Seven years ago, the Great Allegheny Passage trail did not go past Kennywood and Sandcastle, so it did not reach Pittsburgh. That trail has since been completed, so today trails connect 320 miles from Downtown Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C.
The GAP trail is enormously popular with bike commuters, recreational cyclists, joggers, dog walkers and rollerbladers. Tourists come from around the world to bike the trail to Washington. Cyclists from Downtown use the city’s Healthy Ride shared bikes to pedal across Hot Metal Bridge and venture out on the GAP trail to watch the bald eagles in Hays.
The GAP trail sits on the Monongahela River’s left bank (the left bank from the point of view of a boat floating downstream). The GAP trail is a great success. On the right bank, however, between Hazelwood and Braddock, there is no such continuous trail. It is difficult to travel along the river there by bike or foot and difficult to get over the river to the GAP trail on the other side.
To encourage all Pittsburghers to stay active and rediscover their rivers, particularly for the large number of people in the East End, it’s time to complete the network of trails on the right bank of the Mon and provide easy connections to the GAP trail across the river.
Trails in Pittsburgh, especially along our rivers, have been a huge success. And, given how much they improve our region’s quality of life, they are a great bargain.
People are cycling more to save money, to combat obesity or diabetes, to reduce pollution, to get some exercise while commuting, to avoid the expense of parking a car, or just because cycling is fun and relaxing. For some trips, it’s quicker than driving.
But, on the right bank of the river, if you were to bike today from Hazelwood to Braddock, you would endure the following: Sharing a road with speeding cars, rough gravel near Glenwood Bridge, an illegal portage across railroad tracks, skirting a railroad fence and several miles of a gravel and mud service road. It is unpleasant, so few do it. But if a proper trail were built, we’d have 100 or 1,000 times more people biking, walking, rollerblading and otherwise enjoying this route.
Let me tell you what’s needed between Hot Metal Bridge and Braddock, which is illustrated by the accompanying map.
A road with an adjacent bike path is under construction at the ALMONO redevelopment site in Hazelwood; it should open in a couple of years.
South of Hazelwood is Glenwood rail yard, a tough obstacle. To build a trail around it, we’ll need cooperation from CSX and AVR rail-roads. Just beyond, a ramp up to Glenwood Bridge or a new bridge over the railroad tracks is needed.
Continuing upstream, we come upon Duck Hollow Trail. Between there and Carrie Furnace, the riverbank is nearly wilderness. At Duck Hollow, where Nine Mile Run flows into the Mon, the Nine Mile Run Trail branches left through Frick Park. If your destination is Squirrel Hill, Point Breeze, Homewood, Wilkinsburg, Edgewood, Regent Square or Swissvale, you turn off here. You also can cross the river using the Homestead Grays Bridge, but this entails a 160-foot climb.
Farther along, at the brownfield redevelopment site at Carrie Furnace, we find a prize of great potential, the Rankin Hot Metal Bridge. This bridge is low, and it could accommodate a lane that would connect directly with the GAP trail on the other bank. This would be the best trail connection across the river.
The Rankin bridge was sold to Allegheny County on the condition that it someday accommodate cyclists and pedestrians. Refurbishment is estimated to cost $30 million, mostly to provide for cars and trucks.
Continuing upstream, we ride along the wide sidewalk of Carrie Furnace Boulevard in Rankin, and this connects us to the Rankin bridge or Braddock Avenue, which runs through the center of Braddock.
From Braddock, a natural route is to follow Turtle Creek upstream. If Allegheny County built bike lanes and trails up that valley to Trafford, they could connect with Turtle Creek Rail Trail, which goes out to Murrysville and which is scheduled to be completed this year by Westmoreland County. This trail soon will connect with trails that continue 75 miles east, most of the way to Altoona!
If we complete the Mon trail network, it would strengthen Pittsburgh’s growing international reputation as a model of revitalization, while making Pittsburghers and our communities happier and healthier.
We should set a goal to build all of these trails within the next 10 years. To make this happen, we need support from residents, busi-ness owners and politicians. You can help by donating time or money to trail organizations such as the Steel Valley Trail Council and Friends of the Riverfront.
Paul S. Heckbert is past secretary of the Steel Valley Trail Council and former professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University.
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