Wabash Tunnel

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Noah Mustion

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Jul 3 2010 at 4:25pm #

So if this tunnel is on the verge of being abandoned, why doesn’t the city turn it into a bicycle path tunnel? Would the costs of maintenance preclude this? Then again short of filling it/boarding it up, it would be subject to illicit use one way or another. I also wonder if it would be unsafe. Thoughts?


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Jul 3 2010 at 6:49pm #

Does it lead anywhere useful for a cyclist?

Chris Mayhew

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Jul 3 2010 at 8:00pm #

It’s a reasonable way to get over Mt. Washington in low traffic situations.


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Jul 3 2010 at 9:07pm #

Port Authority owns the tunnel, and they have repeatedly said no every time the topic was raised.

Several months ago, I started to work on getting Port Authority to change its mind on the use of bicycles in the Wabash Tunnel. I did inquire, and learned a few things. The short version is that we’re not going to get it in the short term. It isn’t just “no”, there are some sound reasons for it that are bigger than us.

The simple explanation I got to the last inquiry was “liability concerns”. I know there is more to the story than that, but it is premature to press the issue, for fear of invoking a recitation of Vogon poetry from someone at PAT HQ. It is, however, a jumping-off point for additional discussion.

Short answer: This is going to take a while, and it isn’t going to be easy.

I’ve collected below (in the next post) all the threads in which we’ve discussed this over the last couple of years. Please (re-)read them, and continue to add to each one as you see fit.

Herewith are some valid concerns, in no particular order:

  • I think we want 24/7 two-way bicycle travel, with one-way for motor vehicles. That’s not going to be easy to argue for. If we have to get into engineering studies and like-type paper handling, we’re talking years.
  • I do not think we want to have to deal with physical separation like jersey barriers or rumble strips, between us and motor traffic. Or do we?
  • Whatever the “liability concerns” are, getting a big company with a justified fear of lawsuits to change its mind about something that increases its liability is also not going to be easy.
  • Wabash itself is only part of the problem. On the south end, there really isn’t anyplace to go except Saw Mill Run Blvd, and on the north end, West Carson (even if only to the Fort Pitt Bridge steps) is similarly uninviting. Until and unless we resolve valid safety concerns about riding along those, there may not be much point in getting PAT to change its mind.
  • One potentially helpful piece on the south end is the former railroad bridge over PA51. However, it is being used as a private parking lot, and I suspect getting an easement for a public trail will also be a non-trivial effort.
  • That railroad parallel to PA51 looks abandoned, but I do not know if it truly is. It is not usable now for bikes, as stated in one of the threads below. Getting it converted into a bike trail would take a while if possible, and may not be possible at this time. I just don’t know its status. (There are two, the nearer is the same one that cuts through the West End Circle at grade, and sure doesn’t look very healthy.) Again, though, while out of the purview of getting Wabash open, we need someplace to ride in order to get from West Liberty to Woodruff, and PA51 isn’t it in the short term.
  • However, possibly the biggest hurdle in the whole matter is money. As I understand it, Port Authority got a pile of federal money to refurbish the tunnel in the 1990s with the purpose of making it an HOV lane, part of the West Busway project. That money came with the stipulation that the tunnel only be used for that purpose, and so, if PAAC wants to use the tunnel for anything else, it would have to pay back the feds. Rotsa ruck trying to pry a 7- or 8-digit figure out of them. I fear it may literally take an Act of Congress to change the federal rules on that one. Or a positive interpretation of FHA/FTA rules, not sure which. Either way, bigger than us.
  • Last but not least, I learned of one use of the tunnel we have not talked about: It’s the (ahem) fast way to get through Mt Washington, fast as in 85 mph. I got this from someone who suggested I abandon the whole idea out of safety concerns — on Rt 51. Apparently 85 is about as fast as you can get to before you run out of tunnel.

OK, kids, are we ready? I think we need to get a critical mass of us (lower case) to make a compelling case — to Port Authority, to PennDOT, to members of Congress, whomever. Let’s make the case, on an individual basis, for getting that “No” changed to a “Yes”. In other words, write a little essay on “What It Means To Me To Have Wabash Open To Bikes”. My second following post, below, is my own contribution to this effort.

This IS the right thing to do. Reason WILL prevail. But it ain’t gonna be easy OR quick.


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Jul 3 2010 at 9:22pm #

Here are the old links.

1. June 6 2009: South Hills > Oakland commute. Input needed. Good description of what has to happen (thank you, sloaps).

2. Apr 22 2008 Bike lanes from South Hills Trolley Stop Good points by several people, including a description of the biggest problem with Wabash, and touching on other bike-trail problems.

3. Sept 21 2009: West End and Seldom-Seen bike trails About trail access from the south portal.

4. Sept 5 2009: Fort Pitt Bridge Bike Route Getting from North to South without going through Downtown or encountering a significant grade!

5. Oct 28 2009: Bus Lanes (esp. Oakland) Comparing cycling in Oakland bus lane to cycling Wabash Tunnel.

6. Sept 16 2008: Bike In PGH Tunnels? Discussion comparing various tunnels.

7. Apr 17 2007 Mount Lebo-Downtown Commute with “T”? Early discussions about getting TO the south end of Mt Washington

8. July 30 2008 Commuter in the Liberty Tunnels? What’s a motor vehicle anyway?


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Jul 3 2010 at 9:35pm #

I’ve never been in the tunnel, but having no physical separation from 85mph (or even 55mph) traffic in a confined area doesn’t sound that appealing to me.

I’m not sure I’d ever use it, I don’t really know what’s on the other side…


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Jul 3 2010 at 9:40pm #

I support opening Port Authority of Allegheny County’s Wabash Tunnel to bicycle traffic. In fact I helped initiate this effort from my position as Vice President of the Allegheny County Transit Council, Port Authority’s citizens’ advisory board, on behalf of the bicycle community that I represent.

There are a lot of bicyclists in Pittsburgh, and their numbers are growing rapidly. If you live West, North, East or near South (i.e., Carson Street), it is easy to get into Downtown on a bicycle. If, however, you live in the parts of the city served by transit routes beginning with 31, 36, 41, 42, 46, 47, 51 or 53, your choices are very limited. Listed from west to east, from the Downtown side, you have:

* West End Circle

* Duquesne Incline

* Wabash Tunnel

* Monongahela Incline

* PJ McArdle Roadway

* Sycamore Street

* William Street

* Arlington Avenue

* Brosville / South 12th

* Brownsville Rd / South 18th Street

* South 27th / Josephine Street

* Becks Run Road

The Fort Pitt Tunnel/Bridge, Liberty Tunnel and Mount Washington Transit Tunnel are also off-limits to bicyclists, and we are not contesting that.

If you ride a bike and live south of Mount Washington, and want to get Downtown, those are your choices. Every single one of them, but one, has a huge hill, a huge amount of traffic, or both. Except for Wabash. It has very little traffic, and is about as close to level as you can get, headed south from Carson Street. I myself have bicycled several of these, including Wabash. Most are unrideably steep. Arlington’s rail tracks are inherently unsafe for cyclists in dry daylight conditions. McArdle downhill has frequent rockfalls, uphill has a huge amount of traffic. Becks Run is a long way out of the way, and puts you out on highway-like East Carson or illegally and unsafely crossing railroad tracks to get to the trail. Using the West End Circle is daunting enough, but West Carson is simply suicidal.

To answer some known objections:

* While the Wabash Tunnel is a one-lane road, it is plenty wide enough to accommodate one-way motor traffic and bikes on both sides.

* Bikes should only be in bike lanes. This is a discredited viewpoint, analogous to limiting cars to interstate highways.

There is no credible objection to cyclists in Wabash. We cyclists just want the rule reversed.

Stuart M. Strickland


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Jul 4 2010 at 1:38am #

i know someone who rides his bike through the liberty tunnels during rush hour. i asked why/how and he said that it’s actually really slow in there and easy to ride between 2 lanes of stopped traffic. i still think it’s kinda crazy.


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Jul 4 2010 at 3:16am #

important to keep in mind that he only rides inbound through the tunnel, and he did if for years early in the morning when there was no traffic, so he had plenty of time to get used to it.

Noah Mustion

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Jul 4 2010 at 3:22am #

I don’t even like going through the liberty tubes in a CAR much less on a bike. What a BAMF.


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Jul 4 2010 at 3:23am #

Stu, that’s an excellent point about Wabash. I feel like we could gain more traction about it if some sort of Saw Mill Run trail were established, because currently the tunnel wouldn’t really let out useful on its south end. However, if there were a series of south side trails to link up with Wabash that could be outstanding.

It would make make biking in the South Hills downright appealing and practical.


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Jul 4 2010 at 10:26am #

I actually composed most of the above in March and April, and was waiting for a good time to unleash it. A couple of additional points:

– I’m no longer ACTC’s VP, but am still very much involved in transit issues with Port Authority and other organizations.

– The final West End Circle work paved over those tracks where they cross Steuben Street, so I’m pretty sure they’re abandoned. That’s good news!

– To reiterate, the speed limit in Wabash is 25.

On the south end, I do not know what’s involved in obtaining use of the deck across PA51, nor what would be needed to get over to the rail line, nor how we could somehow get the rail line converted to a trail.

The Port Authority part is essentially a paperwork exercise.


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Jul 5 2010 at 7:01pm #

Speed cameras are used in every other country I’ve been in. People wouldn’t dare go over 25mph if they knew they would receive a photograph in the mail of them doubling the speed limit and their court date. This would mean issuing front plates in PA, which is fine with me as well and would solve the speeding issue with cyclists using the tunnel.

I hardly go that way but would love to ride South more often if it were an easy option.


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Jul 5 2010 at 7:18pm #

Hey, train paths are designed to be as flat as possible, why can’t we expect something similar for bikes?


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Jul 7 2010 at 8:51pm #

Tonight’s (7/7) public meeting about West Liberty Avenue might be a good place to pick some brains about nearby Wabash.

What: Public meeting for the Route 3069 West Liberty Avenue Resurfacing Project

Where: Dormont Public Library, Keith Room, 2950 West Liberty Avenue

When: Wednesday, July 7, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Who: The meeting is open to everyone.


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Jul 8 2010 at 2:08am #

Even though I live in the North Hills, I do ride around the city and getting to points South can be a little annoying. Even though I like the ride up McArdle it would be nice to have the option to stay more “river level”. It seems like the best option would be to run a trail along Saw Mill Run which roughly follows Route 51 into the West End. With the improvements at West End Bridge/Circle it would be easier to use the new paved path they have weaved under the various bridges to get along Saw Mill Run. A large part of Saw Mill Run is actually just a paved V shape for flood control. As others have mentioned there is a railroad line that runs right along that general valley and mostly parallels the creek in the West End.


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Jul 8 2010 at 7:43pm #

I went to the West Liberty Avenue meeting, but it was not the time or place to discuss Wabash.

I wish I knew more about that paved-over rail line. If it could be successfully converted to bike use, it would make StationSq-Wabash-railtrail-Steuben a viable alternative to West Carson between the West End Circle and Smithfield.

Unrelated but just as important, Wabash also passes my “acid test” for safe cycling, i.e., “Would you let your 10-year-old kid use that street to bike to the Tuesday afternoon piano lesson?” PA51 and WCarson do not, but Wabash by itself, does.


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Jul 9 2010 at 2:26pm #

Wheeling & Lake Erie RR Runs trains along 51, I wouls guess they own the rights to all that right of way. It looks like the line splits near the Wabash tunnel, and it appears that only one leg is still used. My guess is the unused leg runs over a bridge across the parkway and down to a trestle along the creek and into that section of west end.


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Jul 9 2010 at 5:28pm #

The line splits a few hundred feet west of West Liberty Avenue, here. The two tracks run side by side past the Wabash tunnel, then split up.


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Aug 27 2010 at 7:05pm #

I did a little driving around one Saturday morning, followed by a Google flyover of the rail line.

Starting from West Liberty, you cannot easily get to that rail line. There’s a public street, Hargrove Street, running off WLib near the Liberty Tubes/SawMillRun intersection, but it terminates in a very busy scrapyard. LOTS of traffic in there, backing and turning-around traffic. Very nasty. That split in the tracks is right by that scrapyard. If somehow we could get up on the railbed east of the scrapyard’s building, that partly solves this.

Dawn Ave is also nearby, but puts you on the wrong side of the railroad tracks. While that line in question certainly appears abandoned, the other fork Steven mentioned is not.

From that split, the live and abandoned tracks run side by side past Crane Ave, where it looks at least possible to get up on the railbed from street level, though not easy because Crane is so steep off of PA51. The business on the north side of Crane would make an easy access to the abandoned track, but again, we’re talking private r-o-w issues on a business driveway.

From there, it’s a straight shot down to Wabash, or more specifically, the business whose parking lot is on the bridge structure above PA51 at Woodruff Street. Getting from the Wabash Tunnel to this is super easy; even Google Street View does this. Getting to the railbed involves wiggling through about 50 feet of woods on the north side of that building. Theoretically this should not be hard at all.

The abandoned and active lines split to the west of this spot, with the abandoned one crossing the PA51/I-376 junction ramp on a bridge; actually they both do. You see them as you come out of the Fort Pitt Tunnels headed for the airport. The abandoned one is the first of the pair. (The live one crosses Greentree Road and enters a tunnel.)

The abandoned one crosses Woodville Ave on a trestle, then hugs PA51 down into the West End, crossing West Main St, then meeting Steuben Street at grade level. Since this is now paved over, that tells me the line is abandoned.

West/North of Steuben, after passing through a brief tunnel, it crosses West Carson, part of the bridge structures just beyond the West End Circle, then merges with another track, which in turn merges with very live tracks near the West Busway, between WCarson and the river.

I would really really like to see this rail line converted to trail use. Pull up the tracks, secure the bridge structures for trail use, and settle all the r-o-w issues, and you have a clear and usable path from the West End to Wabash, at the very least, and very possibly to West Liberty on the eastern end, and almost to Corliss and WCarson on the western end.


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Aug 31 2010 at 9:14pm #

Imagine if there was a nice, rideable path from McKees Rocks Plaza along West Carson, down to the West End Circle. That RR structure that rises next to the existing West Carson sidewalk, by the West End Circle, could be the beginning of a bicycle superhighway, as I described in the post above, connecting people powered transportation with the West End, West Liberty Ave, and the Wabash Tunnel. No need to deal with Saw Mill Run Blvd!

On the north end of Wabash, you have to deal with about 200 feet of West Carson down to the Smithfield Street Bridge, or hook left/outbound for about 400 feet on W Carson to Commerce Drive, to ride through Station Square to get to the river trail.

THAT would be soooo sweet! It would also open up McKees Rocks, Stowe, and The Bottoms to a safe, pleasant and fast path into town! That would really help those neighborhoods, too!


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Sep 1 2010 at 1:03am #

my understanding of things west of the point is abysmal, but could that then connect to the trail to WV in Carnegie? Then maybe once the sandcastle and bridge parts are all connected, the DC trail could head further west? Again – I’m lousy at anything west of the point (or south of the mon, honestly).


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Sep 1 2010 at 1:47am #

Commander Shubert? brought up the notion of an enforcement detail for cyclists downtown. Is it possible to coordinate something with bike-pgh in the different neighborhoods or zones in handing out lights and the 101 guides?

There was something similar done out west where a bunch of led lights were handed out by police to cyclists. Just a thought.


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Sep 1 2010 at 4:40am #

This PAT detour notice may be somewhat related to this proposed future bike trail:

The trail could possibly run on the W&LE railroad trestle to cross South Main Street. But as the detour notice says, the West End reconstruction left this trestle too low for some trucks, which now get stuck beneath the trestle.

That suggests to me that they may want to tear down the unused trestle before too long, which could complicate connecting any future bike trail there. I’m not sure there’s anything to be done about it though.

Ejwme, this particular trail (let’s call it the Wabash Trail) would only be a little relevant to a connection to the Panhandle Trail, which runs from near Carnegie out west to the West Virginia Panhandle. The Wabash Trail would run from roughly the West End Circle past the Wabash Tunnel’s south end to the northern end of West Liberty Avenue. A proposed Carnegie Bikeway would also start at the West End Circle, but head to Carnegie (so it might share a short stretch of trail with the Wabash Trail).

The northern end of both these trails would also touch the proposed Coraopolis Trail, which would extend the Station Square Trail out to Coraopolis, along the south shore of the Ohio, to reach the Montour Trail (which already connects to the Panhandle Trail).

Here’s a map showing all the above but the Wabash Trail:

The Wabash Trail would run from the point due west of the Point where the Carnegie Bikeway starts (i.e. the West End Circle area), south along Route 51 to where Route 19 (i.e. West Liberty Avenue) branches off from it. That point is also the south end of the Liberty Tunnel.


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Sep 1 2010 at 11:10am #

@ej, After riding numerous routes out to the westburbs this summer, I am totally convinced that Noblestown Road should be the official bike route out, it’s wide(mostly), and a long easy grade. After last weekend I think it should be signed and get sharrows from the WEC to Carnegie (at least). You can then connect to the Panhandle and continue on to Ohio if you like. On a road bike I just stay on Noblestown as far as I care to go, it’s a great ride. My road bikes do not care for the crushed limestone/dog walking/strolling hearing impaired people of the trail.

Going from downtown to Coraopolis to the Montour trail to the Panhandle is like going from downtown to Squirrel Hill to get to the South Side.


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Sep 1 2010 at 11:28am #

The only bad part about all of these proposals heading west, is that they lead to OHIO.

Can’t we fold the map or something and just leap directly to South Dakota or Wyoming?


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Sep 1 2010 at 12:14pm #

Ok, then lets keep things simple. Lets just connect all the trails and bike lanes with additional trails and bike lanes (where appropriate), and that way we can get everywhere we want :D And ALMKLM, I’m all for figuring out how to tesserect straight from Carnegie to Jackson Hole, I whole heartedly agree! In fact, I think PennDot would be more likely to accomplish that than some of the more reasonable, laws of physics obeying suggetions here :P

And since I grew up in SqH’l, I very often would go from point A to B through SqH’l (especially it it involved a Mon river crossing, I didn’t discover 2nd Ave’s existence until 2008), because I only knew directions to/from SqH’l. I’ve only lately grown out of that, it’s taken about 5 years, but it appears I AM capable of learning new tricks.

Future Inlaws live in Moon, so I’m sure I’ll have lots of excuses to play “Where Does This Go” in a more westerly direction, and look forward to discovering the trails and routes discussed above :D The West is indeed my final fronteir. Well, except for the South.


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Sep 1 2010 at 12:39pm #

Ej, simple, you just go to the WEC, take a left on Noblestown, and keep going until you hit Tofino.


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Sep 1 2010 at 1:03pm #


I think there’s two trestles involved, a short low one over S. Main, fairly close to the West End Circle, and then another quite long and very high one over Woodville and Saw Mill Run itself. Turning that second one into a ped/cycle bridge might be an interesting challenge.


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Sep 1 2010 at 1:33pm #

Probably about as much of a challenge as planting a bikeway along the Allegheny from the 31SB to 40SB.


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Sep 1 2010 at 11:43pm #

@Edmonds: Active Allegheny Steering Committee meets tomorrow a.m. I’ll be sure to forward your strong recommendations re: Noblestown. I also need to unconvince them of a connection from Walkers Mill to Heidelburg via Nike Site Road and Hilltop. 5% grade for at least a half a mile. Probably not what we want as we promote biking and walking to n00bs.


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Sep 1 2010 at 11:59pm #

ejwme The West is indeed my final frontier. Well, except for the South

For the west, there are 2 fun, but not too long, rides in Lou Fineberg’s “3 rivers on 2 wheels”. You might be able to find it in a bike store around. I think Iron City has a few Copies. Or get one from Lou at Bike-Pgh

The rides don’t go out anywhere near Moon – they are much closer in – but they give you a little sense of where you can go from West End Circle.

Moon is serious suburb – with all that implies.

+1 on Edmunds suggestion of Noblestown (but it doesn’t go to Moon either).


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Sep 2 2010 at 2:45pm #

edmonds – I actually have printed out bicycle directions to Wyoming, but I think you’re right, it’s time to extend that to Tofino.

Mick – that book sounds cool, I will try to find a copy somewhere. Library might have it :D

I might try to come down on Moon from up north rather than from home, depends on when I try it. My commute has me pretty convinced that with enough water, breaks, and time I can bike anywhere. I may not be able to walk the next day, but that’s a problem solved by more biking, not less. :D


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Sep 2 2010 at 3:38pm #

ej, when you’re ready to take that Moon trip I’ll put together some route suggestions.


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Sep 2 2010 at 3:42pm #

My main concern was getting out of Downtown, just using the Wabash Tunnel at all, and having someplace halfway decent to ride on once getting through it, not simply be dumped onto Rt 51 just to be run down by some jerk doing 65mph.

Getting east to WLiberty to hook up southern neighborhoods, and west to the West End and maybe West Carson, to hook up western neighborhoods, is a logical extension of this idea.

As for way west, Noblestown looks OK, as does figuring out all the twists and turns, through Carnegie and Oakdale and (gasp) Noblestown and Midway, and somewhere in there picking up Panhandle Trail (like in Collier Twp where it starts), which gets you 30-ish miles almost to Steubenville. West of that, I’ll have to defer to the west-of-town experts.


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Sep 2 2010 at 3:45pm #

We choose to go to (the) moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

Godspeed to you both.


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Sep 2 2010 at 4:02pm #

Damn Almklm, that’s great. Where did that spirit go? Now we have people who can’t even envision riding a bike a mile to get a gallon of milk.

How is it possible that google streetview doesn’t have Forest Grove road in Kennedy Township so I can show the Kennedy astronaut?


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Sep 2 2010 at 4:15pm #

@ Edmonds — I have a copy of the book here in the office. Can lend it to you any time.


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Sep 2 2010 at 5:00pm #

@edmonds – I think Velominati Rule #5 is essentially paraphrasing Kennedy.


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Sep 2 2010 at 5:05pm #

Spot on.

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