City Scenes: Cycling from the South Shore to the North Shore

Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood stays up late. While the major urban artery and commercial corridor of E. Carson St channels a significant amount of traffic all day long, the South Side Flats district is particularly known as a nightlife hot spot. For area residents, the abundance of after-hours revelry can be a nuisance: complaints about parking availability, incidental vandalism, and excessive noise are commonly espoused in online discussions (As a new arrival I get to experience this firsthand: I live next door to a popular neighborhood bar’s outdoor patio, and am also the proud new owner of several sets of deluxe ear plugs). 

There are more distressing dimensions to this nocturnal activity as well. Since I arrived in South Side three weeks ago there have been two serious shootings and a conviction in an earlier shooting incident. On my way home from the Pirates game last Friday I got to witness the first night of new traffic restrictions, as police are cordoning off inbound traffic along a eight block stretch of E. Carson on weekend evenings in an effort to curtail late night violence. That same evening there was yet another shooting in the immediate vicinity of the restricted zone.

So South Side is a neighborhood that stays up late, in ways that may be experienced as alternately frustrating or frightening by community members. But in my experience so far it is also a neighborhood that sleeps in, especially on the weekends. I’ve attempted to utilize this early morning inactivity by going out for morning sojourns. The forenoon quietude is conducive to walking around the neighborhood or going for a run on the river trail, but I have found it especially amenable to cycling, as the vacant sidewalks and sparsely trafficked streets are accommodating for a novice rider like myself.

This past Sunday I endeavored on an early morning bike ride. My ambitions were modest: I simply aimed to ride along the Three Rivers Heritage Trail to the furthest point that I have reached during my runs, namely the site of the Highline (I’ll have more to say on that location later this week). Yet as the ride unfolded I found myself compelled to travel further and further, and I ended up on a three hour trip from the South Shore to the North Shore and back again.

This was my first time traveling beyond the Color Park heading west on the trail. Along the way I enjoyed cycling around the open and uncongested Color Park, pausing to read the assemblage of spray painted messages and attempting to decipher the graffitied signifiers. From there it was past the Highline and onto McKean St, detouring to Station Square. (The route also took me past a new-ish looking residential development dubbed “Glasshouse”…I’d love to know whether the developers intended the subversive smirk suggested by the proverbially-resonant moniker, but I find it extremely funny regardless). I hadn’t been to Station Square since I first moved here seven years ago. The complex is still dominated by tacky chain restaurants and the grating sounds of piped-in muzak, but it took on a special charm from the saddle of my cycle. The area also features some mobility infrastructure placards as pictured above.

I rode the south shore trail to its apparent terminus point just past the River Hounds stadium across the river from Point State Park. At this stage I considered calling it a day, having greatly exceeded my original ambitions for the outing. But looking across the river at the Point fountain I felt compelled to explore how to bridge the gap and reach the point. So I pedaled back through Station Square and then up and across the Smithfield St Bridge.

Over on the downtown side a series of switchbacks and side ramps brought me to Point State Park. The area around the fountain had already drawn a number of visitors. As I rested my bike against the edge of the fountain reservoir two freight trains passed in opposite directions along the south shore rail lines and boaters maneuvered their pleasure craft around the confluence. I was reminded of the phrase I had used during previous visits to the Point: “city on the move.”

I decided to continue along the opposite side of the golden triangle. I rode past the large Black Lives Matter mural and other racial justice messages that have been painted there in the last year, but I have refrained from photographing or reproducing the murals here so as to avoid reducing these expressions to commodified images or consumable aesthetic representations.

When I approached a ramp leading up from the riverfront toward the Roberto Clemente bridge I took it, heading up to the street level of downtown. As that day was a Sunday home Pirates game the Clemente bridge was closed off to through traffic, so it was an excellent opportunity to ride across the bridge. I’m really glad I got the chance to do this, as the bridge will soon be undergoing renovations that will make it inaccessible for two baseball seasons.

There were several points along this journey where I relished the ability to ride to this area of downtown and take in the view of PNC Park. It should make for a fulfilling outing during the hot stove season.

First pitch for the Sunday game was scheduled for 1:05 PM, so even at mid-morning the area was abuzz with pre-game activity along Federal Street, baseball fans milling about, and stadium staff arriving for work. I circumnavigated the stadium and paused for photographs with some of the surrounding statues.

I rode a little further along the North Shore river trail, though at this point the path was growing congested, so I made my way back up to the Clemente bridge and backtracked home. It was an invigorating semi-spontaneous outing (seeing as I traveled significantly further than originally imagined). It was a beautiful morning and I got to encounter some of my favorite Pittsburgh landmarks and vistas from an entirely new perspective. At several points along my journey I said to myself (often out loud): “This is awesome, this is so cool.” I am sure that for experienced Pittsburgh cyclists (or cyclists in any city for that matter) this is nothing surprising, merely confirmation of what they know to be true. But cut me some slack, this is a big deal for where I am right now, literally and figuratively.

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