Best route PGH to Panhandle?
Hello Pittsburgh – I’m a tourist planning a trip in September. Somewhat obsessively. Google and BWGPS make it impossible to not do so.
The plan is to go from my home in Montgomery County MD to southern Indiana, to visit family and friends.
I’ll be starting from Washington DC Union Station on Amtrak to downtown PGH. I’ve done the C&O/GAP twice now, and loved it, but taking the train will save four days out of 13. Maybe I’ll do the trails again, maybe I’ll save some time. Not sure yet but as I said it’s obsessive and fun to plan now.
I’ve got the route from Weirton to Indiana down pretty well. Taking the Montour/Panhandle from the GAP is straightforward, but getting from PGH to the Panhandle trailhead is the question right now. I’ve looked at the BikePGH interactive map (thanks and congrats to the GIS gurus) and see the route there. I have mapped it on RWGPS (https://ridewithgps.com/routes/31990543) for clarity.
First, have I got it right?
Second, any suggested changes?
Here is my proposed route from my front door to Ferdinand IN, via the C&O/GAP, just for completeness and to satisfy burning curiosity: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/31973568
Looking forward to visiting the great town of Pittsburgh again, on two wheels this time. Thanks.
Getting out of downtown Pittsburgh is the tough part. Are you towing a trailer? Your path takes you across the Fort Pitt Bridge. It’s doable with a trailer or widely loaded panniers, but difficult, as the bridge ped/bike path has a lot of narrow twists and turns around the bridge supports. (The Smithfield St Bridge is a better alternative, but there may be a lot of construction in Station Square making passage difficult.)
Once across the bridge, if you aim west on West Carson, the sidewalk is preferable to the street but there is a staircase, to the Duquesne Incline, plunked down squarely in the center of the sidewalk. If you’re wide, you will have to take the street for a bit. Wait for a break in traffic and be careful. A narrow bike might fit between steps and fence, but you may need to dismount.
Past the next traffic light, West Carson is miserably inhospitable to cyclists. Posted 35, ambient 50+. You might want to use the sidewalk then port your bike up the steps. If you ride, note the right-lane peel-off where you have to stay left to go up the ramp to the West End Circle. Commit to the lane; you really don’t have much choice. Go up the ramp fully in the lane. Cars can get by fine in the left lane.
At the top, if you can, get in the little notch as if you were going to go back across the river on the West End Bridge, but don’t. (If you used the steps, you’ll be coming out this notch.) Wait for traffic to stop, then walk your bike across the circle. (It’s not a roundabout. To be charitable, it is a gazillion lane clusterfuck.) What you’re aiming for is a short bike trail on the north side of South Main St. If you zoom in on the map you linked, you can see it. This gets you past most of the WEC c.f., and puts you on South Main St a little sooner than you originally planned, which is a good thing.
I don’t think I myself have video of this trip. Maybe someone else does.
Take the G2 West Busway bus to Carnegie Station And take Noblestown Rd. to the Panhandle Trail. You can also take the 28X Airport Flyer to Ikea and drop down to the Montour Trail from there.
Z’s suggestion is worthy, if you don’t have a lot of gear to unload, or a trailer. All Pittsburgh’s buses have bike racks that will accommodate two standard bikes. $2.75 cash fare to get you out past all the difficulties noted above.
The G2 uses the West Busway, a buses-only road. The 28X also uses the West Busway for a bit, but exits prior to the end at Carnegie. It would eventually get you to the airport, but the Ikea stop is only a fast downhill mile from the Montour Trail. Also a $2.75 cash fare. Down the hill, turn left, and you’re on your way.
You can save 25 cents by purchasing a Connectix at any Connect Card vending machine located at all the T stations in Downtown Pittsburgh. The vending machines also accept credit cards for payment.
OK, bad idea, or at least uninteresting now. Thanks for all the info but no thanks. I’ll have plenty of chances to get mowed down on highways in Ohio and Indiana, no reason to start early.
I’m traveling light and can carry my luggage easily. The bus is a good idea, except that my bike is fendered. It appears the bus racks are the standard hook-over-front-wheel type. Removing and replacing the fender is a possibility. I’ve never done it on the road, maybe I should have that experience. That would leave a ride of about 30 miles for my first day out, which is short even for me.
Now that I know those two things, I am driven to the idea of just taking the Three Rivers trail out of downtown, through McKeesport, etc. and the Montour to the Panhandle. It’s ~77 miles to Steubenville, reasonable given my light luggage and railroad grades.
It sounds as if Station Square is a real mess, as you warned. But on the map the route misses most of it, what’s the reality? And any warnings about making it on the surface streets between trails?
I never had a problem with fenders on the bus racks.
Yeah, you’ve hit on Pittsburgh’s big trail problem. No easy way to get west, especially the first 10 miles. My recommendation is the 28X. That was my commute for years, bike-bus-bike on the 28X to Ikea, with fenders. But whatever you’re comfortable with. Have a good trip.
Another idea: Go to the Northside and follow the Three Rivers Heritage Trail west along the Ohio River. At the end of this trail, you will have to take about a mile of back roads to get to the McKees Rocks Bridge sidewalk. Then take the bridge to route 51 and get onto Neville Island, which is a flat five-mile-long island with a bike lane for much of its length. Cross the bridge at the island’s western end into Coraopolis and find the start of the Montour Trail, which intersects the Panhandle Trail in McDonald, PA. Probably 50ish miles from Pittsburgh to Steubenville that way, the vast majority on rail trails.
Better than backtracking to McKeesport, which has arguably worse on-road sections to connect to the Montour Trail.
Connecting from the GAP to the Montour Trail does involve a few miles of on-road and sidewalk riding, though it’s not too bad. Another alternative would be to take the T (light rail) from downtown Pittsburgh to Library, where you can get onto the Montour Trail directly. Fare is the same $2.75 cash, and there are no issues with fenders because your bike just sits in the train cabin with you, not on a rack.
Also, the G2 requires a few miles of road riding to reach the Panhandle, and the 28X also involves some road riding to reach the Montour, whether you take the bus to Ikea or the airport, but the 29 bus from downtown has a stop (Cliff Mine Road at Enlow Road) that’s right on the Montour Trail. So that’s another option if you’re looking to minimize on-road riding.
The T to Library and then Montour Trail, as Steven suggested, is a quick and simple option.
But biking Pittsburgh-to-Panhandle is do-able. Here’s a route I biked a couple years ago to get from Pittsburgh to Steubenville (the relevant part) and on to Cleveland.
- I agree with what StuInMcCandless said about the West End Circle and the sidewalk to West Main St. That’s the route that I mapped & rode.
- I’ve biked out this way a few times and rather than bike on Route 60 (fast cars) I took smaller but sometimes steeper and less direct residential streets. Unless you’re a masochist for very steep climbs (I was) avoid Walbridge St which connects to Harker. Instead take Neidel St. Neidel is fairly steep, but is has basically no cars.
- Between Arnold St & Clairhaven St I carried my bike up some stairs. There’s also a bikeable but less direct route: Round Top-Norwalk.
- Crafton Blvd has less traffic than Noblestown Rd, and it’s mostly downhill, here.
- After Crafton Blvd crosses the West Busway, I turned left onto an overgrown abandoned road, but Hawthorne Ave is probably a better alternative.
- Idlewood Rd and Bell Ave are low-traffic (much lower than Noblestown).
- Main St through Carnegie (what you planned) is not fun, because of heavy car traffic, but there’s no good, nearby alternative.
- When you get to the west end of the Panhandle Trail in Weirton, you used Harmon Creek Rd & Old Route 22, which is not bad (some fast cars on the latter). If you’d rather do a little more trail and less road and you don’t mind walking your bike across an (largely inactive I think) short railroad bridge, stay on Panhandle to the end, then keep going straight, and watch for a blue bridge across Harmon Creek on your right. That’s what my route shows.
- You did WV Route 2 to the Market St bridge to get across the Ohio into Steubenville. Market St Bridge is nice (it has a sidewalk) but Route 2 is very unpleasant. Cars doing 60. I biked it once and won’t go back. It’s got a shoulder but StreetView shows rumble strips taking up half the width. My route used the Route 22 bridge, instead, and avoided Route 2. Probably safer.
- To climb out of Steubenville, I used Coal Hill Rd, which had little traffic. I’m guessing that Route 43 (Sunset Blvd) has much more traffic.
- In Newark, OH, you might want to detour a bit to see the building at 1500 E Main St (check Streetview).
The 21 Coraopolis bus also stops near the Montour Trail. The main problem is it only comes once per hour for most of the day weekdays and all day on weekends.
The 28X comes every 30 minutes all days with stops in Shadyside, Oakland, and Downtown Pittsburgh. The G2 comes every 20 minutes midday weekdays and every 30 minutes on weekends. The T to Library comes ever 30 minutes midday on weekdays and all day on weekends.
Reading this thread it sounds like I was dismissing StuInMcCandless. Not at all, you just made me decide to stay off of the route. Sorry if I typed poorly.
I plotted alleghenian’s route because, like I said I am compulsive: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/32000388 (56mi to Steubenville). The few bits on non-bike-lane roads look survivable on Street View.
Steven’s route from Library station is 47mi. I take bikes on the DC metro, so that’s attractive. ($2.75 to get to the end of the line? In DC that may not get you to the next station.)
This means I can have a luxurious morning in Pittsburgh after getting off the train at midnight. Even I can make 56 miles in 5 hours. I could sleep until noon and get there before dark.
You all helped me altruistically, but I sent some money to BikePGH to help keep them on the air. Great resource which should thrive. Thanks everyone!
I cross-posted with paulheckbert and zzwergel last night. Stuff just keeps on coming from you guys, thanks.
zzwergel, I have to pass on using the bus. StuInMcCandless says he has no problems with fenders. I have Planet Bike fenders so they are a little flexible but I worry because the contact point for the clamp is near the fork crown, where the fender won’t bend very well. I’m a tall guy with a big bike so it really needs the clamp to arrest the forward/backward motion of the bike, and the bike will be held by the plastic fender. I just don’t want to risk it. And I might bring the *really* big bike with the front rack. I think Steven’s suggestion of using the T is the right option.
paulheckbert, I StreetViewed the US 22 bridge. Three freeway lanes with no room on the right. Gutsy! You would really prefer that to WV 2? I can’t imagine it being safer unless it is *very* light traffic. How was it during your ride?
Thanks for the tip about following the Panhandle past the parking lot. Using Satellite view it looks as if I could just ride across the rail yard and out of its exit, right to the onramp to go to Steubenville. Thereby bypassing Weirton completely. I might get yelled at but it’s worth it.
I’m impressed with Ohio and their extensive trail systems. How was your trip to Cleveland?
I’ve never tried continuing further SW along the RR tracks, parallel to Route 22, as you discussed. Most railyards are ballast (1 inch diameter rocks, or so) and not fun or fast to bike on, of course. Biking the Route 22 bridge over the Ohio was nerve-wracking, but it goes by pretty quickly.
Regarding my ride to Cleveland, once I got to Zoarville and got on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath, my stress level (from biking on roads sometimes with fast cars) dropped and it was a very pleasant ride to Cleveland. Many Ohio trails are asphalt. This one is not; it’s mostly crushed limestone, but you’re following a river, and sometimes also a canal, and it’s very scenic, similar to the C&O Canal Towpath to DC.
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