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Opinions on crossing bridges

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timecatalyst

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Jul 12 2013 at 1:16pm #

I’ve been passive reader here for a while now, telling myself, “I’ll setup an account tomorrow…” But “tomorrow” was almost year ago, so… yeah, sorry about that. It’s a shame that it took a near-miss this morning to motivate me to post.

I don’t recall seeing any topics about this, but I want to hear your thoughts on crossing bridges around town. Specifically, whether to take the street or the sidewalk(when one is available). To paint a better picture of what I mean: two bridges I cross frequently for my commute are Smithfield and 16th St. Both bridges have extremely narrow lanes, lots of fast traffic, and huge barricaded sidewalks on both sides.

I’m a vocal proponent of bicycles staying off of sidewalks, but the streets on these two bridges scare the hell out of me, to the point where I always cross via the sidewalks. As a result, I feel like kind of a hypocrite. At the same time, I recognize that riding nervously amongst traffic and creating the potential for accidents does nobody any favors. It’s tough for me to build a stance based purely on state traffic laws, because bridges aren’t “business districts” and are deemed OK to cross via sidewalk according to the bikepgh PDFs.

That having been said, an incident this morning on Smithfield is causing me to question my behavior. A person in a black Escalade (talking on a cell phone) right-hooked me at the Station Square entrance, 30-50 yards before the Carson St intersection. I was still on the sidewalk at that point, since the bridge portion just ended. My brakes squealed loudly and I screamed at the driver, but they didn’t even seem to notice what had just happened. Serves me right for being a bike on the sidewalk, but… What if I was a pedestrian? What if I was a pedestrian with a baby stroller!? What if [insert other horrible thing here]?

For the rest of my commute all I could think was, “I should have taken the street, then they would have seen me… But, I was extremely visible on the sidewalk too, so would taking the street mean that I’d be in the hospital right now? …am I getting an ucler!?”

Anyway, so now I’m wondering what’s the “right”/safest thing to do. I know that the street is generally always the safer option, but bridges are weird. Drivers take more risks, get even more impatient, and tend to drive way above the speed limit. Add narrow lanes into the mix and… well, let’s just say I’m not interested in cleaning my saddle that much. Not saying that all bridges are like this, these two just seem particularly bad.

This is the only time I’ve ever been torn on this subject, so I’m seeking other opinions of those who probably know better.


Kordite

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Jul 12 2013 at 1:26pm #

My commute takes me across the 6th Street Bridge twice daily. In the morning crossing from downtown to the North Shore I take to the sidewalk because I don’t like the narrow space and the high speeds I see there any more than you do. When I return to the street I am especially mindful of the sidewalk cutout but it’s fairly early in the morning so there are good sight lines and not a lot of traffic.

On the way home, I stay on the street and take the lane. During the summer the bridge is often closed because of Pirate games but even when the street is open I stay on the street. In part it’s because I’m going straight up 6th Street and the right lane of the bridge is for right turns only. I take the entire right lane to about the crest of the bridge and then move over to the left.

It seems to have worked and I don’t feel bad about riding the sidewalk in the mornings. If I recall correctly, the legal prohibition to riding on the sidewalk applies to commercial zones. I think bridges don’t qualify.


Mikhail

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Jul 12 2013 at 1:33pm #

I ride 16th always on a road taking one lane completely. Smithfield 50/50 — it depends on destination. If it’s SS trail then mostly on upstream sidewalk. If destination is E.Carson then on the road.

You are talking about this intersection, correct? https://maps.google.com/maps?q=15219&hl=en&ll=40.432574,-80.003689&spn=0.002264,0.003339&geocode=+&hnear=Pittsburgh,+Pennsylvania+15219&t=h&z=19&layer=c&cbll=40.432573,-80.003697&panoid=yMVbISL4DZ2HGhwjAB5lHQ&cbp=12,286.71,,0,21.11

You are moving much faster than pedestrian and drivers do not expect to see you. :(

BTW I don’t know how people riding sidewalks should cross intersections over ped x-ings. I know countries where you should walk your bike over x-ings by rules.


edmonds59

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Jul 12 2013 at 1:34pm #

Bottom line, as far as I’m concerned, is the stupid fking Escalade driver was in the wrong, so don’t beat yourself up over it. Absolutely it could have been a pedestrian, elderly person, or child. Then the idiot would have been on the news. Personally I would have left a nice SPD autograph on the door. (edit; having said that, if riding on the sidewalk, still exercise due caution at a street crossing, look around and make sure it’s safe and don’t cross willy-nilly, that should go without saying, but maybe not).
FWIW, the sidewalk on the East side of Smithfield is specifically marked to be bike and ped, ride it without hesitation. Just be courteous of peds. My assumption is that if a ped is wigged out by being in a mix with bikes, they can walk on the West sidewalk.
I frequently ride the sidewalk on the Fort Pitt bridge from Point Park to W. Carson, it is very narrow with very little room for passing peds or other bikes, I just try not to surprise or scare anyone, smile and say please and thank you, basic stuff.
Ride the sidewalks on the bridges if that’s what you feel the situation dictates. Keep riding.


timecatalyst

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Jul 12 2013 at 1:53pm #

Kordite wrote:
It seems to have worked and I don’t feel bad about riding the sidewalk in the mornings. If I recall correctly, the legal prohibition to riding on the sidewalk applies to commercial zones. I think bridges don’t qualify.

Yeah, that was what I recalled as well, bridges don’t qualify. Thanks for affirming. :)

Mikhail wrote:I ride 16th always on a road taking one lane completely. Smithfield 50/50 — it depends on destination. If it’s SS trail then mostly on upstream sidewalk. If destination is E.Carson then on the road.

You are talking about this intersection, correct? https://maps.google.com/maps?q=15219&hl=en&ll=40.432574,-80.003689&spn=0.002264,0.003339&geocode=+&hnear=Pittsburgh,+Pennsylvania+15219&t=h&z=19&layer=c&cbll=40.432573,-80.003697&panoid=yMVbISL4DZ2HGhwjAB5lHQ&cbp=12,286.71,,0,21.11

You are moving much faster than pedestrian and drivers do not expect to see you. :(

Correct, that’s the intersection. The only reason I didn’t leave a crater in the side of their car was because I tend to take it very slow on that stretch to avoid scaring peds, and to anticpate problems just like this. I turn right there as well, to reach the SS trail.

edmonds59 wrote:FWIW, the sidewalk on the East side of Smithfield is specifically marked to be bike and ped, ride it without hesitation. Just be courteous of peds.

Unfortunately, I was on the west side in this particular case. I don’t know if it’s explicitly marked, but I honestly haven’t checked either. Good to know anyway. Perhaps in the future, I ought to cross with the traffic light on the north end and head south via the east side of the bridge from now on.

I feel less hypocritical. :)


Marko82

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Jul 12 2013 at 2:13pm #

@timecatalyst, I’m sorry it took something negative to pull you from the shadows, but welcome to the forum.

I usually use the street and take the lane, but I’ll use the sidewalk sometimes if I’m out for a leisurely ride. I don’t think there is anything wrong or mousy with using the sidewalk on bridges as long as you are yielding to pedestrians and otherwise being courteous.

What you are struggling with is questioning your own behavior because of someone else’s BAD behavior & I don’t think you are going to reach a satisfactory conclusion because the problem is not what you were doing, but what the other guy did. Some drivers are a-holes and will put you in jeopardy no matter what you do, even if you happen to be driving a tank. Cars hit other cars all the time! As cyclist we are very vulnerable and we take these things personally, but remember that you can only control what you do, not the other guy. So even if you are doing everything correctly, you are never 100% safe; even as a pedestrian, even if you are sitting on your couch (see cars hitting buildings thread).

So don’t dwell on this one specific driver, but think of your route in general and what you can do to make it most safe. It sounds like you are doing this already since you saw the Escalade and avoided the right hook (even if it was close).


StuInMcCandless

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Jul 12 2013 at 3:04pm #

The bridge I have to think about is the 9th St Bridge. I very often come down the trail from Millvale and hike the bike up the steps to sidewalk level. Problem is, there is often a lot of traffic in both directions, so I might wait a while in the morning to get across to ride in traffic. So I ride the upstream sidewalk.

Just be nice, don’t scare people you’re coming up behind, yield to everyone coming at you, and smile.

The 40th St Bridge, similar. The upstream sidewalk is much preferable in either direction, to riding in traffic, either direction.


rsprake

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Jul 12 2013 at 3:24pm #

The sidewalk on the opposite side of the Smithfield bridge is designated as a shared sidewalk and people walking expect more bikes there. There is also no curb cuts for drivers to screw you over.


buffalo buffalo

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Jul 12 2013 at 3:32pm #

Caveat: I don’t live or work Downtown; the only bridge I cross on a regular basis is Millvale Avenue from Bloomfield to Oakland. Unless I’m going to an event straight from work, all of my river crossings are off-hours.

On the 6/7/9 St bridges, I’ll usually take the lane, staying right to the crest, then moving left if necessary for the downhill. I find them pretty short, if steep, and although two lanes they’re relatively narrow and speeds relatively controlled (note: “relatively”).

16th, however, I will almost always take the sidewalk, unless there’s no traffic or the sidewalks are completely plugged. I have seen cars doing 40mph on a regular basis, and would guess a significant number do 50+.

40th and West End I will only ride in the lane in a group. The wide-open appearance and highways at the ends seem to make drivers think the bridges themselves are part of the freeway. (Watch for glass and other debris on the rather narrow sidewalks, though, and sandbags on 40th.)

The rare occasions I ride over Smithfield are usually late at night when the drunks are out; I take the sidewalk and work the lights at the Ft Pitt Bv end to get a jump on getting back into traffic. Again, the sidewalk on the upriver side is specifically marked as a shared path, but riding the downriver side is perfectly legal as well. (Though even going toward Carson I’ll often take the upriver side, as I’m usually headed upriver from there.) I find that the bridge’s superstructure and electrical panels make it narrow in spots, but not impassably if you’re willing to be patient.


look out

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Jul 12 2013 at 4:20pm #

timecatalyst wrote:I’ve been passive reader here for a while now, telling myself, “I’ll setup an account tomorrow…” But “tomorrow” was almost year ago, so… yeah, sorry about that. It’s a shame that it took a near-miss this morning to motivate me to post.

I don’t recall seeing any topics about this, but I want to hear your thoughts on crossing bridges around town. Specifically, whether to take the street or the sidewalk(when one is available). To paint a better picture of what I mean: two bridges I cross frequently for my commute are Smithfield and 16th St. Both bridges have extremely narrow lanes, lots of fast traffic, and huge barricaded sidewalks on both sides.

I’m a vocal proponent of bicycles staying off of sidewalks, but the streets on these two bridges scare the hell out of me, to the point where I always cross via the sidewalks. As a result, I feel like kind of a hypocrite. At the same time, I recognize that riding nervously amongst traffic and creating the potential for accidents does nobody any favors. It’s tough for me to build a stance based purely on state traffic laws, because bridges aren’t “business districts” and are deemed OK to cross via sidewalk according to the bikepgh PDFs.

That having been said, an incident this morning on Smithfield is causing me to question my behavior. A person in a black Escalade (talking on a cell phone) right-hooked me at the Station Square entrance, 30-50 yards before the Carson St intersection. I was still on the sidewalk at that point, since the bridge portion just ended. My brakes squealed loudly and I screamed at the driver, but they didn’t even seem to notice what had just happened. Serves me right for being a bike on the sidewalk, but… What if I was a pedestrian? What if I was a pedestrian with a baby stroller!? What if [insert other horrible thing here]?

For the rest of my commute all I could think was, “I should have taken the street, then they would have seen me… But, I was extremely visible on the sidewalk too, so would taking the street mean that I’d be in the hospital right now? …am I getting an ucler!?”

Anyway, so now I’m wondering what’s the “right”/safest thing to do. I know that the street is generally always the safer option, but bridges are weird. Drivers take more risks, get even more impatient, and tend to drive way above the speed limit. Add narrow lanes into the mix and… well, let’s just say I’m not interested in cleaning my saddle that much. Not saying that all bridges are like this, these two just seem particularly bad.

This is the only time I’ve ever been torn on this subject, so I’m seeking other opinions of those who probably know better.


look out

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Jul 12 2013 at 4:38pm #

I am just a week end rider, but I do get at least 40 mile a day. In regards to bridges, I ride the Smithfield upstream side both ways. It’s part of the GAP trail, now. Other bridges I usually ride sidewalks, because drivers are too busy playing with their gadgets, or what ever. If I ride the street, there would be low traffic. It would also depend on on traffic flow. Most definitely ride the 40th on the upstream side. I have seen people ride the lanes, and it is just too dangerous. Riding on sidewalks in a commercial business area is illegal, but sometimes, it is way safer than the roadways. Lately, I have just been happy to stay on bike trails, away from idiots in cages. I believe this area needs to make it more accommodating to bikes. Also, people are going to have to get used to bikes on the road. I have also seen many bikers that are just total idiots, doing things that are outright dangerous. I drive an suv, too. But when I see a cyclist, I make SURE to give them room. There is no stopping some idiot on a bike from flying through a red light, or something, and they hit a vehicle. Just don’t take it for granted that the bicycle is king of the road. THINK! As far as the hazards and blockages, how is that any different than the pendot signs and potholes. I would just slow down, walk the bike through, or if you can’t ride through a space , maybe you need driving skills, or a more nimble bike. I used to have a mountain bike, which is good for the rough rides thru the city, but have found that a hybrid gets you around the city better. Much easier to ride hills, and that’s all Pittsburgh is. Good luck, and be safe.


TeamDecaf

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Jul 12 2013 at 5:08pm #

I always take the sidewalks unless I’m with maybe 4-5 or more riders. I agree, the decks just have too much fast traffic.

The 31st street bridge, thats a great bridge for deck riding… for now.


salty

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Jul 12 2013 at 5:25pm #

Yeah, I don’t like sidewalk riding either but I do it on the Smithfield St. bridge. BTW, I had no idea only one side was specifically marked for peds. Gor some reason I often seem to be coming from town, so I’ll go up the ramp and hop on that sidewalk (that the OP was on).

40th, Ft. Pitt, and Highland Park I’ll also ride on the sidewalk. 6/7/9/31/62 I’ll ride on the road. I don’t ride on 16th a lot but I remember crossing it on the road a few times.

Riding on the sidewalk is a crappy situation in general though.


gg

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Jul 12 2013 at 10:43pm #

timecatalyst wrote:To paint a better picture of what I mean: two bridges I cross frequently for my commute are Smithfield and 16th St. Both bridges have extremely narrow lanes, lots of fast traffic, and huge barricaded sidewalks on both sides.

You ride on the sidewalk on both those bridges. I don’t care what anyone else says to be honest. Your life is worth more than being silly.


ajbooth

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Jul 12 2013 at 10:57pm #

I cross the Smithfield Street Bridge twice a day when I commute, and always in the lane. In almost seven years of those crossings, I’ve had one incident that I would call threatening.

In the morning, I’m on the bridge by 7:00-7:10, and traffic is light. In the afternoon, I take the right lane until traffic is cleared, or I’m most of the way across, and then switch to the left lane and turn left onto Carson.

Last year I started taking the trail from the Strip to the Point, crossing the Fort Pitt bridge on the sidewalk, and the trail from the West End Bridge to Station Square to Carson St. When I have time, that is my preferred route. When pressed for time, I cut across town, and take the SS Bridge.


pinky

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Jul 13 2013 at 11:00am #

It really depends on my mood. If I take the deck, I take the lane, fully and without apology or hesitation. All of the bridges I typically use have two lanes, and cars have clear sight lines and the ability to pass me using the other lane.

I find 6/7/9 are easiest for this, 16th is next. Then Smithfield and West End.

On West End, I only take the deck if traffic is light. Because it morphs into a highway at both ends, I feel safer on the sidewalk. It’s also my typical commuting bridge and on a day to day basis, I don’t feel like getting screamed at or hearing horns blow in my ear.


timecatalyst

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Jul 14 2013 at 1:29pm #

It makes me feel better to hear that most people go through the same mental routine, and have a list of conditions for when/how they cross.

Thanks for all the feedback, and the reassurance that I’m not being a jerk out there. :)


Pierce

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Jul 14 2013 at 2:54pm #

I used to cross the Glenwood bridge everyday. I started off taking the lane, then had a period of taking the sidewalk, (and this was before volunteers cleaned it up, was always a mess of glass) then got tired of having to carry my bike up two flights of stairs and went back to taking the lane

Now I take the Rankin Bridge everyday and use the shoulders

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