Downtown, Carrick and Fairywood

A fantastical journey awaits! From the snow strewn, narrow alleys of Downtown to the slick streets of Carrick to the wondrous wilds of Fairywood, I covered lots of ground the first week of February. Grab a hot chocolate, coffee or toddy and enjoy!

RATS #00365 – Downtown and Duquesne

https://www.strava.com/activities/4730557135
Route of RATS #00365

Nothing is more magical than Downtown Pittsburgh on a cold night. While pushed aside, the recent snow wasn’t giving up just yet and lined the route. This run was generally about traversing alleys I had missed, then going up to Duquesne University.

I started off by cutting through the PPG buildings along Delray Street. Delray continues as a small dumpster-lined alley to 5th Avenue Place. Crossing over Liberty took me down Cecil Place, with its lone couch.

From there, I trotted up Barkers Place, then caught McRrea Way with its large Frenchy’s billboard as it heads towards 6th Street. I hope they aren’t paying much for that sign, as it is behind a building. Crossing 6th took me into a small driveway and then out award-winning Mentor Way, which is half the width of a car. The award? “Creepiest Alley in Downtown Pittsburgh”.

Shaking that off, I headed up Third Avenue. Passing PPG was, actually, kind of magical. There was Ketchupsaurus, uniquely found in the Tomato layer of Pittsburgh Seam. (Read more about the dinos here.) Skaters were laughing as they swished along the ice at the PPG Skating Rink.

Leaving such frivolity behind, I crossed over from Third to Fourth Avenue. Now, Downtown is guarded from Duquesne by the Great Wall of Transportation. The electrified tracks of the T, the massive piers for the Crosstown Expressway, the ramps and tunnels act as a barrier between Downtown and points further uphill. The Hill District is up there, as well as Duquesne University. Duquesne occupies “The Bluff” which overlooks the Mon and stretches into Uptown. I was fortunate to find steps leading from the end of Fourth Avenue to Forbes Street.

I climbed up to the bluff along Shingiss Street, which had been closed, presumably because of the snow. The Duquense Rock patiently waited for me to take its picture while I fumbled with gloves.

Winding among the buildings of Duquense took me in and out parking garages and past dining halls. The views were great.

With this, I circled back downtown and hopped in my car, grateful for the quick warmth.

RATS #00366 – Slick Carrick

https://www.strava.com/activities/4746361457
RATS #00366 Carrick

This run took two tries. The first, on a Friday evening, I cut short because my shoes did not have enough traction to handle the ice and snow. The next attempt was done in trail shoes on a warm day; it topped out at 30 degrees.

Headstones in Snow Covered Concord Plot
Headstones in Snow Covered Concord Plot

Here’s the challenge: Myron Way. Slightly shaded and never salted, it was mostly ice. Luckily, I was able to find patches of untrammeled snow to keep going. The East Cherryhill steps were pretty tricky, too.

This was the most challenging section of the run. Afterwards, the alleys, while snow filled, had centers of deep snow, which I could easily tromp through.

I ran up and down the alleys and streets, eventually making it to the border with Mt. Oliver, the Borough, before sliding back to my car. Here are a couple of pictures of the frozen people out that day.

RATS #00367 – Fairywood

Route of RATS #00367
Route of RATS #00367

Here’s the run you all have been waiting for.

“Fairywood? Is that real? Where is that? I’ve lived in Pittsburgh all my life and have never heard of it!”

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Fairywood.”

The large, now abandoned site of Broadhead Manor looks pretty sunny in this 1945 pic on the Historic Pittsburgh site. But, things change and this 2016 blog post by Pittsburgh Orbit captures the modern Fairywood very well. Now, four and a half years later, that blog post still applies. I started my run from Ingram, a bordering neighborhood. The weather had continued to improve and it was Super Bowl Sunday, 2021. Climbing out of the Ingram Bowl, I contended with a set of steps along Creston Street then continued along West Prospect Avenue as it left Ingram and dropped into Fairywood.

Fairywood was quiet and mostly flat. There are a couple of small subdivisions and a a few abandoned properties, notably Broadhead Manor and less well known, a distribution center off of Broadhead Fording Road.

But distribution is the big business around here. In spite of this impressive driveway and gate, apparently this is NOT an actual entrance. You get here by going through the OK Grocery Gate on the other side. Over there, dozens of tractor trailers line up to pick-up and deliver. That area is not built for people, only trucks. Just down Industrial Highway is an Amazon Distribution Center and a ModCloth warehouse.

I was hesitant about running down Industrial Highway. However the alternative was just to retrace my steps or to try out the no-sidewalk, no shoulder Windgap Road. So, I put on some speed and quickly ran on the Industrial Highway shoulder. With only two cars in five minutes, it turned out to be pretty safe.

Summary

So, that was it for the first week of February, 2021. With inclement weather (read extreme cold and ice) on the way, I only ran a couple of times in the next few weeks. Which, my friends, will be the subject of the next blog.

Ridgemont and Westwood

Three of my runs in January completed 99% of the streets in Westwood and Ridgemont. These two western neighborhoods perch atop hillsides on either side of Greentree Road. I’ve run extensively in Westwood, but Ridgemont was a whole new area.

https://www.strava.com/activities/4649360974
RATS #00358 Westwood

Run #00358 in Westwood was a “just get out there and do it” run. My intention was to complete Rydal Street and a couple of neighboring streets. In the darkness, I missed Sedley Way, but was otherwise successful. Nothing beats snowy steps at night!

https://www.strava.com/activities/4702189987
RATS #00362 – Ridgemont

Continuing with the evening running, my next run took me behind the Giant Eagle in the former Parkway Center Mall. Merely minutes outside the Fort Pitt Tunnels, Parkway Center Mall is torn down. Shadowy parking lots with feeble fences lead toward the bright Giant Eagle. The ubiquitous asphalt undulates, as if the land itself is trying to throw off the abomination of acres of paving.

I took a quick shaky selfie and headed on down Greentree Road and up Hamburg Street. The blue ice filter captured the temps appropriately. This, I must say, is the first the skull-decorated, smoking-moon outhouse I’ve found. I stayed on the hilltops, where the sun’s light lingered until the dazzling city lights came out.

It was a short, exploratory run in a new neighborhood.

https://www.strava.com/activities/4707540599
RATS #00363 – Ridgemont and Westwood

RATS #00363, a daytime run, pretty much completed the last two runs. I finished up lower sections of Ridgemont and in the end, even covered Sedley Way in Westwood.

With the knowledge from the previous run, I started right into Ridgemont along Springfield Street. This time, though, I made my way down New York Street to the dead-ends of Junius and Journal Streets. On the map they look like fork tines sticking into the hillside.

In real life, Junius and Journal are narrow streets clinging to the steep hill. A set of derelict steps gave me access to Journal without backtracking too much. On the farther side of Journal, the steps, now truly overgrown, fall off the hill. According to maps, they look like they go down to a railroad track. I’m not sure if they originally went further, for there’s a set of steps off of China Street below which look like they should meet. It’s all a rather moot point, though, because the steps are in bad shape and go nowhere. In the bottom picture, you can barely make out the steps and a few green rail posts still standing.

Just as a footnote, Junius continues on the map to Greentree Road. However, from the Ridgemont side, Junius ends in a veritable graveyard of cars in front of a narrow house. Journal Street, has a renovated house on the end, but also has ruins of houses along its course.

With Junius and Journal out of the way, I went to find the other side of Junius, off of Greentree Road. Junius does go up a bit, but Verna, a smaller road, is just blocked off from the street. While the bareness of winter allowed me to see everything, there’s not much to see. Steps, all twelve of them, took me from Ridgemont to Greentree. This rusty truck is hidden away at the end of an office park.

Now I explored the higher side of Westwood. Like Ridgemont, it has sweeping views. I daresay I can see the smokestacks from the Cheswick Power Plant! That’s about 14 miles away, as the indefatigable crow flies. I’m pretty sure that blue water tower on stilts is in the Upper Hill. That’s closer, only five miles away.

After such heights, I returned to lower Westwood; once again made my way up Milnor steps and finally ran Sedley Way.

Finally making my way back towards my car, I had to wait for a moment to cross Warriors Road. Looking down, I noticed gravestones at my feet. I think they must have originally been in Mt. Pisgah’s graveyard, across the street. Usually roads aren’t built across cemeteries. The picture below is a composite picture of two of the graves I saw.

With these three runs, I’ve covered most of Westwood and Ridgemont. I know there are a couple of alley’s I’ve missed, so one day I’ll be back.

Sunset on California

https://www.strava.com/activities/4621577990
RATS #00355

This was a very targeted run after work in mid-January. I started out in Brighton Heights and worked my way down to Ireland Way in Marshall-Shadeland. My first street was Lee Street, which took me past an old-folks home. It also bordered some sort of day-care and ended in the City Growers Community Garden. After a bit of ducking in and out of those streets, I found my way to Kalorama Way. Kalorama Way is a rather long alley and is broken into at least three parts. This part took me past the schoolyard of Morrow Elementary, with its towering smokestack.

This area has a mix of houses and apartment buildings. I liked the archways and balconies of this one on Fleming Avenue. In spite of the dense urban feel of Brighton Heights, there’s always an alley that takes you back to the countryside. I’m wary of such back-alleys, worried that I might trespass on someone’s property, and worried that they’ll take exception to it. Look what happened to the last trespassers here!

Nature is always at work. In a few more years, the straggly vines will cover that shed. Add a couple more years and the shed will be gone. I had already done the Rankin Steps, but they were a great shortcut to the third section of Kalorama Way. They also point to the amazing ups and downs of Pittsburgh. This house, with it’s high turret on a high hill likely has a better view even than I did of the Alcosan Plant far below. Everyone wants a view of the Alcosan plant, right?

Richardson Avenue and its side-streets dumped me out onto California Avenue. From that high bridge over Eckert Street, I caught the setting sun and then made my way down California to Halsey Place, not far from Marshall Avenue.

On the return trip, I scouted out Ireland Way and its two sections of steps. One, along the street, is just overgrown and crumbling. The other, shown on Google Maps as “Pickle Way”, is wildly overgrown and disintegrating. It doesn’t go very far until nature takes over. Hey Red Shed, see what’s in store for you?!

Further on, there was a set of steps which had eluded me on earlier runs. Supposedly, it ran from Toberg Street to Woodland Avenue. Aided by careful pre-run sleuthing, I finally found it. It was masquerading in plan sight as a side-yard. I went up to them, but those wooden steps were completely overgrown.

Side-yard Steps
Steps to Toberg

With this little mystery uncovered, I ran back to my car as the dusk turned into night.

Sandcastle And Beyond!

https://www.strava.com/activities/4600869666
RATS #00353 in Glenwood, and Glen Hazel

Water slides in winter are silent reminders of summer. Sandcastle, on the edge of the Mon, is a bubbling madhouse on hot August days, where lines of sparkling wet bodies, lathered with sunscreen, wait to speedily spill down the slides. Now, running past in early January, not a soul was to be found. Like Kennywood, an amusement park a few miles upriver, Sandcastle reminds me how work and play are so closely intertwined here, with an active railroad, a biking path and a water park within fifty yards of each other.

At the far end of Sandcastle is the Glenwood Bridge. I’ve never run across that bridge and wasn’t sure how to make it to the sidewalk across. It’s a large bridge, with ample room for floods. (Sandcastle, on the other hand, periodically gets flooded.) Fortunately, I came across several staircases which got me to the bridge. I’m thankful that the designers of these roads took pedestrians into account.

Once past Sandcastle, metal recycling facilities dominate the scene, a far cry from the steel factories which once were here. The Glenwood Bridge crosses the Mon and is a major roadway for South Hills commuters. On the far side of the bridge is Glenwood. Prior to poring over maps of Pittsburgh, I would have called that area “Hazelwood”. It is actually Glenwood, Glen Hazel and Hazelwood. Some do consider it “Greater Hazelwood” and it is encouraging to see community involvement as a part of recent urban planning. For a PDF of their recent neighborhood plan, click HERE.

I’ve recently done many runs in Glenwood and its companion, Hazelwood. With this run, I pretty much have completed the area. It has stunning views of the Mon Valley and a mix of houses, from hard-knock alleys to large houses wrapped with porches. Recently a fire gutted this house on Cust Street. The adjoining house was also damaged by the heat. It is likely that this house will just sit here for years, slowly falling apart.

Of course, there are stairs. Cust Street steps take you from Second Avenue all the way up the hill on two flights. Off the second flight are orphan houses – houses which front the steps and do not have direct road access. The Sunnyside steps take you from Glenwood Avenue up to Sunnyside Avenue. Further on, tiny Steelview Avenue steps took me down to Brownsville Road right above the Homestead Highland Bridge.

Finishing up in Glenwood, I made my way through Glen Hazel to the Homestead Highland Bridge. Glen Hazel’s Kane Living Center is a senior care home and had scary Covid numbers this past year. Generally, Glen Hazel has newer houses than Glenwood and Hazelwood, probably built in the 1960’s or 70’s and is largely subsidized, I believe. However, there’s lots of unused land and a few blocked-off streets. It seems typical for publicly owned land in Pittsburgh for housing – it’s mainly vacant (see also Arlington Heights and Saint Clair). Nonetheless, changes are in the works here as developers start work on the area. What will they build? I don’t think anybody knows.

At any rate, in times past there was a set of steps from Johnston Avenue to Broadview Street. Right now, they are hidden behind a bus stop and blocked off by debris. However, I found them. As they are built into the hillside, rather than soaring above it, I was willing to go up them.

Looking down from the top, I noticed the tops of the handrail posts were shimmering with light. At first I thought someone had put crushed beer cans on top of the posts, or someone had put LED lights there. The real reason was much cooler. These were ice caps. The recent snows and fluctuations of temperature left little hockey-pucks of ice in the slightly recessed pipe-ends. These icy pucks caught the fading sunlight and shone like beacons.

Ice cap shimmering
Ice cap shimmering

After this off-road and otherworldly experience, I made my way to the Homestead High Level Bridge. Formerly the site of Homestead Steel Works, it is now a shopping center.

There are still a few reminders of the days when 10,000 workers crossed the bridges and worked in mills, like these smokestacks.

Smokestacks

December 2020 Catch-Up

Summary

December 2020 wasn’t too bad in the running sense. Early on, I had missed some days due to quarantining for Covid, but I finished strong and had some long, street eating runs late in the month. The mileage, 79, wasn’t great, but with 8,878 feet of elevation, I once again, gained over 100 feet of elevation per mile. More importantly, for this project, 13 of 15 runs covered new streets and I’ve 99% covered East Hills, completely finished Arlington and continue to make significant progress in Hazelwood, Glenwood, Woods Run, and Brighton Heights neighborhoods.

Without further ado, here are the four remaining runs of December.

RATS #00344

https://www.strava.com/activities/4505906772
RATS #00344 Saint Clair and the Pittsburgh Neighborhood of Mt. Oliver

Down Mountain Avenue from Arlington lie two mostly forgotten neighborhoods. On the right is the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Mt. Oliver, not to be confused with the Borough of Mt. Oliver, which is adjacent. On the left is the neighborhood of Saint Clair.

Before getting to either of those, I ran down Parkwood Road. From the maps, I understood it to be one of these Pittsburgh roads which fade into the wilderness, probably for landslide reasons. It did become smaller and smaller, and finally was blocked by jersey barriers. However, there was much more traffic than I expected with large dump trucks, a UHaul driver and at least one Lyft ride roaring by.

Moving up to Mt. Oliver, on the other side of Mountain Avenue, I straddled the border between Pittsburgh and Mt. Oliver (the Borough) along Otilla Street. The houses were mainly on the larger size, typical Pittsburgh four-squares. I was surprised at the number of staircases. My favorite was the Como Street steps, between St. Joseph Street and Ormsby Street. It wasn’t on my map at all. The little set from Otilla to Gorgas were also a nice short-cut.

On the other side of Mountain Avenue, Ormsby Street dies off, but not before serious “No Trespassing” and “Private” signs were displayed. Reminds me a lot of the streets on the other side of the ravine, where I had seen similar signs.

St. Clair still has a few streets and houses. However, the large housing development known as St. Clair Village, has been torn down and mostly fenced off. St. Clair Village, was perched on a plateau is isolated from the rest of Pittsburgh by steep ravines on three sides. Unsurprisingly, this site was chosen for housing projects. Regardless of the reason, lots of people lived here, until the housing authority decided to close it down, in 2009. Here’s an article which gives some insight into Saint Clair as well as a blog by Ninetyhoods.

These days part of it is dedicated to urban farming. I have mixed feelings on this. I love gardening, plants and nature and understand that lack of accessibility to healthy food is a large issue. However, sustenance farming is not a ladder to wealth. Education, home ownership and skills applicable to today’s economy are. With its focus on building farming skills and partnering with local schools, perhaps Urban Hilltop Farm will have a outsized impact. I still wonder where the residents moved and whether this large tract of level land in the city could be put to a better use. Finally, this neighborhood has still more stairs, at least one Little Library and lingering decorations.

RATS #00345

https://www.strava.com/activities/4513239274
RATS #00345

On a rainy Christmas Eve, I decided to finish out the East Hills. I nearly did it, too, just missing the end of Angora Way. On Strava, there’s a ghost street, Roth Way. After my run, I looked at my route and was deflated to see I had completely missed that alley. Taking a closer look with streetview and satellite pictures shows that the alley doesn’t really exist after all. Grr!

Anyway, there were the normal yard decorations, as well as a REAL snowman who has been melting away. Perhaps the highlight of the run was seeing a group of wild turkeys. They were very clever. As soon as they saw me, they angled away, keeping bushes between me and them. They are large birds. Each one was about twice the size of a house cat.

Toward the end of this half-marathon distance, I came upon another border between Pittsburgh and Wilkinsburg. Ridiculously enough, the roads changed names as they crossed the border. At least each municipality thought it was important enough to put up their own street signs.

border between Wilkinsburg and Pittsburgh
Wilkinsburg, Pittsburgh border

RATS #00346

https://www.strava.com/activities/4526875256
RATS #00346 in Glenwood

Turning my attention to Hazelwood’s southern neighbor, Glenwood, I ran from Hazelwood Green to the Glenwood Bridge. It was a cold Sunday afternoon, a couple days after Christmas. Most of the run was on flat streets between Second Avenue and the Monongahela River. Glenwood Railyard spreads out down there. Dyke Avenue is shockingly close to the live tracks, with houses being no more than 50 yards from railcars.

Continuing the theme, I made it to the entrance to the yards. It remineded me a bit of Thomas the Tank Engine, a show my kids loved. For those unfamiliar with Pittsburgh, it is worth noting that surrounding hills are across a river from here.

From here, I climbed the hills a little, making my way back to the car.

RATS #00347 – Downtown

After all these far-flung adventures, I realized I still had streets and alleys Downtown to do. Garmin doesn’t do too well among the downtown buildings, so it looks like I had had too much holiday cheer. It was another run in rain, this time in darkness as well. Not one to take post-card shots, here you’ll see some of the darker areas of town.

https://www.strava.com/activities/4541744978
RATS #00347 – Downtown

I parked near Firstside Park. A couple years ago (just kidding, it was over 20 years ago), I remember seeing the B&O Railway Terminal being dismantled. The hot white flash of cutting torches blazing through the steel beams flashed like sparkling stars even at midday. That demolition was soon replaced by Firstside, which, I understand, houses much of PNC’s computer systems.

Literally overshadowing the end of First Avenue is the Liberty Bridge. The maze of steel beams throws a spidery shadow on the barron slopes below. Not far away, Fourth Avenue ends under the approach ramps to the bridge, providing parking, restricted as it is.

Continuing deeper into Downtown, I was dismayed to find that Strawberry Way was blocked by construction equipment. That threw me off my planned route a bit. Nonetheless, I made my way over towards the Convention Center.

There’s is still some holiday cheer down there, from stars shining on tall buildings to bubbles of “Covid safe” outdoor dining. I’m not sure how safe enclosed outdoor dining is, but I got to hand it to the restaurants being creative and trying to stay afloat. Youth cannot be denied and under the Garrison Place lights a couple was frolicking, even in the rain.

Three December Runs

I had a pretty good December this year. So good, in fact, that I’m STILL blogging about it, a week into the new year! I had many significant runs towards the end of the month, so that whole “catch-up” thing will have to wait. My running tends to be done when the opportunity arrives, while my writing is more of a record than an instantaneous news feed.

RATS #00337

RATS #00337

It was a dark and stormy night…

Actually, it wasn’t stormy, just cold. I’m pretty comfortable running through the alleys of the Strip District and Lawrenceville at night. While they look creepy, they are typically deserted. Darkness and narrow streets are harmless without people. OK, upon recent news (fork-lift getting caught in a sinkhole), I guess I should be more worried about sinkholes. Those would, indeed, be a problem in the dark.

This run covered some alleys and streets I had missed in my previous jaunts. Outside of the quickly gentrifying areas marked by condos and bars, old Lawrenceville still exists. It’s an area of warehouses filled with products that people need. Above is a picture of A.R. Chambers, a construction supply company. There are tire stores, wholesale food warehouses and many more. The wide streets and flat land are rare in Pittsburgh and are perfect for these businesses.

RATS #00342 – With South Park Trail Runners:

Filthy Five Plus One Minus One

Filthy Five with SPTR
Filthy Five with SPTR – RATS #00342

The South Park Trail Runners is a local, down to earth, trail running group in Pittsburgh. Friendly and energetic, they run all over the area. For this day, they, meaning Suzanne, organized a run on the “Filthy Five” course – five of the steepest and toughest hills in Pittsburgh. Actually one of them was in Wilkinsburg, but it was really, really close to being in Pittsburgh.

At any rate, I joined this lively group of runners as we made our way from Frick Park to the East Hills, where most of these hills were.

Most of these roads I had already done, but taking a detour on Cassina Way made it a RATS run. Narcissus used to have a better place, I think; more like that Point Breeze mansion.

As is often the case on group runs, I got separated from the pack. I had raced several runners up the wrong hill and then completed the street. By the time I got back, the other runners were off on their merry way, voices echoing across the empty, snowy East Hills landscape. Luckily one of the residents told me “those marathoners went down the hill”. I pulled out the phone, found the maps and navigated to Ferndale Street, Dornbush Street and then to Hill Street, now in Wilkinsburg.

At this point I had finished Hill Four, and made my way back my car in Frick Park. I had forgotten all about the Fifth Hill, in the park itself. Oh well, counting the wrong hill, I ended up with five hills after all.

Big snowfall still hanging around

RATS #00343 – Arlington

RATS #00343

The day after the Filthy Five Plus One Minus One, I embarked on an efficient RATS run in Arlington. I had carefully mapped out the route and was pretty happy how it turned out. I saw the Cathedral of Learning from the high hills, as well as Santa nestled between two cattywampus houses. Were they wishing for a level lot?

Arlington is on the “back-side” of the South Side Slopes. It undulates wildly, with streets dead-ending at a steep ravine. It has it’s share of steps. The Dengler Steps are set back from the street and, it was only after seeing the boat that I thought, “there MUST be steps nearby”!

Speaking of dead-ends, I’m always disappointed when they are blocked off. However, I can read and don’t really want to see any dogs up close.