An illustration of the proposed Neville Trail.

City planners have long discussed how to capitalize on the infrastructure of the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway as a bikeway but the structural challenges and risks of road sharing always scuttled the idea. Elaine Kramer, a designer / planner for landscape architecture firm Pashek Associates and a recent graduate from Chatham University’s Master of Landscape Architecture program, has designed a trail that parallels the busway in direction and speed without ever infringing on it.

A mile and a quarter in length, Kramer says the trail—developed as the capstone of her master’s degree—would quickly connect pedestrians and cyclists in the Oakland hub to Lawrenceville, the Strip District, and Downtown as well as to existing bus lines and bike trails to create a more connected multimodal system.

“That valley has been used for more than a century as a transportation corridor. [This] resurrects a really smart idea that somehow got literally buried over time,” she says.

On an 1872 map of Pittsburgh Neville Street, now a dead end, extends from Oakland through the then-neighborhood of Millwood before spilling into Lawrenceville. It cuts a swathe identical to the first stretch of Kramer’s proposed Neville Trail.

Beginning at Centre Avenue in North Oakland the trail drops into the steep, undeveloped hillsides west of Melwood Avenue before picking up the curve of the busway. Passing under the Bloomfield Bridge the trail swings toward downtown, flowing into N. Ruthven Street before connecting to the Herron Avenue Bridge.

Map of proposed Neville Trail.
Map of proposed Neville Trail.

Numerous studies indicate that trails can help drive economic viability and economic improvement; Kramer says Neville Trail would be no different.

“I think there could be a really nice ‘trickle up’ effect from the development of resources or amenities at the top and bottom of this trail,” she says, adding that the proposed termination point at Herron Avenue is a major transit hub surrounded by vacant properties. “They’re ready for their next generation of life.”

Though Neville Trail begins in District 8 the majority of the route would reside in Councilwoman Deb Gross’ District 7, which Gross notes is home to almost half of Bike Pittsburgh’s membership. Gross says the trail appealed to her as a means of making inter-community navigation easier.

“I have high density neighborhoods in my district and people are looking for alternate ways to travel. This would serve people from that whole plateau of the East End to get to Downtown and the Strip District.”

Jason Vrabel, adjunct professor in Chatham’s landscape architecture school and Kramer’s advisor, says Bike Pittsburgh has done a great job of connecting those neighborhoods via an on-street route.

“But it requires a bit of grit,” he says. “When you start to imagine a leisurely 10-minute ride and then just kind of popping out in the Strip District, it’s a really compelling idea for a lot of people who aren’t maybe up for [riding in traffic].”

Vrabel adds that the trail would complement ongoing multimodal infrastructure projects.

“There’s a lot of tension around the stuff happening on the streets, the stuff that appears to be taking away from motorists to reallocate towards cycling, and this project doesn’t do that.”

The hillsides above the busway are rare stretches of undeveloped space, and a trail there would plunge people walking home with groceries or cyclists out for a spin into a pastoral setting says Kramer, thereby providing a welcome respite from the urban whirlwind.

Gross included the Neville Trail in her 2015 capital budget requests, asking for $50,000 to commission a feasibility study. The study would identify the project’s challenges and estimate costs of building it. As the budget moves through the approval process, Gross expects pushback on the requested allocation.

“We have lots of really important projects and places in our city infrastructure that haven’t seen the amount of resources they’ve needed for a long time,” she says. “But yet it’s also important to move forward with new projects.”

Kramer, who worked with a wide array of community groups in developing the proposal, says she hopes the budget request survives.

“I would love to see it go to the next stage, especially as a Pittsburgher who really feels pride and wants to see the city try new things and become a little better every day.”

Margaret J Krauss

Margaret J. Krauss is a writer, radio producer, and researcher. If not biking Pittsburgh's streets or swimming its rivers, she is likely geeking out about a really good story.