Monday, December 03, 2007

(Re)naming the Hot Metal Bridge

Apologies if this idea is floating around somewhere else, but an anonymous commenter here has suggested an idea that at least deserves being raised. Should the new bike/pedestrian bridge next to the hot metal bridge be named for former Mayor Tom Murphy?

Clearly, there are still a lot of emotions over the tenure of Tom Murphy. If I could shape the debate (not to even presume there is a debate actually) over this I would say it is not worth getting into the details over whether one agreed or disagreed with any specific policy over the years. From just the historical perspective, the 12 year tenure of the Murphy Administration makes this an obvious question. Consider that on the list of all Pittsburgh mayors, the 12 years he was in office is 2nd only to David Lawrence himself. The list of mayors with the longest terms in office is:

David L. Lawrence 1946-1959
Tom Murphy 1994-2006
Joseph M. Barr 1959-1970
Richard S. Caliguiri 1977-1988
Cornelius D. Scully 1936-1946
John Darragh 1817-1825
Charles H. Kline 1926-1933
Peter F. Flaherty 1970-1977
Sophie Masloff 1988-1994
William A. Magee 1909-1914

It is odd looking at the Murphy years in retrospect and compare that to what things looked like when TM first ran for Mayor. But just on the question of the bridge recently completed: It has been my observation that friends and foes alike credit the Murphy administration with most of the trail system that was set up within the City of Pittsburgh. I swear I have heard others talk about the possibility of naming the entire trail system for Tom Murphy, but I can’t place where that came from. So even if you oppose the general idea of naming things for him, the naming of just the pedestrian bridge could be the lesser option for posterity.

Musing more broadly, I will point out my previous post on the South Side Works redevelopment. Again, no matter what you think of the policies involved in getting that project completed it is clearly a big problem to deal with any of the region’s brownfield sites and the former J&L plant was one of the biggest. For anyone who has used any part of the trail system as it exists along the Mon, or the new bridge itself, that older post of mine has the image of what used to be on that site. That all didn't evaporate without an awful amount of work.

So it is a cop out to attribute this to an anonymous commenter. I would say for myself that naming the bridge makes a certain amount of sense for a simple reason. When you consider that the emphasis on trail development was not something that was happening on it’s own here, you have to ask how our trail system came to be. But if this comes to pass I will ask permission if his or her identity can be made known for the historical record so that credit (or blame I suppose) can be property placed.

Moreover, when you look back on transportation policy in the US, the focus here like most everywhere was focused solely on cars. Be it on the roads needed to commute by automobile or the parking needed to store your car while at work there was little effor on any alternatives for a long time. There is a great video on that mentality in the Prelinger Archives. See the snippets of Pittsburgh in the 1955 advocacy film: Freedom of the American Road. It is not as scary as the earlier anti-urban film I pointed out called The City... but they are variations on a theme. So the trails or the new bridge are symbols of a big shift in attitudes toward cities if nothing else.

Where is my bunker? I am pretty sure I have ranged grid 0-0.

11 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree with this proposal... not due to any dislike of Murphy... but because "Hot Metal Bridge" sounds way too cool.

Monday, December 03, 2007 10:20:00 AM  
Blogger Bram Reichbaum said...

Anonymous, I completely agree.

I agree also that a rational re-appraisal of the Tom Murphy era is about due.

Monday, December 03, 2007 3:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Finally, a reason to come back!

And re: Hot Metal Bridge. I agree, the name should be retained. However, there are two distinct bridges at the site. The car bridge should remain the Hot Metal Bridge. The pedestrian/bike bridge is the one that should be named for Tom Murphy.

Monday, December 03, 2007 5:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

May I suggest that you change the name of this post to, "Renaming the Hot Metal Pedestrian Bridge"? That's what the City of Pittsburgh website is calling it in the photos from opening day, and it would alleviate some confusion about which bridge we're talking about.

Monday, December 03, 2007 5:50:00 PM  
Blogger Ms. Monongahela, Ms. Chief Editor said...

I'm kind of sick of this sentiment our society has that everything has to be "named" after someone as a means to pay homage. (And I'll say that without bringing gender politics into the discussion -- for now!)

"Hot Metal Bridge?" That's a great name for a bridge and remains an ode to Pittsburgh.

Keep it!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007 12:10:00 PM  
Blogger Ms. Monongahela, Ms. Chief Editor said...

P.S. Why do we have to complicate EVERYTHING by giving the pedestrian bridge a separate name? Aren't people smart enough to figure out which is which?

Though, it's probably just a matter of time before there's an Action News report on some guy who tried to drive his Range Rover on the bike bridge ...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007 12:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree, naming things can get out of hand. On the other hand, it's a good way to acknowledge someone's achievements, public service, etc. Slapping someone's name on something because they gave money to build it is one thing, honoring somebody who had the vision and energy to give Pittsburgh a great public amenity is something else. I'm not quite sure where the negative would be in calling one of the two bridges the Tom Murphy Bridge. No harm done, and it would be a way to draw attention to his good work and to the value to the city and the region of the bike trails. Sends a good message to leaders in other cities too that might be following Pittsburgh's lead on trail development.

And on further thought, the 3 Sisters Bridges are a good example of where (re)naming things, even when apparently unnecessary, reaps benefits. The bridges are a tourist attraction, and it enhances the city's image when outsiders are told that they're named for a world-renowned woman environmentalist, a Hispanic Hall of Fame baseball player and humanitarian, and the most famous artist of the 20th century.(And yes, I know, Murphy's not in that league, but that's not the point of this paragraph.) Two of them also makes sense because the baseball one goes to PNC Park and the artist one goes to the Warhol. Sixth, Seventh and Ninth works fine for the locals, but sometimes we need to think beyond Allegheny County's borders.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007 6:17:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

In "Why Cities Shrink and Grow" I said enough about Murphy that I won't re-hash here. So, I will just add that I agree with Ms. Monongahela's concerns on the wisdom of naming everything after somebody, and her opinion that Hot Metal Bridge is a good name. It is easy to remember, historically rooted, and potentially useful for making bad puns.

Even though I'm a short-time resident, I have tried to learn the old name for everything as, if you want directions, the old names are what will likely be used by the person giving you directions. When I first moved, I found this annoying, but I have really warmed to Pittsburgh's name stubbornness. This is largely because "the old Alcoa building" is so much less annoying than "Regional Enterprise Tower". I guess it is a tower. What a giant building full of non-profits and the like has to do with enterprise, I just don't get. It is like they had a contest to see who could come-up with the most generic name.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007 12:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again, the Hot Metal Bridge name stays for the car span. Long live the Hot Metal Bridge! It's the bike/pedestrian bridge, a separate entity, that bears renaming.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007 6:48:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

I suppose that if we are really stickers for names we should be refering to the span as the Monongahela Connecting Railroad Bridge.. or the Mon Con.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007 10:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Rick Rowlands said...

Actually, the bridge that carries the road was the Monongahela Connecting Railroad bridge. The narrower span was the hot metal bridge! History is such an inconvenient thing!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009 8:21:00 PM  

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