In my Pittsburgh’s Beauty off the Beaten Path series I describe a particularly beautiful, but underappreciated, spot in the city. I hope these posts will give you inspiration for future adventures and will remind you that Pittsburgh, for all its industrial buildings and soot-covered past, is a city bursting with beauty.  The rest of the series is located here.

Pittsburgh has a lot of nicknames: The ‘Burgh, Steel City, Sixburgh. My favorite one is probably the City of Bridges.  I’m so proud to be from the city with the most bridges in the WORLD.  I’m even more proud to be from a city where we treasure our bridges so much that we yarn-bomb them!  That’s right!  From August 12th to September 6th the thousands of hours of grueling labor involved in the Knit the Bridge project will come to fruition and the Andy Warhol Bridge will be covered in knitting! I trust it will be a truly magnificent sight.

Shady Liberty, pedestrian bridge designed by Sheila Klein
Shady Liberty, pedestrian bridge designed by Sheila Klein

In honor of the beautification of this well-loved city bridge, I thought I’d focus my Beauty off the Beaten Path series on another Pittsburgh bridge:  Shady Liberty.  It’s newer and less well-known than the Andy Warhol Bridge, but it was born to be a functional piece of public art.  And I’m so happy I discovered it earlier this summer with my family!

We found it during a walk through East Liberty and Shadyside after eating in Penn Circle.  We were wandering around the upper level of the Eastside shopping complex (the retail development that includes Whole Foods) when we heard the sound of a passing train near the Busway below.  As we went closer to the railing to get a better look, we came upon a pedestrian bridge that links the Eastside shopping complex in East Liberty to Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside.  Since I don’t live in this area and rarely walk around it, I never even knew it was there! Although it was small in size, this Pittsburgh bridge was BIG in personality!

It is called Shady Liberty and it was designed by Sheila Klein and opened in 2012.  Its basic structural elements are quite modest:  a simple concrete walkway with a surrounding chain link fence and posts. And yet, the designer was inspired to turn these functional parts into pieces of public art:

Painted lines
Painted lines
  • The concrete walkway is painted with random, overlapping yellow and white stripes that appear to be street lines (they are actually modeled on a Liberty Avenue parking lot where street-line painters test their equipment).  However, unlike traditional street lines, they lack any perceivable order.  Careful scrutiny reveals that this unexpected absence of pattern is exactly what makes the walkway so beautiful.  I like to believe the design reflects something really cool:  the unique path of each individual pedestrian (as opposed to the more predictable driving pattern of an automobile).  In that way, I believe the walkway’s artistic design promotes walking vs. driving as a responsible (and fun!) mode of transportation.
Handmade glass sequins
Handmade glass sequins
  • The chain link fence follows the path, protecting pedestrians from falling into the busway and railroad tracks below it.  However, the chain link fence, too, is beautified.  At the top, it is ornamented with large handmade glass sequins that were created at The Pittsburgh Glass Center. They reflect the sun’s glittering light—bringing the sky closer to the bridge and the people on it. The fence also has a gently curving design, leaving room for surrounding greenery.
  • Finally, the metal fence poles provide structural support to the fence and anchor the handrail. However, they also curve over the top of the walkway to support suspended glass orbs that light the bridge at night.  Although I haven’t had the pleasure of being on this bridge after dark, I believe these lights would reflect stunningly in the glass sequins–mimicking the the stars and the moon in the night’s sky.
Crossing Shady Liberty
Crossing Shady Liberty

Shady Liberty was beautiful to traverse AND it was fun for my kids!  They enjoyed following the lines AND peering over the edge at the passing trains.  I enjoyed relaxing on a bench that faces the bridge on the Eastside portion.  I spent some time observing the passerbys.  I was amazed at how many different sorts of people actually utilized the bridge:  elderly people, students, families with children, young professionals, even lucky (probably childless) couples grasping bottles of wine and takeout!

While pondering the Shady Liberty Bridge that day, I started thinking about Pittsburgh and its unique geography. Our broad rivers, though beautiful, could be considered a major challenge, with the potential to seriously divide our city.  And yet, we have built bridges-the Andy Warhol Bridge, the David McCullough Bridge, the Liberty Bridge and so, many, many more–to cross our rivers and bring together our neighborhoods, our people, and our resources.  What an incredible testament to the unity of our city!

Watching the train go by below
Watching the train go by below

The Shady Liberty bridge, though diminutive in size, has a similar and equally commendable purpose.  It brings together the very different communities of Shadyside and East Liberty to share in the continuing efforts to economically revitalize the East Liberty area.  Thank you Sheila Klein and the East Liberty Development, Inc for your impressive vision!

© Copyright Nadine Champsi, All rights Reserved. Written For: The Pittsburgh Mommy Blog
Nadine Champsi

Nadine Champsi

I am a doctor turned write-at-home-mom who runs the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog and is editor of Kidsburgh. I have two wonderful young children and am happily married. My interests include cooking, green-living, gardening, being in the outdoors, listening to great music, checking out the city's cool art, coming up with creative things to do with my kids, and having as many adventures as I can!
Nadine Champsi

9 Comments on Pittsburgh’s Beauty off the Beaten Path: Shady Liberty Pedestrian Bridge

  1. More than any city I’ve lived in, Pittsburgh embraces its rivers and its bridges. Maybe it’s because they have so many, as do the surrounding suburbs, or maybe it’s because they never seemed to present a formidable obstacle – “we can always build another bridge.” I grew up in Bridgeville and my favorite crossing is the Fort Pitt Bridge & Tunnel. I was a little kid when they were being built and it was a big treat when my father took us for a ride and drove through them for the first time. That was the primary way that I entered the city, and no matter how many times I drove though the tunnel, there was something magical about the moment when I would emerge. The first time I took my daughter to Pittsburgh, I had her drive a much less direct route into the city than we could have taken, so she could experience that moment for herself. Thanks for sharing this story about one of the new bridges.

    • The Fort Pitt tunnel entrance to Pittsburgh truly is stunning. If it’s at all possible I try to route newcomers that way so that it’s their first view of Pittsburgh.

      The Shady Liberty bridge is neat but I wish the retail at the end would pick up. The bottom part is doing well thanks to Whole Foods but the top is pretty barren. Is anything replacing that Borders?

      • Jeff,
        Yes! The Fort Pitt tunnel entrance to the city is breathtaking. I love that the airport is that direction, too, so I can introduce Pittsburgh to my friends who fly in to visit in such a dramatic way. As for the Eastside Retail Development, I’m not sure about something coming into the spot where Borders used to be. I was really bummed when that store closed. I used to love to wander around it when I lived in that area. I think there have been a few new restaurants opening around there, though. I guess it’s a work in progress. But, I definitely think East Liberty is making some great progress!

    • Dan,
      Thanks for reading my blog post and taking the time to comment. I too LOVE the entry into Pittsburgh through the Fort Pitt Tunnel. It is simply stunning and is by far the best entrance into a city that I have yet found. Whenever we fly into Pittsburgh’s airport and drive back into the city, I always eagerly await this view. My question is “When will you back in Pittsburgh?”

      • It’s hard to say when I might return. I keep hoping that some business event will land there and I’ll have a reason to visit again. Then again, if the list of things I forgot to see or that weren’t there the last time I was continues to grow, I might just have to make the drive.

  2. I had not heard of the Knit the Bridge project. I am so excited to check this out! I love reading your blog and learning so many new things about the city I love. My husband and I live about an hour south of Pittsburgh and visit as often as we can.

    • Thanks for reading my blog! I am so, so excited about the Knit the Bridge project. I didn’t personally contribute to the effort (although I wish I could knit!) I’m just not that good at knitting! I tried to make a baby blanket for my first child and I’m still working on it and she’s three years old! But, I’m still going to be out there admiring the scene. I think it will be so beautiful. And I believe they’re going to donate some of the pieces when they’re done for children in need. So inspiring!