If Pittsburgh's three rivers are its heart and soul, then efforts to draw more people to its center can only be life-sustaining.
That's why everyone should welcome construction of the long-awaited bike and pedestrian promenade along the Monongahela Wharf, Downtown, which will begin Monday and complete an important link in the Pittsburgh-to-Washington, D.C., trail. The 2,017-foot walkway will run the length of the popular wharf parking lot, which holds 700 spaces.
About 150 to 200 parking spots will be sacrificed to the $2.3 million project, but the improvements will be worth it.
Spearheaded by the Riverlife Task Force, the plan will turn an unsightly riverfront into a linear green space that has a finished trail with blue stone inlay, sloped planting beds, benches and scores of trees. Not only will the resulting park be a magnet for city dwellers, workers and visitors -- on foot or on wheels -- but it will also be a visual improvement to the cityscape as seen from the South Side, Mount Washington or that famous view upon emerging from the Fort Pitt Tunnel.
For nearly a century, cars have been parked on the sloping, initially dirt-surfaced bank of the Monongahela. Now the construction of a recreational trail, which should be completed by early fall, will bring the added benefit of natural screening to one of the city's all-too-visible auto lots.
The improvement won't end there, though. This phase is only part of a $6 million package that also includes a "Mon Wharf Connector" that will route the trail around a pier of the Fort Pitt Bridge and link it to Point State Park and a switchback ramp that will connect the other end of the wharf with the Eliza Furnace Trail at the Smithfield Street Bridge.
While foundations have generously provided the financial base for the phased package, the final $2 million must still be found and could come from several public sources, including the federal economic stimulus plan. The Riverlife Task Force says that in two years the whole project will be under way, if not completed.
It will be the newest sign to Pittsburghers of a most livable city, and it all begins Monday.