Pittsburgh Zipline Company
Pittsburgh Zipline Company.

A Pittsburgh businessman wants to fly riders at 40 miles per hour on a zipline over the Ohio River but he’s facing staunch opposition from two companies that own railway tracks below the proposed site.

Jeremy Goldman, CEO of the Pittsburgh Zipline Company, will deliver a Zoom presentation on his zipline proposal to the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation (MWCDC) at 6 p.m. today. The public is invited to voice opinions about the project. To attend, sign in here, or email info@mwcdc.org after the session to receive a copy of the presentation.

Goldman took a zipline ride while vacationing in Haiti about three years ago and, with his feet dipped in the ocean, decided Pittsburgh needed to offer the same experience near the Golden Triangle.

“Everybody can see how much of a positive thing this could be,” Goldman says. “People would see this all over the world. It would be another thing to attract people to Pittsburgh. We have all the safety in place. We have all the engineering in place. We have all the design in place. What we’re missing is community involvement.”

The Pittsburgh zipline would run on four parallel cables — plus a lighted cable, per the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) — and run groups of people at once at an estimated cost of about $50 per person, Goldman says. The price of the ride would include photographs taken remotely along the zipline.

Discounts would be offered to students and people with disabilities, among others, Goldman says. “We want to be as inclusive as possible for everybody,” he said.

To take the zipline, riders would need to sign in and take a brief training session on the North Shore, then take an alcohol breathalyzer test — no exceptions, Goldman says. After emptying their pockets and removing loose articles than could fall below — such as glasses, cell phones or cameras — riders would pass through a metal detector before being transported via an electric vehicle to the hilltop starting point.

There are two possible routes for the proposed zipline, Goldman said: one from Emerald View Park in Mt. Washington down to the Carnegie Science Center on the North Shore, or one from the West End/Elliott Overlook to the proposed North Shore Esplanade.

Pittsburgh City Council President Theresa Kail-Smith, whose district includes Mount Washington and Duquesne Heights, says Goldman has talked with her about the project and she has heard support from West End residents.

“He really has a company put together [and] I was impressed by his first presentation,” says Kail-Smith, who admitted she personally would hesitate before taking the zipline trek.

“Basically, I won’t be the first one going down,” she adds, laughing. “I have a couple people I’d like to send down first.”

Kail-Smith, though, stresses that those who want to know about the proposal should tune into Wednesday’s Zoom meeting. “I hope people from the community will come because it’s going to affect their day-to-day lives — I represent them,” she says.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto also supports the proposal — conditionally, his staff stresses.“Mayor Peduto told the organizers he would support the project if Councilwoman Kail-Smith and communities in District 2 support it, too,” spokesperson Tim McNulty tells NEXTpittsburgh.

Two railway companies are less enthusiastic.

Both CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern, which operate Ohio River rail lines about 250 feet below the proposed zipline, voiced strong opposition this week.

“At CSX, the safety of our employees and the communities where we operate is our highest priority,” spokesperson Sheriee S. Bowman says. “After a thorough review of the proposal from the Pittsburgh Zipline Company, it was determined that the project’s flight path over CSX tracks posed significant safety risks and we were unable to grant the request.” ( Jeremy Goldman says they have never met with him so he doesn’t know how they saw his proposal.)

Norfolk Southern didn’t mince words as it echoed that sentiment.

“It has been and continues to be our view that this proposal is inherently dangerous,” spokesperson Jeff DeGraff said. “We are committed to protecting the safety of our employees and the communities we serve. The prospect of operating a recreational zip line above multiple train tracks in continuous operation by two Class I freight lines is not acceptable to Norfolk Southern. We have communicated our position multiple times to developers in the past and we will maintain this stance.”

The idea of installing a zipline over the Ohio River is not new. The Pittsburgh chapter of The Awesome Foundation pitched the idea to officials in 2012. That proposal offered to “connect Mt. Washington to the North Shore” along “one of the most picturesque urban vistas in the world,” according to its website. Some said other plans for a zipline pre-date that one.

Though it offered the forum for the presentation, the MWCDC is not taking a stance on the proposal — at least not yet. “The MWCDC does not take positions on any developments that are proposed by organizations other than us,” said MWCDC Executive Director Gordon Davidson.

The organization could offer a developer letters of support, opposition or neutrality “based on the input we receive from the community,” Davidson says.

Goldman says he has had meetings about the proposal with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and PennDOT, among others. Those organizations did not reply this week to NEXTpittsburgh’s requests for comment. Port Authority of Allegheny County was not aware of the project, a spokesperson said.

Goldman is doubling down on the safety of his proposal. He says the firm ZipRider, whose zipline in Alaska lays claim to being the longest in the world, says the tentative proposal for Pittsburgh would work “from a design standpoint.”

Pittsburgh Zipline Company’s proposed procedures also come from the BridgeClimb in Sydney, Australia.

“People have been climbing to the top of the bridge since BridgeClimb’s inception in the late 1990s,” Goldman says. “It has been open every day, weather permitting, since then — and nothing has ever fallen onto the roadway, railway, busway or waterway below. This is how we know that our zipline will be inherently safe for both our riders and those below.”

A former news reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Asbury Park (N.J.) Press, Justin Vellucci currently freelances for a number of Pittsburgh publications and works as a staff writer for the music magazines PopMatters and Spectrum Culture. He has been contributing to NEXTpittsburgh since January 2020. He lives in Greenfield.