The Missing Link: Making the Connection via the Mon Wharf Switchback

Mon Wharf walkway in downtown Pittsburgh, PA

Mon Wharf Landing, looking east towards the Smithfield Street Bridge, downtown

One glorious day–and a Sunday at that! Deep blue skies, whispy cirrus clouds, bright sunshine, and seasonally optimistic temperatures requiring only a long-sleeve shirt. Those who failed to leave the indoors on this 24-hour reprieve between Thanksgiving’s elongated drizzly gloom and the following Monday’s snow-filled temperature plunge should feel all the guilt and remorse they deserve.

Just jaggin’–no judgment, here. This blogger, however, wasn’t going to miss the opportunity. The Orbitmobile was sprung from its hutch, tires inflated, and chain oiled. We were off to town on a mission to check out the brand new Mon Wharf Switchback.

Mon Wharf Switchback bicycle/pedestrian ramp in downtown Pittsburgh, PA

The new Mon Wharf Switchback Ramp, downtown

It’s been said that Pittsburgh is the only city with a front door. Indeed, the approach from the morass of Parkway West suburbia/airport/I-79 to the awestruck oohs and aahs emerging from the Fort Pitt Tunnel into a seeming city from nowhere is truly spectacular, unparalleled, and–I can attest, twenty-some years on–never gets old.

That said, one can only reach that front door with a motor vehicle. For those arriving in our fair city by bicycle–and yes, thanks to the Great Allegheny Passage trail, plenty of newcomers get here on two wheels–it’s a less dramatic entrance. That changed, at least a little bit, with the completion of this last connection point allowing car-free passage into town from the Smithfield Street Bridge.

bicycle/pedestrian ramp to Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh, PA

ramp to Point State Park

As of now, the incoming cyclist may exit the Smithfield Bridge to be gently guided down to the previously-existing, but hard-to-get-to Mon Wharf Landing parklet hugging the riverbank. The method is a long, graceful switchback ramp connecting 40 or 50 vertical feet from bridge deck to walkway below.

The park a lovely open space with a wide walkway, stone resting spots–they’re not quite benches–and a thin strip of green grass. Native maple trees–presumably planted back at the park’s opening in 2009–have managed to cling to their deep red fall leaves long after wimpier peers dropped all outerwear weeks ago.

bicycle/pedestrian entrance to Point State Park via the Mon Wharf trail in downtown Pittsburgh, PA

gateway to Point State Park

The new ramp doesn’t just connect downtown with the South Side. One can now, in theory, ride continuously from Point State Park all the way to our nation’s capital without having to contest with any car traffic. Three hundred and thirty-five miles, in fact, as the crow dodges and weaves, crosses the Alleghenies, ducks through tunnels, and follows the curling banks of various old rivers.

That is one hell of an accomplishment for long-distance, intrastate bicycle recreation[1], but the new ramp that allows connection from the upriver side of the Smithfield Street Bridge through to Point State Park–is likely going to be much more useful to the city’s cyclists for their around-town commutes and pleasure cruises.

We’ll spare the particulars, but if you’re a city cyclist, you know getting from, say, Penn Avenue to the South Side was a pain in the ass. Thanks to this new infrastructure, one can make that ride safely and with a spectacular 360° tour of all three rivers.

traffic sign reading "Motor vehicles only: no pedestrians" on Mon Wharf bicycle/pedestrian path in downtown Pittsburgh, PA

The Mon Wharf bicycle/pedestrian route: “Motor vehicles only: no pedestrians”

Though the ramp has been publicly accessible for a week or two, the opening will be made official with an event this Tuesday. As of last weekend, there are still some final touches to the overall route we hope they’ll eventually get to.

Most notable is the lack of signage directing the connection-curious to and from Point State Park. From the latter, one must–on blind faith–go under the bridge ramp overpass, pass a maintenance vehicle parking lot, along the thin connection beside a highway ramp, and then down the fairly steep ramp to the Mon Wharf. This only-possible route takes the walker/bicycle rider directly under a (roadway) sign with the confusing message MOTOR VEHICLES ONLY: NO PEDESTRIANS (see photo, above). [This is a minor quibble that we assume city crews will get to–and may already have.]

Mon Wharf path in downtown Pittsburgh, PA

Mon Wharf Landing, looking west towards the Fort Pitt Bridge

The Mon Wharf Landing and switchback ramp are projects from Riverlife and the City of Pittsburgh. The commitment both have shown toward making the city bike- and pedestrian-safe, friendly, and accessible should absolutely be recognized and praised. From the (mostly) bicycle-based Orbit staff, a very big thank you–we’ll be putting the new route to use as often as we can.


[1] Between the GAP and C&O, the two trails run through Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

A Four-Point Program for Snow-Shoveling Scofflaws

large Queen Anne-style house with snow-covered sidewalks, Pittsburgh, PA

Such a pretty house! It’s a shame the owners can’t afford a show shovel. Harriet Street at Fairmount/Roup, Friendship.

Winter. Whether it’s a pox for the seasonally-depressed, a brief, rosy-cheeked window into Yankee fortitude, or a no-questions-asked excuse to stay inside, drink hot chocolate, and watch British detective shows is up to the individual. Regardless–and despite the last two years’ near complete absence of winter–you’re going to have to deal with it sometime.

For the record, The Orbit has no problem with the season. Sure: it’s cold and it’s dreary, but there’s a lot to recommend it too. In any case, the worst thing about winter is undoubtably its potential for calamity. When trodden-on sidewalk snow turns to ice, a simple walk to the bus stop or coffee shop becomes a death-defying task. This no-so-balanced pedestrian has personally twisted ankles, thrown out hips, and landed plenty of (quite literal) pains in the ass on uncleared ice. There’s basically been at least one of these painful falls every year of my life.

Twisters Ice Cream shop with snow-covered sidewalk, Pittsburgh, PA

This ice is neither gourmet nor Italian. Twisters: you don’t get to take the season off–clean up your act! Bloomfield.

But it need not be this way! If just one person from every household simply pulled out the snow shovel and put in ten or twenty minutes at the appropriate times, the city’s sidewalks would exist in a perpetual walk-friendly state–it’s not that hard. We live in a climate that gets snow–we all know it’s coming. Shovel it once just after the snow stops falling, maybe throw on some rock salt, and nature will take care of the rest…until the next snowfall.

Plenty of people do a great, diligent job, but it is remarkable how many households refuse to make any effort in cleaning their walks. This is far from a mere nuisance, irritant, or old-guy “get off my yard” rant–it’s an extremely dangerous public health situation. Every year, people die from falls on ice and they sure as heck break a lot of bones and twist a lot of joints. Older neighbors and people with disabilities are especially at risk.

large brick Victorian house with snow-covered sidewalks, Pittsburgh, PA

Friendship, maybe. Caring about fellow human beings, not so much. Evaline Street at Harriet, Friendship.

This year, The Orbit is fighting back–and we hope you do too. Here is the Four-Point Program for Snow-Shoveling Scofflaws we’ll be implementing this season:

1. We’re watching you.

This blogger doesn’t stop walking when it gets cold, nor does he let a little snow get in his way. But, as mentioned above, it does become a huge hassle when the walks aren’t cleared and sidewalks turn to ice.

I’ll have my little notebook and an adequate pen that writes in sub-freezing temperatures. Addresses, dates, and a record of failure to clean walkways will be recorded. If you try: you’re off the hook. No shoveling: you’re in the book.

“I was out of town,” and “I had the flu,” and “I don’t own a snow shovel” are not acceptable excuses. This is why God invented teenagers. If you physically cannot do the work (or just don’t want to), there are always plenty of neighborhood snow-day youths roaming the streets, shovels and salt in hand, looking to make a buck. Flag one down and you’ll have semi-reliable snow service until he or she heads off to college. Likewise, if you have elderly or infirm neighbors, make the effort to help them clear their walks. The city’s “Snow Angels” program helps pair volunteers with homeowners for exactly this purpose.

large brick house with snow-covered sidewalk, Pittsburgh, PA

House on the hill, snow on the sidewalk. Winebiddle Street, Friendship.

2. You’ve been served.

Lest anyone think snow shoveling is merely the neighborly thing to do, rest assured it is absolutely the law of the land (err…the city). As officially stated in the City of Pittsburgh Snow Removal Ordinance:

§ 419.03 REMOVAL OF SNOW AND ICE

Every tenant, occupant or owner having the care or charge of any land or building fronting on any street in the city, where there is a sidewalk paved with concrete, brick, stone or other material shall, within twenty-four (24) hours after the fall of any snow or sleet, or the accumulation of ice caused by freezing rainfall, cause the same to be removed from the sidewalk.

To this end, I have prepared a handbill that contains the pertinent citation details and will be carrying a stack of these wherever I go. The guilty will receive a letter of justice they’ll not soon forget!

large brick house with snow-covered sidewalk, Pittsburgh, PA

Winebiddle, whine-a-lot. Friendship.

3. I’m calling your ass in.

The city’s 311 Response Center exists “to help with any non-emergency City of Pittsburgh concerns.” Believe you me, they’ll be getting an earful–or perhaps an In Box full–from this tax-payer! Like Ol’ Saint Nick, we’ll be recording who’s been naughty. Unlike Santa, however, we don’t deal in coal–we’ll just go straight to the po-po. I’m going to be that pest that lets 311 know every snow-dodging ne’er-do-well and feet-dragging layabout on my beat. We’ll see if you can’t clean your walk after that first citation comes in, Jack.

snow-covered sidewalk in front of brick house in Pittsburgh, PA

“No sidewalk parking.” Apparently no sidewalk walking, either. This serial offender on Main Street has not shoveled snow from his or her sidewalks in the last 17 years. Lawrenceville

4. Public shaming.

Just in case the response to that 311 call is either slow, unheeded, or ineffectual, the “nuclear option” is to do what the Internet does best: public shame! Now, normally I’m against this brand of hot-headed anonymous vengeance, but desperate times call for desperate measures–we’re dealing with people’s lives, here! It’s time to get on the neighborhood NextDoor group and flyer the telephone poles. Heck, maybe we’ll get a big billboard on Bigelow Boulevard like Billie Nardozzi! Let’s all hope it doesn’t come to that.

large brick house with snow-covered sidewalk, Pittsburgh, PA

Shady/side, snowy/walk. Bayard Street, Shadyside

A note on the photographs: These pictures were all taken the same day, Friday, Dec. 15, roughly 48 hours after our first real snow the previous Wednesday. It wasn’t a big one and was followed-up by a warming up melt-away over the weekend, so everybody’s getting off clean…this time. The weather may not be so cooperative with our next snow, so consider this a warning.