I squeezed this run between work and a performance at Alphabet City. I had loosely mapped it out the night beforehand. It went pretty close to plan, with one annoying exception.
Anyway, by the time my GPS had locked in, I was, once again, near the Children’s Museum. I crossed West Commons and made my way up Arch Street. The main features of this run were the narrow alleys and streets of the Northside, along with the surprising amount of art and decorations among the old, tight houses.
This is still an area in transition. Even among the row-houses, there is often a gorgeously refurbished house next to a dilapidated one. The streets range from small two-way streets to very narrow one way streets and even smaller alleys paved with bricks. The grid of streets between West North Avenue and Jacksonia Street is flat. Past Jacksonia Street, the land abruptly rises. Arch St unceremoniously ends in a pile of brush, but there’s a long flight of stairs providing egress to the streets above. Tonight, I skipped the stairs.
One of the most flamboyant houses in all of Pittsburgh is here – Randyland. Clicking its picture below will take you to Randy’s website. Incredibly detailed painting brings out the architectural details of the building. Randy also uses the building as a canvas, with larger-than life insects crawling and flying up the walls.
Finishing up my explorations, I took a final pic of the city skyline looming over the neighborhoods and jogged back to my car. The annoyance? I had forgotten my running shoes and ran the whole thing in boots.
A few years back, before I starting this “Run All The Streets” project; before I did a stairs tour; before all of that, Lamar, a local runner and urban explorer organized a “Take The Stairs Fatass” event. A Fatass in the running community is an unsupported, no frills run. No fees, no bling, just a run for the fun and adventure of it. So, one morning in March 2018, I found myself under the Birmingham Bridge with about 20 other running nuts, ready to do a big loop around Pittsburgh, taking city stairs whenever possible. I was running with Monica and Amy.
At that point, I had run a few Pittsburgh Marathons and even a few trail ultras, but otherwise had run mainly in the East End of the city; Regent Square, Squirrel Hill, Frick Park, Edgewood. Well, that 50k was an eye-opener for me. Polish Hill, City View, West End, Duquense Heights were some of the areas we went through. Despite examining the map in detail the night before, we spent a lot of time just finding the stairs. One of us had the directions, one of us had Google Maps on the phone and another tried to take in the big picture and keep us moving in the right direction. Unfortunately, after 20 miles, we got turned around coming out of Emerald View Park and couldn’t find our way anymore. We bailed and ran back to our cars, a mere 22 mile day. Ever since then, Amy and I have been chatting about finishing it.
Now I’m over a year in to my project of fastidiously running every street, alley and stairway in Pittsburgh. I’ve run on thousands of streets. I’ve run hundreds of miles and dozens of stairways. I’ve seen many stairs and nooks of the city with mis.steps, as the muses of the stairs speak to her and inspire her stories. I’ve covered many areas on my own, up hills unbelievably steep, seeing deer everywhere, finding surprisingly cute homes everywhere. I always find a house at the end of those long dead-end’s.
So I’m re-creating this “Take The Stairs 50K Fatass”. It will be on March 29. This time, I’m starting at Threadbare Cider instead of underneath a bridge. I’m relying heavily on Lamar’s original map, but I have changed it slightly to include a few more stairs. This run was about verifying some of the route. My friend and fellow runner, Naomi, was feeling adventurous and came with me to explore the route in Oakland.
We started in the South Side and crossed the Hot Metal Bridge. Just past Parkway overpass on Bates is a little side street – Hodges. Only a dozen houses populate this neighborhood in the holler. Stairs rise on either side. I was interested in the ones going up to Bates, so we took those. Sunday morning traffic was light, so we were able to scamper across Bates to catch the Frazier Street Stairs. This is part of the upcoming 50k.
Frazier Street is a long street at the edge of South Oakland. This area is generally overrun by students, but there are still some single-family homes holding out down here. Unfortunately, some people have given up the ghost, even though their houses look good. If you can’t read it, that sign says “Sorry, We’re Dead”.
From there, we traversed on Dawson to hit Diulius Way. Years ago, when I was a student at Pitt, I found this route from Schenley Park to South Oakland. This is also on the new race route.
Now, once down at Boundary Street, Naomi wanted to just run for a bit, so we ran about a mile or so to the train trestle. Coming back, I wanted to verify a couple of stairways I saw on maps which would take me up again to South Bouquet Street. Unfortunately, development in Oakland has taken over some of the stairs I hoped to find.
Eventually I did find a path, albeit between two apartment buildings. So, I’m glad I did this run. I verified that the route through Hodges Street works, yet found some paths just didn’t exist anymore. The route will also include the newly refurbished Joincare Street Stairs, gleaming on the next hill. Just one more section to verify before springing the updated route on the world. Stay tuned!
This was my favorite type of run – start with friends and then grab some new streets on the way back. Actually, my FAVORITE run would have been to have all these folks come with me, but a 300′ hill is a hard sell.
It was a cool, humid and cloudy morning. Temps held steady in the low 40’s with intermittent drizzle. We started at Ascend, nestled as it is between old multi-story brick buildings. We made our way to the Liberty Bridge, accessing the sidewalk via a muddy walk-way under the bridge and a short set of stairs to the deck. Once on the deck, the downtown skyline spread out before us.
Once in downtown, we zigged and zagged toward a water stop near the Wyndham. This was three miles in. The planned route took the group in a cloverleaf around downtown, coming back to this water stop several times. I decided to branch out on my own. I had various choices – explore more of Brighton Heights; criss-cross my way through Manchester; climb Greenleaf onto Mount Washington. Eventually, I decided on Greenleaf, in part because it was going to be closed for construction soon. After some tearful goodbyes (just kidding, a couple of people waved bye), I started out.
Now getting to Greenleaf is not straightforward. It is a small residential street which falls off of Mt. Washington into the West End Circle. To get to the West End Circle, I had to cross the West End Bridge and find my way to the other side of the Circle. The West End Bridge has approach ramps and stairs for pedestrians. The pedestrian ramps are notoriously flexible and you can feel it bucking up and down when a group runs across.
After crossing the bridge, I was able to cut across the circle, passing the end of Sawmill Run (notorious for flooding). Finally, I got to the base of Greenleaf Street.
From here it was up. On one hand there’s no sidewalks, on the other hand, there’s not much traffic. Even though you’re supposed to run facing traffic, on hills like this, I find running on the uphill side better. Cars aren’t going to be zipping by. Pretty quickly, Greenleaf climbed high enough to start showing off views.
At the top, Greenleaf wraps around into the modest residential neighborhood of Duquesne Heights. George and Guy Trail hugs the cliff below Skookum Field, where a baseball hit 190′ would tumble far down the cliff.
The views are spectacular and several snazzy houses vie for space along the cliff with the WBZZ radio tower. Small lanes between the newer houses had the best security. I felt watched.
Greenleaf Street continued through Duquesne Heights. This is an interesting area. Tall narrow houses are literally under large view-hogging condos. Street stairs and connecting stairs abounded. Greenleaf Street transformed into a stairway before transforming again into an alley. Sioux Way was part-stair, part brick.
Finally, I made my way to Grandview Avenue, that popular promenade overlooking Pittsburgh. At the eastern end of Grandview, Vinecliff Street, a weathered set of stairs and asphalt, struggles down the hill. I took that en route to finishing back at Ascend.
Pro-Bike had a group run from Caliente’s Pizza at 6:30. While the days are noticeably longer, its quite dark by 6:30. It’s even darker at 6:40, when I got there. I looked into Caliente and didn’t see anybody, so I took off to chart some new streets. This section of Bloomfield is adjacent to the Bloomfield Bridge, a half-mile bridge which soars 185 feet over the ravine below. My first turn, down Panama Way, directly dead-ended into a ramp wall leading to the bridge. It wasn’t an auspicious start, but then I noticed something.
In between flaking white paint were dozens of neatly painted coats of arms, presumably of Polish towns. WTF! I had always considered Bloomfield to be an Italian neighborhood. They stretched all along the curving ramp. A little post-run research turned up this article from the Pittsburgh Orbit about the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern. My impression is that the owners painted those coats of arms. Impressive. This also cheered me up a bit. This is why running ALL the streets is worthwhile. You just don’t know what cool little nuggets you’ll find.
This area still gave me the creeps, and I heard some shouting and screaming, so I moved on. Turning left, as the bridge rose up, the area was fenced in with ten-foot high black chain link-fence, Bloomfield Park. It has a Dek Hockey rink, a basketball court, a swimming pool, all nestled under the bridge. But those loud shouts were disconcerting. Sounded like a few teens haranguing each other. I needed to get going. This area has small streets, smaller alleys and tightly packed houses.
I crisscrossed some alleys. I saw the entrance to some stairs, but decided not to venture down in the dark. Finally I got to the other side of the park. The group of “teens” I had been so worried about was just a toddler testing his lungs while riding a tricycle and his Mom trying to corral him. They weren’t so intimidating after all.
From here, I just ran in and out of the small streets and alleys from Liberty Avenue up to Penn. Finishing in front of Caliente’s Pizza, the Pro-Bike group was just finishing too. Time for a beer.
Sunday dawned cold, windy and cloudy. I wasn’t thrilled to run in the cold, but since I had skipped Saturday’s run, blaming the ice, I felt compelled to run at least a few miles. Besides, I had a run all mapped out and waiting in RunGo
This was a run born in a warm house. A run mapped with forethought and precision. A route maximizing the number of new streets run while minimizing the distance. I had carefully looked at my tracking map and plotted a route on RunGo to take in all of the little missing streets in Arlington. Now parking on Fernleaf Street, I got out of my warm car ready to run! Damn, now I had to wait in the freezing wind to get my GPS signal. Once the Garmin locked in, I started down Fernleaf, dutifully taking the left on Elsie St. Water seeping across the road had frozen in place, making shiny stripes of slipperyness. As I slowed to take a picture, I heard a beep. Argh, I had never actually started the Garmin.
Now concentrating on getting this route done, I listened intently for further directions from RunGo.
“In 10 yards, make a right”
“In 35 feet, turn around”
Done! (Ugh, now I had to go UPHILL)
“Make a left”
“Make a right”
Whoa! No street there. Maybe a driveway. Keep going!
“You are off course. You are off course”
my conversation with RunGo
And so it began. The good intentions and planning went by the wayside. I looped around a bit and then decided to finish Zaruba Street, leaving the rest of the route for another day. When I had been in this area a few days ago, I remember seeing the Zaruba Street sign quite distinctly. Today, however, I ran right by it. I turned off on Devlin Street, which dead-ends into a playground. My picture of the cemetery must have done it, because dead-ends were mainly what I saw for the rest of the run.
On the Strava map, it looks like there is a long flight of stairs at the end of Castle Street. Actually, Castle Street was blocked off with Jersey barriers and had a condemned house standing on its corner. All I found at the end was dirt, bull-dozed into trees. I did find that Syrian Street becomes a stair case going down to Arlington Avenue. Azul Street looked promising, but halfway up the hill, it too, was blocked off.
Making my way back to the car, I stayed on Spring Street until it hit Arlington, where I took the Marengo Street Stairs towards the purple-topped Congregation of Yahshua. A right, a left and viola, I was back at the car. This did not go as planned, but it wasn’t a bad run. I could have actually gotten back on route with RunGo if I had had more time. In Pittsburgh, at least, the difference between online maps and reality is often striking.
“Hey there. Are you planning to run tonight? I am due for six easy…”
“I do need to run tonight, so yes, I could. Pro-Bike is running from Caps at 6:30. Meet there?”
“No, that’s too late. Meet at my place? 5:30?”
“Great, I’ll make a route.”
And THAT’s when it all began. I like Alisa, I like running with Alisa. But Alisa is a bad-ass fast runner and her “easy” six miles usually leave me gasping for air like a fish out of water. Tonight was no different. Additionally, that “I’ll make the route” would prove challenging.
I expected a rather flat quick circuit around Shadyside and East Liberty. But no, we went Penn to Fifth to Frankstown to Brushton. That’s where the sun went down and the run went from pleasurably fast to an intense hill workout. Finally on top, we came to a water tower in the fading light. Modest brick houses dotted the rather sparse landscape up here.
Finally on top, the route curved around into Penn Hills, a sprawling suburb east of the city. We passed a Penn Hills fire station and then plunged down the hill again towards Frankstown Road. Winding roads had smallish green street-signs indicating we were still not in Pittsburgh. Thoroughly disoriented we finally made it back into the city, flying down Frankstown Road. Whoops! We were going out of the city again! As Dean Karnazes remarks in his book “Run!”,
“It doesn’t matter how fast you’re going if you’re moving in the wrong direction.”
Dean Karnazes, “Run!”
We weren’t in a race, but the night was getting deep and cold. We turned around and sped back to our cars in North Point Breeze. Ending up with over seven miles, this run had been quite the adventure.
If the Southside Slopes are renown for their stairs, East Allegheny should be renown for its alleys. This unfortunate little neighborhood was eviscerated by the I-279 highway built between 1985 and 1989. I’m unclear as to what was here beforehand, but I understand it to have been an area of small neighborhoods. I do know that the construction was delayed due to the finding of a cemetery. This article from the Post-Gazette sheds some light on it.
At any rate, the section I was running through is a small warren of tiny streets and alleys. Drivers mostly go through here to access highways, or find their way into the Strip District over the 16th Street Bridge. I was trying to catch all these streets in one short run.
Some of the housing is newer town homes, some are rather old row houses and tall, narrow brick houses. There are sparks of fun and grass-roots improvements. There’s a homemade playground on one corner, there’s a community garden on another. There’s a first class German Club, Teutonia Mannerchor. There’s some dilapidation.
A section of Chestnut St and the narrow Lovitt Way escaped my attention, but otherwise, I completed surprisingly interesting little area.
Friday Night! Southside! To most people, that brings up to mind something like the Birmingham Bridge Tavern. To me, it meant another stab at finishing the streets and numerous stairs in the Southside Slopes. I started on Steve Seventy Street. That is such an unusual name, I had to look it up. Luckily, I’m not the only one curious about it and found this article which summarizes Steve Seventy’s life. Essentially, he was a local politician who pushed to get that street reopened. At any rate, Steve Seventy Street takes you under the hulking train trestle and directly to the 30th St Stairs as they travel, first up to Jospehine Street and then, alongside Monongahela Park to Northview Street. In and out, along Orkney, Stromberg and Flynn I went. This area almost feels like a small country hamlet, with large yards and an isolated feel. Running to the end of Flynn, I thought it would devolve into a driveway, but it actually continues, becoming Berg Street.
Then the sky opened up and the light faded. So, too, did my plans of finishing this area that night. By the time I got to Clover Street, nighttime had fallen and those omnipresent creatures of the night, deer, were out in full force. I had better come back in the daylight.
So, I came back Sunday. Just a couple miles of streets and stairs. The Oakley Street Stair Mural is quite interesting. From a couple of blocks away, it looks like a narrow, bright mural painted on a wall, but up close you see that it is a mosaic on each step.
Most of the elevation was stairs. As always, cool views of the city.
This was an evening run in the Southside Slopes, focusing on Sterling Avenue. Starting in the flats along Mary St, I crossed under the railroad trestle and made my way up. Very quickly Sterling Street acquires a “stair sidewalk” – that is, stairs alongside the street, interspersed with flat, sidewalk, landings. Many of the public stairs in Pittsburgh are of this variety. This is as opposed to the street-free stairs which zip up a hillside, where no street has been laid. There’s also the “alley stairs”, like Caesar Way, a disappointing little flight which ended in a grassy goat path.
Finally getting out of these dizzying streets, I explored the streets below Spring Street, then took Spring Street all the way through Arlington Heights. At this point, the scenery became surreal. Tall chain link fences protected acres and acres of flat, empty land. I dubbed it the “Arlington Heights Serengeti” as the stark trees and grassy flat land looked like a nature preserve.
I made my back via Josephine Street. The cool thing about running up here is that you’re always treated to great city views.
This was a fairly long run, over half-marathon distance, on a cool, cloudy Saturday morning. I started at Nova Place, on Pittsburgh’s Northside. It is literally around the corner from the Children’s Museum, a place where I spent many hours with my children. It was quite an adventure land for them, with so many activities, from a multi-story maze to painting and screen printing.
Running out of the Northside along Chateau Street, the neighborhood becomes less stately and more forlorn. Old architecture still shows its fine bones, even in decay.
Crossing under the Route 65 highway took me to an industrial area. It features wide flat streets and is lined with large yards for the Port Authority, Duquesne Light, Mascaro Construction and others. Railroads coming out of the city make a large curve here and cross the Ohio River on massive bridges.
Knowing these flat streets wouldn’t last forever, I made a turn onto Eckert Street. Strangely enough, a group of runners passed by, coming down Eckert Street. I was curious as to which running group they represented, so asked the last one ” Who are you running with?” She just smiled, threw up her hands and said “I’m in my own pace group!” She was only 50 yards behind the other five, but it must have seemed like a mile.
Now, I was truly exploring. Like all good explorers, people had actually been there before, but it was new to me.
With all the bridges, hills and houses on the hills above, I knew there would be stairs somewhere. Sure enough, just past Don’s Diner, in the shade of the California Avenue bridge, I found a set of stairs. Coming off the stairs on top, I landed in a cove of fences and backyards with a narrow sidewalk leading to the bridge. Once on the bridge, I headed north, away from downtown. I was officially in the Brighton Heights neighborhood. Rising slowly, California Avenue goes past a mix of houses, mostly on the larger, older side where dinosaurs peaked out from the bushes.
Eventually, on Wilksboro Avenue, I ignored another “No Outlet” sign, and ran to the end, hoping to find another set of stairs. I didn’t, but what I DID find was amazing! There was a long pedestrian bridge rising high off the ravine floor. It had the structure of a full size bridge, but only the width of a sidewalk. Unfortunately, it was closed. I haven’t seen another structure like this in Pittsburgh. As I later discovered, this is the “Wilksboro Avenue Footbridge”.
My detour around the closed bridge brought me to another typically Pittsburgh scene, a small neighborhood park with a lively game going on. In an earlier run through the Hill District, it was football. Here it was Deck Hockey.
Crossing into Bellevue briefly, I turned around and made my way back toward downtown. I kept a block off of California, on Massachusetts. There were some cool houses; the blue portal house, the rambling wooden wreck with a rounded porch. I found myself going down Richardson Street, nearly to Eckert St again, but took the stairs up to Bainton Street instead. That was a long flight!
I ran through the upper section of California-Kirkbride, where Success is a two-block street. It is better than Fineview, where Compromise is a dead-end. Finally, I got to Marvista street and its long flight of stairs. This one is not for the faint of heart. Many of the railings are missing and there’s a section of broken stairway as well. At the low end, Marvista is a sad street rising up from California Avenue. But some people still live here beside the houses emblazoned with the city’s blue “condemned” badge. Missing from my pictures are the set of stairs on Hyena Way that come down at right angles to Marvista St.
From here, I just ran back to Nova Place, catching a few more streets on the Northside. Nova Place was busy when I got there, full of runners and families recovering from the Children’s Museum.