Historic Pittsburgh Maps – Post 1

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Let’s talk about maps of Pittsburgh for a moment. I’ve been wanting to write a blog about the intersection of cartography and Pittsburgh for ages and consistently end up stuck. Why? There are so many cool historic maps of Pittsburgh. I start to research and get sucked into a cartographic whirlpool of topography and city planning. In an effort to synthesize a post I’ve decided to pick the most interesting find I came across today. Consider this a notice, there are many more maps to see in future posts. This one, however, taps into my personal interest of translating flat maps into something tactile and 3D in order to change perspective. I present the…

Profile Map of the Surface Street Car Tracks
of the Pittsburgh Railway Company
Accompanying the Report of Bion J. Arnold
on the Pittsburgh Traction Problem
to Hon. William A Magee Mayor of Pittsburgh

In 1910, the city of Pittsburgh was facing significant transportation challenges. Its population, already over 500,000, was growing rapidly, and the existing transportation infrastructure was struggling to keep up. To address these issues, the city commissioned a report on the transportation problem, which was submitted to the Honorable William A. Magee, mayor of Pittsburgh at the time.

The report identified several key issues with the city’s transportation system. These included the lack of coordination between different modes of transportation, inadequate streetcar service, and poorly maintained roadways. The report also noted that Pittsburgh’s steep hills and narrow streets presented unique challenges for transportation planning and design.

The map above, created to accompany the report, provides a unique perspective on Pittsburgh’s transportation network at this junction in history. The street railway system is presented with metal strips standing off the map, depicting the elevation each route faced as it traversed the exceptionally hilly terrain.

At the time streetcars were the primary mode of transportation in Pittsburgh, and this map provides a fascinating snapshot of the city’s transportation network at a time of great change. By 1910, the streetcar system had become an essential part of Pittsburgh’s infrastructure, connecting residents to their workplaces, schools, and other important destinations. However, the report sent to Magee noted that the existing streetcar system was inadequate, with outdated equipment and insufficient routes.

To address these challenges, the report recommended several solutions. It suggested the creation of a centralized transportation authority to coordinate the city’s different transportation modes, as well as the construction of new streetcar lines and the improvement of existing ones. The report also recommended the development of new roadways and the adoption of traffic regulations to improve safety and efficiency.

One of the most interesting aspects of the report is its emphasis on the importance of public transportation. In the early 20th century, the automobile was beginning to emerge as a dominant mode of transportation, but the report argued that public transportation was essential to the city’s continued growth and prosperity. The report noted that public transportation was the only practical means of moving large numbers of people efficiently and suggested that it was the responsibility of the city government to ensure that public transportation was safe, efficient, and accessible.

It’s almost hard to believe how many of these issues seem to have persisted and grown over the past century. Driving over streets with remnants of street car tracks makes me think of an idealized time when there were more public transit options and the city wasn’t so car centric. It just goes to show that from the beginning residents, planners, and officials have had to face challenges created by the area’s unique topography – including the many hills and rivers. Will we ever get an elegant mass transit system here? It’s impossible to predict the future, but this 1910 report and today’s conditions leave a lot to be desired. Either way, hats off to the cartographers who put together the profile map of the surface street car tracks of the Pittsburgh Railway Company.

More to explore

Featured Map: Big Moose Lake

Big Moose Lake is at the head of the Moose River, about five miles north of Old Forge and Fourth Lake in the Adirondacks. While undoubtedly being a popular tourist destination, the lakeshore is known for being less developed than others in the area. – Learn about Palisade Architecture, Fishing and Lake Acidification, and The Murder and Haunting.

Featured Map: Fulton Chain of Lakes

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