Fun with Highways: Pittsburgh

With Pittsburgh in the news, perhaps for all the wrong reasons, we thought we would have a little fun exploring what the city has to offer.

The city is located at the convergence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, which merge to form the mighty Ohio River. This was a fact we learned young with the frequent appearances of Three Rivers Stadium on TV and the subsequent challenges to name the three rivers. For whatever reason, Allegheny was the hardest to remember.

The downtown is wedged between the two upper rivers and enveloped by a network of highways including I-279, I-376, I-579 and PA 28. In this early-morning photo, we are looking across the Monongahela River, with I-376 along the shore and the skyscrapers of downtown behind it. As a city of rivers, it also becomes a city of bridges.


[By Dllu (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons[]

The Pittsburgh of 2017 (even the Pittsburgh of 1997) is far distant from its industrial past as a center of steel, coal and many other manufactured materials. This history does live on in many circa-1900 houses and buildings, and the ubiquitous presence of Andrew Carnegie. Perhaps the most significant of his legacies to the city is Carnegie Mellon University. It has one of the top Computer Science departments, and one of the first Robotics departments. But the university is also a leader in combining science and art. They recently became the one of the first universities to offer an integrated practice in robots and performing arts; and I have collaborated with professors and students in computer music, including Roger Dannenburg, whose work on managing time in computer-music systems influenced my own research on the topic. CMU is located far to the east of downtown.

Among the sons of Pittsburgh is Andy Warhol, love him or hate him, he was a major influence on American art in the late 20th century. The Andy Warhol Museum sits on the north shore of the Allegheny, not far from I-279 and PA 28.


[By Jared and Corin [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons[]

There is even an Andy Warhol Bridge!

Like my home cities of San Francisco and New York, many of the city streets in hilly Pittsburg are actually staircases, which sound like a lot of fun to explore. One can take official walking tours, or simply wander (as I often prefer myself).


[By PJ Rey (Pittsburgh Stairs) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

We would be remiss if we did not also give a shout-out to our friends at Pittsburgh Modular Synthesizers. We have several of their modules, which feature a classic mid-century design aesthetic. (They also include space-themed cards and tchotchkes in each box.) You can read our many posts featuring Pittsburgh Modular synths, sometimes with cats.

With these characteristics of a truly modern city, it’s not surprising the the mayor, Bill Peduto pushed back on the use of Pittsburgh as a prop for President’s disastrous decision. As he states in this quote [1]:

“Couldn’t have picked a worst city,” he said flatly. “I was in Paris with 500 mayors around the world. It wasn’t only heavy on fossil fuels but it went through a depression where our unemployment was greater than the Great Depression.’ It was only when we started to look to the future we started to have an economy going up. Today, we’re back on a global stage, not through our old economy, through robotics and artificial intelligence and if it weren’t for that position Pittsburgh would never have been able to get back up.”

We at CatSynth hope to visit the city sometime soon.

See more of Pittsburgh and many other fine cities in our Highway☆ app, available on the Apple App Store.

Highway☆ Released on the App Store!

Highway☆

We at CatSynth are excited to announce the release of our newest app Highway☆ for iPhone and iPad, available on the App Store!

This app comes out of long-term interest in highways and road travel, something we explore periodically on this site. It’s a sort of “Pokemon Go” for travelers and road geeks, where you can discovery and collect highways as you travel.

Highway☆ iPhone screenshot

It also has features for exploring new places on your device, and finding more information about the roads. You can also connect with other users and compete for the top scores.

It is completely free, so please download and have fun, especially if you are planning to hit the road this summer. And please let us know what you think or if you have ideas for new features 😺

And we are currently busy at work on an Android version, which we hope to share soon.

California Highways 47 and 103, and the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach

At the southern edge of Los Angeles County lies the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the two largest and busiest in the United States. They are in some ways an entire separate city, with their own network of bridges and freeways beyond the regular network of Los Angeles and its environs.

California 103We begin our exploration in a quiet and somewhat industrial section of Long Beach along Willow Road. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, we encounter the northern California Highway 103, the Terminal Island Freeway which is a major truck route to the port. It might be the heavy truck traffic that accounts for its being in rather poor shape.

CA 103 Northern Terminus

CA_47Heading south on CA 103, we pass through a flat, industrial landscape. It is a bit desolate, but beautiful in its way. There are only two interchanges, one of which is with CA 1. Continuing past the interchanges, the freeway transitions to California Highway 47 and crosses the Cerritos Channel to Terminal Island the ports on the Commodore Schuyler F. Heim Bridge. This is a massive lift bridge that can accommodate large ships accessing the port.

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It has an old industrial and dystopian feel to its architecture, particularly on the foggy morning when I visited. Since then, the bridge has been decommissioned and is in the process of being replaced.

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I left the freeway at New Dock Street to get a closer look and to take more photos of the bridge and other details of the ports. Photographing around the working port has its challenges with a great many areas fenced off, and a no doubt a heightened suspicion of odd people wandering around with cameras. I did get a few, some of which are shared here. They have also appeared in Wordless Wednesday posts (and will continue to do so).

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CA 47 turns onto the Seaside Freeway runs east-west and bisects Terminal Island. Heading east, the freeway (also known as Ocean Boulevard) the graceful Gerald Desmond Bridge, becoming I-710 heading north through Long Beach.

Gerald Desmond Bridge

You can read about our separate adventure along I-710 is this article.

Following CA 47 west along the freeway, one winds up and down between elevated and surface sections before ascending to the photogenic Vincent Thomas Bridge.

Vincent Thomas Bridge

Vincent Thomas Bridge

There is a small park on the west side of the bridge, which affords one a change to get out, walk, and view both the bridge and the channel. There are families and others here, many probably from the adjacent community of San Pedro. We have in an instant left the industrial landscape of the port and entered the residential landscape of greater Los Angeles. It is appropriate the CA 47 ends here and the freeway turns north as I-110, the Harbor Freeway. But that is a story for another time.

Weekend Cat Blogging with Luna: Fun with Highway Signs

My eccentric long-standing fascination with numbered highways has long been reflected on this site. Here we see Luna contemplating a couple of our most recent sign acquisitions.

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So what exactly do we do with these? Well, besides just the human tendency to collect things of interest, I have used signs in artwork, photography, video and I am now expanding into more modes of live performance. Mostly, dealers advertise these as “perfect for your man cave”, something which does not interest us at CatSynth in any way. For Luna, they are just more strange objects that pass through her territory. And great neck scratchers.

Fun with Highways: California Highway 41

A few years ago, I acquired several highway shields to use in photography, including one for California Highway 41. It was particularly good for photos like that one shown above. But I only knew small bits of the road itself. So when a certain birthday came to pass recently, I decided it was time to travel Highway 41 in its entirety.

Highway 41 begins in Morro Bay at an interchange with Highway 1. Morro Bay is a cute seaside town, and is distinctive for its large volcanic rock along the ocean.

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The highway heads northeast through a relatively gentle section of the coast range and crosses US 101 in the town of Atascadero. It then climbs into the hills as a narrow two lane highway. Along the way it passes the many bucolic scenes of farms and ranches. As it climbs the hills, the trees disappear but the landscape remains quite green.

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A little further north, Highway 41 joins Highway 46, a major east-west connector, and runs concurrently for a while. The change in traffic and speed was unmistakable.

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As one heads east, the land becomes a drier and more sparse. 41 splits from 46 and heads north on its own. After coming over a ridge, the highway descends into a rather arid valley, quite different from the coast and the verdant hills further south.

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We cross Highway 33 at a rather unassuming junction. There was an interesting looking roadhouse there, and I wish I had the courage to stop and try it. But I did press on across another, even more arid ridge to a junction with I-5 near Kettleman City. Kettleman City, which is not really a city or even an incorporated town, is probably the single sketchiest location along the entire route. I had been here before and taken a few photos. One of my favorite sites is still “alive and well.”

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Continuing north, we move to the interior of the Central Valley at the edge of the former Lake Tulare, once the second largest freshwater lake entirely within the United States. It has since completely dried up, leaving a very flat landscape of farms. Many fields appeared to be fallow, perhaps due to the drought. It is a beautifully bleak landscape.

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Just west of the town of Hanford, Highway 41 crosses CA 198, another major east-west highway. 198 is a freeway here, something I was not aware of. 41 itself becomes a four-lane expressway north of the interchange, and increasingly busy as we head north towards Fresno. As we pass the city boundary, it becomes a full freeway. It traverses the area south of downtown as an elevated viaduct, where it crosses Highway 99 and provides access to both downtown and nearby industrial neighborhoods.

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I stopped here to do some photographs, one of which already appeared in an earlier Wordless Wednesday. Here are some more.

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Heading north out of Fresno, 41 becomes the Yosemite Freeway, as it heads north towards the park.

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The freeway narrows and then becomes a surface road as it approaches the foothills of the Sierra. The road climbs steeply into the hills and then descends equally steeply into the town of Oakhurst. The road narrows and climbs again into more mountainous wooded terrain.

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We find the signed END of Highway 41 as we approach the southern border of Yosemite National Park.

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But this is not the end the real end. The legal definition of Highway 41 continues into the park, although it is not signed as such. It goes through a tunnel the exit of which provides spectacular views of the Yosemite Valley.

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Ultimately Highway 41 ends at a junction with (also unsigned) Highway 140 as it enters the valley.

This was an interesting road to complete beyond its numerical value in that it crossed through so many terrains and parts of the state. And a worthwhile and unique trip.

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Fun with Highways: Spaghetti Bowl (Las Vegas)

We’ve had the Mixing Bowl (DC), the Orange Crush, the Can of Worms, so why not the Spaghetti Bowl?

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US_95I-515_(NV)The interchange connects I-15, one the major north-south highways in the western U.S., with US 93US 95 and I-515, which head eastward into downtown Las Vegas.  It was reconstructed in the late 1990s into the version we see in the above photo.

I have actually not spent much time in Las Vegas, and none of that time was on a highway in in a car.  Indeed, I had a miserable experience about 12 years along the strip (South Las Vegas Boulevard).  While I won’t get into the details of that trip, it did prevent me from exploring more of the actual city and what it has to offer.  I would be willing to give it another chance, especially if I could also explore out into the desert.

Fun with Highways: Southern Bronx River Parkway

There is a mixture of stress, melancholy and chill in the air. So it seems like a good time for another fun with highways. Today we look at the southern extension of the Bronx River Parkway. It veers away from the verdant parkland along the river that contains the Bronx Zoo into a dense section of the central and south Bronx, crossing both the Cross Bronx (I-95) and Bruckner (I-278) Expressways before ending at an odd ramp onto Story Avenue in the Soundview neighborhood.

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It was built in 1950s, long after the northern more park-like sections of the parkway were built. It does have a small strip of parkland to either side for most of the length, but with the surrounding neighborhood quite visible, include the commercial strip along Westchester Avenue and the elevated tracks for the 6 subway line. Indeed, the parkway is visible from the platform at the Morrison-Soundview station over Westchester Avenue.

Morrison–Sound_View_Avenues_(IRT_Pelham_Line)_by_David_Shankbone
[By David Shankbone (attribution required) (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

The southern terminus is a bit unusual, with ramps south of Bruckner Expressway to Story Avenue through bare parkland. It looks as if something more ambitious was planned here.

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The Soundview neighborhood has a lot of the large brick apartment buildings found in other parts of the Bronx. These ones look to date back to the 1940s, though I can’t say for certain.

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[Photo by Wikiki718 on Wikimedia Commons.]

The deep sunset light off the buildings is something sees quite often in the city in the late autumn and winter and the days shrink. I find the image fits my mood at this moment.

Fun with Highways: Northern California along I-5

As summer winds down, we start to look back the many little road adventures that dotted the season. The largest and last of these trips, of course, was to Portland, which included a large stretch of northern California.

We begin on I-505, which heads north from I-80, bypassing Sacramento.

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I-505 is a completely straight, flat, stretch of highway. This is pretty much true of the surrounding landscape as well, but the texture and details against this blank canvas can make for some interesting photos.

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I-505 merges into I-5, which continues northward through more of the relatively flat landscape, repeatedly crossing the Sacramento River in the process. Eventually we come to the city of Redding at the northern end of the Sacramento Valley. On my return trip from Portland, I finally had a chance to stop in Redding and visit the Sundial Bridge. This modernist architectural gem spans a wooded section of the Sacramento River completely, a world apart from the town of Redding itself or the strip malls and shopping centers that line the highways. Here, clean modern lines contrast with the natural forms of trees and running water.

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The Sundial Bridge turned out to be a great subject for abstract photography (you can see another shot in an earlier Wordless Wednesday). It was also quite crowded with families and groups, something to keep in mind should I ever want to use it as a setting for a more formal photo shoot.

North of Redding, I-5 climbs into the southern Cascades towards Mount Shasta. The highway here is quite scenic, but also narrow, winding, and treacherous. Eventually it opens up as one passes Mount Shasta and approaches Black Butte.

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Black Butte is a satellite cone of Mount Shasta. It has a distinctive pointy shape and largely barren rocky texture, both of which make it quite prominent in the landscape. The highway curves around its edge, providing a close-up view.

Historic_US_99CA_265US_97_CAAfter passing Mount Shasta and Black Butte, I-5 descends into a wide valley, passing by the town of Weed, whose welcome sign is a popular backdrop for photographs. This is the start of US 97, which heads northeast towards Klamath Falls and central Oregon as I-5 continues due north through the Cascades towards Portland. The main street in Weed is also Historic US 99. The part of the historic route which returns to I-5 is now California Highway 265, one of the shortest in the system.

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From here, the valley descends and opens further, and the landscape becomes surprisingly desert-like. We pass the town of Yreka, where I did not get a chance to stop, but might on a future trip because of some idiosyncratic road-geek things. Finally, the highway climbs upwards again towards Siskiyou Summit, just north of the Oregon-California border and the highest point on all of I-5 at 4,310 feet (1,310 meters).