Bridge collapse continues to plague Jewish Pittsburgh
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Bridge CollapseMoving forward

Bridge collapse continues to plague Jewish Pittsburgh

Days after Fern Hollow Bridge falls, residents describe new patterns and paths

The bus is lifted off the collapsed bridge. Photo by Eli Kurs-Lasky @stillcityphotography
The bus is lifted off the collapsed bridge. Photo by Eli Kurs-Lasky @stillcityphotography

Anne Linder can’t stop thinking about the Jan. 28 Fern Hollow Bridge collapse and the difference 30 seconds can make.

Around 6:40 a.m. that day, Linder, a teacher at Community Day School, was on her way to work from her Churchill home. Her teenage son and 8-year-old daughter were in the car as well. Linder planned to drop off her son at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School before heading to CDS, where her daughter is a student. As Linder drove down South Braddock Avenue toward Squirrel Hill, she prepared to turn right onto Forbes Avenue. She got halfway through the intersection before coming to a halt.

The two cars ahead of her had stopped, so Linder placed her car in park. She noticed a man frantically running down Forbes toward her and telling her to roll down the window. He shouted that the bridge had just collapsed.

Linder put her car in reverse. On her way to Penn Avenue, she saw ambulances and fire trucks speeding past. After traveling through Wilkinsburg, she and her children finally arrived at CDS, where they followed updates about the bridge.

Several days have passed, but Linder said she’s still frightened.

“When I think about it, we had angels watching over us,” she said. “Had we gotten there just a little bit earlier, it would have been us that were on the bridge.”

National Transportation Safety Board investigators are determining how and why the bridge collapsed.

The investigation, NTSB chairwoman Jennifer Homendy said last week, will be “long” and “technical.”

Ava Velazquez, Anne Linder and Alexander Velazquez. Photo courtesy of Anne Linder

In the interim, Pittsburghers are trying to resume daily activities and commutes.

Regent Square resident Becca Hurowitz and her family used to cross the bridge regularly when driving to and from Squirrel Hill. After learning that “thankfully” everyone on the bridge was OK, Hurowitz said her thoughts turned to traffic.

“So far, we’ve had a few issues with one of my kids’ buses, but I’m sure it will even out sometime soon,” she said.

Wilkinsburg resident Abby Schachter said she won’t venture into Squirrel Hill now without relying on Waze and its satellite-supported navigation system.

Although Schachter could take Penn Avenue, Commercial Street or the Parkway to get to Squirrel Hill, the difference in time can be significant, she said; while one route might take 12 minutes, the other could take twice as long.

Schacther knows that a 12-minute differential may not be a major concern for residents of other cities, “but for us, it’s a huge increase in time,” she said.

The other factor Schacter’s been considering is Shabbat. Every Saturday, she and her family walk from Wilkinsburg to Squirrel Hill for services. Last weekend they stayed home, calling it “bridge collapse Shabbat.” But this weekend the Schachters plan on resuming their regular trek.

The plan, for now, is to walk through Frick Park, Schachter said. But the strategy isn’t ideal, given the potential for icy paths along the way.

Photo by Adam Reinherz

While a viewing area in the park, where people could observe the collapsed bridge, is closed, the Pittsburgh Public Safety Department announced on Feb. 2 that the Clayton Loop, Biddle Trail and Homewood Trail are open. Tranquil Trail is closed within 100 yards of the collapse site, and Undercliff Trail is also closed.

For Squirrel Hill resident Maggie Feinstein, the bridge collapse adds another wrinkle to family routines.

Well before last week’s event, Feinstein’s daughter used the Fern Hollow Bridge to get to the Environmental Charter School on South Braddock Avenue.

After bussing options were lost due to a driver shortage, Feinstein said, she and her husband taught their 8-year-old daughter how to walk safely to and from school. Before heading out the door on Feb. 1 — the first school day post-bridge collapse — Feinstein and her husband gave their daughter instructions again. This time, it was how to head safely through the park and avoid dangerous areas.

Along with which path to follow, Feinstein said they told their daughter how to respond to a park ranger if she is stopped. The situation isn’t ideal, but as working parents, without bussing to and from school, “we are just in a place where we have to teach her how to be more independent,” Feinstein said.

Rabbi Shimon Silver, who oversees the city’s eruv, said the bridge collapse is an opportunity to come together.

Every Shabbat, many Jewish people rely on the eruv — a wire and string-bound structure that creates an enclosure and permits people to carry items or push strollers on the Sabbath — and every week, the eruv needs to be checked, Silver said.

But as national investigators continue inspecting the site, Silver isn’t sure how he and others will access restricted areas to note potential damages to the eruv.

“We’ll just have to find out who we need to speak with,” he said.

Photo by Adam Reinherz

The bigger concern, Silver continued, is the small number of people who cover the $45,000 annual cost of keeping the eruv intact.

“There are about 55 people giving, and that’s not good,” Silver said.

“Everybody should be giving,” he continued. “As Jews, we support communal obligations. It’s an obligation.”

There’s something else that may be helpful to keep in mind, said Ava Velazquez, Linder’s 8-year-old daughter.

Last Friday morning, she was frightened when the man ran toward her mother’s car to tell them the bridge came down, she said.

“I didn’t know what was going on at first,” Ava said. “I kind of freaked out because he told us that the bridge collapsed, and I haven’t really been in a situation like that before.”

But time has offered some perspective, the third-grader continued.

People should know that “when anything hard happens, it’s gonna be OK. You just have to get through it,” she said. PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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