Turtle Creek Rail Trail

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MattK
Member
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Thanks for the update, Paul.  I can’t be in Pittsburgh at the moment, but I’ve passed word of the meeting along…I hope good things will come of it.

If you or anyone here happens to go, please let us know if someone brings up the unused railroad track owned by the RIDC.  As stated above, if that were turned into a bike path, one could ride from East Pittsburgh all the way to Wilmerding, right next to the creek, without crossing a single street with cars.  There would be some unique viewing opportunities of the old Westinghouse flood gate as well.


Eric
Member
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abf
Member
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Also of interest for this meeting, would be a trail (similar in width etc. to existing trail at wilkinsburg portion of the busway) along an extension of the East Busway.

Also of interest would be the existing Airbrake Ave. walking trail, or an expansion/widening thereof.

Together with the old rail rights-of-way mentioned by @mattk and others on this thread, this can create a near-completely off road trail between the Point and Trafford.

Connections from such an off-road trail to bike lanes in adjacent municipalities, in particular Turtle Creek and Braddock who have already expressed interest in this, would provide a very useful connection, for both trail users and the municipal entities.

The off-road character would make this trail friendly and safe for anyone, including children, the elderly, those with physical disablilities, and those who just do not like riding on streets with motor traffic.

The on-road bike lanes and connections between those and an offroad trail would help provide business to the municipalities along the route, and would provide trail users with amenities.

See https://umap.openstreetmap.fr/en/map/pittsburgh-bike-connecting_44426#14/40.3969/-79.8110 for a map of these proposals.

  • This reply was modified 1 year, 9 months ago by  abf.
  • This reply was modified 1 year, 9 months ago by  abf.

abf
Member
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Here are some interesting articles about the rail right-of-way the Westmoreland Heritage Trail follows, especially about the Export to Delmont sections.


paulheckbert
Moderator
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A synopsis of this evening’s meeting of the five-boroughs’-bike-planning-group:

  • Attending were people from Braddock, North Braddock, East Pittsburgh, Rankin, Glenn Engineering, and me (Steel Valley Trail Council). Most of the others were “municipal government people” more than “cyclists” (if I’m forced to pigeonhole). Deborah Brown of Braddock led the meeting.
  • A request for proposals inviting engineering companies to bid on doing a feasibility study for bike lanes and trails in Braddock, North Braddock, East Pittsburgh, Turtle Creek, and Rankin was sent to 8 companies. Proposals are due at the end of this month, after which a company will be selected. The study will be completed by late summer.
  • We need to come up with a name; for now I’ll call it “the group”.
  • It appears to me that the group should rough out a few route ideas to give the engineers guidance. Surely, the borough folks know their boroughs better than the engineers. We tossed around some route ideas:
  • Braddock Ave is the spine route, for cars, but because taking away car parking was an extremely unpopular idea, the consensus was that a road parallel to and close to Braddock, such as Woodlawn St (and/or Talbot Ave) would work better for bike lanes. On the positive side, Woodlawn would be much safer than Braddock. On the negative side, Woodlawn is not the main street, so less business access.
  • B&O Railroad used to run parallel (where Halket St is today) but too much of that land has been sold off to permit a trail to be built along the old railroad land.
  • Parts of North Braddock and East Pittsburgh are way up the hill. Library St and Bell Ave were discussed, as was an abandoned and overgrown road called Keller Rd & Township Rd, as additional bike routes. To get from East Pittsburgh toward the borough of Turtle Creek, Linden Ave is the obvious route.
  • We didn’t get around to talking about possible bike trails (as opposed to lanes).
  • We didn’t talk about Rankin or Turtle Creek much.
  • Who would use the bike lanes? We might guess a 50-50 mix of commuters (to job, to shopping) and recreational cyclists.
  • We talked about nearby developments beyond the group: Rankin Hot Metal Bridge (perhaps 10 years off), Carrie Furnace Trail (several years off), Turtle Creek Trail Trail from Trafford-Murrysville (this year).
  • I suggested we do a casual bike ride along some of these routes soon, to inspect them, but that was met with some raised eyebrows, because some at the meeting haven’t biked in years.
  • We’d like to gather ideas from people that bike through this area frequently, both locals and long-distance cyclists (such as Jon).
  • The next meeting is scheduled for Tue 3/7 at 6pm in East Pittsburgh. Others are invited.

jonawebb
Participant
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Thanks, Paul. Your work on this and other issues in that area is a real and appreciated benefit to the biking community.
I sometimes ride home through Braddock on Braddock Ave. I rarely have any problem; the traffic is light and the road is fairly wide. But I see the benefit of using a parallel street for new cyclists. Looking at the map, it seems like Talbot is the better choice, since it’s continuous through Braddock. I don’t know about the surface, though.


icemanbb
Participant
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I ride from Monroeville through Braddock using Braddock Ave. frequently but it’s usually early on weekend mornings. Traffic is light, plenty of room and I’ve yet to have a problem.   The couple of times I have ridden back through in the afternoons there is more traffic but still haven’t had any issues.  For me, a side street with stop signs every block is more of a nuisance then dealing with traffic and the less frequent red light. I know that only a fraction of cyclists use Strava but their “heat map” feature does provide some information (understanding that it may be biased towards recreational cycling) as to what roads are currently used.


cycleguy
Member
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I have to vehemently disagree with Icemanbb riding from Pittsburgh to Trafford on Braddock Ave.The road becomes extremely dangerous and dicey heading east when you get past State route 2183 with no lane and cars going past you at 50-60 mph!! I went on my own and had to turn around for fear of getting killed.I went a second time, with 3 other experienced road cyclists ,all of us having much angst and a very unpleasant ride.I tried getting off Braddock Ave,to go on 2183,but for some reason after going down that road a few hundred yards, it’s fenced off and the road is blocked.Does anybody know the reason for this??


jonawebb
Participant
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You’re talking about where Braddock Ave turns into the Tri-Borough Expressway, right? There’s a huge overbuilt concrete bridge and fast traffic. I don’t like it either, but it’s not that long, and I just go for it.
The only other way is to go up say Main St to Grandview, follow that around to Electric, then down Electric to the light at Braddock. Longer and hillier, and not necessarily that much nicer (the road is kind of narrow and IIRC there’s not much shoulder), but at least you don’t have really high speed traffic.


cycleguy
Member
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Yes Jonawebb,That’s exactly where I am talking about,( heading towards the Tri-Borough Expressway).I came very close to getting killed there and I am an experienced road cyclist.Unless a sharrow with poles are put up, I will never go that way again.It’s just not worth it by truly putting your life in danger


Eric
Member
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can’t you just go Braddock ->  Penn Ave Ext -> Airbrake -> Broadway and avoid the highway section?


jonawebb
Participant
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There’s a section under the Westinghouse Bridge that’s closed off. I’ve tried to find a way around it, as have others. I don’t think there’s a way through, even if you’re willing to go off-road and ignore no trespassing signs. There’s a canal there that you end up on the wrong side of, and a rail yard.
BTW you can’t get to Main St as I said; you’d have to go Braddock->O’Connell->Center I guess to Grandview.


cycleguy
Member
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To Edroline………No,you can’t get to Penn Avenue extension before first hitting the sketchy,harrowing part of Tri Borough Expressway .


Steven
Participant
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It would be great if Route 2183 could somehow be opened to cyclists, to bypass the dangerous part of Braddock Avenue. Perhaps it could be something like the Montour Trail’s airport connector, with a small gate to let through cyclists and keep out cars. I’d much rather see local governments working on that, addressing an actual problem, instead of putting bike lanes on streets like Talbot that are already very safe for bikes.


Eric
Member
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Wasn’t the Triboro Expressway just redone in 2010?  My guess is that they’re not going to be willing to do anything to help, given the recent re-construction of the road.


cycleguy
Member
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Maybe Paul Heckbert and others can talk to Deborah Brown about installing a small opening through that fence, on 2183, to just allow cyclists or walkers through.


MattK
Member
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The issue of “Route 2183”, which appears to be called “Braddock Ave” on some maps, came up on page 1 of this thread and is being discussed again for good reason.  This is the choke point for every trail in the entire Turtle Creek watershed.  All of the trails that follow the streams in the watershed will converge here, and unless they can get beyond the Westinghouse floodgate, there is no path to the GAP trail, and no path to Pittsburgh.  It is critically important.  I agree that long “up over and around” alternate routes are very impractical to cyclists, and the section of the Tri Boro Expressway that goes through here is a death trap for cyclists and pedestrians.

So that leaves us with the route under the flood gate, which is fenced-off.  The only thing apparently inside the fence is the dead-end “Railroad to Nowhere” track mentioned on page 2 of this thread.  Here’s a visual: https://binged.it/2lmaz  The railroad goes through the gate, not much else does.  There’s no simple way around, since the gate is surrounded by a levee/flood wall, without which the flood gate would have always been useless (it’s actually useless now, but that is due to neglect).  The RIDC owns the Keystone commons and the apparently unused railroad.  That appears to be the key to the pathway through.

So for a first step, I agree that contacting our elected officials about this issue is a good idea.  They are the ones with the authority to negotiate agreements and make things happen.  We have to reach out to them,and let them know what needs to be done in order to make the community a better place. Finding a safe bicycle path through the TBE / flood gate choke point should, in my opinion, be the highest priority of the whole bike lanes / trails project being discussed.  Without this, all trails built east of the Westinghouse bridge will be cut off from all of the trails to the west of it.  We need to let the people in charge know how important this is, since bike trails / bike lanes are so much more effective when they are connected to one another.


paulheckbert
Moderator
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I roughed out a map of the current bikeability of the desirable bike routes in the Braddock area. I used

green = good (safe and acceptable grade)
yellow = ok
red = bad (unsafe, poor surface, or too steep)
unmarked = low-demand routes

Link for zoomable google map: https://goo.gl/X0XciF

Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 12.05.42 PM

This is a work in progress. I’ve biked some of these roads only once. Click each route for a bit of discussion. Where have I misclassified the safety or desirability of a route? What am I missing?


jonawebb
Participant
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Braddock past say O’Connell should definitely not be red, or at least not as red as between Electric and O’Connell. I’d call it yellow. It’s not too bad IMHO.


jonawebb
Participant
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We discussed the route through Braddock last night at the Squirrel Hill Bike Ped group. It sounds like, from people who have been there, that there is plenty of presently unused space near the river. If the fence at the Braddock Lock had an opening, and appropriate arrangements were made with Edgar Thompson Works and the railroad, it would be possible to have a path all the way through Braddock to Turtle Creek.
I’m not sure whether or not this would be possible given the need for negotiations, but in the physical sense it seems like a lot less development would be necessary in that routing than trying to connect via Braddock Road and bypassing the Tri-Boro Expressway bridge somehow.


paulheckbert
Moderator
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From satellite photos, I don’t see space for a trail at the confluence of Turtle Creek and the Monongahela River. Here’s a 3D Google Maps view of that area from the south

https://www.google.com/maps/@40.3874703,-79.8522204,188a,20y,0.53h,55.4t/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

Screen Shot 2017-02-10 at 10.43.38 AM

On the road to Braddock lock & dam, you can get to within 1/2 mile of Turtle Creek before you hit a Keep Out sign, and from google it looks like that road dead-ends 1/4 mile from the creek, and the strip of land gets pinched down to nothing. Following Turtle Creek upstream, the railroad tracks around the perimeter of Edgar Thomson go right up to the steep banks of the creek. I don’t see space for a trail here.

I think the best bet for an economical route into Turtle Creek Valley is Braddock Ave and Route 2183. I’ve never biked on the latter, but I see a fence across it in Google StreetView. Other than that fence, 2183 looks promising to me, as a bike route.

https://goo.gl/maps/7hkrRLUn5rJ2


jonawebb
Participant
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I see your point; I don’t see how the connection to Turtle Creek is supposed to work otherwise. Though I’m pretty sure I’m remembering the conversation correctly.


Steven
Participant
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After looking at the aerial view some more, I’m not sure 2183 will work. It runs from Braddock Avenue to a dead-end at some railroad tracks. MattK seemed to be suggesting upthread that this track was unused, but I’m no longer convinced that’s true of the section in question.

There’s a railcar visible in Bing here. It’s not visible in Google’s aerial view, but railcars appear in different spots on that track if you look back over the years in Google Earth. The track there continues northward to the unused section. Southward, it continues through the floodgate and past the place where 2183 dead-ends, to a big railyard.

So I think 2183 dead-ends at a railroad line that gets at least occasional traffic, connecting the former Westinghouse site (now called Keystone Commons) to the railyard west of the 2183/Braddock Avenue intersection. I don’t know how you’d fit a trail in there if the rail line’s still in use.


MattK
Member
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Good Catch, Steven.  I didn’t see that before.  perhaps some of the track is being used…

Here’s the exact quote, from Paul Van Osdol’s report on WTAE:
“TURTLE CREEK, Pa. —It’s a railroad to nowhere, financed by taxpayers.
Action News Investigates has learned Allegheny County is spending $365,000 replacing a railroad track that has not been used in three decades and will not be used anytime soon.

The new track will run about a quarter-mile between two sections of unused track.

A local historian says no trains have run on this line since the 1980s when the nearby Westinghouse plant was still active.”

Is it possible that the upstream part of the track is unused, and the downstream active?  If the downstream is active, how active is it?  Whom do we ask about this?  Would a “rail and trail” a possibility?  Is the path through the floodgate and under the bridge wide enough for bikes and a train at the same time?   If hypothetically we have to worry about a delivery train arriving once a month at 5mph, that is one issue to deal with.  But I’d rather deal with than than constant 50mph cars on the Tri Boro Expressway.


Eric
Member
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Re the floodgate.  I know it doesn’t work anymore. But does that area still flood a lot?


jonawebb
Participant
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BTW, I don’t think this solves the problem, but I once followed a Heckbertish (i.e., illegal) route bypassing this section of the Tri-Boro Expressway. I made a map of the route here.
The route starts at the parking lot next to Edgar Thompson works. I bicycled past there (heading west) one day and noticed they were having some sort of event. The gate there was open and a bunch of cars were parked in there. I entered and headed east through the lot, following the path I drew in on the map. It crosses 2183 and the dirt roads (at that point) marked as Flynn Way and Main St. Then passes under one railway bridge and across another railway bridge over Turtle Creek. You end up opposite “Value Added Processing” across Turtle Creek.
I suspect this path is less viable than the one through the closed Westinghouse Flood Gate fence because the railroad bridge across Turtle Creek is in use. And you end up in what I think is an active rail yard. I don’t think there’s a way out of there except by following Turtle Creek up to 2nd St.
But still, it’s at least a physically connected path, given the open gate at Edgar Thompson works.


Eric
Member
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The triboro expressway reminds me of Freeport road between Hulton bridge and powers run. Way overbuilt for the capacity. I assume traffic on triboro expressway doesn’t need highway standards.

Too bad when they rebuilt it they didn’t make it into 1 lane each way, a road diet.

Any sense that the local pols could push through changing the road config for the expressway to one lane plus peds/bike each way?


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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Define “a lot”. I would go down there after a one-inch-in-24-hours rain to see what routine high water looks like. We probably get 10 of those a year. But make sure to get down there to look at it after a really big storm.

Two flood gauges you can see online:


Steven
Participant
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The railroad bridge over Turtle Creek on that Heckbertish route seems to be the one documented here. That mentions it once carried five tracks, but now only two. Seems like all that extra space might be usable for a bike trail, if it only went somewhere useful.

The detailed photos linked from that same page mention this in a photo caption:

Floodgates would also close former Braddock Av with street railway and Westinghouse Inter-Works Railway
The Westinghouse Inter-Works Railway seems to be the name of the abandoned line that continued from the Westinghouse plant out to Trafford.

The site also mentions that Mon-Fayette Expressway construction would remove the floodgates. The MFX could have a big influence on the available options for a bike path, if they build it through this area. (And not necessarily all negative. The MFX folks supposedly built a part of the Montour Trail that was near the new highway.)

If the downstream is active, how active is it? Whom do we ask about this?

Maybe the RIDC?

 


Steven
Participant
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Let’s try that again, this time with links and formatting not discarded.

The railroad bridge over Turtle Creek on that Heckbertish route seems to be the one documented here. That mentions it once carried five tracks, but now only two. Seems like all that extra space might be usable for a bike trail, if it only went somewhere useful.

The detailed photos linked from that same page mention this in a photo caption:

Floodgates would also close former Braddock Av with street railway and Westinghouse Inter-Works Railway

The Westinghouse Inter-Works Railway seems to be the name of the abandoned line that continued from the Westinghouse plant out to Trafford.

The site also mentions that Mon-Fayette Expressway construction would remove the floodgates. The MFX could have a big influence on the available options for a bike path, if they build it through this area. (And not necessarily all negative. The MFX folks supposedly built a part of the Montour Trail that was near the new highway.)

If the downstream is active, how active is it? Whom do we ask about this?

Maybe the RIDC?


paulheckbert
Moderator
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Heckbertish, eh?


MattK
Member
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I think we’re putting together some good ideas here.  It’s neat that online maps and photos enable us to do so without going out in the cold :)

The Westinghouse Floodgates measure 80×30′ (over the creek) and 40×20′ (over RT 2183 + the dead-end RR).  The loading gauge for an American freight train is 10’8″.  If my math is right, a 10’8″ train in the center of a 40′ wide flood gate leaves 14’2″ on each side for bikes to pass, which is plenty of room.  The Heckbertish Railroad bridge cited above causes another narrow point due its supports, but it appears from the photo to be about as wide as the flood gate.  So I’m optimistic that a trail could proceed through, even if it needs to share space with the (possibly) inactive railroad.  It would however be better for us to replace the whole RR with a trail, since it would allow safe cycling from the Braddock steel mill to the Airbrake Walking Trail in Wilmerding without encountering a single stop sign.

As of August 2016, the Mon-Fayette Expressway is no longer headed into the city. The north-south portion, however, is still in the works. The overpass in Turtle Creek, ironically, will be over the same railroad-to-nowhere section that was recently rebuilt when the new Greensburg Pike bridge was built over it.  I wonder if they’ll have to rebuild the unused track again…


paulheckbert
Moderator
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Pick up a copy of the 2/9 issue of the Valley Mirror newspaper (available at Giant Eagle in Edgewood Towne Centre, anyway, and at a number of other shops in Braddock, etc, undoubtedly) and you’ll see an article by reporter Kristen Keleschenyi. It discusses the five-borough effort, and also includes the map I created of proposed trails on the right bank (the Braddock-and-Rankin side) of the Mon. The newspaper is not online.


paulheckbert
Moderator
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Article that appeared in Thursday, February 9’s Valley Mirror (newspaper “serving the Steel Valley, West Mifflin, Lincoln Place, and Woodland Hills Communities of Braddock, Braddock Hills, Chalfant, Churchill, East Pittsburgh, Forest Hills, North Braddock, Rankin, Swissvale, Turtle Creek, and Wilkins Township”):

The article text is about the five-boroughs effort discussed earlier, mostly, but the pictures came from my related effort to promote a trail from Hazelwood to Braddock. Click pictures for more detail.

valleymirror1

valleymirror2


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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Back in the early 1990s when the Turtle Creek Industrial Railroad was still running, Port Authority had a plan to extend the East Busway out to Trafford. (From 1983 to 2004, it ended at Wilkinsburg.) That part of the project did not happen; the extension that did get built only went to the edge of Rankin. I had only recently gotten involved in transit advocacy, and was not thinking about this part of the proposal. It would be worth trying to dig up those plans to see how they proposed to fit a busway through that notch.


Steven
Participant
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This page from the SPC describes a 2003 plan:

East Busway Extension: Swissvale to East Pittsburgh or Monroeville

Extension of the East Busway along Norfolk Southern right-of-way to East Pittsburgh, with the possibility of using Tri-Boro or Mon-Fayette Expressway into Monroeville.

I didn’t find anything more detailed than that. Norfolk Southern crosses on that bridge that once held five tracks but now has just two.


Steven
Participant
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Turtle Creek isn’t very wide, only about 80 feet for the creek itself. If we could build a bridge there, we could use something like Jon’s route. Unfortunately, it goes on the wrong side of those active Norfolk Southern tracks. We’d need to be between those tracks and Turtle Creek for a bridge to work.

Here’s another possible route. It starts with Route 2183. Then it uses an existing at-grade crossing of Norfolk Southern tracks, but one that’s blocked off with Road Closed signs according to Google Street View. If that’s still closed, it would need to be reopened for this route to work.

Then it uses space where Norfolk Southern once had a track to cross Turtle Creek and follow the creek up a bit, to a new 135 foot bridge to be built back across the creek, theoretically bypassing the section of former Westinghouse Inter-Works Railway that it appears is still in use. (I’m guessing about exactly which part is still active, of course.)


MattK
Member
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There’s also an interesting abandoned single-track bridge running diagonally across Turtle Creek just a couple hundred yards downstream of the floodgate.  We’ve already seen in Murrysville how amazingly quickly those bridges can get a new deck put on them when volunteers come together.  That would be a way to the left bank that doesn’t use the active NS bridge.

The issue is that the tracks on the left bank are very active.  Freight trains run into and through the Pitcairn intermodal terminal at seemingly all hours day and night.  The Amtrak Pennsylvanian also runs passenger service on those tracks once daily to and from New York City via Philadelphia and Harrisburg.  You can see in this video just how tight the tracks are to the water in this area.  Anyone interested in seeing where the old Turtle Creek Industrial Railroad used to merge into the tracks see the earlier video in the series at about 14:22.  Both of these videos put together give a pretty clear picture of what is going on over on the left bank of the creek.

 


cycleguy
Member
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If the Turtle Creek Trail needs volunteers. now or in the future, to help build  the trail,I will be happy to volunteer!!


paulheckbert
Moderator
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I visited Westinghouse Flood Gate yesterday. Wow, we need a bike trail through here – it’s a very unique place! It’s easier to reach from the east than from the west, because of the locked gate that others described. Route 2183 (which seems to be the Old Braddock Ave) has rusty rails down the middle of it. One could bike along here now, but if the rails were removed or buried, that would make this old road much better. If we and the boroughs can convince US Steel to put a 3 foot wide door in their gate, Route 2183 could become a bike route; possibly a life-saving one, since it would get cyclists off most of the divided highway portion of Braddock Ave.

Updated Braddock Bike Routes map: https://goo.gl/X0XciF

I put a gallery of photographs here: https://goo.gl/photos/2ALH2g3nrxN7yzNcA

One sample photo:

westinghouse_flood_gate2_ps_persp_crop

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