Bigelow Boulevard in Pittsburgh

bigelow boulevard pittsburgh

Bigelow Boulevard in Pittsburgh

Bigelow Boulevard, a principal thoroughfare in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has a rich and notable history. Its creation and construction was driven by the vision of Edward Manning Bigelow, a significant urban planner of the city. This article explores the evolution of Bigelow Boulevard from its inception to its current state, detailing the landmark’s contribution to the city’s growth and development.


Bigelow Boulevard, initially known as Grant Boulevard, is a remarkable three and a half mile “rapid transit” roadway established within Bedford Hill. It was conceived by Edward Manning Bigelow in 1891, who was affectionately referred to as the “Father of Pittsburgh Parks”. Bigelow’s vision was to connect downtown Pittsburgh with Schenley Park in Oakland, acting as a testament to his urban planning legacy.

The Vision of Edward Manning Bigelow

Edward Manning Bigelow was appointed City Engineer in 1880, and in 1888 he became Director of Public Works. He held this position for three terms, concluding in 1906. During his tenure, Bigelow was responsible for significant improvements in the city’s urban boulevards, waterworks, and parks.

When Bigelow took office, the city had only one public park, a small block-long area along Second Avenue. Bigelow, however, had a grand vision. He wanted to establish large scenic parks near the city and make them accessible to everyday factory workers and their families, a privilege often reserved for the upper class. To realize this vision, he began acquiring land in various parts of the city for public park use. In 1889, these parcels became Schenley and Highland Parks.

The Construction of Bigelow Boulevard

In 1895, a city bond issue appropriated $500,000 for the construction of two boulevards. The construction of what was then known as Grant Boulevard began in 1897. It extended from Seventh Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh along a cut in the face of Bedford Hill eastward to Forbes Avenue in Oakland.

The project was massive for its time. Some of the roadway already existed and required improvements, while other sections demanded extensive effort. At the top of the rise, near the Seventeenth Street (Penn) Incline, the course of the boulevard ran along Crescent Street, then Arch Street to Polish Hill.

Construction of the roadway took nearly two years and was plagued with delays. Legal disputes over costs relating to persistent landslides and the increased cost of the resulting construction of retaining walls dragged on for months. Despite these challenges, the boulevard was completed and opened to traffic on March 31, 1901.

Impact and Renaming

Originally estimated to cost $1 million, the final bill was $1.5 million. Despite the cost overruns, the boulevard was a major success. It led to rapid development of the Schenley Farms area and eased access to the rural wonders of Oakland and Schenley Park. However, the traffic congestion soon became a problem due to the popularity of the new route.

The boulevard was initially known as Grant Boulevard. However, after the death of Edward Manning Bigelow in 1916, the roadway was renamed Bigelow Boulevard in his honor.

Challenges and Repairs

Bigelow Boulevard was not without its challenges. Repeated landslides caused problems for both vehicular traffic and the Pennsylvania Railroad line that ran along the base of Bedford Hill. In November 1920, a disastrous landslide prompted the city to initiate restoration efforts along the roadway. Retaining walls were built both above and below the boulevard.

bigelow boulevard pittsburgh

Recent Developments

In the late 20th century, Bigelow Boulevard saw further changes and developments. The construction of Crosstown Boulevard in the 1950s dramatically altered the downtown end of the boulevard. The bridge carrying Bigelow Boulevard over the expressway to Seventh Avenue was built in 1960. The remainder of the Crosstown bridges and ramps were completed in 1962.

Bigelow Boulevard Today

Today, over a century since it was first opened to traffic, Bigelow Boulevard remains one of the most traveled roads in the City of Pittsburgh. It provides commuters with easy access between the eastern communities and the city center, continuing to serve as a tribute to the vision of Edward Manning Bigelow.

Bigelow Boulevard’s rich history and significance to Pittsburgh is undeniable. From its inception by visionary city planner Edward Manning Bigelow to its present-day status, this principal thoroughfare has been a cornerstone of the city’s growth and development. Today, it continues to serve as a testament to Pittsburgh’s commitment to urban planning and the provision of accessible public spaces for all its residents.

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