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October 25, 2010

Touring Pittsburgh via Bike Trails

The perfect time for a downtown bike ride is during an out-of-town Steelers game. Enough people are watching the game to reduce traffic and any crowds, and there's plenty of open parking spots at the trailhead. Sunday afternoon the Parkway West was gridlocked so instead of riding the Montour Trail, I rode my bike on the city trail system and tried to map the various routes with my GPS.

I started at the south end of the Eliza Furnace Trail (aka the Jail Trail), riding north. There's a well-marked detour where the trail has been excavated at Bates Street. I took the Jail Trail past the Golden Triangle bike shop to the Smithfield Street bridge. Eventually there's going to be bike access down to the Mon Wharf trail and into Point State Park, but that's a next-year project so I ended up riding in a few blocks of street traffic to Point State Park.

From Point State Park you can ride over the Ft. Duquesne Bridge (excellent bike ramps) and join the North Shore Trail eastbound along the Allegheny River. That leads you to the recently opened replacement trail on concrete piers over the river (photo below), and then to the Millvale Trail.

On the way back, you can take a spur onto the Washington's Landing Trail, which is very nice but maybe a bit overgrown - it's a pretty narrow trail with reduced sight lines.

Back along the Allegheny River to the stadiums and then north along the Ohio River via the Chateau Trail. This was my first ride along the Chateau Trail, running from the Casino to the Penitentiary. It's a very nice trail, there's both green sections and industrial sections, and the Penitentiary with its concertina wire is an impressive sight. The trail ends just short of the McKees Rocks Bridge.

South to the stadiums again, and then my favorite bike-mile in downtown Pittsburgh: across the Ft. Duquesne bridge, a brief touch down in Point State Park, and then across the Ft. Pitt bridge to the west bank of the Monongahela. It's an incredible bit of bike infrastructure, you go from the North Side to Downtown to Station Square in a matter of minutes.

Then it's the Station Square Trail, to the South Side Trail. This is as nice a trail segment as you'll find anywhere. It does seem like the trail isn't clearly marked between REI and the Hot Metal Bridge, resulting in people riding their bikes on the sidewalk in front of American Eagle's corporate buildings, to their corporate chagrin. The sidewalk has signs "sidewalk closed to bicycles" and "use the tunnel park", but it's not obvious what the Tunnel Park is. Instead of telling people don't ride here, I think it would be more effective if they told people "you should ride over there", and mark the bike lane so clearly that any Yinzer Yahoo could identify it.

Tunnel Park is the green median strip shown in the photo below. It's called Tunnel Park because there's a railroad tunnel underneath the grass, but I don't know how a transient bicyclist could possibly know that. It's completely unmarked.

Next year (2011) the railroad is going to dig up Tunnel Park in order to raise the roof of the underground tunnel by 18 inches, permitting the track to carry double-height train cars. By 2015 the Panama Canal is going to be widened to accommodate bigger ships, and the double-height trains are intended to carry the anticipated increase in freight.

Continued south on the South Side Trail to the Baldwin Borough Trail, which terminates just short of the Glenwood Bridge. This week's announcement of an agreement with Sandcastle and the railroad means that on 11/11/11 (so they say) the Steel Valley Trail will extend further south to Duquesne, and then all the way to DC.

Back north to the Hot Metal Bridge, cross the Monongahela, right turn on the Jail Trail to the trailhead, and then around the corner on Swinburne Street to the Panther Hollow Trail. (The image on the right shows the transition.) I've never been on the Panther Hollow trail in daylight before, and I was really impressed at how much green space there is so close to a congested urban area. Reverse course at the top, back to the trailhead.

Total distance is 32 miles, takes about two-and-a-half hours.

It's a world-class trail system, right here in Pittsburgh. The trails show a very different view of Pittsburgh than you'd usually see, and you see all sorts of 'Burghers out there - kids and students and seniors, runners and rollerbladers. It's really remarkable that people like Mayor Murphy and Linda Boxx were able to build these trails given the hodgepodge of municipalities, the Yinzer resistance to change, and the nature of long-term projects.

If you'd like a really great map of the downtown trail system, email Friends of the Riverfront at and they'll snail-mail you a very nice dead-tree map.

Here's a GPS record of the ride made with a Garmin 76CSx.


kilwer said...

We asked a cop directing traffic at the Hot Metal Bridge where the Tunnel Park was and he had no idea. We rode on the unfriendly sidewalk instead.

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