Since 2015 OpenStreetsPGH has closed selected Pittsburgh streets off to vehicle traffic several times each summer. Organized by Bike Pittsburgh, the events are sort of outdoor festivals that open up a few miles of city streets for walking, cycling, and other forms of non-motorized transit. I’ve always wanted to attend, but during each of the previous events I have been out of town or otherwise engaged. As previously noted, I’ve just moved back to the city and have been regularly patronizing the South Side stretch of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. On one of these regular recent visits I spotted a sign advertising the next OpenStreets event, occurring in Hazelwood on July 25th. So here was my chance to finally attend an OpenStreets, and since Hazelwood is just a quick jaunt across the river from my apartment, I would be able to cycle to the event.
Last year the usual schedule of OpenStreets events during the summer was interrupted due to COVID. This year the Hazelwood event is the first and only OpenStreets of 2021. Scott Bricker, executive director of Bike Pittsburgh, described the renewed urgency of the event thusly:
“OpenStreetsPGH invites the community to reimagine public spaces, something we saw the incredible necessity of during the pandemic. As the world starts to get back to normal, we are excited to present OpenStreetsPGH as a mini-event where people of all ages can get outside for some socially distanced recreation, enjoy a day of car-free fun on city streets, and check out some awesome bike infrastructure along the way.”
So this past Sunday I embarked by bicycle around 10 AM, the designated event start time. I’m still a novice urban cyclist, and when I had planned my prospective route the day before my greatest concern was how to get from the Hot Metal Bridge to the OpenStreets route on Blair St. Thankfully I found that Bike Pittsburgh representatives and public safety officials were managing the intersection between the bridge and the start of the trail (and enforcing a mandatory dismount zone at the crossing).
This was my first time back in Hazelwood since 2017 when I was researching what was then called the Almono development. As part of my broader research into the impact of Uber’s autonomous vehicle research in the city, I attended community meetings and interviewed developers about the plans to transform an urban brownfield into a cutting edge technology park. So it seemed fitting that my first experience with OpenStreets would be in the neighborhood that had featured so prominently in Pittsburgh mobility initiatives and in my own research.
The OpenStreets excursion therefore provided me with my first up-close look at the progress that has taken place at the Mill 19 site. The massive superstructure of a disused steelworks has been repurposed as a skeletal shell surrounding technology research offices, a visual-material confluence of Pittsburgh’s industrial past and the contemporary economy.
The redevelopment is an impressive blend of adaptive reuse and postmodern architectural flourishes. This sign gives a look at the site’s forward-looking innovative tenantry with names like “Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing” and “Manufacturing Futures Initiative.”
Expansion of the Mill 19 site is ongoing. Here you can see a banner promoting the next phase, and a look into the yet-to-be-redeveloped shell.
There were also sandwich boards drawing attention to some of the cycling-friendly transit infrastructure that has been built in Hazelwood Green. This sign highlights a floating bus stop configuration:
I completed a couple of circuits of the OpenStreets route then departed Hazelwood as the streets became more congested and the skies threatened to rain. Excepting the transition to Hot Metal Bridge, I managed to cycle all the way back to my apartment without dismounting. In my previous excursions I’ve lacked the confidence to ride along E Carson St, opting instead to walk my bike until getting to dedicated bike paths. My return ride today was not strictly regulation, but I felt accomplished and more confident in general. When I first moved to Pittsburgh several years ago, the bicycle I’d arrived with sat idle for a year before I finally sold it. The irregular topography of East End neighborhoods intimidated me, and I witnessed a cyclist’s death in traffic in Oakland. My current bike was a pandemic purchase, and I’m glad I brought it with me to the city. South Side Flats has a more welcoming topography and a robust network of cycling routes and other transit infrastructure.