Current mood:accomplishedFor the last couple of years (since February 2006, to be precise), PennDOT has been rebuilding the 31st Street Bridge, which connects PA 28 with Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh's Strip District. It had been in deplorable condition, with pavement bad enough you could see into the river in a few places, and noplace to walk or bike.
This morning was the ribbon cutting, officially opening it to traffic. I've been to ribbon cuttings before (Mon Incline, November 1994), but I had never been first in line to use the new whatever-it-was. When I heard about this morning's festivities, I decided I had to be part of the action.
As late as 9 a.m. I was still taking care of household chores, but then hopped on the bike and headed for Millvale, and by 9:45 had made it to the 40th Street Bridge. I guessed that the throng of dignitaries would be on the south end of the bridge, but decided not to join them. Instead, I continued down PA 28 to the north end of the bridge, where there is almost zero space to queue for such an event -- just perfect for a bicycle.
[July 2011 update] Historical note: PA 28 between the 40th and 31st Street Bridges used to be pure hell. The sidewalks were somewhere between useless and dangerous, and in some places the washed gravel and the weeds stretched right out over the sidewalk into moving traffic. It was absolutely unsafe. As of mid-2011, this area is being entirely reconstructed so this old sidewalk no longer exists. Fortunately, the river trail is a viable alternative.
By 10 sharp I was at the orange barrels, but between them and the crew that was blocking both lanes, still fixing the traffic lights, I wasn't getting across any sooner than they were going to let me. This ended up being a full hour.
A while before they rolled the barrels out of the way and moved one truck to let the flow of northbound dignitaries through, a group of cyclists thought to join me for my trek. They opted to try to make it across the 40th in hopes of joining the throng, so I ended up being all by myself. Sounds like they made it, too, judging from the info coming across the construction truck radios.
I was waved on through, and true to form, there wasn't a single car behind me. The trucks still had the lane blocked, at least for a few more minutes. I zipped past a KDKA-TV camera crew, but they didn't notice me. About mid-bridge I encountered Pat Hassett from Pittsburgh City Planning with a still camera, and paused briefly to chat. He congratulated me on being the first vehicle, wished me well, and I continued on my way.
If you've never been on a brand-new roadway, it feels different, like there's a bit of fine sand underneath. The pavement actually shined (shone?) in places.
At the south end, I encountered WTAE's TV news crew, looking like they were getting ready to pack up and go home, so went over to talk with them. They were only too happy to put me on camera and have a two-minute interview, complete with the obligatory ride-the-bike-up-the-street scene. I related that I was the first vehicle -- a bicycle was the first vehicle -- to cross the bridge from north to south, and that this was great news for bicyclists since the north end of the bridge is right next to the river trail.
If I'd been paying better attention, I would have noticed that the bridge is, in fact, quite a bit wider, and there is actually space to ride a bike in either direction without getting run over. I finally noticed this when I rode back across.
Upon reaching the River Road / 30th Street light, I dropped down to the river trail and rode to the Millvale Industrial Park, where I hopped on Evergreen and rode the rest of the way home. I did have a 1D Mount Royal bus schedule, but it was such a nice day I thought I'd ride the whole way home. And that I did! Babcock Boulevard is a very nice bike route, indeed!