The Other Murray Ave

Murray Hill Ave – much quieter than that other Murray Ave

Today’s run took me across Squirrel Hill back into Friendship where I started yesterday. It was a relaxed Sunday run with no real target other than to see some new territory and get a few miles. With that relaxed theme in mind, I traveled up Murray Hill Avenue, which reminded me of a story.

When I first arrived in Pittsburgh, exactly 1 million years ago, I lived in a studio apartment in Shadyside. I lived in that one big room, galley kitchen and tiny bathroom for a couple of years. It was on the first floor of a large Victorian house. As I began to learn more about the city, I kept hearing about “Murray Ave” and “Squirrel Hill”. In school and without wheels, I explored on foot. One day, breaking out the Rand McNally map of Pittsburgh, I noticed that Murray Avenue was very close and decided to go see it. I crossed Fifth Ave and walked up a rather hilly street with big gray Belgium Block pavers and large, rambling houses on either side. After a half mile of this, I was not impressed. Sure, the houses were architecturally interesting, but where were the stores? The restaurants? The bars? This was not nearly as cool as everyone had made it out to be.

Turns out, of course, that I was on Murray HILL Avenue, not Murray Ave. Silly me, I didn’t think there would be such similar street names! But today, I knew where I was and rather enjoyed the quiet Murray Hill Ave instead of the bustling Murray Ave, with all its restaurants, coffee shops and bars. I continued into Friendship, covering some new territory, like Olga Way, pictured below. In many of my blogs, I’ve commented how some Pittsburgh streets are like being on country roads. Not so with Shadyside and Friendship, they are pulsing with urban life. This is the heart of a living city, with varied houses, businesses, people and traffic. I love it. Well, not the traffic.

Flowers along Olga Way
Route of run #00112 through Squirrel Hill North into Friendship

In Friendship We Meet

Friendship Perk & Brew – start of run, thanks to HPRC

This was a cool run, both in temps and character. A cold front had pushed out the scorching August heat. The day was sunny, too! The Highland Park Running Club had met at Perk and Brew earlier in the morning and their runners were finishing up. Many were relaxing outside or lined up inside getting coffee and ice cream. I chatted a bit and then set off. My plan today was to do a few streets in Friendship and then take off to Morningside.

Running in Friendship was great! The flat, tree-lined streets were lined with large brick houses. There were many runners and walkers out. Children rode bikes and parents pushed strollers. I liked the street names, too; Harriet, Evaline, Winebiddle, South Pacific and South Atlantic, to mention a few. Even the alleys had cool names. Who can resist Asterisk Alley?

My overall goal was to run at least 13.1 miles, a half-marathon distance. I wasn’t exactly sure how many miles I’d get in Morningside, so getting two or three in Friendship would be a good start. Peeling off of Harriet, I went up Roup Street, then zig-zagged over to North Aiken Ave. North Aiken is one of the few of theses streets to go straight through Garfield. It also rises precipitously once you’ve crossed Penn Ave. Another zig and another zag found me on Chislett Street, which would take me into the heart of Morningside.

Morningside is a long narrow neighborhood nestled between Highland Park, the Pittsburgh Zoo and Stanton Heights. It is comprised of four parallel streets, Chislett, Jancey, Morningside and Duffield, and an equal number of alleys. At their northern end, are bluffs overlooking the Allegheny River. There are a number of cross streets, too. Also, at the end of Chislett and to the right is a section of short roads and alleys. While Friendship is tree-lined, Morningside is mostly open. Small lots with small houses line the streets. It is packed with people; few vacant houses, no open lots. As I ran on Chislett, I passed a coffee house and a few other small businesses. This was rather plain running. Then, at the end of Chislett was a nice view of the Allegheny River. Making a right onto Witherspoon St, I came to a flight of public stairs. Of course, I had to go down them, whereupon I realized I was very near the road entrance to the Pittsburgh Zoo! That was a little surprise!

I re-traced my steps back to Witherspoon and did the necessary ins and outs to run the warren of streets there. The edge street, Antietam, directly overlooks the zoo entrance. At the end of Antietam, a baseball game was in progress at Natoli Field. Also a working water fountain! (Yay!)

From there I went back and forth on Jancy Street, Morningside Avenue, and intervening alleys; stopping for a moment at a Rite Aid to get some OJ. I spied the Adelphia stairs (there’s a street sign on them), but resisted the urge to run up them. I was getting tired and wasn’t going to cover every street at once. I made my way back to Perk & Brew, via North Negley and Mellon Street, getting in a solid fifteen miles.

From Friendship to the end of Morningside: RATS #00111

Heavy Sweating on Spring Garden Ave
Spring Garden RATS #00108

So, this was the plan… Start at Threadbare Cider, run east and north on Spring Garden Ave until I got to a cross-street, wind up into Spring Hill, find Essen Street, cross I-279 and find my way back to Threadbare within an hour and fifteen minutes. I expected to cross into Reserve Township for a little, but I wasn’t sure how long. A mile or two?

My start was inauspicious, fitting the scenery. Spring Garden Avenue is depicted as a major road on maps. The mapmakers haven’t been on it, apparently. It is a two lane, flat, narrow road squeezed between the hillsides of Spring Hill and Troy Hill. At the start, there are dusty, narrow sidewalks on either side, with the smallest curbs in Pittsburgh. Narrow houses with narrow siding crowd the sidewalks. Sometimes I would see wood siding with peeling paint in older homes, or the amazingly ugly asphalt, faux brick style siding on 1930’s houses or perhaps vinyl siding in newer homes. Every now and then I exchanged friendly morning greetings with couples sitting out on their porches enjoying coffee and newspaper. Every now and then an eager dog would start barking as I tromped past. Cats just slinked away.

Sooner than I expected, I saw the “Reserve Township” sign. There wasn’t a big difference in the look of the street between Pittsburgh and Reserve Township, outside of losing the sidewalk. The yards did become bigger, but the houses looked very similar. Then the road became a winding country road. Several bicyclists passed me going up the hill. The houses started to give way to steep, green hills on one side and a rushing creek on the other. It was a bit nerve-wracking to run on that road, keeping an ear and eye out for any speeding car coming my way. Luckily it wasn’t a busy road.

Finally I made it up to Ramage Road and took a left. I wasn’t sure where it went, but figured I’d be at Ross Park Mall soon if I didn’t turn. I was disappointed that the street signs were green – signaling I was still outside of Pittsburgh. But at least the area was pretty nice with well kept houses and green yards. Then, finally, a blue “Chapin St” sign! I had made it back to Pittsburgh! This area was also very suburban. Nice two story split level houses with well tended lawns, gardens and driveways. I wandered a bit here, going down several small roads which dead-ended in cliffs above I-279. At this point, I was worried about time and took Colby Street south. I was thinking that I would soon be in the familiar territory of Spring Hill City View, but I had forgotten about Northview Heights neighborhood. From this direction, Mt Pleasant Road was blocked by a gate and security guard, so I veered off the to left, down Beech St. Alas, I was out of the city again. And I noticed that half of Beech St was blocked by fallen tree limbs. Hmm, strange!

Once again I ran onto Spring Garden Ave and back into Pittsburgh. It wasn’t far to Threadbare and now I had plenty of time. So, of course, I went up a road I hadn’t run on before. Wow! Williams Road kept going uphill! More and more tree limbs were scattered across the road, slowing down the few cars that went past. Eventually I made a left onto Sunset Avenue, saw Essen Road and made my way down to Threadbare. (Essen Road was on the original plan.) As I went, more and more tree limbs were in the streets, crews were repairing power lines and several streets were completely blocked off. The Spring Hill City View neighborhood is densely packed with small houses, small gardens and lots of steep, winding roads and dead-ends. Between the blocked off roads and the maze of streets, I wondered if I’d ever find my way back. Eventually, I found Homer St, which took me all the way down the hill to Spring Garden Ave, near Threadbare.

So, I made it back in time to join up with Mis-step‘s stair tour. I even had chance to change my clothes (though apparently I was still a sweaty mess). For the record, it was in about 85 degrees during this run, with high humidity. My sweat soaked hands and foggy reading glasses made using Google maps on my phone very difficult. As I later found out, the night before, a micro-burst had gone through the neighborhood, resulting in the downed tree limbs.

Hunt Armory and Westinghouse Park
RATS #00106

This morning’s run was a rambling tour of the intersection of Shadyside, East Liberty, Point Breeze and North Homewood. Starting on the East side of Shadyside, we rambled through the flat and quiet morning streets. I had a vague notion of running Meade St completely. I thought it would be a nice 5-6 mile route without too much traffic or too many hills.

The first interesting turn was onto Carron Way. Originally reading it “Carrion”, I half expected to see a murder of crows in the alley or a wake of vultures congregating beside a carcass. But the alley was nothing like that. Instead, wavy paving bricks collected puddles bordered by grass. Carron Way wraps around the back of the Hunt Armory. Its heavy green exit doors were covered with graffiti. While the armory has been unused for some time, I do remember seeing the occasional Army Reserve tank in there from time to time. Now there are plans afoot to redevelop it into an ice rink.

Then we ran down Meade St, which has the curious feature that one part of it ends in an old style cul-de-sac, but there is a sidewalk which continues past the shrubbery to another section. That took us to North Lexington Ave near Construction Junction. From there we went back on Thomas Blvd. Thomas Blvd lives up to its “Boulevard” designation, as it has a tree-lined grassy median for several blocks.

It looked like the mileage would be short, so we circumnavigated Westinghouse Park. A historic landmark sign alerted me to the uniqueness of the park. The history of Westinghouse Park is surprising, including the fact the George Westinghouse drilled for natural gas there! I don’t think it is zoned for that anymore. Apparently Westinghouse used to live there and entertain guests, one of which was Nikolai Tesla, whose namesake street I traversed just a few weeks ago.

From there, we wandered through the little streets which make up that corner of Point Breeze, circled Mellon Park and eventually went down the flat section of South Negley Ave, to push the mileage to just past 6.

Tesla – More than a Car

Map of run on Tesla Street in Hazelwood
Tesla Street – RATS 00103

Nikola Tesla was a brilliant and eccentric electrical engineer and scientist. He didn’t hit the big time payday like Elon Musk and instead had a series of setbacks. But his ideas still resonate in today’s world and a steep street in Hazelwood has been endowed with his name. Tesla St makes it to the 13th street in the hallowed Dirty Dozen (baker’s dozen, I suppose).

So, on a hot Sunday in early August, I trotted out there. The route hugged the boundary of Calvary Cemetery. The streets out here are more like country roads than inner city streets, “Harlem St” notwithstanding. The houses are rather suburban; mainly split level 3 bedrooms. Yards are large and the residents take advantage of the “country life” by spreading out.

My first encounter with Tesla St was, thankfully, downhill. It didn’t seem too bad, actually. I followed it to the end, then wound up through parts of the Hazelwood Greenway to the top of the hill, where large transmission towers and cell towers loomed over the greenery. Coming back, I went to the end of Kingslake St, hoping to find stairs to lower streets. No dice, Edington St stairs were overgrown and officially closed. Again, I’m surprised at the thoroughness of the City of Pittsburgh’s sign department. Even at the closed stairs, there was a bright blue street sign.

So, this Tesla St isn’t as electrifying as its namesake, but a steep, secluded, green street.

Take the Long Way

Black and white image showing Spring Way, an alley in Pittsburgh.
Spring Way – A stereotypical alley in Pittsburgh

Alleys in Pittsburgh are named. They are designated “Way”s. In practice, some are as wide as some “Streets”, while others are barely wide enough for a small car. Like Spring Way, pictured above, many alleys in the Strip District and Downtown are lined with garbage receptacles, the backs of restaurants and formidable garage entrances. Many alleys in residential areas are lined with small gardens, above-ground pools and older garage-sheds. Finally, there are alleys which are lined with the front doors and window boxes. The outbound portion of today’s run was on two long alleys, Spring Way and Woolslayer Way.

RATS Run 00102

Spring Way runs through the heart of the Strip District, between Penn Ave and Liberty Ave. It starts at 16th Ave and ends at Ligonier almost at 36th St. The picture above really tells the story of Spring Way. It’s a long asphalt strip.

Woolslayer Way, on the other hand, is much more varied. It winds through Lawrenceville and into Friendship. How did they come up with that name? My running musings picture an 1850’s city office where they are naming streets.

Clerk 1: “There’s this little street with a few meat processing warehouses on it. What shall we call THIS?”

Clerk 2: (brandishing a pen) “We SHALL CALL IT WOOLSLAYER WAY!”

My imagination

At any rate, Woolslayer has a muddled start off of Denny St. Unlike the map on Strava, it doesn’t actually go all the way to Denny St now, rather it juts off of 37th St between Mintwood and Penn. It continues to run parallel to Penn all the way up to Main St. It has garages and houses on it, but little in the way of greenery. Just past Fisk St, behind the MK Motor Mark and Tram’s kitchen, it seems to finally peter out. However, there’s a sidewalk on the right which continues past the end of the alley, only to emerge onto another section of Woolslayer on the other side. There is even an orphan house off of the sidewalk! Woolslayer. Beyond Friendship Ave, Woolslayer gives up its name and becomes Comrie Way.

After the Woolslayer adventure, I wound my way back to the Northside, where I had started. I made a quick stop at the Bloomfield Farmers Market, crossed the Millvale St Bridge and took Centre Ave and Wylie Ave back to downtown.

July Catch-Up

RATS 00079

This was a relaxed morning run including the short length of English Lane.

RATS 00080

Ah, Greenfield again. This time with more purpose and time constraints. The main goals here were completing Flemington and Deely, which I did. Yay! I won’t EVEN start talking about hills!

RATS 00081

This was a run with 3ROC in Regent Square. Mainly trails, but a little in Regent Square as well. That is a nice, tree-lined area.

RATS 00083

This was a pretty adventurous run, exploring Garfield and Friendship. It was the first time I had ever gone into Garfield from that direction. It was also, as I recall, hot as hell that day, AND the hills were significant, culminating at one of those blue water towers you see around Pittsburgh.

RATS 00084

Not to weaponize everything, but doesn’t this look like an ancient ritual dagger from a lost civilization? But its just Greenfield again. The view from the dagger point, Exeter St is surprisingly good.

Strava map showing route
RATS 00085, pre-track warmup

A pre-track warm-up along the tree-lined, yet heavily trafficked Greenfield Rd.
RATS 00086 Frick and Regent Square

This was another 3ROC run, with more of Regent Square thrown in.

Strava map showing route
RATS 00087, just one new street

A Wednesday night PBR run. Can you tell the extra street?

Map showing route through Greenfield
RATS 00088

This run was all about covering Winterburn Ave and close-by cul-de-sacs.
Pre HPRC RATS 00089

For some reason, I felt the need to run BEFORE an HPRC run. Since it was Upper Lawrenceville, it made for some nice grids. The “Ways” in Lawrenceville are small narrow streets. Unlike areas such as Greenfield, where garages and back yards line alleys, there are often front doors to narrow houses along the alleys.
RATS 00092

This run was simply to cover more streets in Squirrel Hill. It is quite the mental challenge to remember a map, then go run it. It doesn’t help that often maps are slightly wrong, such as showing a street as going through when it doesn’t actually. Here’s to you, Colma St!

OpenStreetMap has Colma Way connecting to Irma Way, when in fact it doesn’t.
RATS 00093

Some interesting streets solidly in Squirrel Hill North, an area characterized by immense houses with well manicured lawns and driveways to garages in the back. I think about five Lawrenceville row houses could fit in the space of one of these houses.
RATS 00094

Just in Point Breeze, catching some streets which keep trying to poke into Homewood Cemetery.
RATS 00095

Ah, the little Edgerton Square makes this PBR run qualify to be a RATS run. (BTW, a “qualifying run” is one in which I run on a street I’ve not done before. )
RATS 00096

This was a long, quick run with Pro Bike and Run. I tossed in Broad St to add a few miles. Nice running group with auto voice directions (as other runners would shout out the turns as we approached.)
RATS 00098

Wendover St was a bit disappointing. It is nestled between Beacon and Hobart, but was lined with large, old apartment buildings in poor repair, instead of cute houses. There could be over 1,000 people living on that street, given the number and size of the buildings. However, I did find a nice little cut-through connecting both sides of Murdoch St as I ran to track.

Long flat streets and alleys in Regent Square: RATS 00099

I almost made it to 3ROC, but instead ran up and down small flat streets in Regent Square, straddling the Pittsburgh, Wilkinsburg border. This little 5 mile run took me into three municipalities; Pittsburgh, Wilkinsburg, and Swissvale.

That’s a wrap

That’s all for July. I was much more focused on covering new streets. I also ran a lot, slightly more than in June (134 miles), with less elevation (only 11,117 ft). Soon, I’ll be publishing maps showing cumulative progress as of the 100th run. Looking ahead, in August, I’d like to cover more of the southern neighborhoods, but run about the same amount of miles.

PBR & 100th RATS Run!

100th RATS run. Nice route, Kim!

As July drew to a close, two running threads converged. One is that July 31st fell on the last Wednesday of the month, meaning that the Brooks shoe rep would be at Pro Bike, AND there would be beer after the run. That’s always a good time. Another one was that this would be the 100th RATS run, if only I could get the mapmaker to include some new streets. So I messaged the running mapmaker, Kim, and asked if she could include Gettysburg St on the route. We’ve run many parallel streets in Squirrel Hill often, so it wouldn’t be too crazy of a change from normal routes. She agreed and put together the route.

At the beginning of each jaunt, Kim makes announcements and welcomes new runners. She also explains the route, going over the differences between the three and five mile routes, for example, and any gotchas with the map. Tonight, she took the occasion to point out that I had requested the route and asked me to tell the group the significance of it. I gave my short canned messaged: “It’s a personal project to run all the streets of Pittsburgh”., then tossed in the part about it being the 100th, too.

The run itself was a nice mix of a social run and pure run. It took us down the venerable Beechwood Blvd, then up Gettysburg. That was a short, steep hill which most people had never done. This was still Squirrel Hill, so the houses are huge, the yards beautifully maintained and the streets wide. Things became more interesting as we traversed Penn Ave all the way to Trenton Ave, in Wilkinsburg. By the time we got there, the various 9ish groups were strung out for a couple of blocks. Most people in the group had never run in this area and there was some trepidation about running in Wilkinsburg. It was no problem, actually. Much like Homewood, it has large brick houses, flat, dusty streets and small yards. Pittsburgh’s signature bright blue street signs helped us figure out when we had crossed out of the city, as Wilkinsburg’s street signs were faded green. We had a bit of confusion at the end of Forbes Ave, where it forks for a half block. But when we went up Forbes everyone knew where they were.

Forbes Ave is a long gradual uphill, which gets steeper as you approach Squirrel Hill. We spread out a little there. I ended up talking to John, who is almost done training for the Erie Marathon. He has been putting in boatloads of miles, over 200/month. Back at Pro Bike’s Squirrel Hill store we feasted on ice cream and brown ale. It was an unlikely combo, but I didn’t hear any complaints, except about that hill on Gettysburg.