Where Do Cyclists Go When Construction Closes Bike Lanes And Trails?

May 30, 2018

Sometimes Pittsburgh feels like one contiguous construction zone: a tundra of utility repair, a Pangea of road work, the United Neighborhoods of Renovation.

And that can trigger a mobility migraine for cyclists.

A quick scan of the city-maintained Burgh’s Eye View app reveals 932 active Traffic Obstruction Permits which, in practical terms, means a lot of orange cones.

“It’s a big city,” said Alex Pazuchanics, assistant director for planning, policy and permitting in the City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure. “We have a lot of traffic obstructions ... some may be minor, some may be only at night, some may be longer and have a greater duration or a greater intensity.”

Whenever that work affects a public right of way, Pazuchanics said city policy requires the person doing the work to provide alternate routes for all modes of transit: motorists, pedestrians and cyclists.

The quality or coherence of those alternate routes can be touch and go, said Eric Boerer, advocacy director for nonprofit advocacy organization Bike Pittsburgh.

"Sometimes the detours are poorly signed,” he said. “They might take you onto sidewalks, they might take you through parking lots and things like that, and there is a lot of inconsistency.”

And then there’s the question of closure length, said Boerer.

“We do have some trails that are closed and we don’t know when they’re going to happen,” he said. “Inconsistent trail closures really do hamper the city’s efforts to increase the number of people biking.”

Bike lane closures can be straightforward. But typically the trails are cobbled together through a hodge-podge of arrangements with different landowners and through easements that allow a trail to pass through. So exactly who’s responsible can add a layer of confusion. 

Currently, three trail sections are closed due to nearby construction: a stretch of the riverfront trail in the Strip District, by the Carnegie Science Center and in Duck Hollow, said Courtney Mahronich, director of trail development for nonprofit Friends of the Riverfront, which tracks closures.

Despite the vagaries of trail closures and re-routing, Boerer said there are examples of superlative detours. For example, the one near Station Square on the South Side. Construction of Glasshouse, a residential development from High Street Residential required closing a portion of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. The busy trail is a significant route and recreational space for many, said James Murray-Coleman of High Street Residential. That's why the company invested $30,000 to reroute the trail for the duration of the work.

“It’s a disruption,” he said, acknowledging that riding on a road instead of a protected trail is a very different proposition. “For some people, that’s frightening.”

While the costs were six times what High Street Residential budgeted originally, Murray-Coleman said it was part of their responsibility.

“We’re happy to do it. It’s a long-term solution,” he said, noting that the trail won’t reopen until summer 2019.

Any road or trail user can contact 3-1-1 with a concern about road or trail closures, said Pazuchanics. 

Updated 5:17 p.m., May 30 2018: A closed trail was incorrectly identified as the Great Allegheny Passage. It is the Three Rivers Heritage Trail.