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Wabash Tunnel

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StuInMcCandless

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Feb 20 2011 at 4:40pm #

At the Feb 9 Bike-Pgh member meeting, I talked briefly with Wendy Stern from Port Authority about Wabash, and of course got the immediate ‘no’ I was expecting, but also some “there are good reasons why” phrases I was not expecting. (Re-read my first post, above.)

It sounded like where she was going with the thoughts was that it’s dangerous to mix bikes and other traffic in the tunnel. No more dangerous than riding on any other road, I said, but it wasn’t the place to argue.

I will continue to look into this as long as I am on ACTC. What made me think of the topic just now (2/20/2011) was that PAT is using Wabash as a detour for the MtWash Transit Tunnel, which is closed today for maintenance. I suppose one significant thing in PAT’s thinking is cyclists suddenly having to deal with a lot of buses in the event of an emergency MWTT closure. But as I said, it looks like there’s space enough for bikes and other traffic, so again, this should be a non-issue.


Steven

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Feb 20 2011 at 6:52pm #

The recent Active Allegheny plan mentions the Wabash tunnel (page 2-4):

Potential Opportunities

Several innovative opportunities for active transportation were identified by the stakeholders, study team, and public during the course of the study. They are described in this section.

Wabash Tunnel

The Wabash Tunnel is open daily for one-directional motor vehicle travel with HOV restrictions during the weekday morning and evening peak periods and without restrictions at other times. Traffic is allowed inbound during the weekday mornings and early afternoons and outbound during the weekday evenings and early mornings. The tunnel operates with outbound traffic during the weekends. In all of these instances, only one of the two travel lanes is being used at any one time by vehicular traffic.

Users of the tunnel include the Fayette Area Coordinated Transit, which currently operates scheduled weekday bus service through the tunnel. Special event buses (e.g., incline shuttles) utilize the tunnel as well as significant traffic volumes outbound from Station Square and vicinity after sporting and other entertainment events.

Bicycles are restricted from the Wabash Tunnel for many valid reasons. Stakeholders and the public suggested during the course of the study that the community consider how the Wabash Tunnel could potentially accommodate bicycle traffic sometime in the future. The Port Authority of Allegheny County has considered and investigated the feasibility of the suggestion in the past. Based on PennDOT Design Guidelines (Publication 13M, Design Manual 2), emergency vehicle access must be maintained through the tunnel. The existing tunnel provides this access per design guidelines. As travel modes, bike access, and federal and state policy evolve over the next decade to accommodate and more fully utilize all modes of transportation, it may be advantageous to revisit Wabash Tunnel bicycle access, in the context of other changes in mode shift. Port Authority cannot allow bicycles in the Wabash Tunnel due to safety, design, liability, and operational concerns. However, it may be possible if there is significant demand, to pursue an alternative ownership scenario, where bicycle access to the tunnel can be considered, although that would be a major undertaking and cost.

So PAT has a bunch of good reasons: “safety, design, liability, and operational concerns”. And it seems they may all be solvable by giving PAT a big pile of money for its extremely expensive yet virtually worthless tunnel. Argh.

Thanks for your work on this, Stu.


StuInMcCandless

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Apr 11 2011 at 9:15am #

Port Authority cannot allow bicycles in the Wabash Tunnel due to safety, design, liability, and operational concerns.

PAT thinks it has a bunch of good reasons, but I want to see how this decision was arrived at. Show me the specs, show me how this was justified.

Fourth Avenue from Wood to Smithfield is about as wide as Wabash, if memory serves. I fail to see how changing the rules is a “major undertaking and cost”.


timito

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Apr 11 2011 at 2:35pm #

uh, thanks Stu.


Impala26

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Apr 11 2011 at 4:54pm #

I’d love to know the actual vehicular usage statistics of the tunnel. I’m sure it’s quite insignificant compared to Fort Pitt and Liberty. I can’t see any reason why they couldn’t restrict it to emergency vehicles only in one lane and have a separated bike lane on the other. Use sensors/cameras and lights/gates to prevent vehicles from accidentally entering both directions simultaneously. Doesn’t sound like too major of an undertaking to me.

Though this still doesn’t solve the issue of what kind of access this would do for someone on a bike. A trail in the Saw Mill Run Valley is likely needed to warrant a project like this.


StuInMcCandless

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Jun 26 2011 at 5:06pm #

From this 2004 P-G article, they were hoping for 4,500 vehicles a day. I don’t have usage statistics.

I do find this quote interesting, though:

The tunnel is 20 feet, 10 inches wide, wide enough for vehicles to get around a crippled vehicle but about 4 feet shy of being capable of creating two lanes to safely carry traffic in both directions at once.

It would seem to be wide enough for a single lane of motorized traffic and bi-directional bike traffic.


Steven

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Jun 27 2011 at 1:10am #

This KDKA report from May 2011 says about 600 cars a day use it now.

This page mentions the 4500 cars per day figure, but says it’s what they expected by 2015 if they first connected the end of the tunnel to Banksville Road, and other unspecified stuff.


StuInMcCandless

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Jun 27 2011 at 5:32am #

If the Port Authority changes the way it operates the tunnel, the federal government will demand its money back, something State Auditor General Jack Wagner calls ridiculous.

This corroborates what I alluded to before, that this had more to do with rules and money than engineering and safety.

20’10” would allow for a four-foot bike lane on either side of an 11-foot driving lane, with a few inches on both sides for a paint line. That would work, wouldn’t it?


dwillen

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Jun 27 2011 at 2:31pm #

If you’re worried about cars getting stuck and not being able to navigate around a disabled vehicle, I’d put both bike lanes on the same side, and the driving lane on the other side. Any way you do it, you’ll have vehicles head on to cyclists, so why not minimize that by buffering one bike lane with the other – assuming you can make required transitions at the ends of the tunnel.


Mick

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Jun 27 2011 at 2:33pm #

@ Stu

Where is that quote from?


Steven

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Jun 27 2011 at 4:19pm #

It’s from the KDKA story I just linked to.


Impala26

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Jun 27 2011 at 4:46pm #

In my humble opinion, I still think we would need to have a Saw Mill Run trail project in the pipeline to have any clout with this.


Eric

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Jun 27 2011 at 5:45pm #

I agree with Impala. That is a tunnel to nowhere for cyclists without more infrastructure on the south end.


StuInMcCandless

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Jun 27 2011 at 8:20pm #

Getting Wabash access will require two steps. First, getting PAT to change its mind on allowing bikes in there at all. I think that’s fairly simple, on somewhat the same level of difficulty as PennDOT changing the I-279 HOV lane from minimum 3 to 2 passengers. Again, primarily a paperwork exercise. I don’t think we need any infrastructure changes at first, just a decision.

The second will be more difficult, the part requiring infrastructure changes. See the posts on page 1 of this thread. The logical choice is getting that railroad bed from the split near West Liberty to Wabash and from Wabash to Steuben Street or West Carson. That, I’m sure, will be a multi-million dollar construction project.

No, I don’t have a good solution to Saw Mill Run Blvd. It’s like McKnight Road — unpleasant, high speed traffic, but not unrideable. There is a shoulder.


StuInMcCandless

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Nov 2 2012 at 2:44pm #

First, read this notice from Port Authority.

Apparently a truck hit the signals on the inbound side, so 10-12 weeks to get things back in order.

“Wabash Tunnel is open to outbound auto traffic at all times until the traffic controls are replaced,” said the tweet.

If you’ve ever seen the tunnel, it’s effectively two narrow lanes wide, though designed for only one direction at a time. There’s a double line down the center.

Wendy Stern at Port Authority assured me (at a Bike-Pgh event in 2011) they have no intention of opening the tunnel to bicycle traffic, but did not say why.

Well, here’s a perfect opportunity. For most of three months, while paper is being pushed, the tunnel will have only outbound traffic. As if it gets much traffic anyway, maybe a car a minute on average.

If they’re all that concerned about cyclists, seems all they’d have to do is set out a line of cones to keep cars off to the one side. How hard can that be?

Sure, in three months, for a day or so, there will be trucks there to fix the broken signal. But in the meantime, I really do not see a problem with having bikes in an empty tunnel.

Can we please lean on them a bit? When else would we get this type of opportunity?


Vannevar

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Nov 2 2012 at 3:04pm #

Man, what a perfect 90-day demo project. No cost except for orange cones. Lemons-Lemonade and that.

I wonder – does it matter what direction the bikes are going? Would contraflow bikes be OK? All we want is the lane, right?

Seems like a perfect photo op for a city that’s trying to keep it’s Bronze Level after a year of killing bicyclists.


StuInMcCandless

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Nov 2 2012 at 3:50pm #

Also, a 25 mph speed limit in the tunnel. Like Fourth Avenue without the door zones or the grade.

@Vannevar – I don’t think they even need the orange cones. Helpful, but not necessary.


Marko82

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Nov 2 2012 at 5:54pm #

I’m all for this Stu, but where exactly do you want to go? Without a trail on the other end you might as well go through the WEC or use Warrington depending on your destination. The sad reality is that for now the Wabash is a waste of $ for both cars or bikes.


jonawebb

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Nov 2 2012 at 6:19pm #

I guess if I had to get to say Crane Ave and I could take the Wabash Tunnel then endure a little more than half a mile on Sawmill Run, versus taking horrible Warrington Ave and then riding on Sawmill Run for about a quarter mile, I’d take the Wabash Tunnel. At least you avoid the hill and all the broken up concrete on Warrington.

The South Hills connection to Pittsburgh is uniformly bad. Having the Wabash Tunnel would make things a little better, for those of us to are willing to ride with heavy fast traffic.


StuInMcCandless

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Nov 2 2012 at 6:47pm #

Further back in the thread, I pointed out that Saw Mill Run Rd has a wide shoulder, like McKnight. That’s the short-range goal.

I also proposed reclaiming that abandoned railbed for a bike trail. That’s the long-range goal. Knock down those barriers later.

Right now, demonstrate that Wabash is usable by cyclists.


boostuv

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Nov 3 2012 at 11:17am #

I have no idea how the tunnel operates but even if the city left it as one lane dedicated to bikes and one lane open to one way traffic (in to town in the AM out of town in PM) it could be beneficial for everyone.


Lenny

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Nov 3 2012 at 4:02pm #

I’m not real big on the idea of letting bikes travel through the tunnel to 19/51.If they could safely put a bike lane onto Saw Mill Run to get from the city to South Hills would be a different situation and I would be all for it,but as of right now, it would be extremely dangerous with cyclist getting injured or killed.Hopefully in the future they would consider putting a bike lane in the tunnel and Saw Mill Run


StuInMcCandless

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Nov 14 2012 at 2:46am #

Just found this useful bit of history on the tunnel.

http://www.gribblenation.com/swparoads/coulda/wabash.html


Vannevar

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Nov 14 2012 at 3:00am #

That really would make one hell of a bike route.


StuInMcCandless

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Nov 26 2012 at 12:30am #

I took my first ride through the tunnel in quite a while yesterday, going from south to north. This was after crawling up Arlington and getting caught in the trolley tracks twice, once hard enough to have to put my foot down. I hate Arlington; I think it is inherently unsafe to bicycle. Note that this was at 4 mph, uphill, in broad daylight, with zero precipitation.

Wabash has none of that. While it took me 20 minutes to climb up Arlington and descend Warrington, dodging trolley tracks the whole way, it took me only 5 minutes to travel through a trackless, level tunnel, entirely out of the weather. And I did not see a single car going either direction that whole time.

The gates were an issue. On the south end, I was not able to duck under them, so had to swing around into the outbound lane. Potentially a problem, if there was any significant amount of traffic, but as I said, there was not.

Inside the tunnel, there is a double yellow stripe down the center. This is ridiculous. It’s supposed to be a single lane. There would be plenty of space for a bike lane down one side, even a wide, two-direction bike lane. I see no reason why that stripe needs to be there.

The shape of the tunnel does not appear to preclude having tall vehicles, such as buses, hug the one side, though I would be happy to be proven wrong by an engineer.

Again, to summarize, that tunnel should be 24/7/365 bi-directional for bikes, and unidirectional for motorized vehicles, as per the lighted signals.


Pierce

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Nov 27 2012 at 2:05pm #

On a slightly related note… What’s up with the HOV lanes on 279? Are they ever open?

I might accidentally end up on them, as I essentially go along that route on a regular basis, but have been taking Brighton, Marshall, Perrysville


reddan

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Nov 27 2012 at 2:17pm #

@Pierce: I don’t know about the HOV lanes, but a decent alternative route if you’re heading towards West View or something similar is California through Bellevue->Balph (becomes Center)->Perrysville.


rsprake

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Nov 27 2012 at 3:06pm #

The HOV lanes reverse during rush hours. Not sure about the weekends. I wouldn’t try it.


StuInMcCandless

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Nov 27 2012 at 4:29pm #

I-279 HOV: I don’t have the exact hours, but it’s open inbound for morning rush, closed during the day, open outbound for evening rush and well into the evening, maybe even midnight. Also open outbound all weekend.

The 2-passenger minimum only applies to rush hours. Motorcycles with only one rider may use it anytime it’s open.

Wabash itself is considered an HOV lane, but I forget the specifics.


Vannevar

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Nov 27 2012 at 7:31pm #

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the HOV lanes were part of the route for Pedal Pittsburgh iirc. Great descent.


Anonymous

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Nov 27 2012 at 7:48pm #

Vannevar, I remember those rides with that nice decent into Pittsburgh on the HOV lanes. That was a blast and a nice view coming in from that angle. Great stuff. It was a while back though.


buffalo buffalo

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Nov 27 2012 at 9:20pm #

HOV lanes are also the bike route for the Pittsburgh Tri, though the year I worked it I don’t recall the riders being too thrilled with it. They were probably more concerned with the surface than the view, though…


StuInMcCandless

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Nov 27 2012 at 10:53pm #

Both the HOV and the Wabash Tunnel are smooth as silk. HOV got a complete paving job just a year or two ago. Wabash is out of the weather and has no traffic.


Marko82

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Nov 27 2012 at 10:58pm #

^So the Wabash is like an indoor road museum; showing yinzers what a road surface should look like. Great idea!


StuInMcCandless

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Apr 15 2014 at 12:30pm #

Did we lose some posts here? I was sure we had at least one post on this thread in the last 17 months.

To bring us up to date:
* Wendy Stern has left Port Authority. She is the person who was most blocking progress on access from within.
* PAT replaced the signals on the south entrance to the tunnel late in 2013 after a truck plowed into them.
* There is a yellow line painted down the center of the tunnel, plus red-X/green-arrow signals at both ends to indicate direction of travel DESPITE the tunnel advertised to be uni-directional.
* Port Authority, I have learned, does not want bike lanes, as there would not be sufficient horizontal space, they say.
* This would not be a problem if the tunnel truly was uni-directional. As I’ve said elsewhere, bikes and everything else work together on Fourth Avenue, which is about as wide, only the tunnel doesn’t have an elevation change, two cross streets, parking structures, or a door zone.

@Marko82, you said something on Sunday about some exploration you did last weekend? Care to elaborate?


jonawebb

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Apr 15 2014 at 1:01pm #

I wrote Theresa Kail-Smith (councilperson for the district Wabash is in) on this a few weeks ago. She replied, saying she was depending on Bike Pittsburgh and Scott to tell her when to start advocating for Wabash to get a bike lane. Scott replied, saying he was planning to meet with the new Port Authority CEO soon, but wasn’t sure whether this first meeting was the right time to bring up Wabash.
My feeling is that Wabash is plenty wide to make a protected cycletrack, or at the very least a one-way bike lane. And the issues at the west end of the tunnel can be addressed over time — especially since there appears to be interest from Kail-Smith and Rudiak on improving the bike infrastructure in their district. Get the tunnel fixed, and other bits will start to fall into place. And since it’s been shown that the organization governing the use of Wabash can be flexible (allowing its non-HOV use for now) there’s no reason they couldn’t also be flexible to allow its increased use as a combined bike / HOV lane.


Benzo

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Apr 15 2014 at 1:08pm #

Speaking of the wabash tunnel, I just discovered the seldom seen greenway on the other end, which you can use to connect to crane ave and climb in to beechview (if you can safely cross 51) to get to the entrance.

I havn’t scoped it out, but the trails seem to be showing on google maps that connect to crane on either side of brashear school.

http://iheartpgh.com/2005/12/30/beechview-seldom-seen-greenway/


Marko82

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Apr 15 2014 at 1:22pm #

Yeah, Dino and I explored for possible bike routes after you get out of the tunnel. One of the issues I have with opening the Wabash to bikes right now is that it currently doesn’t get you anywhere. You would come out of the tunnel and either climb up the back side of Mt. Washington, or you get dumped out on VERY-bicycle-unfriendly route 51. So we spent the day exploring the “Seldom Scene Greenway”. This is directly across Rt. 51 from the tunnel exit and is a heavily wooded area that currently has some very rough walking trails which lead up to the Brasher H.S. We also explored a set of rail road tracks that parallel Rt. 51.

The rail bed taking you Southeast toward the H.S. has two tracks; one is in use, and the other is clearly a spur that is in disrepair and not in use. The rail bed to the Northwest toward the WEC has only one active track but we didn’t explore that any further. Our first impression is that the rail bed toward the H.S. would be probably be wide enough to allow both a trail and an active rail track with fence, but this is just a guess. It should probably be added to a long term plan.

The possibility of blazing a bike trail through the woods following the walking trails is probably a non-starter due to the extremely steep hillsides that those paths follow. However, a path could probably be made by following the contour of the hill from right to left in a crescent shape and a switchback or two (see pic). It’s a little over 300 feet of elevation, but it could connect to a park/neighborhood that then connects to Broadway Ave. in Beechview and then on to Dormant and Mt. Lebo. It would be quite an undertaking, but there is already a marker from back in 1985 where the city started to put in the walking trail so I think the land is city/county owned.


Marko82

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Apr 15 2014 at 1:34pm #

To clarify, the trails that show up on google maps are not even walkable in spots. They mostly follow a gas pipeline that climbs straight up the hills and are very overgrown with thorny things and small trees. The flat bottom area would be a neat place to check out on a MTB if one wanted a new place to check out, but drainage is very poor over large areas and can be swampy. There are a few official parking spots by the Woodruff St. entrance to the trail too


Marko82

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Apr 15 2014 at 4:21pm #

According to this map (pdf) ftp://ftp.dot.state.pa.us/public/pdf/BPR_pdf_files/MAPS/Statewide/parail.pdf
the tracks we are talking about are the blue lines which intersect with the RR line that follows Streets Run Rd; and it crosses the Yough river at Smithton – i.e. it intersects the GAP at Smithton.

Edit: even better map from the Wheeling & Lake Erie site: http://goo.gl/maps/juHwV

W&LE website : http://www.wlerwy.com/index.php/system-map/

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