Increased attention was paid to Pittsburgh’s infrastructure following the collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge at Frick Park. But given that the city has 446 bridges (well, 445 now), it can be difficult for residents to track down data on which ones they cross the most. A new citizen-made app called Bad Bridges has just been created to help with this and give anxious commuters some peace of mind.
This week, software engineer Rainy Sinclair released the app, which they built on Glitch.com, a free tool they describe as allowing users to “very easily create web apps that do just about anything. what you want”. They launched the app on February 22 with a tweet that read, “Pittsburgh people! Have you recently started wondering how many structurally flawed bridges you cross on a regular basis? Well, I did something that can tell you.
Sinclair, whose past projects include a program to help them identify mushrooms and a “large interactive LED tree,” says Bad Bridges is their first attempt at creating something that “integrates civic data.”
People of Pittsburgh! Have you recently started wondering how many structurally flawed bridges you cross on a regular basis? Well I did something that can tell you: https://t.co/nbD9JKi67R
—Rainy Sinclair (@ohheyitsrainy) February 22, 2022
Sinclair says they pulled the list of all bridges in Pennsylvania from PennDOT’s open data website, then filtered it only for bridges in Allegheny County. Users can then enter their route into the app and view the number of bridges along the way. From here, users can scroll to a list citing each bridge, the year it was built, its current condition (ranging from bad to good) and its last inspection date, as well as the entity overseeing its construction. maintenance.
“I think hopefully that will help personalize some of our infrastructure issues for people,” Sinclair says. “It’s one thing to say, there are over 200 bridges in Allegheny County with a ‘poor’ rating, but I think that’s hard to fully comprehend on a personal level. On the other hand, it seems much more meaningful to say something like, “You regularly cross three shoddy bridges, and here’s where they are, and who’s responsible for their upkeep.”
Sinclair admits that while the system isn’t perfect, it “does its best to guess” which bridges users might encounter, but says it “might not be 100% accurate. That, they say, is mainly due to the fact that the bridges are so closely grouped together, especially around the city center.
“I have a technical background, although I don’t really have experience building websites, so it took a while to set it up,” says Sinclair. “That’s also why it doesn’t look super fancy and it’s kind of weird.”
Still, the site offers commuters spooked by the recent bridge collapse a useful tool to start with when trying to plan trips and wondering which bridges to avoid.
“For real, though, in terms of timing, I think the Fern Hollow Bridge collapse really put our infrastructure at the forefront of everyone’s mind, myself included,” Sinclair says. They cite how the bridge collapse adds to a number of other disruptive “infrastructure-related disasters” that have plagued Pittsburgh, including the Liberty Bridge fire, as well as sinkholes, power outages and other problems.
“All of these huge issues are really hard for me to think about and contextualize on an individual level,” Sinclair says. “Like, if everything breaks, then what specific broken things do I need to watch out for? Do I just have to be generally anxious all the time? So ultimately, I think doing the map was a way for me to connecting the “our bridges are breaking” issue to my life in a way that my brain could actually process.