Member-At-Large On The Road

Getting to and Bicycling in Pittsburgh

Sunday, June 30, 2019

By Leslie Tierstein

Some friends were planning a June bike tour that included the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP), a (mostly) rail-trail conversion between Pittsburgh PA and Cumberland MD. I just joined them for a portion of their tour. Additional factors (besides the planning and company) that provided impetus for me to ride this tour:

  • I would get a chance to use Amtrak’s new-ish (2015) roll-aboard bike access on the Capitol Limited train from DC to Pittsburgh
  • I wanted to actually spend some time in and explore Pittsburgh, after having just passed through the city on previous bike and business trips
  • 16 miles of trail, connecting Pittsburgh to the previously existing trail, had been completed since my last visit. I would get a chance to ride from Pittsburgh

Getting to Pittsburgh

My original plan was to take the Amtrak Capitol Limited train to Pittsburgh on Friday evening, spend Saturday in Pittsburgh, and meet the group on Sunday.  Some time in March I went online to buy my Amtrak tickets: 1 person, no problem; 1 bicycle, ALL SOLD OUT! So, I bought tickets for Thursday.

Lesson learned: I knew there were limited places for bikes on the train (8!). But I didn’t realize they would sell out so far ahead of time. Book early.

Travel Day

I got to Union Station in plenty of time to get on the 4:05 train. Two other cyclists with loaded touring bikes toward the baggage car with me to stow our bikes.  That baggage car was a disappointment: there are no bike racks! People are just supposed to lay their bikes on the floor. There were already three bikes in there. We rearranged them to be able to fit our bikes.


The train was 10 minutes late getting to Pittsburgh.  I remember it sitting on the tracks once, as a freight train passed by going toward DC. (CSX owns the tracks, so their trains have priority.) Of course, when we got to Pittsburgh, a little after 11:30 PM, it was raining. My hotel was nearby. Whew.

I subsequently called Adventure Cycling, which has been working hard to get bike access on long-distance Amtrak trains, to promote bicycle tourism. Their Travel Initiatives Coordinator, Saara Snow, informed me that Amtrak originally DID have bike racks in the baggage car, but she had heard other recent reports that the racks were no longer there. She has contacted Amtrak, to investigate what is going on.


Last night’s hotel was conveniently located in downtown Pittsburgh, in the Golden Triangle.  I started by walking to Cherrie’s Cafe for breakfast, passing many parks and displays of public art on the way.


My morning bike ride was on some of the river-side trails and the many, many bridges across Pittsburgh’s three rivers. Unlike other bridges I have known (in NY, Philadelphia and DC, to name a few) every bridge I tried was bike- and ped-friendly! Sidewalks! Signage! The buses have bike racks. The main thing that wasn’t bike friendly were the climbs from the waterfront up onto the bridge or into town.

My destination for the morning was  Bicycle Heaven, a bicycle museum (!!) and repair shop, located just off the North Shore Bike Trail.



The bikes are fantastic — historically significant and painstakingly restored. I could have definitely spent more time here. A visit would be especially worthwhile if you are interested in a particular type of older bike – the owner/curator is very knowledgeable. And helpful.



The Three Rivers Arts Festival was happening in Point State Park, one block from my hotel. (The three rivers are the Ohio; the Youghiogheny (the Yock); and the Monongehela (the Mon). It featured interesting arts & crafts exhibits as well as food vendors. I saw something I had previously only read about — a sculpture made of discarded flip-flops – and ate something I hadn’t even heard of – a fried oreo.




After checking into a different, more reasonably priced hotel (the South Side Traveler’s Rest hostel), I headed for the Squirrel Hill neighborhood. I had originally planned to visit the Tree of Life synagogue, site of the October, 2018 shooting. However, it turned out that Tree of Life’s Friday night services were being held at Rodef Shalom, another synagogue in Squirrel Hill.  Since the Rodef Shalom building is on the register of historical places, I decided to ride there.  I attended a nice service and had an opportunity to explore an extensive collection of Judaica.  The bike ride back to my hotel was gorgeous — Google Maps told me to take the Junction Hollow Trail, and I did. Just wish I’d had more time to explore the Squirrel Hill neighborhood – and more neighborhoods in Pittsburgh.



Leaving Pittsburgh

The next morning over coffee, I met Paul, one of the co-owners of the inn. He has been involved with the Allegheny Trail Alliance since its beginning. He reported that two of the three founding members are still active. The third now works for Dero.  He sells bike racks at wholesale price to local advocacy organizations, so they can promote them to local governments.  Hmm, maybe he can promote some to Amtrak.


My “quick” stop for breakfast at Waffles INCaffeinated took a bit longer than planned, when I started talking with a fellow cyclist (wearing an Allegheny Trail jersey).  Seems like some of the difficulties the group has had with getting bicycle infrastructure improved in Pittsburgh and the vicinity are the same (surprise, surprise) as those found in Washington DC. 


I hit the road around 9 AM. The first part of the trail system — between Pittsburgh and Boston — is newer than my last trip on the GAP. These miles hug the river and alternate between former industrial sites and suburbs.  There are new bridges to go across the still-in-service railroad tracks and busy suburban roads.



I was very impressed by the signage (on the trail and on the bridges) and the tributes to mining and steel industries that were built alongside the trail.

In McKeesport, there are two trails: the GAP and the Loop. The Loop only goes 4 miles, to the GAP trailhead in Boston. I decided to take the Loop, since it promised to go through old industrial sites  and towns which I’m curious about. Near its end, in Boston, the Loop crosses the Youghiogheny (shortened to “Yough”, pronounced “Yock”) River and joins the GAP.

The remaining days of my ride were on the rest of the GAP with a detour off-trail to visit the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville. I would highly recommend this detour (or just a trip).  This article was excerpted from a series of blogs on the tour, for example,




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