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This topic contains 139 replies, has 44 voices, and was last updated by  Steven 1 yr, 9 mos.

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Anonymous

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Sep 11 2012 at 1:40pm #

didn’t mean to spark a debate with my comment…for the record, I love the C&O just the way it is. I’m a “mountain” bike tour’er so I don’t mind the surface at all. It’s what makes the C&O the C&O in my opinion.


Anonymous

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Sep 14 2012 at 2:13pm #

@Mick..yup. teams of mules (NOT donkeys) walking side by side in groups of 4 or 6 (mostly). For longer trips a spare team was stabled in the front, lower section of the canal boat.


ejwme

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Sep 14 2012 at 5:48pm #

there’s something to be said for preservation, but even if there were mules hauling barges still, I’m sure the mule drivers wouldn’t scoff at a less muddy surface for their mules to traverse. We’ve still got the canal, we’ve still got a path, it’s still motor vehicle-free. Resisting all improvements makes as much sense as causing a huge stink when someone brings up the idea of moving ARB’s granite curbs a few feet to accommodate a bike/ped lane.

It’s a balance between remembering the past and the needs of current inhabitants. It always surprises me when people assume we can’t do both.


mark

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Sep 14 2012 at 6:10pm #

i’m riding pgh to DC in a 24 hour relay tomorrow, hopefully that detour will be passable. anyone have any recent info on the C&O construction?


Mick

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Sep 14 2012 at 6:25pm #

@ejwme It’s a balance between remembering the past and the needs of current inhabitants.

My impression is that the hikers -understandably – would rather not have the path totally overrun by bicyclists. Hence the resistence.

Now there is a paved path, Western Maryland Rail Trail, parallel to the C&O. It’s currently for short distance (~20 miles) around Hancock.

Bikers find a it a respite from the muck when there is rain. There is a movement to complete that trail. Complete from where to where I don’t know.

From the WMRT site

IMPORTANT NEWS: Gov Robert Ehrlich anounced recently that the State Department of Transportation and the Department of Natural Resources will spend $5 million for 4.5 mile extension of the WMRT. The new section will run between Pearre Station and Little Orleans, Md, with access through the 4,400 foot Indigo Tunnel. The trail extension will be in conjunction with the National Park Service.

That is one hefty tunnel. The Big Savage Tunnel is 3300 ft.

When the WMRT is done, I doubt many bikers would go for long on the C&O in the areas the WMRT covers.


Steven

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Sep 14 2012 at 7:53pm #

Here’s a National Park Service page with their recent Environmental Assessment for extending the WMRT (currently 22.5 miles) another 15 miles, from its current western end past Little Orleans and all the way to Paw Paw.

I wonder what percentage of cyclists, if any, intentionally take the C&O for the portion paralleled by the WMRT today.


jonawebb

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Sep 14 2012 at 8:00pm #

If you ride that way you’ll find the trail is far more overgrown in the section the WMRT covers. So I would say, complete the WMRT and leave the C&O to the people who like walking on an old mule track.


Steven

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Sep 14 2012 at 8:08pm #

Oh, and the WMRT “news” is from 2006. Gov. Erlich left office in 2007. Since then, it looks like they’ve decided to keep the Indigo Tunnel closed to protect the bats that live there.

They may start construction on the extension, funded in 2006, later this year. Hmm, I don’t think Sandcastle was involved with that one.


Jacob McCrea

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Sep 14 2012 at 8:24pm #

Here is some good news on this issue.

http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/region/great-allegheny-passage-bike-trail-set-for-completion-in-spring-653356/


Anonymous

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Sep 14 2012 at 8:49pm #

WORK HAS STARTED! We rode by today and saw tree removal in progress in the Sandcastle parking lot. Stopped to ask and YES – they’re working on the trail! Caruso has the contract for the work and there was also some guys from a tree removal service assisting. They said some trees had already been removed over at Keystone Metals, but we couldn’t see that work area.

Woo Hoo!!!


bhattenb

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Sep 14 2012 at 9:58pm #

OT, but I bet somebody here knows. While riding between Harper’s Ferry and DC in August, my friend and I had a disagreement. I thought that the mules towed the canal boats both ways but my friend thought they towed them only upsteam and the boats just floated downstream with the current. Can anybody definitively settle this?


Andrew

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Sep 15 2012 at 2:47am #

Yes! That’s so exciting to see some actual work being done :)

“expected to be finished by next spring.”

Nice!


Steven

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Sep 15 2012 at 5:39am #

Great news! I like how the article says work will start in October, but it’s actually already started. Hoping the completion date slips backward in the same fashion!

Regarding canals, I think the locks prevented significant current flow. The water between one lock and the next (the canal pound) is at the same level throughout, so it doesn’t flow anywhere (apart from the bit of water that gets through during the actual use of the lock).

Here’s a page with old photos of canal boats on the Erie canal. One’s headed eastbound, one west, and the captions imply that both will be towed by mules.


StuInMcCandless

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Sep 15 2012 at 10:19am #

I studied canals a bit in college, focusing on the Genesee Valley Canal (1840-1878), which connected the Erie Canal at Rochester NY with the Allegheny River at Olean NY. It had a series of 24 back-to-back locks between Nunda and Portageville, and while a current was said to exist in this segment, it was more an annoyance than a help. Two-way traffic, one towpath, and ropes connecting barges with mules for both, was a much larger factor in how and when anything moved.


Lenny

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Sep 15 2012 at 3:17pm #

Nice to hear that they will start working on the Sandcastle part of the trail,but does anyone have info on when the other 2 parts,( Homestead and wharf to the point), will be finished?? Sandcastle is just 1 of 3 parts of the gap


Pierce

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Sep 15 2012 at 3:21pm #

Man, this is really turning into like the intercontinental railroad, trying to get this thing connected

We need a section of golden asphalt or something when this is finished


cdavey

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Sep 15 2012 at 6:38pm #

@bhattenb — That was a great question! I tried to find a photo but couldn’t. Meanwhile I think Steven has posted the correct answer above. The elevation changes required were made with the locks. The stretches between the locks were level. Think about how the towpath drops only at the locks.

I am guessing the engineering reason for this that if you had sufficient drop to generate a current you always would be losing water by it flowing out of the canal and that would have to be replaced.

Even with loss of water minimized this way, there would still be water loss at the locks as you raised and lowered the water levels in them. IIRC to compensate for this, the canal had intakes from the various streams it crossed where it could draw water out of them to replace what was lost.

And now for an encore — just point me to this if you know. If they had mules pulling boats both ways, how did they get the harness lines from boats on the east side of the canal past the harness lines of boats on the west side of it without them getting tangled?? Hand them to the boat on the west side to give to whomever was walking on the towpath with the mules? (I can just feel the brickbats coming at me already.)


bhattenb

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Sep 15 2012 at 11:02pm #

Thanks for the lesson, guys. I also wondered how they kept the lines from getting tangled when two canal boats passed.


Steven

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Sep 16 2012 at 6:30am #

Totally guessing here, but say one canal boat is hugging the shore next to the tow path, and its mules are also hugging the shore. A canal boat trying to pass it (going in either direction) would then take the bank farthest from the tow path, and its mules would pass on the outside of the other mules. The only problem then is the second boat’s rope, but if they could just lift that up above the inner boats and mules they’d be all set topologically. Maybe the inner boat and mule guys used long poles for this.

Also, here’s an updated PG article with more details. (I’m assuming “This portion is not expected to be completed by spring of 2013″ is supposed to read “This portion is not expected to be completed until spring of 2013″ or maybe “This portion is now expected to be completed by spring of 2013″.) It doesn’t address the two downtown links though.


edmonds59

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Sep 16 2012 at 12:30pm #

If I had to guess, I would say they would just unhitch one team when passing, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.

Also, is there still a plan for a “Mon wharf connector” to the point? If there is, I vote for it to be killed. The solution to that stretch should be a separated bike lane on First ave from Pnc to Point Park. It’s a heckuva lot more do-able and cost effective. It would be usable by commuters to the Smithfield bridge. Three car lanes on First avenue is foolish. I think all energy should go toward that.


ejwme

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Sep 16 2012 at 12:46pm #

we’re quite confident that there weren’t paths along either side during the glory days? I’ve never been along this canal, but most other canals I’ve been along have had paths on either side, even if they’re precarious and barely wide enough for a mule (those creatures can be quite nimble). If only one side was preserved, the other side could just as easily fall in or grow over or otherwise disappear, leaving us with half the story.


Steven

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Sep 16 2012 at 11:32pm #

As far as I know, they’re still planning to build both the switchback ramp (wharf to Smithfield Street bridge) and connector (wharf to Point State Park).

One problem with converting First Avenue is it would require cyclists to cross a bunch of streets, which the trail is trying to minimize as much as possible. There aren’t even traffic lights on those intersections now. And First Avenue doesn’t seem to cleanly connect at either end: at the west there’s a staircase, and at the end a parkway ramp is blocking the way. By the time you address those problems with new ramps and traffic lights (assuming the city was OK with that), the cost might be comparable to their current plans.

Re: canals, I believe there’s a tunnel on the C&O with a ledge along just one side of the canal, for what that’s worth. From the photos it didn’t look like there was ever a ledge on the other side. Also, the historical Erie Canal photos I linked above show boats heading in both directions, but the mules always on the same side. But that’s not definitive. Good question!


Ahlir

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Sep 17 2012 at 12:32am #

I agree that the Jail-Trail?Point-State-Park connection is an annoyance, but it’s not all that bad at this time (assuming you’re coming from the east).

1) Take the walkway to Smithfield; wait for the light. Go to 1st.

2) Left on 1st to the end onto Stanwix, cross the lanes to the left turn lane, turn onto the Boulevard.

3) right on Commonwealth Place then left into the park.

On the way back just go back up the Boulevard to Grant, left on 1st and on to the trail.

No, you can’t just sail through.

But it’s a city. You’re not the only thing on the road. Deal with it.


Anonymous

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Sep 17 2012 at 1:53am #

@Steven http://www.morriscanal.org/kids.htm — qustion #7.


Steven

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Sep 17 2012 at 2:47am #

@Mikhail: Thanks! So instead of lifting the outer rope over the inner boat and mules, they drop it beneath them. Makes sense.

@Ahlir: Thanks for the route. Still, if we can “deal with it” by building a new route that bypasses all the intersections and cars, I think it’ll be a lot better.


cdavey

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Sep 17 2012 at 3:00am #

@mikhail — Thank you! Makes perfect, practical sense. Steven almost got it right. I wouldn’t have thought of it.

One of the things I find most interesting and enjoyable about this board is the number of bright people who think of questions like this and then go hunt for anwers to share with the rest of us. I keep learning fascinating off-the-wall stuff from the rest of you that I wouldn’t have ever thought of myself. Dudes, cool. Really cool. Thanks so much for it.


HiddenVariable

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Sep 17 2012 at 4:05am #

@edmonds: why not both? absolutely, 1st ave is overused (or underused, depending), but once the connection through the mon wharf is done, you could possibly have a 100% car-free route from point state park to the east end. that is, in my mind anyway, a spectacular encouragement to anyone who might think “it’s too hard” to hop on a bike and take a look at our beautiful city. travel across a city without every having to deal with automobile traffic? get out of town! or don’t, because you don’t have to! love it.


Steven

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Sep 17 2012 at 5:16am #

+1 HV. Also think about all the non-bike users of the Jail Trail who might want to continue to Point State Park, but not if it means rollerblading while pushing a baby carriage down a First Avenue sidewalk and braking for buses.

On the other hand, we’ll still need a route for when the wharf’s under water or covered in river gunk. So any improvements to the First Avenue/Blvd of the Allies bike route would still be worthwhile even after they build the switchback ramp and connector.


edmonds59

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Sep 17 2012 at 11:18am #

The real drawback to the Mon wharf connector is that it does nothing to tie all the cross streets, Smithfield, Wood, Market, Stanwix, into the EFT as a commuter route. Those streets are all much easier to negotiate than the “spines” of First, or the Boulevard. Getting to or starting from the Point is great for tourists who want to say they went from DC to the point. I’m thinking of getting more bike facilities on the streets for everyday. And I’m talking about a separated bike lane, take away a car lane at First, add a curb, so the moms with the strollers are comfortable. I don’t think it’s nearly as difficult as you make it sound Steven. There are lights at those intersections, I stop at them. There’s already a ped crossing at the Grant St ramp, just extend it to First. I’m not sure what steps you’re talking about at the other end but it’s got to be technically easier than this Smithfield ramp. With downtown trending to more residential, I bet all the new residents along First would be big supporters as well.


Marko82

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Sep 17 2012 at 1:07pm #

You could eliminate the parking lane on Ft Pitt blvd and put in a protected bike lane without much work. It would just require a change to the traffic light at the end of the trail – where you cross to the mix use sidwalk to the smithfield bridge. It could be an on-demand push button only cycle so it wouldnt slow up the intersection when no one needed to cross.

Or just eliminate all car traffic downtown like during the G20. That was fantastic!


buffalo buffalo

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Sep 17 2012 at 2:28pm #

I wonder if there’s a small name mix-up here: First Ave is one lane plus parking and has almost no traffic lights. Fort Pitt Blvd has two lanes plus parking and a light at every intersection. The Furnace Trail ends at Grant and Fort Pitt–to get to First towards the Point from there, you have to go up to Allies and around the Parkway ramps.


Vannevar

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Sep 17 2012 at 2:55pm #

+1 Endmonds59. It certainly would signal downtown as a “place to live” rather than a place to leave at 5pm.


edmonds59

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Sep 17 2012 at 3:08pm #

Holy crap yes, I’ve been talking about Fort Pitt. Apologies. Good spot BB.


Ahlir

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Sep 17 2012 at 4:48pm #

The best way to get to 1st (or Ft.Pitt) is to cross the street at the end of the trail and go along the walkway to the Smithfield Bridge. Wait for the pedestrian light. Then go to the Ft. Pitt intersection. You now have a choice between turning left right away or proceeding one block and turning left. I personally prefer Ft. Pitt since you end up stopping fewer times and the Commonwealth bit is simpler. You don’t want to get onto Ft.Pitt right at the trail: some lane of cars always has precedence.

Yes, Ft. Pitt should get a dedicated bike lane (starting at Smithfield) and Commonwealth should be sharrowed.

While we’re at it: Once you cross the bridge to the north “shore” it’s hard to cross the street (coincidentally, North Shore Dr). There should be a light activatable by bikers and pedestrians.


buffalo buffalo

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Sep 17 2012 at 5:55pm #

> While we’re at it: Once you cross the bridge to the north “shore” it’s hard to cross the street (coincidentally, North Shore Dr). There should be a light activatable by bikers and pedestrians.

Oh my yes. I’d almost always rather take one of the three-sisters bridges when practical for just this reason.

(ETA: 311’ed.)


Steven

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Sep 17 2012 at 6:09pm #

You could eliminate the parking lane on Ft Pitt blvd and put in a protected bike lane without much work.

There’s not a lot of parking to remove on Fort Pitt Blvd. From Smithfield to Wood, parking is prohibited. From Wood to Market, parking is prohibited between 4 PM and 6 PM. From Market to Stanwix there are about 5 unrestricted parking spots, and from Stanwix to Commonwealth it’s two lanes with no parking.

The bigger problem is turn lanes, not parking. Westbound, it’s got three turn lanes at most intersections. Does it need all three during rush hour? Assuming it doesn’t, a bike lane there would need to be carefully designed because of all the car traffic turning on and off it. Bike boxes maybe.

Are the folks proposing a bike lane for Fort Pitt Blvd talking strictly about westbound bike traffic? If there’s to be an eastbound bike lane there too, there are more issues (like just where you’d put it).


edmonds59

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Sep 17 2012 at 6:27pm #

I have in mind one 2-way separated lane on the inland side of Fort Pitt.

The other thing I think I was sub-consciously sensing is that almost no cars make right turns from Ft Pitt, they are all trying to go left to Parkway ramps, at least until all the way until Stanwix and Commonwealth, and by then car traffic is quite thin.

I suppose what I’m thinking is that, there seems to be an enormous amount of technical and financial gymnastics being expended toward construction a trail-type connection at this location to the Point, when I am having the feeling that the city has progressed enough that we should start proposing “easier” on-road solutions that are more integrated into the overall transportation fabric, as other cities have done/are doing.


Anonymous

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Sep 17 2012 at 6:32pm #

Just a picture from Keystone side. :) Took it today at lunch time. I did not see any activity.


Vannevar

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Sep 17 2012 at 9:57pm #

Hello Mikhail, I wouldn’t be surprised if the final trail path through/along Keystone Metals does not follow the tantalizing bit of pseudo-trail that we’ve been staring at longingly through the fence.

It would be great to see a map of what they’re actually building, it’s been changed a few times.


Anonymous

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Sep 17 2012 at 10:29pm #

Well, I think the way of separation of bicyclists and trucks how it’s supposedly done today is one of the best. Trucks cannot hurt bicyclists if last ones are 10-12 feet above in a fenced zone (so bicyclists would not send themselves down to trucks).

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