Bigelow Boulevard

Bigelow Boulevard - 1939.
Bigelow Boulevard, shown in 1939, runs east-west along the face of Bedford Hill from downtown Pittsburgh to Oakland.

Bigelow Boulevard, originally known as Grant Boulevard, is a 3 1/2 mile "rapid transit" roadway carved into Bedford Hill that connects downtown Pittsburgh with Schenley Park in Oakland. It is a lasting tribute to the city's most famous urban planner, Edward Manning Bigelow, known as the "Father of Pittsburgh Parks."

The Boulevard, conceived by Bigelow in 1891, was the beginning of a twelve mile drive, which included Beechwood and Washington Boulevards, in a transit route that connected both Schenley and Highland Parks.

Edward Bigelow was appointed City Engineer in 1880 and in 1888 became Director of Public Works, a position he held for three terms, the last ending in 1906. During his tenure in office, Bigelow forged major improvements in the City's urban boulevards, waterworks, and parks.

Edward Bigelow in 1890.
Edward Bigelow

When Bigelow took office, the only public park in the city was a block-long area along Second Avenue between Grant and Ross Streets, now the ramp of the Blvd of the Allies. Soon after, he quietly began acquiring land in various parts of the city for public park use. In 1889, these parcels became Schenley and Highland Parks.

Construction of Bigelow Boulevard started in 1897. Beginning at Seventh Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh, the boulevard extended along a cut in the face of Bedford Hill eastward to Forbes Avenue in Oakland. The new roadway was completed and opened to traffic on July 1, 1900.

Proposed Grand Portal that was to be erected at the
Seventh Avenue entrance to Bigelow Boulevard.
The portal was never built. Submitted in 1911.
A 1911 proposal for a Grand Portal at the Seventh Avenue entrance to Bigelow Boulevard. It was never built.

Grant Boulevard, as it was known at the time, was a major success. It led to the rapid development of the Schenley Farms area. Traffic congestion soon became a problem. Efforts by the Pittsburgh Railways Company to install trolley lines along the roadway failed in 1904. Then, in 1912, the roadway was extended to Webster Avenue in downtown due to the removal of The Hump at Grant Street.

The success of Grant Boulevard led the City Planning Commission, in 1913, to recommend the construction of Monongahela Boulevard, better known as the Boulevard of the Allies, to increase vehicular capacity to the eastern communities. Beginning in 1915, Grant Boulevard was designated as US Route 22/US Route 30 and became part of the national Lincoln Highway. In 1916, the roadway was renamed Bigelow Boulevard after the death of Edward Manning Bigelow. The US Route 22/30 designation was switched to the Boulevard of the Allies in 1926.

Bigelow Boulevard in 1915.
A stretch of Bigelow Boulevard, heading in the direction of downtown Pittsburgh, in 1915.

Repeated landslides caused problems with both vehicular traffic and with the Pennsylvania Railroad line that ran along the base of Bedford Hill. Engineers were unable to stop the persistent deterioration of the hillside. In November 1920, a disastrous landslide prompted the city to begin restoration efforts along the roadway. Retaining walls were built both above and below the boulevard.

Conditions along Bigelow Boulevard in 1919.    Conditions along Bigelow Boulevard in 1919.
Conditions along Bigelow Boulevard in 1919. Landslides were a recurring problem.

Proposed retaining walls - 1919.    Proposed retaining walls - 1919.
In an effort to shore up the hillside along Bigelow Boulevard, plans were presented in 1919 for a series
of retaining walls both above and below the roadway. These are the artist's renditions.

1919 renovation plans for
retaining wall construction.    1919 renovation plans for
Seventh Avenue entranceway.
Architectural plans for the construction of retaining walls along Bigelow Boulevard - 1919.

Bigelow Boulevard - 1921.    Bigelow Boulevard - 1921.
Construction of large retaining walls in 1921 helped control the problem of hillside deterioration.

Bigelow Boulevard - 1921.    Bigelow Boulevard - 1921
Retaining walls and drainage basins were built both above and below the roadway to shore up the hillside.

Plaque erected after the 1921 road repairs
honoring Edward Manning Bigelow.

By 1936, the roadway had again deteriorated to the point where motorists refered to it as "no man's land." A major renovation project began. A concrete surface was laid and new lighting installed. The scenic Bedford Hill overlook park was constructed alongside the boulevard. The grand reopening was in December 1939.

In the decades that followed, the majority of the roadway remained basically the same, with occasional improvements. More dramatic changes have occurred twice. The construction of Crosstown Boulevard altered the downtown end of the boulevard. The bridge carrying Bigelow Boulevard over the expressway to Seventh Avenue was built in 1960. The rest of the Crosstown bridges and ramps were finished in 1962. Then, in 1986, new traffic patterns were installed at the Bloomfield Bridge intersection and the offramp from the Veteran's Bridge was built.

The western end of Bigelow Boulevard in 1950 from the
Crosstown Expressway looking east towards Oakland.
The western end of Bigelow Boulevard, in 1950, near the Crosstown interchange.

Among the interesting sites motorists encounter as they drive along Bigelow Boulevard is a partially completed ramp known as the "Ghost Ramp." Original plans for the Crosstown/Bigelow interchange included preliminary work on entrance and exit ramps that would connect Bigelow Boulevard to the I-579 expressway, which was still in the planning stages. The original design for the highway included a full interchange at Bigelow. Years later, when the Veteran's Bridge and I-579 were completed, the proposed ramp was not used. The mysterious Ghost Ramp remains as part of the retaining wall.

The Ghost Ramp in 2001.    The Ghost Ramp in 2001.
The Ghost Ramp at the western end of Bigelow Boulevard, shown in 2001.

Today, over a century since it was first opened to traffic, Bigelow Boulevard is still one of the most traveled roads in the City of Pittsburgh. The scenic roadway provides commuters with easy access between the eastern communities and the city center.

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