Swinburne Street Bike Path

Swinburne Street is a narrow and winding road off the end of the Oakland plateau. It was constructed in the day of horse drawn carriages when residents needed to get to the foot of the hill in Greenfield, the site of a smelting furnace at the time. Gone are the days of horse drawn carriages, and gone is the smelting furnace, but the need of residents to travel from South Oakland to Greenfield has only increased since Swinburne Street was built.

Unfortunately, Swinburne Street has not improved much since its construction; indeed, this page documents that the street is
ill-suited for automotive travel, and is outright dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists. It has four blind turns, a hard corner that ends at a cement wall, and no sidewalks or room to build sidewalks. Tragically, it is also listed as a bicycle path here in Pittsburgh.


Entrance to Swinburne Street

The entrance to Swinburne Street is narrow and poorly marked. Visitors to Oakland might have a hard time finding this street, which may be a good thing, considering the conditions on the road. In this image, note that there is no additional width available to create a bicycle path, and barely enough room for a sidewalk on one side of the street.

Entrance to Swinburne Street


Sidewalk Ends on Swinburne Street

In addition to its narrow width and lack of sidewalk, the roadway on Swinburne Street is in poor condition. Making this entrance as risky to navigate as possible, note that the only business on Swinburne Street is a plant nursery, located here at the apex of the first blind turn. This nursery generates traffic both up and down Swinburne, often by landscaping trucks with trailers.

Sidewalk Ends on Swinburne Street


Blind Turn #1 – Looking Down

The inside curve of the first blind turn is even more terrifying then the outside curve, with cars entering and exiting from the nursery. Aside from the shear drop off, my fear as a motorist is that someone would be stopped just around this corner and that there would be no way to avoid hitting them. Worse would be if there were a cyclist disabled around this corner.

Blind Turn #1 - Looking Down


Blind Turn #1 – Looking Up

I have seen a plan to build a bicycle path along Swinburne Street. As seen here, there actually is enough land to put the path on the first part of this slope, that is if a rider could get through the narrow entrance to this street. Also note the damaged guardrail pictured here. Swinburne was a scary road to photograph on foot in the autumn. I can only imagine how dangerous Swinburne Street is if there is any snow or ice on it.

Blind Turn #1 - Looking Up


Blind Turn #2 – Looking Down

Whereas there is a small strip of green before the fall off for the first section of Swinburne Street, this quickly ends further down the road. This second turn is not as bad as the first, because there actually is some visibility around the bend in the winter when the foliage isn’t so thick.

Blind Turn #2 - Looking Down


Blind Turn #2 – Looking Up

Looking up around the second blind turn, one has a better sense of the limited visibility. Keeping this line of site open must be a continuous maintenance concern. It is fascinating to note that there is actually a garage under the overgrowth to the left. I can understand why this has fallen into disuse, as I can imagine the problem of getting one’s car into and out of this parking place.

Blind Turn #2 - Looking Up


Blind Turn #3 – Looking Down

Looking down around the third blind turn, one can see the Swinburne S-curves. It is important to note that even for a pedestrian, there is no room to walk on the pavement or on the other side of the guardrail due to the shear drop just to the side of the roadway. The hillside going down this drop is clearly unstable, as can been seen by the angle of the telephone pole along the side of the road. From here on, it would take a great deal of fill to build a bicycle path along the down side of the road, and I can’t imagine it being maintanable.

Blind Turn #3 - Looking Down


Blind Turn #3 – Looking Up

The hazard of the third bind turn on Swinburne can best be seen looking up the S-curves. There is simply no visibility as to what may be happening around the bend from either direction. Also note how steeply the road falls off down the slope. In this picture, the encroaching foliage indicates how close the edge of the roadway is to the cliff. There is no place to walk on Swinburne Street except on the roadway itself. To take these pictures, I needed to lower myself over the guardrail every time a car came up the Street.

Blind Turn #3 - Looking Up


Blind Turn #4 – Looking Down

Similar to the first blind turn, there is no visibility around the bend and no way to create it. Also note another instance of the broken guardrail and the shear drop that provides no room for a bicycle path to be built. Having only traversed this road once on foot, it is unthinkable to me to consider the young woman I met recently who told me that she commutes up and down Swinburne Street every day on her bicycle. Also note the rough pavement in the middle of the corner.

Blind Turn #4 - Looking Down


Hard Corner Under Frazier Street Bridge – Looking Down

Prior to the construction of Route 376, Swinburne Street continued to wind its way down the hillside all the way to Second Avenue. Unfortunately with the construction of the Interstate, Swinburne Street was radically diverted. Now Swinburne Street has an abrupt corner ending in a cement wall under the Frazier Street Bridge. Note in this picture that there is also no room for a pedestrian to walk on either the cliff or mountain side of Swinburne.

Hard Corner Under Frazier Street Bridge


View Under the Frazier Street Bridge – Looking Up

Looking out from under the Frazier Street Bridge, it is clear how little room there is between the bridge support and the Swinburne roadway. The guardrail in this location is below knee height, and is the only protection from a forty foot drop down a cement wall to the railroad tracks below. This is a scary place to walk, and would be even scarier on a bicycle.

View Under the Frazier Street Bridge


Hard Corner under the Frazier Street Bridge – Looking Down

For reasons that aren’t clear, there is a pedestrian walkway only on the west side of the Frazier Street Bridge. The pedestrian walkway on the east side of the bridge ends abruptly, as shown. For pedestrians who have made it this far down Swinburne Street, their next challenge is to cross the street to get to the pedestrian walkway on the other side. This is particularly challenging because there is no line of sight possible to see cars crossing the bridge, making this yet another blind corner on Swinburne Street.

Hard Corner under the Frazier Street Bridge


Blind Turn #4 – Looking Up

Having crossed under the Frazier Street Bridge, this is the view back up Swinburne Street to the fourth blind turn. From the position of the car on the left and the wear on the yellow line, it is clear that most drivers just do their best to traverse this section of roadway, and are not overly concerned with staying in lane. It may even be that due to ineffective lighting under the bridge, the street lines are not even visible. When I finally got to this point, I looked down and saw a small pamphlet with a copy of the Lord’s Prayer lying in the leaves at my feet. I am not religious, but at this point I appreciated all the help I could get!

Blind Turn #4 - Looking Up


View Across the Greenfield Bridge

Compared to most of Swinburne Street, the trip across the Greenfield Bridge was easy. I walked close to the iron railway and avoided looking through the chain-link fence to the railroad tracks forty feet below. Again, note that there is no sidewalk on the east side of the bridge.

View Across the Greenfield Bridge


Broken Sidewalk on Greenfield Avenue

Once one has made it across the Frazier Street Bridge, one can travel down Greenfield Avenue to get to the Eliza Furnace Trail. The sidewalk at this point is narrow and broken with many driveways crossing and doors opening onto it. Once again, remember that this is actually listed as the bicycle path. Even as a skilled cyclist, it isn’t clear to me if the sidewalk or road would be less risky.

Broken Sidewalk on Greenfield Avenue


Broken Sidewalk further down Greenfield Avenue

The broken sidewalk continues down Greenfield Avenue and at times automotive traffic uses the parking lane to drive in. From here it is only a block to the Eliza Furnace Trail entrance on Second Avenue.

I strongly recommend that cyclists attempting to access the Eliza Furnace Trail in this location take the Panther Hollow Trail and avoid Swinburne Street under any conditions. I also recommend that in its current state, Swinburne Street never be used as a pedestrian route. My experience of walking on Swinburne Street was harrowing, and something that I never plan on repeating.

Broken Sidewalk further down Greenfield Avenue