How an app is helping Pgh residents avoid dodgy infrastructure

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By Amanda Waltz

PITTSBURGH— Increased attention was paid to Pittsburgh’s infrastructure after the collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge in 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-created app called Bad Bridges has just debuted to help with that and give anxious commuters some peace of mind.

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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 applications that do just about anything 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.”

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 this will help personalize some of our infrastructure issues for people,” Sinclair said. “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.”

The Bad Bridges app (Pittsburgh City Paper screenshot).

Sinclair admitted 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, especially around the city center.
“I have a technical background, although I don’t really have much experience building websites, so it took a while to set it up,” Sinclair said. “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 said. 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.

“It’s really hard for me to think about all these huge issues and put them into context on an individual level,” Sinclair continued. “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.

Amanda Waltz is managing editor of the Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared.

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