It's right time to learn this Polish Hill shortcut


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Who doesn't love a shortcut?

In our quirky city of rivers, hills, hidden staircases and you-can't-get-there-from-heres, the shortcut is prized. The shortcut is guarded. When one is shared, it is generally person-to-person, with the unspoken understanding that if everyone were hip then no one could be hip.

So it is with some hesitancy that I write about Gold Way. I can still remember the night years ago that former columnist Peter Leo shared the secret of this winding passage between North Oakland and Polish Hill.

He was driving me home to the North Side from the East End, and when he took this odd right turn off Baum Boulevard, and a quick left and right on a back street and alley soon after, I was baffled. I didn't know where I was until I finally saw the majestically lit domes of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church come into view ahead. I've used this obscure back door to Polish Hill often since.

Every resident has a personal Pittsburgh, a slowly gathered knowledge of the city that builds over time. Gold Way -- though I've never called it by name before today -- was among my collection of semi-secrets. I share it today with several thousand friends under the condition that it's treated with the respect it deserves.

Gold Way is in the news because Bike Pittsburgh (bikepgh.org) is touting the "city's first speed humps and bike boulevard.'' The organization credits the Polish Hill Civic Association for working with city officials to introduce the "humps" ( "bumps,'' among friends). Scott Bricker, Bike Pittsburgh's executive director, is pleased this traffic calming is accompanied by "prioritizing bikes in some fashion."

The road, which connects Melwood Avenue in Polish Hill with the alley behind Melwood Avenue in North Oakland, now has large white images of bicycles painted on the asphalt. A series of speed humps punctuate the middle of the road but the areas to the left and right have been left flat for cyclists to pedal.

"Cut-through traffic continues to be a problem in Polish Hill,'' says Alexis Miller, president of the Polish Hill Civic Association, on the Bike Pittsburgh website, "but we are totally thrilled about what has happened on Gold Way.''

I couldn't reach anyone from the association Friday, but neighborhood resident Michael Artman, 23, said he either bikes or drives Gold Way every day. When the city started putting in the humps, he initially thought the crew had applied too much pavement. He's not sure the humps are pronounced enough to effectively slow cars.

Mr. Artman, publisher of Rustbelt Almanac, also wonders how many cyclists will want to climb the steep Polish Hill to get to this shortcut, and whether those pedaling down from the neighborhood will be prepared for the abrupt intersection with Liberty Avenue below.

The most dangerous intersection on the stretch, the three-way stop atop the short hill from Melwood Avenue in Oakland to Gold Way, still all but requires motorists to creep past blind spots into the intersection to scout traffic, too, Mr. Artman said.

I'm nonetheless impressed with the improvements. The signage and fresh paint at the humps were enough to slow me when I was driving the stretch Friday afternoon. A cyclist coming from the other direction passed easily. Pittsburgh could use more no-sweat road-sharing, and this seems a healthy start.

Shortcuts aren't always so great when you live along one, so I still feel a tad guilty about publicizing even a traffic-calming first. A year ago, when the inimitable Rick Sebak featured the shortcut on his WQED documentary, "25 Things I Like About Pittsburgh,'' he did not find a thrill on Polish Hill. The neighborhood association's blog, "Blogski,'' complained with a piece titled "Polish Hill Does Not Want To Be Seen As A Short Cut.''

Mr. Artman eased my concerns when he reported that traffic on Gold Way has stayed about the same in the four years he's lived in the neighborhood, so it could be these worries are overblown. But if, after having read this, you still aren't quite sure where this shortcut is, good.

That means if you go searching for it, you'll do so at temperate speed. Don't make anyone sorry you've been let in on the secret.


Brian O'Neill: boneill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1947.

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