park spaces, open spaces, trail networks that benefit the public.”
Riverlife is already hard at work restoring the Allegheny Riverfront Park downtown. The organization is overseeing installing new trees, benches, lights, and pavingwork that is expected to be completed by 2023.
“I think that we are well on our way to make that [completed loop] vision a reality,” Galluzzo said. “There are many reasons to be excited about our riverfronts.”