Rarely do my love of pickles and mild claustrophobia merge as they did over the weekend, standing on the Roberto Clemente Bridge with thousands of strangers, all of us consuming copious and likely medically inadvisable amounts of brined vegetables.
But the fourth annual Picklesburgh festival was a big draw again this year, with record-breaking attendance that led the crowding conscious among us to muse: Is this venue big enough?
According to organizers, the answer is “no.”
Leigh Ann White, vice president of marketing and communications with the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, the producing group responsible for Pittsburgh’s annual bout of bridge-top pickle-mania, said while there’s no exact attendance figure available at this time, in years past they’ve estimated 75,000 visitors over two days.
“This year,” White added, “Saturday was far and away busier than we have ever seen, and Sunday’s crowds (although for a shorter time period) were as big as Saturday.” The festival wrapped by 6 p.m. Sunday.
There were also more vendors this year.
“We had 41 vendors this year. In past years, it was about 35,” White explained.
In addition, White said more people are traveling to the event from out of town and coming to Pittsburgh specifically for Picklesburgh.
It’s clear to organizers that the festival has indeed outgrown the bridge, a defining feature that they’d like to continue to incorporate but which may not be able to contain the entirety of the party from here on out.
“We are very aware that we have outgrown the Clemente Bridge,” White said. “We have already had good conversations with county and city officials, vendors, and festival attendees about the festival footprint. We are absolutely aware that the festival footprint must expand to accommodate everyone. We are committed to the Clemente Bridge remaining a vital piece of the festival but have many ideas as to how and where we can expand to alleviate congestion.”
White added, “As the festival is only in its fourth year, we continue to learn and seek to make improvements so that it is enjoyable for all. The attendance at the festival continues to defy our expectations.”
Changes were already made this year to help with traffic flow, with organizers adding stanchions and making sure queues snake to save space. Additionally, the stage was moved further from the bridge and closer to PNC Park to accommodate more booths and vendors.
If you were there, you certainly noticed the snaking vendor lines and the sea of humanity visible in the distance long before you became a part of it.
You may have also wondered whether putting all those people and equipment on a bridge is safe.
The organizers assure us it is.
“The total weight capacity for pedestrians on the bridge is 3,625,760 pounds,” county spokesperson Brent Wasko said. White said the Downtown Partnership “paid for an engineering study prior to the first Picklesburgh in order to understand these issues” and was given the all clear.
White said there have been other festivals and events held on bridges in the past, including the Duck Party for the International Festival of Firsts.
“I believe the regatta held festival activities on the bridge in the past, and until recently there was a stage and vendors on the bridge during Light Up Night,” she added. “I think there has even been a boxing event on one of the bridges in the past.”
But Picklesburgh is definitely the best-known and most popular bridgetop bacchanal going. It’s just that it’s growing too fast to remain solely a bridgetop festival forever.