The young mothers in the picture above planted themselves and their children across the new Rankin Bridge in 1951 to protest its lack of sidewalks.
“No sidewalk, no traffic,” was their demand.
The new $8 million George Rankin Jr. Bridge was slated to open at noon Monday April 30, 1951. It had, as the women noted, no sidewalks. At that time, a typical family might have one car, which the husband would drive to work, leaving women and children to walk to their destinations.
“We’ve been eating dust and living in mud for two years. We want sidewalks before the bridge is opened,” said Mrs. George Cutnell, whose children were 12, 10 and 5.
Irate mothers from the Whitaker side of the bridge decided it would not open without sidewalks. They brought chairs and benches from home, put them across the bridge and sat in them, forming a human barricade across the span.
“We don’t want our kids to get killed,” one woman told The Pittsburgh Press.
County officials were loath to arrest the matrons, and the contractor said, “We won’t railroad traffic through these people.” So Allegheny County officials called off their gala celebration.
That afternoon, the county had railroad ties laid across the bridge as makeshift footpaths. The assistant chief engineer of the county’s Works Department came to the scene, and Fred Wilding’s home at 1328 River Road became a spur-of-the-moment negotiation spot. After some haggling with Whitaker residents, county officials said the bridge would open in 10 days and in the interim, sidewalks would be installed.
The bridge was rescheduled to open May 21. While no press accounts marked the event, Whitaker and Rankin residents got their sidewalks. By the 2000s, the sidewalks had fallen into disrepair. The entire bridge and its sidewalks were rehabilitated in a $47.8 million project that ended in 2011.
— Laura Malt Schneiderman and Marylynne Pitz