Impending track closure near Panther Hollow Lake

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lenticular truss
Member
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On my way in this morning, another cyclist (on a sweet Velo Orange build) and I passed a CSX worker standing by the train tracks that are frequently used by cyclists, joggers, etc. to cross from Panther Hollow over to the Junction Hollow Trail, the run, etc. The CSX worker was counting cyclists. The good news is he had apparently counted 30 or so! The bad news is he was doing it in order to report back to CSX legal for justification for putting up a big fence that would prevent crossing the tracks in the future.

Interestingly, while it’s not official or anything, google maps will even route you over this crossing. Still, it seems like CSX is intent on doing something to close this crossing permanently, in the near future.

Anyway, we can always dream of some kind of overpass or tunnel being built here, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.


J Z
Participant
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Oh man, that would seriously suck.


jonawebb
Participant
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Yeah, if they’re serious about doing something about it I think the days of that shortcut are limited. They have the right to build a fence, and the obligation to keep people off the tracks. And an overpass would be seriously expensive.


byogman
Member
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I crossed that this morning, too. Yes, it would seriously suck to loose that connection.


Benzo
Participant
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Why can’t an at-grade crossing be installed? Possiby with chicanes to slow cyclist traffic.

I’ve seen this in philly, see example here: http://www.americantrails.org/photoGalleries/cool/42-trail-crossing-railroad-grade.html

Great examples of solutions from the federal railroad administration here as well:
https://www.fra.dot.gov/eLib/Details/L02732


abf
Member
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It is on the city’s MovePGH map to build a tunnel — see this. (That map also has other interesting things, for example an alternative route to the jail-trail circuitous entrance when coming from Junction Hollow.) Since it is already in the city’s potential plan, perhaps they can be convinced to raise the priority.

There is an alternative to this shortcut (see this) which connects Boundary Street in Four Mile Run (right before where Junction Hollow Trail starts) to the Bridle Trail of Schenley. It is a tiny, narrow, and very steep path, which is extremely difficult to ride a bike up (making it easier to walk bikes through instead), and with all the rain this summer, it is now extremely overgrown, so much so that the entrance off Boundary is all but invisible if you do not know that it’s there. Unless you don’t mind cutting through brush, this is not a practical path, at least not in its present condition. Perhaps, though, this path (or a similar alignment) could be made into a proper, rideable trail if need be, as a backup option while/if the tunnel is not made.

Whatever the case is, some improvements to the route here would go a long way in making this a more pleasant corridor.


Benzo
Participant
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Alternatively, could a trail be developed on Schenly Park property adjacent to the rail corridor that connects to boundry st right before the railroad bridge over boundry st ?

I know there is an overgrown trail that connects from the bridle trail down to that side of the rail bridge but that’s not friendly for runners and cyclists.

Could a relatively flat trail (possibly with a couple switchbacks on the boundry st side) be developed to connect to the lake?


abf
Member
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By the way, these tracks seem to have been getting a lot busier lately, with long trains coming by; maybe this is a reason why CSX are doing this now?


Benzo
Participant
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@abf – I guess you beat me to my comment about the trails.

There is no way I would advocate sending most people up that trail to boundry. It was a bit sketchy coming down on a mountain bike and definitely a bit overgrown. We need something like the big wide flat machine made trails through the park, not a steep windy footpath.


Benzo
Participant
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Though, the advantage of the crossing by the lake is that it gives people south/central oakland better access to the lake via joncaire st.


jonawebb
Participant
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From the CSX site:
“The railroad, in its commitment to employee and public safety, is firmly opposed to the establishment of any grade crossing. Both federal and state government policies discourage the creation of new grade crossings. In seeking to carry out this policy, both the U.S. Department of Transportation and state agencies have adopted programs to eliminate grade crossings by constructing bridges or by diverting traffic to existing overhead, subgrade or at-grade crossings. CSX fully supports these policies and programs. We strongly urge you to find an alternate means of access – examine the prospect of providing a bridge – instead of applying for a grade crossing.”

http://www.csx.com/index.cfm/customers/non-freight-services/propertyreal-estate/grade-crossing-policy/


abf
Member
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@benzo Definitely agree that trail path between Bridle and Boundary is 100% not fit for cyclists (besides for those on mountainy bikes, in the spring, when it is not so overgrown).

Also, the path at the tracks is a very nice route, especially connecting as it does to many already-existing, nice trails, which can be used to get over the Junction/Panther Hollow hillsides; therefore it would be wonderful if that route can be saved

And besides, there was no fence there in 1909, so presumably this route has been available for a while :-)


lenticular truss
Member
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Thanks for that info, abf. I’ve often looked at that overgrown trail from Boundary, but never ventured up.

What is the status of the MovePGH map? Is it a kind of wishlist/projects-for-if/when-we-can-get-money? I see that the proposed underpass has a “project ranking” of 2.

Interestingly, a little north there is a project with ranking 3, PB-156, that says “Switchback path connection through undeveloped land from Boundary to Schenley Drive.” I guess that would come up behind Phipps?


paulheckbert
Moderator
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Friends of the Riverfront is planning at least four grade crossings of railroad tracks between Millvale and Freeport, the last I heard, as part of the Erie to Pittsburgh bike trail. So I don’t think we should let CSX intimidate us into not asking for one here, where there is an obvious need.

Southside has numerous grade crossings, and those rails see much more frequent and faster trains than Junction Hollow.

The counting that @lenticular observed near Panther Hollow Lake would probably show that there are more people crossing east-west over that point, as cyclists and pedestrians, than traveling north-south over that point as rail passengers or workers. But I’m not sure that justifies shutting down the rail line :-)


jonawebb
Participant
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Paul, is FOTR planning new grade crossings, or using existing ones? My understanding from the website is that CSX is not allowing any new grade crossings. Of course, existing ones, like the ones on the Southside, are grandfathered in.


Mick
Participant
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It is a tiny, narrow, and very steep path, which is extremely difficult to ride a bike up (making it easier to walk bikes through instead), and with all the rain this summer, it is now extremely overgrown, so much so that the entrance off Boundary is all but invisible if you do not know that it’s there.

I used to go up and down teh trail walking my bike, but it’s become impassab;le for that ever.

Although I’ve been told it was never a viable trail, my suspeciaon is that the peopel with property near the bottom of the trail made a stink about it. For a while (late 1990’s), just about any resident could close city steps just by claiming they were unsafe, with no real examination of the safety issues – or lack thereof.

After my favorite steps, from Beechwood upt to Shaw accross from the “Beechwood Gates” entrance tto the park was closed, the owner confided to me and sig other the name of the council person to call with an “unsafe” claim to efficiently close it down. There was no way those steps were ever unsafe, the guy just wanted to claim it as his property. (I considered keeping some trail open – right through his garden.)

I suspect something similar happened to the Boundary Trail even though there were some problems with the design of that trail for sure.


paulheckbert
Moderator
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@mick: “just about any resident could close city steps just by claiming they were unsafe, with no real examination of the safety issues” – that’s awful. We have to put an end to that, if it’s still happening.

@jonawebb: I don’t know if they were to be new or existing grade crossings.


Marko82
Participant
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There is a spur of the Montour trail that takes you past that huge rail tanker yard near Hickory that has a brand new rail line beside it with a few NEW at-grade crossings. I believe the Allegheny trail up by oil city also has a new at-grade crossing as well. So it’s not necessarily an impossibility.

I believe @Iguana took pics of these when we were there last fall.


byogman
Member
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I plan on rolling back up the same way home. I’ll be there before almost all of the afternoon rush traffic, but ask whoever’s there if I can look at the counts it looked like were being made when I crossed. If anyone is going back there on the late side, your report would be especially interesting.

I mean, if, in spite of the nominal prohibition, the annoyance of a carry across the tracks, and the presence of an official (and presumably forbidding) vehicle on the tracks there are (wild guestimate) nearing 100 in a day, from a bike standpoint that’s not a trivial routing, especially with the greenfield bridge demolition coming up, which will very greatly increase its importance (especially since there’s no sign I can see at the moment that Panther Hollow Rd. going uphill will be anything other than the cluster^&* it is today when the bridge goes down (Speaking of which, can we pressure this any more? Anyone want to form in bike-pools to claim this road uphill and force the issue front and center?)).


abf
Member
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By the way, the Erie to Pittsburgh trail runs alongside the Conemaugh Line owned by Norfolk Southern, not by CSX, so maybe that explains the dichotomy. However, I would imagine that CSX would allow bicycle crossings faster than they would allow road crossings. Before trains get to a grade crossing (at least a road crossing, perhaps not for bike/ped ones though?), they must sound their horn 4 times, long, long, short, long (I’d imagine that perhaps they also must slow down too before some crossings?). So I would imagine that it is seen as extra hassle by the railroads, especially for more local trails like the Schenley one.


lenticular truss
Member
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In general, the freight trains that roll through here move fairly slowly, or at least slow/loud enough that you know when they’re coming. Once I did see an Amtrak train heading south, and it seemed to be moving considerably faster, like maybe 45 mph. I assume this was headed to DC? I don’t know the schedule, but for people who use this crossing, it’s something to keep in mind.


jonawebb
Participant
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FWIW Norfolk-Southern has similar language on its website. Not quite as definite as CSX’s, though:

“For employee and public safety, NS’ goal is to remove highway-rail grade crossings where practical. NS opposes establishing new crossings.

NS, U.S. DOT, and state agencies encourage parties to eliminate crossings by constructing bridges and by diverting traffic to existing overhead, subgrade, and at-grade crossings. Consider alternatives before submitting a private road crossing application.”

http://www.nscorp.com/content/nscorp/en/real-estate/norfolk-southern-services/private-crossings.html


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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I have never heard of a train hitting a cyclist porting a bike over the tracks. Collisions with cars and trucks at crossings, though, number in dozens a day nationwide, and it is that which is prompting the call not to allow any new grade crossings.


byogman
Member
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People in cars don’t pay attention to their surroundings as much and stubbornly try to drive out until it’s too late. It’s much easier not to get into trouble if you’re not in a box (physical and metaphorical) and it’s much easier to get away if you’re not so attached to your vehicle (also in a both physical and metaphorical sense).


paulheckbert
Moderator
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I believe the only Amtrak trains on that track are two per day: the morning train from Pittsburgh to DC and the late evening train from DC to Pittsburgh. The other train traffic is mostly Allegheny Valley Railroad (AVR).


gg
Member
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Wow, I go over that every week. Was just there today! That would suck big time to the point that… well whatever, I am not posting more. F them!


jonawebb
Participant
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Look, arguing about whether it’s needed is fine, but if a grade-level crossing is going to happen, somebody’s going to have to get on the stick. Find out who owns the land adjacent to the crossing, get them on board with a crossing, get them to file the application and negotiate with CSX for it, etc. Otherwise, that fence is going up, whether it inconveniences us or not.


Marko82
Participant
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+1 Jon


gg
Member
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I think the land on both sides of the tracks is Schenley Park. That path across the tracks is used by a ton of people. Even people just walking to get to one place or the other. Not everyone has a car. I don’t think there is another easy route if they close that. No more Schenley Park rides from the South Side and joggers aren’t going to be able to take that great run down through there. It is a shame. Can they create a barricade and split the park in two that easily? I believe that soccer field is part of Schenley.


jonawebb
Participant
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Pittsburgh owns the land where the grade crossing would be.
(or look for parcel id 0028-S-00250-0000-00 on the Allegheny County real estate portal).
So, thinking about it, logical next steps would be to contact Kristin Saunders, Mayor Peduto, Corey O’Connor and Bruce Kraus (the grade-level crossing would connect Districts 3 and 5).


byogman
Member
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When I went back through yesterday afternoon maybe 3:30-4ish he wasn’t there so I don’t have any count info? Anyone have more luck?

In terms of who to bug in the city, Kristin Saunders? Peduto? Pittsburgh parks conservancy?

The last is where I’m starting (just general form at https://www.pittsburghparks.org/Contact-Us) because I have no personal connection with the former two, but if someone has their ear please speak up!


gg
Member
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I talked to someone at Schenley Park and he said he has heard about a fence being installed for years, but it has never been installed yet. He also said that when the Greenfield Bridge is gone the amount of traffic through there will quadruple. I know very little about that, but I am just relaying what I was told. I think to get a crossing there would take a person with some power on a political level.

Thanks Paulheckbert for your insight. I am happy to try and help any way I can, if someone has a contact beyond the person I talked to. He seemed to think it was impossible to stop.


Mick
Participant
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@paulheckbert

I think (and hope) closing down stairways for fictitional afety sisues was a 1990’s thing. Towards the end fo teh cntury some people tried to shut down the Edgarton Steps, but toher neighbors rallied to keep keep them.

The urge to shut down is undertandable : Kids drink beer there; the steps often give any passerby the opportunity to case adjacent houses; if there are muggings or other attacks in the neighborhood, the steps can provide a lurking area or a getaway route. Etc.

Main topic: fencing off the PH railroad tracks would harsh my buzz.


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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Crossing railroad tracks on foot is safer than crossing a street. Train traffic at this spot is generally not moving that fast, is well lit and makes a lot of noise. If people on bikes or foot are not getting killed by trains a quarter mile up the tracks at South Neville, then they won’t get killed here, either.

If the only traffic on Butler Street was the #91 bus, you would still have a better chance of getting killed by a bus while crossing Butler (eight buses an hour) than you would get hit by a train here (what, four trains all day?).

Short version: Hey railroad, all your objections are groundless.


lenticular truss
Member
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If this happens, and once the Greenfield Bridge is imploded, I think for me (coming from the east side of Schenley and trying to get to the jail trail), the alternate route is going to be get over to Schenley Drive, take that down through the golf course, past Phipps, past Schenley plaza, left on Bouquet, then left on Joncaire (on the sidewalk due to the Belgian block), then Boundary to junction hollow.

Dreaming about a tunnel all the while…


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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Additional thought: All the more reason why we need a switchback structure at the top of the Saline Street dead end, by the Greenfield Bridge, similar to the one at the north end of the Fort Duquesne Bridge, or at the PA65/Island/Beaver/Chateau/California/Marshall corner. Probably wider, since it will start to handle a lot of East End traffic that’s not there now.


MaryShaw
Member
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The overgrown switchback, not-fit-for-a-goat-path from the end of Boundary up to Bridle Trail was created in (IIRC) the 90’s when Larry Ridenour was in charge. The idea was to provide a bicycle connection. It seemed like he turned someone loose with a bulldozer and no engineering design. I rode it a few times right after it was built, but the grade was steep, the switchbacks were too tight and banked wrong, and it started eroding right away.

On the other hand, if you go to the end of Panther Hollow Lake, stand between the lake and the RR tracks and look left/south/toward the Mon you can see faint traces of what looks like a cut for an old road. A very old road. I’ve never followed it, but if there was in fact a road there once, it went somewhere. Which means that it might actually be feasible to build trail from Panther Hollow Lake parallel to the tracks (on the east side, so no crossing required) and come out on Boundary St near the lower end of the soccer fields (close to the bottom of the not-fit-for-a-goat-path.

That would not solve the access problem for the northern stub of Boundary, up by Joncaire, but it would create park access from the Saline St area.


paulheckbert
Moderator
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I favor keeping the current route open at Panther Hollow Lake, of course, and improving it to a grade crossing that would allow cyclists and pedestrians to cross more safely (less chance of tripping).

But if we’re discussing alternate routes: @stuinmccandless: If ramps were used to get from the east end of Saline St up to Greenfield Rd, that’s a rise of about 140 feet – a heck of a lot. A steel structure that height would be very expensive. I’ve been recommending a far less expensive (and more scenic) alternative: trails on the hillside in Schenley Park. See map at http://goo.gl/lT0LWO , specifically, the routes labeled Naylor Trail and Pocusset Trail Extension. I walked those routes and they look plausible. Maybe PTAG would build them? I shared the Naylor Trail idea with Pat Hassett and Bob O’Connor. No reply so far.

The route that Benzo and Mary Shaw suggested, from Panther Hollow Lake, just east of the CSX tracks all the way south to Boundary St, avoiding a RR crossing, also looks interesting. I labeled it Lake Boundary Trail on this map.


MaryShaw
Member
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I’ve suggested another alternative for getting from the end of the jail-trail to over near Big Jim’s …

From the access road to the UPMC and Jailtrail parking lots, continue away from 2nd ave near the back of the DPW yard — head for the Swinburne St Bridge. This is a little uphill, so it makes the ramp to the bridge reasonable.

Hang a bridge over the RR tracks from the bottom of the Swinburne St bridge, hanging as low as possible considering the overhead clearance needed for the RR.

As soon as you clear the RR tracks, start descending, using the overgrown hillside along the west side of Boundary St

This follows the same line as the pink line on Paul’s map, but I can’t tell how much rise is assumed by that pink line or whether it assumes a free-standing bridge. (Of course, if a free-standing bridge is involved you get a lot more choices about where to cross the RR — including close to the Irvine/Greenfield/2nd Av intersection, which would allow the bridge to connect to the cycle track.


gg
Member
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After reading the alternatives, it seems the best idea would be for nothing to change and the RR leave us, walkers and runners alone for a change instead of being complete a-holes!

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