90.5 WESA's 'Good Question' Series

90.5 WESA's Good Question! series is an experiment where you bring us questions—and we go out to investigate and find answers.

So: What have you always wondered about Pittsburgh? Are you curious how your neighborhood originally received its name? Or maybe why the Mon and Allegheny Rivers are different colors when they merge at the Point? Or maybe you've always wanted to know what happened to all of our street cars and inclines? From serious to silly, we're here to help.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

A weathered stone structure sits quietly on the corner of Fifth and Bellefield avenues in Oakland as students, cars and buses hurry past. Six sandstone steps guide visitors to a big red door framed by black wrought iron fasteners.

Courtesy of Mitch Dakelman

The Pennsylvania Turnpike: the concrete connector of the commonwealth and America’s first superhighway. The roadway was once called the “World’s Greatest Highway” and helped lay the foundation for what would become the federal interstate highway system.

Charles "Teenie" Harris / Carnegie Museum of Art/Teenie Harris Photographs

Many of the country’s most prolific piano players got their start in Pittsburgh. The city has long cultivated a deep bench of musical talent from jazz greats to classical performers.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA


Four bronze panther monuments keep watch over the Panther Hollow Bridge in Oakland. Weathered over a century, the statutes appear to stalk passersby. 

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA


Fundraising is essential to nonprofits, and many organizations don’t just accept cash donations anymore. Public radio listeners may recognize the messages that describe how to donate old cars, RVs and other vehicles.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Along Fifth Avenue where Pittsburgh’s Oakland and Hill District neighborhoods meet, sit the remnants of concrete foundations and staircases. Trees and wildflowers wrap around broken brick walls and peak through crumbling retaining structures all the way up the hillside.

From Saw Mill Run to Nelson Run to Glass Run, there are about 80 roads in Allegheny County that include the word “run” in their names. No one sprints down these streets, but the word is ubiquitous in the region.

Kathleen J. Davis / 90.5 WESA

Atop Mount Washington, in the sprawling Chatham Village community, is a large brick home with large windows and spacious balconies. Chatham Village resident, architect and amateur historian David Vater said it used to be known as the Bigham House, and was the residence of abolishionist lawyer Thomas Bigham. It was also a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

This month, most of the Pittsburgh’s iconic water features gushed to life for the first time this year. Fountain designs range from ornate Renaissance-style to modern, marble staircases. They greet park visitors and provide moments of tranquility among downtown skyscrapers.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Riders on Pittsburgh’s Light Rail T system at Steel Plaza station may have noticed four tracks: one goes inbound, one goes outbound and two veer off to the east. But signs for the two east-bound tracks have been covered or removed and trains don't use them.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA


On a sunny spring day, a helicopter takes off from UPMC Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh’s Uptown neighborhood. The whir of the blades echoes across the nearby Monongahela River as the aircraft makes it way into the sky.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Kennywood Park is a staple for many Pittsburghers. The amusement park isn’t the largest and doesn’t have the fastest rides, but visitors return each season for a taste of nostalgia and the classic, rickety wooden roller coasters.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

 

On a recent Friday, Ross Mantle searched for the right angle to photograph a landslide site in Millvale. He adjusted the settings on his camera like a photographer from an old movie: his head under a sheet as he prepared his shot. Overhead, the sky was completely gray.  

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Visitors to the Historical Society of Carnegie typically come for two reasons: they love former Pittsburgh Pirates great Honus Wagner or they have a connection to the small, southwestern Pennsylvania borough. 

Allegheny Conference on Community Development Photographs / Detre Library & Archives at the History Center

A harsh winter with nearly 63 inches of snow, a sudden spring thaw and little to no water regulation combined to cause the worst flooding in Pittsburgh history: the St. Patrick’s Day flood of 1936.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Allegheny River Boulevard hugs the southern bank of its namesake waterway, carrying travelers between Pittsburgh’s Highland Park neighborhood to the borough of Oakmont. But the road includes distinct architectural features that make it different from others.

Allyson Ruggieri / WESA

Pittsburgh is known for its historically ethnic neighborhoods – such as the Italians of Bloomfield, or the Polish of Polish Hill, but one area of downtown has an ethnic history that is less apparent.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

When it comes to pizza, everyone knows Chicago has deep dish and New York has a thin, foldable crust.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

The Monongahela and Allegheny rivers are a lot like twins.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Near downtown Pittsburgh, along the 10th Street Bypass and Allegheny riverfront trail, large metal rings that look like giant doorknockers are fixed to retaining walls. They’re rusty and discolored after decades of enduring the city’s weather.

Hilltop Alliance/Allentown CDC

From tinsel-covered telephone poles to strings of lights, decorations are an essential part of the holidays in many Pittsburgh neighborhoods. But these trees and ornaments don’t just appear; they’re curated and hung by groups of dedicated residents and local business owners.

Sabrina Bodon / 90.5 WESA

Ohio, Aliquippa, Youghiogheny, are all Native American names. Their use in this region is emblematic of how profoundly the area was shaped by tribal communities.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Everyone’s heard the siren of a fire truck as it zooms down the street. But the sounds associated with fire alerts have changed over time. All around the Pittsburgh region, fire stations alert volunteers and the public in distinct ways.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

The Carnegie Museum of Natural History is expansive — a person could spend hours walking the different exhibitions. But what's on display is only a small portion of what's in the museum's possession.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh was one of the first cities in the U.S. to experiment with the concept of a dedicated bus rapid transit system. Today, Pittsburgh’s three busways cover nearly 20 miles and help remove thousands of cars from the city’s congested highways.

Margaret Sun / 90.5 WESA

Infrastructure is more than roads, bridges and water lines. 

Pittsburgh City Photographer / University of Pittsburgh

Some people find billboards disruptive and unattractive. They cover up scenery and distract drivers. But billboards are one of the oldest forms of advertising and are still a popular way for companies to get their message across.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

When Ben Avon resident Deb Sadowski walks around her neighborhood she begins on Center Avenue, but after a few miles following the same sidewalk, the street signs change.

Keith Srakocic / AP

The skies above Pittsburgh are getting darker, and it’s not because of stormy weather. Look up around dusk this fall and you may see flocks of black birds, preparing for their annual trip south through Pittsburgh.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA


The 40th Street Bridge connecting Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood with the borough of Millvale is unlike the rest of the city’s more than 460 bridges.

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