seeking generic advice on cycling in the Pittsburgh area

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thielges
Participant
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Hi – I’m planning to visit Pittsburgh in July and expect to bike a bit around the area, specifically along the Monongahela River east and south of the city. Is there any web page or other resource that is useful for understanding the ins and outs of cycling around Pittsburgh? A FAQ perhaps?

I’m an experienced urban cyclist so I’d be interested to understand any regional hazards or customs to take into account. I’ve already heard about the “Pittsburgh left”.

If you know of any such helpful resource then I’d like to read up.

Thanks,

Bart


Lyle
Participant
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Have you seen our taxonomy of potholes? Whatever size tire you ride elsewhere, go bigger.


HiddenVariable
Participant
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i think you’ve found the resource you’re looking for. i can remember a few threads here about riding around, say, monroeville and turtle creek (pronounced “crick”). and there’s almost certainly people around who can and will answer specific questions.

other than that, look for oscar swann’s “Bike Rides Out of Pittsburgh”. that’s the classic handbook.

and lyle’s right about the potholes, though i regularly ride 23s on the streets. but you have to keep an eye out for them, especially now.


thielges
Participant
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Uh-oh about the potholes. I was planning to ride my Dahon folder with 20″ wheels. That bike does however have pretty fat tires (~40mm or so) mounted on those wee wheels though.

To clarify I’m not looking for specific leisure ride routes but rather general “only in Pittsburgh” advice. I found the book that HiddenVariable recommends at http://polish.slavic.pitt.edu/pmvc/bikerides/bikerides.intro.pdf and that looks to have some good general information in the intro.

I thought of one specific question: on a street with narrow lanes and parallel parking, often the safest way to ride is down the center of the lane to stay out of the “door zone”. This position requires cars to change lanes to pass. In my town (San Jose, CA) most drivers are patient and courteous in that situation though every once and a while some yahoo decides to “teach me a lesson” by tailgating, honking, or buzzing past without enough clearance. That only happens about once every 300 miles or so on that sort of constrained street (meaning maybe once a year for me: only about one mile of my daily commute requires taking the whole lane).

How do Pittsburgh drivers respond to a cyclist taking the lane?


dwillen
Participant
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I’d say that totally depends on the road. Some places people don’t seem to mind, others they do. When you get here, pick up a Bike-PGH bike map. It should let you know the better roads to bike on. Potholes are all over, but if you’re looking out for them and not riding through a downpour, you should be just fine with your folder.


Nick D
Participant
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While you are here, try to make it to a Flock ride.


rsprake
Participant
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Sounds like you will be fine. Like dwillen said, pick up a bike map or check it out online.


Pseudacris
Participant
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The main drag of the South Side (E Carson Street) can be kind of annoying to ride on, but there are side streets and a trail nearby. The bike map is great, and so are the Flock rides if you’re here on a Friday. Also, many of the buses have bike racks on them, although the bus system is not great & definitely requires a bit of planning. If you have a net-enabled telephone, the google directions are pretty good for public transportation and for bicycling, although the terrain can catch you by surprise if you’re not looking for that info initially. Bring lights and a U lock. Where are you visiting from?

Do try to stay out of the door zone here. Most people are not looking out for cyclists.


Pseudacris
Participant
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Also, if you want to find some nice views, gardens & landmarks, check out the Tag-O-Rama thread.


steevo
Participant
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Remember at all times that if the road you are on

is busy, there is a 99.99% chance that there is

a less busy road going to the same place you

are going in close proximity. There are so many

streets and roads, if you think its dangerous,

move over a bit.


Chris Mayhew
Participant
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If at all possible get Oscar Swan’s _Bike Rides Around Pittsburgh_ and read thru it. The introduction is available on line and a good overview of PGH. The rides that detail the riding in your area will be good to be familiar with.


HiddenVariable
Participant
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oh, i see, this is a sort of “pittsburgh cycling proverbs” thread. cool!

I thought of one specific question: on a street with narrow lanes and parallel parking, often the safest way to ride is down the center of the lane to stay out of the “door zone”. This position requires cars to change lanes to pass. In my town (San Jose, CA) most drivers are patient and courteous in that situation though every once and a while some yahoo decides to “teach me a lesson” by tailgating, honking, or buzzing past without enough clearance. That only happens about once every 300 miles or so on that sort of constrained street (meaning maybe once a year for me: only about one mile of my daily commute requires taking the whole lane).

this has been my experience in pittsburgh almost exactly. i do probably about 90% of my riding on roads that don’t have bike lanes, and while i will occasionally be passed too closely by someone that’s probably driving something bigger than they can handle (a truck, a bus, or perhaps even a compact car is too big for them), i virtually never have to deal with actual aggression.

as for other idiosyncrasies: pittsburgh is a pretty old city, with a lot of hills. many of the roads weren’t even designed to handle automobile traffic, let alone the volume of large vehicles they support daily. they tend to be narrow, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be one-way or not allow parking. as steevo says, there is a high probability that if the road you’re on is uncomfortable, there is a better road nearby.

indeed, northern california has its peaks, but i don’t think there are very many cities with the varied topography of pittsburgh. this means that if your trip is greater than about a mile, you will likely have a somewhat intimidating hill to climb.

the hills, combined with the old and narrow roads makes for a fairly unique urban traffic experience. here is an entertaining take on what it’s like to drive around the city. this carries over into cycling at least a little bit, and hopefully gives you a perspective on the drivers.

beyond that, pittsburgh has been voted as having the most courteous drivers in the country, even ahead of portland. i’ve no idea how they compile this sort of information, and while you may disagree about the drivers, especially when in busy traffic, i think you will find that there is no want of hospitality among everyday folk.


Pseudacris
Participant
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here is an entertaining take on what it’s like to drive around the city.

Great link, @HV. Hilarious!


Marko82
Participant
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HV, that link is spot on!


thielges
Participant
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Thanks a bunch for the advice. I’m glad to here that Pittsburgh drivers are mostly reasonable.

I took a shot at a possible route that I might try along the Monongahela. Here it is on google maps. I realize that this is probably not the most pleasant or scenic of routes and I don’t expect it to be. However I’m certainly open to suggestions about tweaks that could make the ride better so long as they don’t veer too far from the river. For example I noticed that google maps was not able to take advantage of the segments of dedicated bike paths fronting the river. Maybe they are dead ends or maybe there’s an unofficial dirt trail linking the dead end back up to the normal roads. Duquesne Blvd. appears to be gnarly in parts. And there seems to be a hairball interchange where Carson and Riverton meet at the south end of the Glenwood bridge. Is there a way to avoid that?

Thanks also for the invite to the Flock but it looks like I will miss it by mere hours. Du-oh! Otherwise I would certainly want to join in on the fun.


ejwme
Participant
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thielges, also a word of warning – unless you’re from some wicked mountainous place, “gentle hill” does not mean what you think it means. Yes we have no mountains, yet it appears that our terrain, with the exception of a peculiarly “flat” area in the eastern part of the city, comprises solely of ravines, and apparently we have chosen to go up and down them rather than along them.

I read through the book you found early in the thread to find some rides near me a little bit ago – I distinctly remember a few listings described as “short, gentle hill” and thought that the sandbagging was rather rude, though I may have missed the wink/sarcasm. I’m not that big a wuss, either, I tend to blame myself for not hauling up a hill, but some of our geography is just downright sadistic.

That extends to gearing – you may need some more or some different (San Jose is pretty flat from what I remember, at least comparatively, if that’s where you’re from).

And there’s a Flock ride every month, just pick it up next month (unless you’re going to be here less than a month… But there are always lots of rides in the summer, just none as fun as the Flock, IMHO)

HV, that link is hilarious. And accurate, many rules apply to bicycles as well (like following different routes to/from a location).


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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There are 4% to 6% grades all over the place here that veteran cyclists take for granted. There are some tougher ones on the high side of 10% for which there are some well known detours. There are quite a few on the high side of 15-37% that various among us tackle just to prove it can be done. But flat, Pittsburgh ain’t. All the main drags have elevation changes, and you just can’t get from A to B without dealing with some of them, or go a looooong way out of the way, or use a bus.


rsprake
Participant
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Looking at your route, there are a few things to consider. Depending on the day you go, the trail from South Side that runs along Carson may be closed due to construction. Maybe someone else can comment on that.

The trail from The Waterfront and beyond is now open so use that instead of the road through Homestead which is not a nice place to ride on. I haven’t been on the new section of trail but it’s supposed to be really nice.


Steven
Participant
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Joncaire Street has cobblestones. If you’re not looking for a very bumpy ride, take Forbes Avenue east, then Craig, and circle around onto Neville via Filmore.

Re: the segment from the Hot Metal Bridge to the Glenwood Bridge. Your route via East Carson is not a good road for bikes. One alternative is to take the bike trail along the river, but it’s currently only open from Friday at 4:30pm through Sunday evening. (I think this limitation will be going away fairly soon though, maybe in time for your visit. The Trail Status page says “early summer”.)

The eastern end of that trail isn’t connected up yet, but many people take the 500 foot gravel section next to the train tracks under the Glenwood Bridge to continue on. At that point, if Sandcastle is open (in July, that’s every day from 11am to 6 or 7), you can just ride through. If not, you can continue on the gravel for another mile to get past Sandcastle.

If you’re going during the week, and so can’t use the bike trail from the Hot Metal Bridge, it might be better to skip the Eliza Furnace Trail/Hot Metal Bridge entirely and take Irvine/2nd Avenue south and over the Glenwood Bridge, just to avoid that stretch of East Carson. But that route’s not great either.

I agree with rsprake about using the new bike trail from Homestead to Duquesne, not Route 837.


cburch
Participant
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if you are going during the week just take Beechwood Blvd or Murray Ave through Squirrel Hill to the Homestead Grays Bridge (call it “high-level bridge” if you are asking someone for directions) to the waterfront and pick up the GAP from there. Or you could ride through the bottom of Frick park to Duck Hollow and have a nice climb up to the above bridge.

Carson St (837) east of Southside is a nightmare and the Glenwood Bridge ends in a very unfriendly highway style interchange.

all of this is rendered moot if the trail construction wraps before you get here though. that is by far the nicest way to ride a bike out to the Waterfront.


rsprake
Participant
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Beechwood takes you through some really nice neighborhoods and you could detour through Frick Park as well and there are even a few nice views of the river.


thielges
Participant
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If I understand the state of the trails correctly, there is a chance that I can ride from the Hot Metal Bridge all the way to about 500′ west of the Glenwood Bridge. There a gravel road runs beneath the bridge and possibly connects with the Sandcastle park access road. From there continue eastwards towards Costco and then switch to the river trail north of Homestead.

That ultimately connects to Waterfront Dr. and beneath the Rankin Bridge. There the trail peters out at a massive railway juncture at approximately Duquesne and Commonwealth. At this point at the east end of Kennywood Park the route seems a little uncertain. I can see what looks like some dirt roads that allow a connection to Duquesne at about Oakmont Ave. though it is not clear from the aerial view whether or not there are any fences or junkyard dogs obstructing the way.

A short bit on an unfriendly stretch of Duquesne over the railway then veering off to 2nd street. Left on Grand connects to the Steel Valley Trail. Then to Lysle Blvd. over Youghiogheny River to 5th Ave.

From there it is Monogahela Ave. to Ohio Ave. to Glassport Rd. Over the 1st St. Bridge at Elizabeth, doubling back up the river on State St.

I would plot this out on another google map but it seems as if their data doesn’t include the recent trail work as well as the dirt roads I can see from the air.

So this route seems reasonable with minimal stretches on high traffic roads. Thanks again for everyone’s help! (I’ll be riding on the weekend so the trails will be open)


cburch
Participant
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The trail is complete from the waterfront east. Google just isn’t up to date.


Steven
Participant
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Yes, Google correctly shows the northern portion of the new Steel Valley trail segment, starting on Waterfront Drive and going beneath the Rankin Bridge. If you follow it, it’ll take you all the way down to Duquesne, connecting up with the segment on to McKeesport that Google already shows correctly.

There a gravel road runs beneath the bridge and possibly connects with the Sandcastle park access road.

Less a gravel road, more the ballast surface on which they put train tracks. It extends out to the sides enough that you should be well clear of any trains. And it definitely does connect up to Sandcastle’s access road.

That said, there’s work going on in that area (construction for the eventual trail?), vegetation has been cleared, and when you arrive in a month, the area might be either a new rideable trail, or a closed-off construction site. So you may want to check back the week of your trip.


thielges
Participant
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Wow, that’s awesome that this trail is nearly complete to McKeesport. What a great facility. It was probably funded for recreation but makes a great alternative for cyclist who just want to get from point A to B without jostling with the highway traffic.

I’ll try to remember to ping back here before I ride next month to check on the Glenwood bridge situation. If nothing else there’s always backtracking to the highway.

Thanks again everyone for your help.


HiddenVariable
Participant
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so based on things i’ve read, i’ve always felt disconnected, but i’ve never been able to comfortably ride from the end of the south side trail to the waterfront.

i’ve never noticed a gravel road, and even on 38 mm tires, railroad ballast is not anyone’s definition of a pleasant ride. in addition, the few times i walked along the tracks from the end of the southside trail, it was never clear to me where to go from there that wouldn’t be trespassing on some industrial property. maybe it has changed since then, but the few times i’ve done it, i walked across maybe a quarter mile of like 2 inch diameter ballast, then crossed over along the driveways to carson and up the hill to more pleasant routes.

it’s not that it was terrifying or painful or anything, but if i’ve been doing it wrong, i’d like to know how to do it right, and if i’ve been doing it right, i’d like our out-of-town friend to know that it’s not a mere gravel path.


Steven
Participant
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Maybe I confused things by referring to the railroad ballast as a gravel surface. It’s railroad ballast, though, not a simple gravel road.

Looking more closely, I’d say there’s 800 feet of it from the end of the Baldwin Borough Trail to Haysglen Street, where you can enter Sandcastle.

I haven’t tried riding on it, but it’s a maybe five minute walk pushing a bike. (And I think people with suitable equipment and skill bike it.)

Once you’re past there, if Sandcastle’s open you’re golden.

If not, an alternative to another mile of trespassing on railroad ballast is to follow Haysglen Street south about 1000 feet, bearing left, until just before it goes beneath Route 837, and take the stairs off to the left up to the Route 837 sidewalk. Then follow that into Homestead.

None of these options are great, of course, but until they come up with the $3 million to complete this stretch, they’re endurable.


fungicyclist
Participant
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“There a gravel road runs beneath the bridge and possibly connects with the Sandcastle park access road.

Less a gravel road, more the ballast surface on which they put train tracks. It extends out to the sides enough that you should be well clear of any trains. And it definitely does connect up to Sandcastle’s access road.”

And there’s a gate, which though sometimes closed has never been locked in my experience. Adequate clearance from choo-choos on what appears to be becoming a trail, and one can always stop and move to the fence. I tired of my tires on that rock “ballast” and at a low curve in the road cross the tracks, jump the steel barrier, dash across Carson, scramble up the embankment, then ride quite comfortably on the adequate road adjacent to those upper level RR tracks. Quite the nice view too. You can try to access that road by the 33rd St. (or whatever) entrance but you will more then likely be denied. No questions asked when one exits in the dark of night, however… (Okay, one once: “Were you up on the RR tracks?” “Yes.” “Okay, good, as long as you weren’t in the beer warehouse.” “Nope, don’t drink.” “Be safe.” “Thank you, you too.” Usually the night guards are watching tv and if you’re swift and quiet, they don’t notice.)

Wrote the above well before HV, but neglected to post.

(Whoa, so HV, yours are the tracks I’ve seen. I knew there was someone else. I track. Do you know about the waterfall/campsite/wire/rope ladders up the cliffs too? I know someone does, or did.)


Ahlir
Participant
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Baldwin Trail <–> Steel Valley Trail

Baldwin only open week-ends (for now).

1. At the end of Baldwin you have ballast. Enough people ride it that most of it is a pretty reasonable dirt track.

2. Sandcastle doesn’t seem to care. Ride through their parking lot. Obviously, be courteous and stay near the fence along the tracks. You may not want to follow the track next to Sandcastle; the ballast is in good shape and thus not really ridable (unless you’re into that sort of thing).

3. If you can’t do Sandcastle, turn right, cross the tracks, continue to the road underneath Riverton, turn left.

You now have two choices:

4a. Go up the stairs to Riverton and ride down the single track until you reach 8th Avenue. (Or, cross the road and ride on the street, bear in mind that there’s no shoulder and the traffic is fast). Continue through Homestead and onto Waterfront property. (I suggest 7th Ave)

4b. Go the the end of the road, bear left and around the gate and continue along the (dirt) road. When you read the edge of the Whemco property bear right and continue along the right side of the factory to their street entrance. Exit. Or, you can go around the building to left and end up near the auto parts store on 7th (you’ll you have to cross live tracks).


thielges
Participant
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Well whether it is 800 or 1800 feet of railway ballast that should be no problem. And from Ahlir’s instructions there seem to be other options. But I’ll bet that Sandcastle is open on a July weekend :-).


thielges
Participant
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I just wanted to close the loop and report that the gap in the trail from 1/4 mile west of Sandcastle to the eastern edge of that water park is exactly as described. The clearance to the active railway is a little tight but not a safety issue to anyone even mildly alert. I was surprised that my little wheeled folder was able to handle riding on that rough gravel though I bailed out to walk half way through because the shaking was getting the better of me.

The trail switches to streets in McKeesport and then I lost it somewhere around Glassport. The ride was nice until I crossed over the river at Elizabeth for the return. There I couldn’t find any alternative to State St. which was a little gnarly due to the narrow right lane though traffic was kind.

Thanks everyone for your help. I had a great ride and hope to cover more Pittsburgh roads in the future.

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