Bright afternoon in Perry Hilltop

https://www.strava.com/activities/4165506902
RATS #00309 – Fineview and Perry Hilltop

Running directly after work took me up past the marque Fineview destinations to some of the less spectacular streets, in the Notsofineview area. Nonetheless, it was a gorgeous afternoon, just right for running.

Nestled in the East Allegheny neighborhood, at the foot of the bluffs going up to Fineview are small cobblestone streets marked by spectacularly renovated row houses. In contrast, houses on Lafayette Street, on the ‘backside’ of Fineview, are twice the size and half the price.

Driving into Fineview requires navigating steep twisting roads. As a pedestrian, I had an easier time, just going up the James Street steps. Up and up, my path took me to Edenvale Street, and Fineview Avenue. In spite of its bold name, Fineview Avenue is only two blocks long and dead-ends into a wooded hillside. Lanark Avenue has a typical view. There’s a TV tower stretching into the sky at the top of the hill and, on the other side, in what I call ‘the backside’ of Fineview, Lafayette Street is dominated by huge old houses high off the street.

From here, the neighborhood descends literally and figuratively. Tiny alleys with 15% grades drop down to parallel streets tilting off the hill. The area was busy, with men working on houses and washing cars, kids playing on their porches and in the streets. Trotting down Olive Street, a cloud passed over the sun and I was dismayed with a trifecta of bad signs. First: a small dead-end with rapidly declining houses, second: a robust dog vigorously barking and testing the structural integrity of its porch gate, and third: two shiny cars parked in the middle of the street. As I approached, though, a teenager came onto the porch. I asked whether there were steps at the end of the street. He shushed the dog and proudly assured me that the steps were there. The sun came out and I was treated to this amazing set of wooden steps.

From here, I ventured up onto Perry Hilltop, on the other side of the ravine now carrying Federal Street. Encircled by Perrysville Avenue and Federal Street, there are only a few streets there. However, in spite of the views and convenience, this section of town looks forgotten. There are offices for Allegheny County, and Triangle Tech has a campus up here. However, it has the look of a dusty shopping area no one goes to anymore. The backstreets are lined with derelict houses. Kenyon Way must have been an impressive set of steps in its heyday, but now, its a jungle. From Clayton Avenue, the top of the steps’ railing is visible through the knotweed. That house is the same as in the “Lithgow Avenue” picture and the houses in the far hill are where I came from.

From here I traipsed down to North Park along West North Avenue. Last year, they restored one of its fountains, which, I must admit, looks great.

September 2020 Catch-Up

Summary

September 2020 was a pretty busy month with 124.8 miles run and 12,500 feet of elevation gain, the most since May. I ran often, 23 days with 17 of these covering new streets. I crossed over the 300 run threshold. With any luck, I’ll be done before I hit 400 runs, but that remains to be seen. I can see a flicker of light at the end of this project tunnel!

Unfortunately, my blogging hasn’t kept up with my running, so this catch-up blog will be a veritable book. Oh well, here goes!

RATS #00292

https://www.strava.com/activities/4012388510
RATS #00292 in Squirrel Hill

This was a short run to cover a few errant streets in Squirrel Hill and Schenley Park. I cut through Frick Park, using Iron Gate Trail to vault me over the big hill separating Swisshelm Park and Squirrel Hill. By the time I came back, it was too dark to gallop through the park without a flashlight.

RATS #00293

https://www.strava.com/activities/4016390122
RATS #00293 in Perry Hilltop

This was roughly a 10K to Perry Hilltop from West Park. It got started off with a sparkling sculpture, a yellow-eyed cat and a colorful backyard.

Then, I explored Irwin Avenue, which rises out of Central Northside. Surprisingly, it is blocked off for a few hundred yards and then jumps up to the top of Perry Hilltop on steps.

I zigged-zagged up here a bit, eventually finding my way to North Charles Street. Just before crossing the Swindell Bridge, I cut off to the left on Hazelton, to clear up that dead-end. Further along, up on the hilltop, I got a good view of the Swindell Bridge over I-279 and then wandered down into Fineview. That’s not something you hear much… “DOWN” into Fineview. Everything is steep over here. On one side, you have the ravine down to I-279, on the other the streets fall steeply towards Perrysville Avenue. Tall houses stare down from their perches like vultures.

RATS #00295

https://www.strava.com/activities/4025090610

This was a run cut short by tired knees and mistaken maps. Nonetheless, I made some progress on a few Shadyside alleys and small streets near Ellis School. By the time I got to East Liberty, though, I was done.

RATS #00297

https://www.strava.com/activities/4071163546
RATS #00297 West Liberty and Brookline

This was a gut check run. It was late and I didn’t go far, but I got out there. I did finish off Flatbush Avenue in Brookline, but it was too dark to do much exploring and I didn’t stop long enough to take crisp pictures.

RATS #00298

https://www.strava.com/activities/4075550982
RATS #00298 – Brookline

Another evening run in Brookline. This time, I made a beeline for streets on the left of Whited Street, as you go towards Saw Mill Run Boulevard. I really wasn’t sure what I would find, but found very residential, suburban streets perched on a plateau. There were tweens goofing off in the street, a couple walking their golden retriever and a mom walking up and down the street with a stroller and a chatty three year old; “Mom, why is he running THAT way?”

Coming back along Whited Street is NOT something I would recommend, especially in the darkness. At least, I could see headlights in time to huddle off the road.

RATS #00299

https://www.strava.com/activities/4079580634
RATS #00299

This was a short run in the South Side Flats. Like a vampire, this neighborhood keeps coming back with some little street or alley I’ve missed. I’m really trying to drive a stake through the heart and get this area done. In spite of the short run, there was lots to see. Perhaps my favorite were the pierogie signs around Saint John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church. Downtown Pittsburgh is just across the Monongahela River and the skyscrapers caught the evening sun nicely.

RATS #00301

https://www.strava.com/activities/4094305425
RATS #00301

This was quite an adventure. I checked out one of the lesser known neighborhoods, New Homestead. It is west of West Homestead/Munhall, east of the Glenwood Bridge interchange and south of Sandcastle yet north of Mifflin Road. Looking at the map below, you might notice that there are three disconnected areas of New Homestead. I ran most of the northeast section.

New Homestead

Also looking at the map, you might notice a lack of streets. Okay, a lack of anything. Your observations would be pretty much correct. There’s just a number of long streets dotted with houses and large areas of woods. Deer were everywhere and seemed offended by me disturbing them. I actually parked in West Homestead, above a baseball diamond.

RATS #00302

https://www.strava.com/activities/4103987670
RATS #00302 – Carrick & Overbrook

Run number 302 saw me back in Carrick and Overbrook. Unlike New Homestead, this area is dense with houses and people. Hills, steps, alleys, this run had it all. I don’t remember seeing many deer, though. I was amused by the war memorial in front of Carrick High School. Most memorials of this age have howitzers or bronze soldiers. This one had a bronzed shell. Many lawns were covered in political signs; often with neighbors cheering opposite sides. Just think how fun that block party would be! That cat, however, wasn’t the least ruffled as I run past it, huffing and puffing up the hill.

The Englert Street steps conveniently took me from Saw Mill Run Boulevard up the hill again, while the Dartmore Steps were just a convenience. Unfortunately, the Antenor Way Steps were blocked off, even though they didn’t look too bad.

RATS #00303

https://www.strava.com/activities/4108586048
RATS #00303 – Lawrenceville

Speaking of neighborhoods which keep coming back with uncovered alleys and streets, Lawrenceville takes the cake. This five mile run just went round and round dim back alleys. Interestingly enough, it was busy enough, between restaurants and residents that I felt more comfortable here than in New Homestead.

RATS #00304

https://www.strava.com/activities/4115676785
RATS #00304

This was a nine mile run (not to be confused with the stream of the same name) through Manchester. With this run, I’ve covered all the streets between the railroad and Chateau Street. This is a large, flat area. Mexican War Streets, with their 1890’s row houses gradually transform into sprawling mixed housing, newer three bedroom split levels interspersed with magnificent mansions. Some of the ‘mansions’ have seen better days.

Alleys are where you see the underside of a neighborhood. These show the old warehouse nature of the area. There’s also a major railroad line, below grade, which dominates the eastern fringe of this area.

But there’s a lot going on here. New construction isn’t too surprising given the great location and flat land. People have gardens and little libraries and seem to generally be active. I didn’t expect to see that huge rooster mural or a booming market along Juniata Street, but there it is.

RATS #00306

https://www.strava.com/activities/4125952429
RATS #00306

Once again, I returned to Carrick and Overbrook in the evening. At this point in the month, I was really trying to complete a Strava Challenge (200km), so after doing Yale Street, I just went exploring.

Yale Street is in the same are as RATS #00302. One section has extensive steps leading up into Phillips Park, then it drops precipitously to Dartmore Street. Clawing my way back to Brownsville Road, I needed a couple more miles, so trotted along Carrick Avenue. It was fully dark and I wasn’t 100% sure where I was going. Nontheless, I ‘just needed to bear right’ a couple of times to take me back to Brownsville Road and into Pittsburgh again.

RATS #00307

RATS #00307 – Banksville

Must say, I’m proud of this run. I planned it pretty well and stuck to the plan. It was a little over seven miles in Banksville where it borders Greentree and Mount Lebanon. It is a nice area with long winding streets. However, there weren’t many distinctive things to see. At the start, I did pass a soccer field off of Hillsdale Avenue, where a girl’s soccer game was in progress under the lights. They have a powerful PA system, and for the rest of the run, I could hear the announcers.

That’s All Folks!

So, there you have it. September 2020 in the books. I think this is the longest “Catch-Up” blog I’ve had and I might change things up a bit to avoid this in the future. Maybe a weekly blog?

At any rate, I want to run a bit farther in October and continue to efficiently cover streets. I’ll try to get into Lincoln Place, another outlying neighborhood, as well as continue to finish out the Hill District, Marshall-Shadeland and Carrick.

Banking on Southern Steps

https://www.strava.com/activities/4022027255
Strava route of RATS #00294

Good morning! Last Sunday I mapped out a little run in Brookline and left some room for exploration. Explore I did, crossing over into Banksville as far as Greentree, then coming back through Mount Lebanon and Dormont.

Brookline

Many of my “goal” streets were in Brookline, where Brookline Boulevard curves down to West Liberty Avenue. It is the site of the “Brookline” sign and has several small streets crammed together. The Boulevard circles a small section of lower ground packed with small houses. A few sets of stairs, such as Bodkin Steps and Kenilworth Steps rise out of the bowl. After the run, I feasted on strudel from DeLuca’s.

Wenzell and Louisiana

When Brookline Boulevard crosses West Liberty Avenue, it changes name to Wenzell Avenue. Wenzell Avenue has spotty sidewalks and rather steeply drops through Beechview to its terminus at Banksville Road. Some sections of Wenzell border the Borough of Dormont. Given this topography, it is no surprise this section is riddled with steps. Neeld Way, dropping out of Beechview streets, is a rather long set of steps going from Candace Street to Wenzell. Wenzell, itself, has a long section of street steps as it drops to Banksville Road.

However, the most impressive and interesting sets of steps is Louisiana Street. Just after the Neeld Way steps dropped me unceremoniously onto a shoulder of Wenzell Avenue, I looked up and saw the sign for Louisiana Street. In the summer, it looks like one of the many street signs to nowhere, swallowed up in knotweed. However, brushing aside the branches, I found myself in a long shady step tunnel. Along the way, a house arose on the right. It’s common to find ruins along stairs, but this large cream colored house looked pretty nice. Continuing as the stairs become a causeway, I came across the house’s mailbox and garbage cans. A living, breathing orphan house! Shortly after, it rises again to a streets blending into Dormont. Taking Ordinance Avenue steps out, I circled around to see it again.

Now, when I came down to Banksville Road, I was blocked by construction from crossing into Banksville itself. Not to be denied, I followed small streets to Potomac Avenue, whereupon I crossed over and ventured, for the first time, into Banksville.

Banksville

Banksville Neighborhood

Banksville is roughly bounded by Banksville Road, Greentree Road, the Parkway West and McMonagle Avenue. I was not familiar with the area at all. I crossed at Potomac Avenue, took the flat Banksville Avenue to steps and found myself in a curious area. On one hand, it looked very suburban with a range of houses from smaller 1950’s ranches to new McMansions. On the other, The Log Church was a rather hidden church complex near mobile home parks. Most of the roads did not have sidewalks. The steps from Banksville Avenue to Carnahan Road were impressive in length and the Anise Steps ended in the shadow of construction along Banksville Avenue.

Finishing Up

After exploring Banksville a little, I headed back to Potomac Avenue to finish off this run. I was trying to complete a half-marathon distance, which would wrap up my running goal for the week. While I’ve stopped paying attention to hills when planning, Potomac Avenue was a killer in the eleventh mile. I came across a chalk square, which happens from time to time, as I cross paths with other adventurers.

I still had a mile or so to go when I got back to Brookline, so I completed Bayridge Avenue and most of Harex Way. That’s a cool name, “Harex”. Anyway, with the 13.1 miles complete, I stumbled into DeLuca’s for my post-run treat. Yum!

Dusky Hill Run

RATS #00290 across Upper Hill to Lawrenceville

This day’s run was more about distance than making sure every street was new. I did, however, have a few target streets on my mind and covered most of them.

I started in Oakland. While it was moderately busy, it was nowhere as crowded as normal. The city has closed a number of streets so that restaurants can spill out into the street.

Forbes Avenue in Oakland
Forbes Avenue in Oakland with Cathy in the distance

I progressed up to Centre Avenue, doing the steps which go from Centre Avenue to Ewarts Street. Saw some attractive butternut squash along the way, as well as mysterious gates and doors.

Ewart Street brought me to Iowa Street. From there, I did a few cross streets. These were long residential streets, very typical of the Hill District.

From this point, as dusk settled in, I found myself on dim steps and small roads. From Webster Avenue down to Ridgeway and then to Bigelow Blvd, the steps are a very direct way down. The roads were quiet and empty.

Finally I crossed over Bigelow Boulevard on the pedestrian walkway. While it looks a bit threatening, it was well used and much better than dodging cars. I crossed over the Bloomfield Bridge and sailed down 42nd Street.

The return up Fisk was easier than I expected. Actually, with all the hills I’ve come across, I didn’t feel it was too bad. I finished out by returning to Oakland. A nice eight mile run! It’s been awhile since I just popped out a longish run on a weeknight. Yay!

Carrick Buck and Bon Air Rooster

https://www.strava.com/activities/3949650172
Route for RATS #00285

First blog in a few days. Sorry, I’ve been running. Going back to last Sunday, me and a friend, Erin, tackled Bon Air and more of Carrick. I’ve known Erin for a few years and she has progressed from a beginning runner to quite the endurance athlete. Just the week before she had done a multi-day run/hike in the Laurel Highlands covering over forty miles. Last Sunday, she agreed to tag along in my all the streets adventure.

We started at the tip of McKinley Park and immediately went uphill on Bausman. Before we got into Bon Air, I had to cover some streets in Carrick. Aside from Brownsville Road, there are only a few small streets which continue into this area. Romeyn was one of them. It is impressive how high the houses are off the ravine floor.

This part of Carrick is densely populated and filled with Pittsburgh four-squares on small, hilly lots. There are few steps, notably Georgia Avenue, which go two blocks uphill. Also, as streets come off of Brownsville Road, there are often steps such as these Moore Street Steps.

Deeper into the neighborhood, away from Brownsville Road, vegetation starts to take over again, both controlled gardens and the lush mix of trees, wild grape vines and invasive Japanese Knotweed which is so prevalent in Pittsburgh. The green hillsides host a surprising amount of wildlife. We saw this buck nibbling grass along the top of Georgia Avenue Steps.

Moving up into Bon Air, we noticed a striking difference. While there were still some large Pittsburgh four-squares perched high on hills, there were many small two and three bedroom ranch houses and split-levels. These looked like houses built in the 1950’s. The yards were larger.

The streets were also long and straight. As I’ve mentioned previously, straight streets are attempts by planners to ignore the region’s topography. They are invariably very steep. At the bottom of one section, along Drycove Street, we saw not only another of Tom Murphy’s “Project Picket Fence” fences, but also a curious block of grass with steps into it. A lawn pool? I’m sure there’s a better explanation.

Bon Air was pleasant, in spite of the hills. We saw the largest lawn Rooster I’ve ever seen, ironically watched over by sunning cats. Lawn decorations were everywhere. I was impressed by this patio garden.

There are several flights of stairs in Bon Air. If you’re adventurous and go down a long asphalt alley, you’ll get to the Bon Air T-Station. I’m not sure why, but if you scour Bob Regan’s book on Pittsburgh Steps, you won’t find “Caperton”, but you will find a set of steps listed between Fodyce and Conniston, which are the steps on Caperton Street.

After rambling through Bon Air awhile, we went back to Carrick. Here, brightly colored yard decorations and a exquisitely planted pool awaited.

At the end of Amanda Street, we only had about 7 1/2 miles in, so we explored some more. We took streets which plunged down to Route 51. One woman on her porch suggested it would be easier to roll down than run down. I think she was right. Not wanted to dodge cars along Route 51, we made our way along Noble Street, encountering a number of flights of steps. These were fairly long.

We finally made it back with about ten miles under our belts. I was happy that Erin came along. We explored an area of the city neither of us had been in before. After such an exploratory run, I start to mentally connect different parts of the city together.

Rambling in Manchester

RATS #00278 in Manchester
RATS #00278 in Manchester

This evening I came back from the outer limits of Pittsburgh to run closer to its core, the Manchester neighborhood. Reading a little about it, I was surprised that the Manchester Historical District is Pittsburgh’s largest historical district, known for its Victorian homes. In spite of this historic designation, the area is bounded by the lifeblood of commerce; highways and railroads. Southern Manchester is close to CCAC and there’s a semblance of off-campus college life in that area.

I started along Brighton Road with its tree-lined street and community gardens. Going down Beech Avenue, a group spilled out down the street; which concerned me. A protest? A street party? No, it was a scene filming. While not a big production, with Haddad trucks, it still had a dozen people working the set, sound and lighting.

Continuing past the Victorian row houses, I meandered through the streets and alleys, including rather forbidding looking Buttercup Way.

Even along alleys there was lots to see here, from impressive doors to curious door-knockers.

Moving along, I came to one of traffic borders, with its high brick walls. This half-house with a high-rise a a backdrop really captures the ups and downs of this area.

Finally, I couldn’t pass up this car, quietly snuggled in a grassy lot.

SUV Painted with "Amplify"
Quiet times for loud car

I finished up as the evening grew old and shadows lengthened with a good five miles and several new streets under my belt.

Shadyside Evening

https://www.strava.com/activities/3824300083
Map of route taken for run #00273

This was a short run to cover some streets I had inexplicably missed in Shadyside. I think my original reason for not covering them in a solo run was to cover them in running with friends. That was clearly a pre-Covid plan.

At any rate, I was tired and sluggish, but the thought of crossing these off my list provided enough motivation to get out and run. It was a a summery evening. Thunderstorms had just passed through and there were lingering displays of lightning and sprinkles. Walnut Street was empty, courtesy of Covid19. Usually it would be packed with people shopping, walking dogs and spilling out of bars.

This section of Shadyside is typified by narrow Queen Anne houses squeezed together with front yard flowers. Most of these structures are not the mansions found a couple of blocks away. Additionally, there are many large, old apartment buildings and row houses, mostly well kept.

Alleys are a bit of an exception. As my Mom used to say “Queen Anne in front and Mary Ann in back”. Here is where you find the unpainted porches and a few garages in need of paint jobs.

There are also some very cute houses. The Inn at Negley, for instance, is now a luxury bed and breakfast. It also has a Little Library in front of it, for you bibliophiles.

Murals are not common here, but in a brick seating area off Walnut is the Building Bridges mural while the William Penn Tavern watering hole has some humorous ones.