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State invests in walking and biking trail to connect Hazelwood and Greenfield

Allyson Ruggieri
90.5 WESA

The state of Pennsylvania will contribute $1.7 million to build a long-sought biking and walking trail that will connect Hazelwood and Greenfield along a disused portion of Sylvan Avenue.

“It's great news for bike and pedestrian access,” said City Councilor Corey O’Connor, who represents the neighborhoods. “It's something we've been waiting on for years.”

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The grant was announced Thursday morning by state Senator Jay Costa, who said that the trail would provide a safe option for workers and others who travel in the area. Sylvan Avenue runs parallel to State Route 885, a road on which drivers are known to hit high speeds.

“Whether you’re in a car, on a bike or on foot, the City of Pittsburgh must be safe and accessible,” Cota said in a statement announcing the grant. “Adding safe spaces for bikers and walkers is critical to ensure that we can all get around this city, particularly on the roads that take folks from home to work every day.”

The stretch of the aptly named Sylvan Avenue has been what O’Connor calls an “urban forest” for years. While he said the base of the road remains, much of the area is wooded and has been for as long as O’Connor can remember.

The city already had made improvements in the vicinity, he said, and it had set aside money for forestry improvements and other needs.

The funding comes amid a sea change in the neighborhood. Blocks away from the planned trail, a mixed-use redevelopment is taking place on the site of a former coke-making facility. And O’Connor noted that the Hazelwood end of the trail would be close to the former Gladstone Middle School, which is being refurbished into apartments.

The other end of the trail lies near Panther Hollow and a trail network that connects Downtown and the South Side along the Monongahela River.

“We’ve been trying to get that [Sylvan Avenue] for a trail since my first year in office,” O'Connor said.

At one point, the city had planned to use the Sylvan right-of-way for a shuttle-bus line called the Mon Oakland Connector, but the proposal was panned by many. Mayor Ed Gainey nixed the project early in his administration, but the walking/biking trail remained part of the vision for the area.

O’Connor said that with the state money in hand, he expected the trail itself could open “in a couple years.”

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.