Pittsburgh’s riverfronts have been transformed in recent decades, from postindustrial afterthoughts to beautiful trails and green public spaces with striking scenery.

Now comes the hard part. The next step is Completing the Loop.

“There’s a heart-shaped or wishbone-shaped geography centered around Downtown Pittsburgh,” says Matthew Galluzzo, President & CEO of Riverlife, the nonprofit that helps guide riverfront development in Pittsburgh.

“It’s actually a 15-mile, 880-acre section of publicly accessible parks and trails, between the West End Bridge, 31st Street Bridge and Hot Metal Bridge.”

While The Loop is actually 85% complete, it doesn’t feel like one due to the missing connections, Galluzzo notes.

Finishing that final 15% is the goal. To get a sense of what the public wants to see in the future of its riverfronts, Riverlife is asking for input through an interactive online StoryMap called Completing the Loop.

There’s a rating system of 1 to 100 to help assess where each section of the Loop is right now in terms of connectivity, place, ecology and maintenance.

For example, different sections of the Strip District’s waterfront have a range of scores. The section closest to Downtown scores 51%, while the section near the city tow yard gets a low rating of 18%. In the case of the latter, lots of work needs to be done to make this area attractive. On the other hand, the Golden Triangle scores 90%, with particularly good scores for maintenance and sense of place.

Loop scorecard. Image courtesy of Riverlife.

“The scorecard we created is really a great platform for rich community engagement,” says Galluzzo, who adds that the interactive StoryMap includes a survey and weaves a narrative about the riverfronts, while directly addressing community needs and preferences.

Those who submit feedback through Completing the Loop can win prizes, like a big Burrito Restaurant Group gift card.

Point State Park. Photo by Porter Loves Creative, 2019.

The gaps are significant, and each comes with its own set of challenges.

“The seismic one is the West End Bridge, the area by the casino,” says Galluzzo. “There is no accessible way, if you’re at the casino, to cross the West End Bridge. You’re required to carry your cycle and if you’re able to, traverse three sets of stairs and then cross the bridge.”

If you can even cross to the South Side, there’s not an intuitive path to get to Station Square, he adds.

There’s another big gap between 31st Street and 28th Street in the Strip District, with no dedicated trail connection.

The third missing piece is in the South Side. “It’s near a gem of an amenity, The Highline,” says Galluzzo. “There’s a connector that requires folks to go up onto the street. We’d really like to see that as a dedicated pathway.”

Strip District Trail. Photo by Porter Loves Creative, 2019.

Filling in these gaps and others is the goal, though it’s going to take awhile. “Our goal is to have the remaining gaps filled in the next 10 years,” says Galluzzo.

The riverfronts are a unique asset for Pittsburgh and the public should have a voice in what they become. That’s the point of the project, Galluzzo emphasizes.

“Our riverfronts should be the magnet,” he says. “They should offer experiences that you can’t get anywhere else in the region. Riverfronts should be replete with activation, programming and public art amenities for all ages.”