Friday, April 22, 2011

25-mile bike ride (May 11, 2007)

Current mood: energetic

I had to make a trip to Oakland this morning, but wasn't anywhere near ready to leave when it was time to catch my preferred bus, so I decided to go there by bicycle. For those reading this who are not familiar with the Pittsburgh landscape, Oakland is the city's "second Downtown", a huge, traffic filled area which just happens to be the third-largest urban area in Pennsylvania, with only downtown Philly and Pittsburgh's Golden Triangle (i.e., primary downtown) rated larger.

Meanwhile I am fully two townships north of the city limits, which limit goes way, way out, something like four miles by air, in my direction. My house is exactly 10 miles from The Point, where the rivers come together. Getting to Oakland would mean covering both the 10-mile north-south distance and about four miles of east-west distance. Nevertheless, I decided to go for it.

Donning my helmet and orange vest, I tried to figure out how to carry the small package I needed to take to Oakland. It fit in a lunch bag, along with lunch, but the larger question was how to carry a lunch bag, not having a decent backpack. I'd had experience with stuff dangling off of one arm; it was neither pleasant nor safe. The solution was to put it in a standard plastic grocery bag, stretch it a bit, then stick an arm through each handle. It wasn't real comfortable, but it did work, and as it turned out, held together very nicely all the way there, and back.

To get there, I chose Babcock Boulevard, a wide two-laner that follows a stream, and so is fairly level as well as relatively traffic free. Decades ago, parts of this road were the bed of an electric interurban railroad, and anytime you can find that combination, you can expect to have almost ideal bicycling. I was not disappointed. (Side note: I only wish there was a decent trail extending north from the corner of Babcock Blvd. and Three Degree Road, following the old rail line. It would cross Perrymont very near my house.)

I saw two 1F Millvale buses laying over in the Millvale Loop, and as one of the buses had a bike rack, I actually considered taking the bus into the Golden Triangle. However, the bus that pulled out to make the inbound run was the one without the rack, so I continued under my own power.

The only serious traffic problem I encountered was getting to the 40th Street Bridge. This spot is not friendly toward bicycle or pedestrian; it's not much of a picnic for cars and trucks, either: Two lanes of main drag, with two single-lane on ramps, all forced to merge into two lanes just prior to the traffic light for the bridge. It's always a mess. Traffic was essentially stopped, which made it relatively simple to wiggle over to the side of the road -- which happens to be a jersey barrier -- no shoulder at all -- and I waited for a chance to get across Rt 28. Eventually enough cars stopped while a tractor-trailer began to lumber its way into the intersection. I was not a hazard to traffic, but what I essentially had to do was dart across 10 lanes of potential movement with two of them actually moving, and make for the sidewalk. This was about 10 a.m., beyond the bulk of rush hour, but still very, very busy.

Finally success, but then at what cost? There was so much glass on the bridge sidewalk, I wondered if I would make it across with either tire intact. All I could do was choose the best path, steer and pray. (Side note: When I worked at Panasas, near the West End Bridge, I kept an old broom in the weeds near the bridge so I could sweep the glass and the dog-do off the part of the beaten path that I had to traverse daily.)

OK, now I'm literally in the city -- Lawrenceville, to be precise -- and there ain't much space for bicycles. Now the big question: Street or sidewalk? If street, do I squeeze between cars and curb, or duke it out with the traffic itself? As it was, traffic wasn't moving to speak of, so I tried to slither between car and curb. This really didn't work, either -- mirrors, gravel, glass, and huge holes. I opted for the sidewalk, at least up to Butler Street. Once I cleared Butler and started up the hill, I kept to the street, but that wasn't too bad. Most cars were parked, and there was nominally enough room to ride. Not a lot of space, but serviceable.

When I got to the Bloomfield Bridge, I found myself on the sidewalk more or less by accident. Somehow another bicyclist ended up in the traffic lane, which didn't look so bad, but I don't know how he got there. At the other end of the bridge, a pedestrian just about to cross via the sidewalk, saw me and waited. I guess I really shouldn't've been there, but once I got there I didn't see what else I could have done. There was no feasible way of jumping the barrier.

Anyway, I made it to my destination on Fifth Avenue, distance 11.5 miles, and did it in about 60 minutes. Had I driven, it would've taken 42. That's not that bad, considering.

While there, I looked for the building's bike rack, but couldn't find it. With the security guard's assistance, I found it. It can only handle four bicycles for a building population that numbers well into the hundreds. Even at that, it appears that someone had driven a car into it, since I could not use two of its slots due to its being so bent.

For the return trip, I opted for Fifth Avenue into Downtown, then Sixth Street Bridge, Federal Street and Perrysville Avenue to Perry Highway, to get home. Dealing with Fifth Avenue in Oakland was a bit of an adventure. It's four lanes across, inbound, and bicycles use all of them. The contra-flow bus lane is not really an issue unless you happen to veer into it. I didn't, but I did have an errand to attend to which required that I cross it. This wasn't difficult. I just needed to ensure that I wasn't going to be hit by a bus.

Fifth Avenue the rest of the way wasn't so bad. I was making at least as good a time as the buses were, and a couple of times found myself between two buses, or a bus and a big truck. I had no trouble keeping up with traffic, and a couple of times needed to slow down. Twice I passed buses, who later leapfrogged me.

Heading out of town, Federal Street and Perrysville Ave are humungo hills, but I am proud of the fact that I did not get off to walk the bike. I did, however, stop to rest a couple of times, and in fact stopped at a small grocery store in the 2100 block, well up on the hill, where I got something to eat and drink. The last thing I needed to do was get dehydrated, and in the now noon-day sun (it was about 11:30, maybe 11:45), I was getting hot.

Once back underway, the rest of the trip was unadventurous, just plugging along, staying as far right as I dared. My hands were starting to get sore, so I stopped at Scholl's Bicycle Shop in West View and bought a pair of riding gloves.

I got back around 1 p.m. The return trip was 13.1 miles, for a total of 24.6 miles, pretty close to 25 miles. Now home, I do not feel either winded or sore, just in need of a good shower.

I did this to prove a point, as well as to prove to myself that I was up to a 25-mile ride on a warm day. I gotta wonder, though -- how many other people would spend a gallon or more of gasoline, and maybe $5 in parking, just to deliver a fist-sized package?

Anyway, I gotta do this again sometime!

1 comment:

bus15237 said...

Four years ago, I began trying to use the bicycle to run errands. This post documents my first experience ever at riding into the city from the suburbs, and back home.