June has been a challenging month and my running stats show it. With only 75.5 miles this month, it was the lowest monthly mileage since February 2019. My elevation gain was decent, at 7,700 feet, but half May’s. The main reason has been ongoing problems with my left knee/ hamstring/ IT band. However, I’m hopeful additional rest, along with a few changes in my routine will allow me to run much more in July.
Nonetheless, all of my thirteen runs this month covered new streets. In the South and West, I’m continuing to make progress in Allentown, Brookline and West Liberty as well as Westwood. In the East, I’ve made progress in Garfield, Homewood and Regent Square. In the North I touched on Brighton Heights and Lawrenceville. I’m up to 261 “RATS” runs.
This project also had the honor of being the subject of two articles, one in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the other in the Pittsburgh Magazine. Also Jim Lynch, the host of FeelGoodRunning featured me along with two other runners in his July 2020 podcast.
But, without further ado, here are the rest of my June runs.
RATS #00249 – West Liberty, Brookline
A run tragically cut short by hamstring pain. (Notice how I don’t get back to my starting point?) However, it continued my exploration of Brookline and West Liberty. It is a nice area, with modest houses, clean streets and a hill or two.
RATS #00250 – Garfield
This run was right after the Post-Gazette photographer took some pictures. She kept having me run back and forth. I thought “I suppose the first ones didn’t come out well.” Only after seeing the article did I realize how she used them.
A simple run in Garfield, with its booming hills and big houses. Usually I have no egrets on these journeys, but today was different.
RATS #00251 in Brighton Heights
I like running in Brighton Heights. The rather flat big streets are tree lined and its easy to get to. As I ran down one alley, I heard a “Hi Ed” faintly. By the time it registered in my brain, I couldn’t see anyone, but I remembered passing a woman playing with her son, and thought, “Hmm, that sounded like Kara”. Sure enough, a couple of days later, Kara mentioned seeing me run by. I love to hear my name called out when I’m running in an unfamiliar place.
Below are a few pics from the run. Benton Road and California Avenue are major roads here. Many of the massive brick houses are now multi-family apartments. Got a chance to take a selfie, which looks tremendously like the “Slow Down, Children Playing” dude. I found a classic brick street which must be mowed; only exceptional areas keep their bricks. Finally, the peonies in the alley were spectacular.
RATS #00259 – Regent Square
This run was over five miles in Regent Square on a sultry summer evening. Regent Square is pretty nice with brick, tree-lined streets and large houses. I spied a Little Library as well as the Glenn Green Stained Glass Studio , hanging wares on its fence.
RATS #00261 – West Liberty
A simple run in the Southcrest subdivision off of Pioneer Avenue. It is wedged between West Liberty Avenue and the South Busway. A very residential area, it is filled with small houses with impeccable lawns, many Mary statues and lots of cars.
So that’s it for June, 2020. Let’s hear it for a great July!
Ah, history, it explains a lot. I had no intention of doing a historic run last Saturday, but I came across a couple of historic artifacts, some in use and some not. It all started with a rough plan to complete the Haberman Avenue between Bailey Avenue and Kingsboro Street. After that, I wanted to drift west to cover a series of streets off of Boggs Avenue in Mount Washington.
Not far down Haberman, I encountered Eureka Street where it transforms into steps leading to LaClede Street. While LaClede and Haberman are essentially parallel, and, at one point connected by a 50 yard span of asphalt, they ‘feel’ different. At this point, Habermann seems more spacious and open compared to LaClede. Perhaps it is because the yards off of Habermann have backyards sloping down and away, whereas the lots on LaClede are steeply sloped up, seeming closed in. Perhaps it is because Haberman continues across East Warrington, whereas LaClede dead-ends into Secane.
At any rate, the streets west of LaClede are in a regular grid. One street, Harwood, goes straight downhill. After Secane, it becomes Harwood Way, an increasingly steep set of steps. The steps descend all the way to the South Hills’ trolley line; the “T” as it is known. Coming back up those steps, I noticed that the last house on the steps, with all its gargoyles, actually faces away from the road. I also noticed immense brick towers rising out of the earth.
Running around them, I saw “Liberty Tunnels” emblazoned on the lintel. They were vents for the Tubes. A little digging revealed that these are the original ones, built 96 years ago after a traffic jam on May 10, 1924 caused motorists to get sick from carbon monoxide fumes. The Pittsburgh Quarterly has a great article about it. They had been planned anyway, but the May incident hurried those plans along.
Now my journey took me to Paur Street; that’s right “Paur” not “Paul”. At the end of Paur Street are a set of stairs with the touch of death – bar across them indicating they were closed. It was easy to get over. The steps were generally in great shape, except a couple of places where the concrete treads were totally missing. They were also fairly wide and took me to an asphalt path under the spreading trees.
One section, presumably going down to the South Hill’s trolley lines, was seriously closed; blocked by a chain link fence and missing platform. Apparently, in the ‘good ole days’, Brookline kids used these steps to get to school, as told in Brookline Connections.
On the right, the asphalt path continued. I dodged fallen trees and passed an old metal cabinet. Its slightly ajar door revealed a new, bright orange bag of Reese’s Pieces. Just then, I was startled by a man coming down steps towards me. In his short sleeve, light blue dress shirt and black pants he quickly bore left and went down another section of steps, ignoring me completely. The smell of his cigarette lingered, though, as I went down those steps far behind him. At the bottom, I looked up and saw a “No Trespassing Sign”. Whoops! I returned up the steps, retracing the man’s steps which led me to the intersection of Westwood Street and Albert Street.
Further down Westwood Street, I eventually came the Walden Street steps. Here, they are narrow, wooden and very overgrown. Cutting down an alley, I came upon Tuscola Street, with disintegrating sidewalk steps, also overgrown. Several streets off of Westwood, such as Kramer head straight up to Boggs Avenue. A high section of Albert Street near Boggs Avenue yields more distant views of the venting towers.
As you go south, the streets off of Boggs Avenue get shorter and shorter and more steeply fall on the end. Several of them have steps to South Hills Junction, where the South Busway and South Hills T line intersect.
For a moment, I ventured past Boggs, catching the Soffet Steps. However, my secret hope that they went all the way to Warrington Avenue was dashed and I had to backtrack. Along the way, I did come across this yard, complete with red table, Triceratops skeleton and Christmas lights strung along the fence.
Finishing up, I was tired, but pleased with this eight mile jaunt. The run was more interesting than I expected and I got to see those venting towers up close and personal.
This was a short Saturday run in the eastern portion of Mount Washington. My hamstring is getting better, but I stopped running at the slightest twinge.
I started on Bailey Avenue, which is flat with ample street parking. While Bailey Avenue nearly runs on the crest of Mount Washington, there are a few streets closer to the bluff overlooking the city. I had missed this previously, including “Dicktom Way”.
“Did it intersect Harry Avenue?” some wise-ass friend asked.
Ha! No, it didn’t. But it did take me to Bigbee Street, with its great views of downtown buildings rising through the fog.. From there, I explored streets going down the hill toward East Warrendale Avenue.
This area is a mixed bag. There are certainly well kept houses and quirky yard art, but there are also run down houses and desolate alleys.
This orange Fletcher riding tractor caught my eye. I saw it turning the corner onto Cicero Way. While it looks a bit banged up, the tires and seat are okay and the blue tarp indicates someone cares about it. I wonder if it still works. The industrial strength salt shed was a bit of a surprise. However, looking at the map later I realized I was pretty close to the South Busway. That makes sense.
Finally, I saw this mural on a retaining wall along East Warrington Avenue. It seems this is a layered work. The original probably didn’t have the squiggles on top of the city skyline.
This was a decent run, though short. Turning onto Haberman Avenue’s big hill, I felt some twinges and called it a day.
This was a short run in the South side Flats. I’m trying out KT-Tape to help my knee and I needed something easy. Luckily, I still had a few alleys left in this, one of the flattest sections of Pittsburgh.
It was a rather warm day today, with some thundershowers off and on. The number of cases of Covid19 in Allegheny County have been dwindling, so restaurants are open and people are getting out more. Face masks are pretty much required for indoor activities, but outside, it was hit or miss.
There was the group of young men playing basketball, apparently oblivious to social distancing concerns. No masks there. There was the tall, skinny black dude delivering food. He was all business in his black t-shirt with red lettering, efficiently checking the order and his phone. He had a mask. There was the construction worker, tiredly holding his boots and opening a wooden fence gate for a woman in cheek-revealing black short shorts. No masks. There was the young skinny woman in fish-net stockings and purple strands in her black hair who could barely stay standing. A taller male companion, in blue jeans and a white tee-shirt, struggled to keep her on her feet. No masks. I, personally, have been using a blue bandana while running. I pull it up when I come upon people.
But now, some of the sights along the way. That impressive cornerstone is in the building formerly housing St. Matthew’s school. Instead of housing young kids scurrying to class with peanut butter sandwiches and chalk-dust, the building now houses $340,000 condos. (WITH ROOF ACCESS!!!) Renovation along the alleys continues unabated. In color, Harcum Way is almost as bright as Carey Way.
It is nice to see “useful” businesses in a neighborhood. When all that’s left are high-end restaurants and fru-fru boutiques, it loses some of its luster. I am happy to say the South Side Flats still has some working class businesses. I’m not sure how great “Duke’s Tire Services” is, but I’m sure it is convenient.
School buses are tucked behind the barbed-wire fence, which, unfortunately, also closes off Mary Street for a block. No wonder I hadn’t finished that section! I’m familiar with individuals ‘colonizing’ dead-end city streets, but this takes it to a whole new level.
Interspersed among the brick buildings, murals and street art abound. The painted garage door is quirky with its stylized plants and grass. Meanwhile, here’s a big lady watching over the cars in the 18th Street parking lot.
That’s about it. My knee was OK, but touchy. More rest and it should get better.
I’ve been all over this town but never to Carrick. Today I’m changing that. For today’s run, I started overlooking Downtown from Grandview Park, did a grid of streets in Allentown and then plunged south to sample Carrick.
Grandview Park is a narrow strip of greenery high above the Monongahela River. From here, you can practically open the windows on the skyscrapers downtown. There’s not much there except benches to look at the view, a viewing platform to look out over the city and a little natural amphitheater, with views over the city. And all of them are grand! I’m not sure if all cities are like this, but Pittsburghers really like to look at pictures of Pittsburgh.
Tearing myself away from the view, I embarked on the grid of streets behind the park, high in Allentown. In spite of the proximity to the views and Mount Washington, this residential area is tight with small, rather shabby houses. I saw at least five houses with the blue “condemned” sign on them. Small streets disappear into the vegetation. Of course there are steps and boats here, too.
Speaking of steps, Emerald Street drops off the hillside and becomes steps on its way to Arlington Avenue, passing Canary Way en route. Arlington intersects East Warrington, with its small business area.
East Warrington is not a large street, but is usually busy. If you are vegan, you should stop at Onion Maiden. The food is excellent and the music is rocking! No neighborhood is complete without a Little Library, and there’s one here too, a few houses from Beltzhoover Avenue. Of course, everyone needs a laundromat every now and then. Here, “Splish Splash” is incongruously nestled on the first floor of an older red and pink apartment building.
While completing several streets south of East Warrington Avenue, I came across another “Project Picket Fence” site. If you’ll recall, that was a mid-90’s project by Mayor Tom Murphy to encourage communities to brighten up vacant lots. Here, while the picket fence is down, the lot is nicely kept.
From there, I found the source of Amanda Avenue, at its intersection with Manion Way. Amanda Avenue has a few street steps as it meets Arlington Avenue. I stayed on Amanda until it merged with Brownsville Road. (Not to be confused with Browns Hill Road, which is in another part of the city.) Here, Brownsville Road also forms a border with Mount Oliver, the independent borough entirely surrounded by the City of Pittsburgh. Just to make life interesting for dispatchers, there’s also a neighborhood in the City of Pittsburgh called “Mount Oliver”. It’s adjacent to the borough, of course.
In spite of the local differences in jurisdiction between Pittsburgh and Mount Oliver, there are few visual differences on that rather dirty, dusty street. Just the street signs; Pittsburgh’s are bright blue and Mount Oliver’s are a dusty green.
I continued to Noble Lane. In spite of its name, it is not a noble place to run. Where there are sidewalks, there are cars parked. Otherwise, you just have a narrow grassy, rocky path to navigate as the cars whiz by you on their way to Saw Mill Run Boulevard. Approaching Saw Mill Run, at least you get a nice view of the South Hills T-Line near Whited Street.
Climbing out of the pit that is Saw Mill Run Boulevard, there are some more spacious residential areas. I made my way back towards Brownsville Road via Copperfield Road. At nine miles in, I was a bit disheartened to see the multi-block set of steps rise above me.
Returning to my starting spot, I ambled along Brownsville Road until I hit Knox Avenue. Knoxville, along Knox Avenue is similar to Allentown, with undulating streets lined with houses and old three story apartment buildings. Ironically enough, yesterday I was listening to Malcom Gladwell’s book “Talking to Strangers” as he discussed the Amanda Knox case. Today, I ran on Amanda Street and Knox Avenue. Coincidence?
On this morning’s run, I decided to tackle more of Homewood South and North. I do have a feel for the neighborhood, but am still intimidated by parts of it, especially the long, narrow alleys. Making it to Formosa Way, this brilliant mural jumped out. I’m not sure who did this wonderfully colorful artwork, but kudos to them. The day was sunny and warm, with a promise to get hot later.
Trundling down Formosa Way, I saw a couple of older black men chatting across a fence. One was with his large German Shepherd, who lunged at me when I passed. It was on a leash, so no harm done. However, the man said “You know, there ARE main roads”. To which I gave the “I’m running all the streets” response. But then he said, “Well, be careful, its dangerous.” I thought about that as I ran.
I came across several memorials, such as the one below. These weren’t marked with the details, but were probably where someone had died. How? Who knows? Gunshot? Car Accident? It’s hard to say. I saw at least three other memorials, mostly smaller. I suppose it is dangerous here.
Homewood South is basically flat with long alleys and streets running parallel to Hamilton Avenue. There are plans in the works for a much needed rejuvenation of Homewood. Reading that plan, I was astounded at the level of poverty here. The median household income is less than $20,000 a year. Imagine trying to live on $20,000 a year in Pittsburgh! The median income in Pittsburgh is close to $40,000/yr.
Murals adorn many buildings and several houses have Randyland-style artwork on their exterior.
There’s also a fair share of run-of-the mill graffiti.
Eventually, I made it to Upland Street, and crossed briefly into North Homewood. I meandered among some of the streets up there before taking the Monticello Street Stairs back to Brushton Avenue.
As the run grew long and my hot, tired legs didn’t want to move, I was encouraged by several residents. One woman, as she was loading a dark blue van, shouted “Go get that hill!”
A grizzled man, lazily driving his caddie across the intersection of Collier and Kelly said “Trying to make up for them cancelling the Marathon?”
And yet another man, this one man working on a dusty van looked up and asked “How many miles?”
Very often, I don’t have any interaction on my runs, so this was welcome.
I must say, when I first approached Collier and Frankstown, I avoided it because a half dozen dudes were hanging out on their Harleys. However, when I came back, the only thing left was their banner.
And that was it. A solid run in a ‘dangerous’ neighborhood which has a plan in place for improvement.
For further thought:
Now, thinking about it, how ‘dangerous’ a place actually is, is often a reflection of your own activity there. If you’re in a neighborhood for the house parties and ‘nightlife’, this could be pretty dangerous. If you’re here to buy drugs, yes, dangerous. If you’re living here and your neighbor is a dealer, that could be a problem. However, driving through at a reasonable time, running on a Saturday morning, walking your dog, it isn’t too bad.
Just for comparison, from 2018 to 2020, Homewood South and Homewood North each had less overall crime than Southside Flats or Downtown. Admittedly, they are smaller areas. They also had fewer cases of property crime than Shadyside or Squirrel Hill. The high level of poverty in the area undoubtedly influences how well kept it is and what kind of stores and restaurants there are. It is no surprise then, that there are almost none.
May 2020 was a long month. It started off cold and even had a few flurries early on. However, by the end of May, things had heated up in many ways. Cases of Covid19 are slowly lurching lower. However, we’ve gone from bad to worse in social upheaval. In early May, I did a “Run for Ahmaud” to show solidarity in the killing of a black jogger in Georgia. It was an emotional, sad, run. Then, on May 25, a black man, George Floyd, was killed by Minneapolis police officers. That has set the spotlight on racial inequity in the country and simultaneously sparked protests and called into question police tactics all over.
Against this backdrop, I’ve kept running and covering new streets. In May, I ran 130 miles, close to my goal of 135 miles a month. I completed all eight of my Strava challenges for May, including the distance challenge (210km), climbing challenge (4,229m) and the “Sufferfest Beer Challenge” which required four activities a week for four weeks. Of the 21 runs I did in May, 20 of them covered new streets. By May 31, I had completed 248 “RATS” runs in all. I’m over 45% done with the streets of Pittsburgh, according to CityStrides.
However, this sole focus on running has impacted my flexibility. I’ve cut more than one run short because of tight hamstrings. I’m hoping to put that behind me, by adding yoga and stretching into my routine.
RATS 00232 – Short and rainy in Scotch Bottom
Ah, a short run in Hazelwood. My heart wasn’t in it today, although I ended up seeing a few cool things. This church, for instance.
This church has been closed for awhile, but the Diocese of Pittsburgh still owns the building. In researching this, I found a short history of Hazelwood, taken from a 1972 issue of the Carnegie Magazine. Apparently it used to be known as “Scotch Bottom”.
Now the area is pretty run down, but still filled with people living and working among the old buildings. Wouldn’t it be cool to construct automobiles with biodegradable materials, so that once the engine fluids stop running, the whole thing decomposes?
RATS #00234 – Bloomfield
Short, chilly run in the rain. Fitting since it was dedicated to the memory of Ahmaud Arbery. Nonetheless, Bloomfield is quirky and I captured a little of it here. The immense building behind “Mend Way” is a hospital. <facepalm>
There’s a bar across from the mural. Had it been open, it would have been a pleasure to sit there and look at the bright mural.
RATS #00242 Brookline Evening
Whew, Brookline is big! This run was over six miles, with minimal duplication, yet only covered one small section of Brookline. It is a suburban style community, flat except where it falls off of ravines. Running up Whited Street was heart-pounding not only for the elevation, but also for the lack of sidewalks.
The Jacob Street Stairs were cool and tunnel to the South Busway was interesting. In broad daylight, it wasn’t too bad, but it would be creepy on a misty November night. Birchland Street also gets steep enough to warrant steps.
Viaduct to the South Busway.
RATS #00243 Hills of Westwood
This was an evening run on the hills above the Westwood Shop ‘N Save. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the streets were very steep there. This seems to be an older area than across Noblestown Road. A number of the streets dead-end at the top of ravines.
Surprisingly, there were not many sets of steps here. Guyland Street’s steps are pretty impressive, though.
RATS #00244 Another Jaunt in Mount Washington
This was a rather laborious run through Mount Washington. You know the drill, hills, steps, views. Of note was finishing West Sycamore Street.
RATS #00245 South Oakland
The last few runs had really done a number on my hamstrings. I looked up ways to alleviate the tightness and pain in my left leg. Ignoring the first suggestion, “Stop running”, I decided that the next suggestion, “Avoiding hills”, was more doable. I realized I had a few streets left in South Oakland and so headed there one Sunday afternoon.
South Oakland is a curious mix of students and a few long-term residents. At one point, three white-haired ladies, maybe even older than me, were gingerly helping each other off the three inch curb for a little walk. At the same time, less than a block away, cleverly tucked in an alley, a full scale frat party screamed with booming bass, a flashy car and beer pong.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. To get the opportunity to appear at that party, I had to face a dinosaur, run down the Romeo steps and uncover a wild strawberry.
From there, I used the Cathedral of Learning as a beacon to knowledge navigating the alleys of Oakland.
RATS #00246 South Oakland
Continuing the “no hills” mantra, I again ventured into South Oakland. As you can see, I’m getting closer to downtown.
RATS #00247 – Southside Flats – and a hill
Continuing to live up to my “Flatlander” reputation, I traversed the Southside Flats for twelve miles. It started out a bit rainy, but became beautiful. At the end I threw in one big hill and ran up South 18th Street to St. Patrick’s Street.
I did not encounter great sets of steps, but I have to say, the Wharton Street Passage is exciting. It will allow bicyclists and pedestrians to go under the Birmingham Bridge instead of going up to Carson Street. It’ll be great when it is fully opened.
While I traced five fingers up and down the Southside, I came across a mural painted to look like house fronts. That was cute. I also ran on Edward’s Way, which, honestly, could be more impressive. As it is, it is tucked against a railroad bulwark.
This is Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood – at least Mr. T-Rex Rogers! Looks like he’s not giving up King Friday without a fight.
RATS #00248 – Couple miles in Garfield
I was hanging around, waiting for someone and decided to run a couple of miles in the interim. Mainly covered North Winebiddle and North Millvale in the Garfield neighborhood. The North Winebiddle steps are long, going up several blocks to Hillcrest Street. Shamrock Way was as green as the Emerald Isle, while closer to Penn is a totally tagged door.
That’s all for May. Looking forward to June, with its late sunsets.
This was another early evening run in Westwood and Crafton Heights. My primary goal was to finish the grid of streets west of Stratmore towards the city line. In these parts, the city abuts Crafton on the west and Ingram on the north.
First, I had to ascend some steps from Noblestown to Code Way. Another excellent street name by the city naming department, I must say. Would there be a spy ring up there? Covert CIA antenna? Hmm, nope. There was a fire ring with old-folks conversing with their children and grandchildren. There were a couple of flagpoles flying the Stars and Stripes. It looked like a bustling, tight neighborhood. People moving furniture from a UHaul, others gardening. Moving on, I came upon Milnor street, which presented a cool view across into Crafton Heights. It also had quite an impressive set of sidewalk steps.
Milnor wound to Clearview, right above Crafton Boulevard. There’s a convenient set of steps down from Clearview.
Earlier I had done the streets on the right of Stratmore going north. Today I did the streets on the left. Booming big houses perched on big hills were my main memories.
A uniquely named street, “Clairtonic”, reached up the hill and dead-ended. In spite of being a dead-end, it was lively; residents were hosting a pandemic porch party; young dudes were in the street messing with their sports car, playing rap music loudly. Trudging up the hill past them I was surprised how far Clairtonic went. I crossed a house with a fence and a beautiful, big, dark Collie. Saying hi to the old guy working on his car and to the lively Collie which trotted out the open gate, I quickened my pace. This was an opportune time to take the Irvona Street Steps. Alas, they only went to someone’s backyard and I had to sheepishly come down.
Moving on, I came to Ridenour Avenue, which beckoned with these extensive wooden steps. I hoped they would go all the way to Steuben. Looking at the map later, they might have, but I stopped where they flattened out into a trail.
I wound my way back to the car. I achieved most of my goals, but missed going all the way down Ridenour as well as Enderlin Way. Oh well, there’s only so much you can do in five miles.
This morning’s run was meticulously planned to be in Brookline. Unfortunately, I was day-dreaming on the Boulevard of the Allies and ended up on the Crosstown Boulevard instead of the Liberty Bridge. Oh well, sometimes its better just to start where you are. So I ran in Uptown and the Lower Hill. I must say, it was still a rewarding run, with a number of grand views and murals.
Uptown and the Bluff are dominated by Duquesne University and other large facilities, such as PPG Paints Arena. With the amount of pollution generally in Allegheny County, I’m not sure why there’s a continual flame above the People’s Natural Gas Gate, but it is cool to see.
Further east of Duquesne is Mercy Hospital with its helicopter pad and construction. Given the depth of the digging, it looks like something big is being built next to Mercy. I had to stretch out to get a pic over the fence. For a bit there, my GPS became wonky – claiming that I had run a four minute mile. That worried me for the rest of the run, but it turns out the route was recorded properly, regardless of that mile.
Eventually, the area settles down to small streets and alleys with row houses and small businesses intermixed. While there’s a lot of chain-linked fencing enclosing parking areas, there’s also bold murals along the houses and walls.