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Pittsburgh Bike Trails

North Shore Trail - Station Square Trail -
South Side Trail - Baldwin Borough Trail - Jail Trail

Columbus Day 2005 we rode from Washington's Landing (formerly Herr's Island, a stockyards with rendering plants) along the North Shore, crossed the Fort Duquesne Bridge and the Smithfield St. Bridge, rode the trail along the South Side until the trail ended, reversed and took the Hot Metal Bridge and the Eliza Furnace Trail (aka Jail Trail), back to the North Side, one loop around Heinz Field, and back to Washington's Landing in 23 miles of riding. These trails are very nice, and I felt remiss in not having tried them previously.

Our planning started with a click on Friends of the Riverfront, and if you'll email friends@friendsoftheriverfront.org and request a map they'll snail-mail you a way-cool map of all the downtown trails. Here's a PDF version of the same map.

Then we posted a query on the Great Allegheny Passage Yahoo Groups, asking what's really going on out there?, and we got some great answers. But there's nothing like putting your tires on the ground and seeing first-hand.

We departed the center of the known universe (Moon Township) via Route 65 to the North Side, connecting to Route 28 East. On Route 28 we took the exit for the 31st Street bridge, and then made the immediate right onto a descending service road that leads to Washington's Landing. We parked under the 31st Street Bridge.

When our group of four joined up, we headed north-east (away from The Point), past Three Rivers Rowing's boathouse, went under an overpass and found the North Shore Trail. There's a brick archway that seemed like a trail portal.

The trail along Washington's Landing was very nice. Beautiful scenery, several nice little gazebos, there's a bistro/cafe (Redfin Blues) where the trail actually passes between the building and the patio. There are a few spots where the landscaping has grown enthusiastically, resulting in low/no forward visibility with a very narrow trail. If there was an opposite direction bicyclist we'd have tangled handlebars.

There's a switchback ramp connecting Washington's Landing with the mainland, a couple of fun 180 degree turns. On the mainland, the trail starts as a dirt path along a city street. As you approach the Heinz Lofts you'll see a half-dozen large metal boxes between the trail and the street, these are the "free blue bikes" that are available. I was really interested in these because it's the first time I've seen "bike lockers", which I understand are often used in DC and Chicago for bike commuters.

Then the trail turned closer to the shoreline, and was paved. At times I thought that a railing would have been appropriate to keep you from riding into the Allegheny. I don't think I could tread water while keeping my bike afloat for very long. There's a couple of pieces of sculpture/artwork, and there's a few vagrants.

We could see the fountain at Point State Park, and the water was colored pink to raise breast cancer awareness.

When we got to the Fort Duquesne bridge, there's a series of ramps that lead you up to the bridge's footpath. It may take a bit of reconnoitering to find the ramps. The trip across the Allegheny is brief, and probably represents the biggest climb of the day.

The bridge ramp set us down in Point State Park. It seems like it's okay to ride your bike out of the Point, but it's not kosher to ride around the actual fountain - there are "no bike" signs in that section. We rode on Blvd of the Allies, and there was very light traffic due to the holiday. We turned right on Smithfield Street and crossed the Mon using the sidewalk on the Smithfield Street Bridge.

As we crossed the bridge we got a good look at where the (paved) Station Square Trail runs between the Station Square complex and the trains, so we took the first right turn off the bridge, descending toward the Gandy Dancer in the Landmarks Bldg. We kept the Landmarks Bldg close to our left side, and went down a short flight of stairs leading to the trail. A right turn on the trail and we were on our way.

The trail leads south along the Monongahela. There's a four-block section that's not complete yet, so you to turn right on Second, left on McKean, left on Fourth, straight on 4th (onto cobblestones, at Bingham), across the RR tracks, then right on the trail. The signs are good.

Past the detour, we were on the South Side Trail, which becomes quite beautiful. Lots of shade, nice river scenery, and the trail is generally paved, although at times there's a narrow gravel strip alongside for joggers who prefer a softer surface.

As we passed under the Birmingham Bridge, we saw a lot of bicyclists taking bikes off cars, possibly a group event.

There was a split between two paths and I opted to stay closer to the river. Mistake! I should have made a slight right uphill, and I'd have found the actual South Side Trail, which has parallel paved and unpaved sections. If you look at the map (left), you'll see there's a short (wrong) path and a through/correct path.

Shortly after, the parallel paved and limestone paths diverge. We stayed on the paved path, which led to a dead-end, but as we'd learned from Yahoo Groups!, you don't have to backtrack, just look for a passage in the trees on the left and you'll be on the unpaved trail and back on course.

We continued south, now on the Baldwin Borough Trail, past the Steeler's training field. If you look further down the Mon you can see glimpses of the Glenwood Bridge and the blue tubes of Sandcastle in the distance. Eventually we came to a sign that said "end of trail", and we continued on the pavement for a minute until it dead-ended in a little paved loop by the train tracks. The ballast looks dangerous, sharp, and it's very close to active train tracks, and none of us wanted to trespass and continue. I would not recommend continuing beyond the trail end.

We were joined by 4 riders in their mid-50's with Brooklyn accents, then by 4 more riders, and then we got back on the trail as the turnaround was getting a bit crowded. We passed another dozen bicycles heading to the trail-end in the next mile, this was the group that we saw mounting up at the Birmingham Bridge.

On the way back, we merged with car traffic on the Hot Metal Bridge (sign: Pedestrians Prohibited!), which will eventually include a bike lane. On the other side of the Mon we turned right for about 1/2 mile, and entered the Eliza Furnace Trail. (water fountain, porta-potty) This is a wide, paved trail. In sharp contrast to the shaded and picturesque trail on the west bank, the Eliza Furnace (Jail Trail) is industrial/urban, noisy, and graffiti-ed; but it's flat, paved, and wide- and much nicer than the road.

We took the trail to the end at Golden Triangle Bike Rentals (gatorade machine!), rode a ramp up to the Smithfield Street Bridge, then rode Blvd of the Allies to Point State Park. After going through the park's tunnel you bear right to get on the Ft. Duquesne bridge. On the North Shore, use the ramps to get off the bridge and down to the street, no need to lug your bike on stairs.

We choose to take one circle around Heinz Field. A gate into the stadium's merchandise store was open so we rode our bikes in, on the chance that we could ride around the inside of the stadium once, but the first worker who saw us objected to our presence and we departed.

The transition from the stadium to the trail was interesting, it's a set of terraced platforms that's a bit of a bike handling experiment.

We returned to the North Side trail, where I noticed a few more homeless people sitting in the grass. We worked our way along the Heinz plant, and climbed the switchback ramps to get on Washington's Landing. We stopped at the gazebo to join up and (aarrggghhhh!) I unclipped the wrong foot, and ended up falling. The Fates having been satisfied, we returned to the parking lot.

Clock time was 3 hours, riding time was 2 hours (we stopped a bit), average speed was 11 mph, total distance was 23 mph.

This is a very nice ride; it's a non-monotonous, flat trail with lots of different views. As a bunch of "airport area" riders, we felt like we'd discovered a new place to ride. You have to give Mayor Murphy top marks for the trails he's built.

Caveats: This is probably not a road bike trail. There is not a lot of water available on the course. The Point Park to Station Square transition requires alertness; we rode on a holiday when car traffic was light. Your mileage may vary.

Post Gazette article, Oct 14 2005.

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