Sunday, October 9, 2016

2016 Coffeeneuring trip #1: Hilly south

I stated in a couple of the main coffeeneuring blogs a suggestion for those pursuing the prize in Pittsburgh this year, and intend to put my muscle where my mouth is: In seven weeks, get to seven disparate destinations in the metro area:
* South of the Monongahela River, near the river, where it's flat
* South of the river, either up a big hill or in the suburbs
* North of the Allegheny River, near the river, where it's flat
* North of the river, either up a big hill or in the suburbs
* West End or western suburbs, which are all challenging to get to
* Between the rivers, but inside the Blue Belt, roughly the city line
* East of the Blue Belt, or a distant diagonal from downtown

For this first trip, I opted for south-up-a-hill. It's easy to toodle over to the South Side Flats, but something else again to surmount the big ridge. It's a 470-foot vertical climb to Arlington and South 18th. More on that later.

My trip started at Forbes at Grant, downtown. I had to travel in to work earlier, and did so by motorcycle. But with that done by about 11, and not having had breakfast to speak of, and with nobody having designs on my time for the next six hours, I thought it a fine time to work in the more distant of my seven planned ventures. A HealthyRide bike station, Pittsburgh's bike rental system, was just outside my building, so I punched the buttons on my phone, brought up the app, got the beep unlocking the bike, adjusted the seat, and was off!

The first couple of miles were easy, just out the Jail Trail and over the Hot Metal Bridge, where I paused briefly to take in that great view of the skyline that only cyclists and peds get to see.

I originally planned to double back to South 18th Street to climb that, but found myself looking at South 26th instead, and remembered that that was another way to surmount the ridge. What actually jogged my memory was seeing a 48 Arlington bus turn onto 26th, and figured it had to get up the hill somehow.

South 26th doesn't go very far, only under the tracks, then a T intersection with Josephine St. I started up that, pausing to take a photo of an enormous hole in the street, half covered with a piece of thin plywood. I tweeted this photo to the city 311 service for reporting problems such as that. A car encountering that would be immobilized to the point of needing a tow truck to get out.

I got a few close passes. Again, people's understanding of the four-foot passing law leaves much to be desired, as does their knowing it's OK to cross the center line to pass a bike. Maybe they don't see bikes here that often.

Another pause to photograph a pair of drain grates whose large slots line up perfectly with the direction of travel on a turn. Every new place I go, I find more of these. Coffeeneuring causes me to do more of that exploring, and so contributes to finding them.

A woman in a USPS truck very nicely passed me with plenty of space, then pulled over a few yards up to deliver a package, but then walked in front of her truck directly into my path. Even slogging uphill, I had to take evasive action not to hit her. I suspect she didn't have the same experience riding school buses that I did growing up. You always always always look around the front of the bus, even if the driver waves you across. You alone are responsible for keeping yourself alive. Two kids in my grade did not learn that lesson. But enough about then.

The HealthyRide bikes are OK on hills, but I would not have minded a bit lower gearing. In fact, quite a bit lower. If we want to expand the system into the southern part of the city, the average rider is going to have trouble climbing hills. I had no trouble, but I climb Federal Street on my own bike, bottom to top, without pausing, so my opinion may not count for much. OTOH, there were times I wish I'd had a taller gear at the top end, once I got into flat or downhill sections. If these bikes had a seven-speed setup with a wider spread at the top end but one or even two gears below the current lowest, that would make the hills a bit more surmountable.

Once I got to the top, I think it's Devlin Street, I was disappointed how desolate it is. I think 10 or 20 years ago there was a housing project up here, but the last time I was up there was 2008, and it hasn't changed. Just acres of fenced off field. That could at least be windmills or solar panels if it's just going to be vacant land.

From there, I explored little side streets, even a few dead ends. Jonquil Way was one that came and went a couple times. Wow, the people back here must be part mountain goat. I wonder how many use that 48 bus at the top of that ridge. It's not that far a walk, but everything requires an elevation change.

A few wiggles later, I found myself in Mount Oliver, a village that's not part of the city but entirely surrounded by it. Realizing I was now on Brownsville Rd, the continuation of South 18th I'd originally planned to climb, I figured it was time to start looking for coffee and lunch. I kept on riding south. I'd been out here only a few times in recent years, on bike or anything else. Like any good Pittsburgher, I only know well the quadrant of town I live in, and south ain't my specialty. But hey, I'm on a bike, I'll see something good sooner or later. I set an absolute limit of Saw Mill Run Blvd, and hoped I would find something suitable before that.

I passed up a Dunkin Donuts and a few other chains and fast food. I wanted something local, not a chain, and preferably serving real food. Eventually I was deep into Carrick, and found a couple of possibilities past the split for Churchview Ave. My choice was Family Restaurant -- that's its name, no additional name components necessary. A little Mom-and-Pop place with printed menus and a seating area.

Just one thing: Noplace to tie up a bike. That part of town, no bike racks, anywhere. I opted to use a street sign.

Just one other thing: No bikes, either. I wish I'd run video to be sure, but I do not recall seeing a single other person on a bicycle between Josephine Street and arriving at Family Restaurant, easily three urban miles and most of an hour in motion.

I was seated, and quickly chose a spinach & lentil soup, a slice of baklava, and tea. Only Mom was in the place, no Pop, no other staff. She was counter, kitchen and cleanup. Nice woman, decent English though clearly ESL, maybe 50 and change (like me). It took her a few minutes to put it together but all was well and warm enough, and tasty, too. Total, about $10.

One customer strolled in, a man about 60, and ordered a hoagie. Like for me, it took her about 10 minutes to put it together. During that wait, he grumbled at everything, just loud enough for me to hear. He said nothing as he looked me over, which was about the moment I was taking this picture.

Someone's car was loud. He grumbled about that. He grumbled about how long it was taking. He grumbled about some of the art on the wall. Then when she arrived with the food, he asked why she was using a calculator to add up the bill instead of using the cash register. As if it mattered. Then he asked if she paid her taxes. Of course she did, she said, every three months like you're supposed to. I think he thought that because she was not of WASP descent, that somehow meant she was a freeloader of some sort. Whatever, he shut up, paid the bill, and left. I bet I know who he's voting for.

It was close to 2 p.m. by the time I was done, and my phone's battery was getting dangerously low. It was at 62% when I left the office, but was now in the low teens, dropping fast, and I was almost 15 miles from home. I made sure I had the unlock code for the bike, because I'd be seriously stuck if I couldn't unlock it and couldn't call for help. Note to self: Next time, write the unlock code on my hand. (It bottomed out at 6% by the time I plugged it in next, and it's been known to shut down at 5%.)

The trip back was fun enough. I did encounter one cyclist, some guy salmoning his way along the wrong side of Brownsville, and another who dodged around some pedestrians on the sidewalk. That's telling, too. What few cyclists who dare to ride at all in that part of town either don't know the rules or choose to ignore them. Maybe I should suggest to the bike count folks that they should set up counts through the southern and western parts of town a bit more. Brownsville and Nobles Lane, and the Amanda St mess, to name two. It isn't difficult to do ride according to the rules, but again, I don't find McKnight Road that difficult.

After crossing Arlington, Brownsville becomes South 18th, and is a mile and a half of downhill. Wheeeee!!!

Taking it easy, I rode along the South Side Trail, stopping to answer a text as a train went by. (Don't all little boys stop to watch trains go by?) Yale and Paul caught me here, so we rode into downtown together. It was fun to have a bit of companionship to finish the ride.

I returned the bike to the exact slot where I took it out. A job well done, on a bike which proved worthy to the task at hand. Soon I was on my Suzuki 250 and headed home for real.

One coffeeneuring trip down, six to go!


  1. For my first coffeeneuring run, I head south of Mount Washington for a cup of tea and lentil soup.

  2. There are big plans (and big federal hurdles) for that fenced off lot:

    Thanks for braving the South!