Chatham grad proposes bike trail from North Oakland to the Strip

By Brad Hanlon / For The Pitt News

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For many Pitt students, North Oakland and the Strip District seem like distant neighborhoods.. But for Chatham University graduate Elaine Kramer, they are just a bike ride through the woods away.

Kramer, 57, who received her master’s degree in landscape architecture in May from Chatham, designed a plan that will utilize the green space in North Oakland to create a bike path linking the neighborhood of Oakland to the Strip District and Lawrenceville. 

Kramer plans for the path to begin at the corner of North Neville and Centre Avenue and make use of a heavily wooded hillside that leads the whole way to Herron Avenue near the Strip District — a cultural hub containing many food suppliers and other vendors.

The path follows where Neville Street historically used to run before it was abandoned and overgrown by woods, Kramer said. Neville Street used to stretch the whole way from Oakland to the Strip District, providing a direct route between the communities.Currently there is “green space,” or forested area filled with weeds and plants, that could be cleared for the trail between the two neighborhoods.

Kramer said she hopes to once again link the two formerly intertwined neighborhoods by creating the bike path.

For one of her landscape architecture projects at Chatham, Kramer’s professor asked her to present a plan for a landscape project in North Oakland that applied her personal interests. Kramer said she was always fascinated by “wild urban landscapes” and wanted to utilize them to “restore the connection that was lost” between the city’s neighborhoods and between residents and nature.

Kramer’s project and presentation gained the attention of the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation. OPDC worked with the landscape architecture studio at Chatham and encouraged students to create plans that would help improve the neighborhood, said Wanda Wilson, OPDC’s executive director. 

Wilson said the OPDC took on similar greening projects in the past and is now working on improving parts of Central Oakland. The OPDC hopes to take on the production of the bike path in the future.

In terms of the path’s progress, Wilson said that the idea was still relatively new and needed a lot of designing to work out the details of the path. Due to the steepness of the hillside and the heavily forested area, the project would likely be very expensive, Wilson said, and it would require assistance from the Pittsburgh City Planning Department and the Department of Public Works.

Although Kramer said she agrees that the project will undoubtedly be expensive and may need boardwalk-like sections due to the steepness of the hillside, she said there is precedent for a trail like this.

South Chickamauga Creek Greenway in Chattanooga, Tenn. has a very similar design to the proposal, said Kramer. According to a local Chattanooga outdoors website, the trail was founded in 2011 and features sections of boardwalk that are at treetop level all within the city of Chattanooga.

Kramer said that this type of an experience could become more of “a destination, not a trail.” 

“If Chattanooga can do it, why can’t Pittsburgh?” Kramer said.

Oakland residents like 2014 Pitt graduate Mike Deasy also expressed interest in the possibility of the trail. Deasy said it can be tough to find bike trails in the city and traveling by road can get rough.

Deasy, who travels to the Stip District about twice a week, said he would prefer a wooded path because designated bike areas “are always safer” and that Pittsburgh is “getting better for bikes.” Other bike trails in the city include the nine sections of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, located along the Southside, North Shore and other areas.

Local Pittsburgh residents Rhys Sloss and Nick Rossello, both 2013 graduates of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, were also interested in the potential bike path. Sloss and Rossello said they bike around the city often, although more commonly on the road than the woods due to the urban environment.

Sloss said the current bike ride from Oakland to the Strip District is indirect and full of busy roads. 

The bike path would be quieter and safer by comparison, said Rossello.

Rossello said he “loves exploring bike paths” and enjoys visiting new places and neighborhoods in Pittsburgh by cycling. 

“It would definitely get use,” Sloss said of the path.

Although the bike path is still in its early stages of planning, Kramer said she believes support and demand from the community will help turn her project into a reality. 

Kramer said she hopes the path “connects people, connects neighborhoods, connects communities and connects people to nature.”


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