Hazelwood bike trail paves the way for hope

Residents celebrate a new connection to other city hubs

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Public schools. A grocery store. A gas station. A swimming pool. Better houses. More police. Jobs. Jobs. Jobs.

Those were the top answers Hazelwood residents wrote on the blackboards erected at Friday's community celebration of the newly opened Hazelwood section of the Heritage Trail. What does Hazelwood need? asked one blackboard. What is your big dream for Hazelwood? asked another.

With so many basic needs left unfulfilled, extending the bike trail into the neighborhood hasn't exactly been at the top of their list, many residents said. In Hazelwood, many people don't even own a bike to ride on the trail.

But here, any good new thing, any attention paid, any suggestion of a better life is received with gratitude by a community that has grown used to losing important places rather than gaining them, residents said. The bike trail could be the beginning of something great, said Hazelwood resident Maurice Cole.

"It's a blessing," said Mr. Cole, 42, who was helping his 3-year-old granddaughter, Justice, ride her sparkly princess bike down the new section of the bike trail toward the Hot Metal Bridge. "Everybody here is looking for change, change for the better."

As a jazz band from a local community group, Center of Life, played on a nearby stage, hundreds of Hazelwood residents gathered for the trail opening celebration, which was organized by the center along with Fishes and Loaves, the Hazelwood YMCA, the Hazelwood branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, the Hazelwood Initiative and the Mon-Marsden Block Club, in collaboration with Friends of the Riverfront, Bike Pittsburgh and Venture Outdoors.

Residents lined up for food from local restaurants, played for chances to win dozens of bike helmets donated by Trek, studied plans for the 178-acre former LTV Inc. development site nearby and tried out the new trail -- sometimes with the help of bikes borrowed from Trek, whose representatives brought dozens in various shapes and sizes. The Hazelwood section of the bike path is planned to someday connect with the Steel Valley trail on the opposite side of the Glenwood Bridge.

The latest section of the Heritage Trail, organizers said, will bring more people to Hazelwood, potentially creating demand for restaurants, coffee shops and other stores.

At the same time, it will link Hazelwood residents -- including, project managers hope, new residents of the 1,000 or so housing units planned for the former LTV site -- with the South Side, Oakland and Downtown by bike, allowing more residents to commute to work by bike and giving them an opportunity to walk, run or bike without traveling down busy roads.

The bike path is the "beginning of a start" to redevelopment of Hazelwood, said District 5 City Councilman Corey O'Conner.

In addition to housing, the former LTV site would offer green manufacturing, light traditional industry and an extension of the high-tech center in South Oakland, Mr. O'Conner said. Additional jobs and new housing would support new retail businesses in Hazelwood's traditional Second Avenue business district, where new shops would most benefit existing residents, project managers say. At the moment, that business district is barely surviving, with one drug store, a convenience store and a few restaurants and bars -- all that remain of the 210 functioning storefronts, including eight independent grocers, that existed in its heyday.

"This is a glimpse of hope for the future, and a great way for the neighborhood to bring people together and have them go back with positive stories to tell," Mr. O'Conner said. "Then you just keep building."

Hazelwood has little to offer its residents, said 33-year-old Dale Paige. No schools, no pool, few restaurants, few jobs. But its proximity to Downtown and the Waterfront, and the access given to both by Second Avenue, shows amazing potential, he said.

Whether the Hazelwood section of the bike trail helps bring in new development to realize that potential remains to be seen, he said.

"Hazelwood is a gold mine -- Second Avenue runs right through it, and you have to come through here," Mr. Paige said. "If there would be more businesses, people would stop here."


Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: 412-263-1719 or aschaarsmith@post-gazette.com. First Published June 16, 2012 4:00 AM


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