July 2020 Monthly Catch-Up

Summary

July 2020 has been rather a dud when it comes to running. I had the lowest miles since last November, at 64.1 miles and a very modest 5,528 feet in elevation. Knee problems were the most significant issue holding me back, though the heat didn’t help, either.

Nonetheless, nearly all my runs have covered new streets and I’ve made significant strides in filling in the map. I did some interesting runs in Perry Hilltop, North and South. I covered 95% of Oakwood and have continued exploring Beltzhoover, Allentown, Carrick, Brookline and Homewood. Pittsburgh City Paper also included me on their list of Instagram accounts to follow “when you miss exploring the city”.

One benefit of running less is that I’m nearly all caught up. In fact, there’s only one more run I need to tell you about.

RATS #00270 – Brookline Evening

Brookline – RATS #00270

This was a simple three miler in Brookline covering some a few blocks bordering Mount Lebanon. It was a late run, as the sun was setting. It is funny, I have become more cautious about running in alleys at night this summer. Of course, when it is the dead of winter, and its dark at 4:30 pm, I’m sure I’ll run them in the dark.

These were just residential streets. A hot evening, many folks were out on their porches and decks eating, drinking and chatting. The building below is at the end of Castlegate Avenue. It looked eerie and foreboding in the setting sun.

Onward to August!

And with that, I’m done with July 2020! I plan to run more in August, concentrating on Carrick and the other large swathes of south Pittsburgh which I’ve missed.

Ahh! Pittsburgh streets, you drive me CRAZY!

https://www.strava.com/activities/3798163893
RATS #00271

I had a good game plan going into this run. However, after spinning my shoes on some of those tiny, hilly streets, I got a bit disoriented and managed to run out of my way, covering more miles and fewer streets than I hoped. Oh, well, another Pittsburgh Bermuda Triangle!

Highlighted area of Perry South with many map mistakes
Bulk of run was just in this small area, dominated by steep hills and disconnected streets

Most of my effort was to cover the streets circled in red in the map above. The black marks indicate streets that don’t connect like the map implies. Last week’s run with George gave me an inkling the area would be hilly, but otherwise I didn’t know what to expect. Would it be a pleasant run in the park? Or a stressful run with snarling dogs?

I was pleasantly surprised at first. I turned onto East Marshall, took the next sharp left on Sonora and figured it would lead me down Pelham Street, a long dead-end. That’s what OpenStreetMap shows. That’s what Google Maps show. On an old Pittsburgh map, Pelham even intersects Perrysville Avenue. However, it is just not there anymore. The Allegheny County Real Estate page actually lists five parcels on Pelham. All are owned by the city and now Sonora Street just dead-ends into a funeral home.

Following East Marshall past the deceptively flat part, it plunges down a hill, ending high above I-279. Only overgrown bushes stop a basketball from bouncing all the way down. I imagine there’s a veritable treasure trove of balls captured by the devouring vines.

I made my way down Leroy Way. After it turned into Goshen Street, I found myself looking up a steep Kennedy Avenue slope. As I criss-crossed the streets, I found some very overgrown street steps along Daisey; the top of the Hawkins Street steps and a nice view from the top of Veterans Street. You can actually make out the Trimont Towers if you look closely. As the healthy crow flies, that’s over two miles away. A hot, thirsty crow might want to take a dip in the Ohio River along the way.

Coming off the steep hills there, I made my way to North Charles Street. Of course, nothing is simple and here, Maple Avenue crosses North Charles on a bridge.

Maple Street Crossing North Charles.
North Charles passing under Maple.

North Charles sweeps downhill, passing Fowler Park and Allegheny Cleanways; a great organization committed to cleaning up the region’s rivers. I think everyone should volunteer with them at least once. You may never use another plastic bottle again. I took a short detour and hit a little set of steps leading to Kenn Avenue and past its tiny little subdivision. What goes down must come up, so I trundled up Marshall Avenue slowly. It passes between two large cemeteries, Union Dale and Highwood.

Pushing past five miles, with a rock in my shoe and a hot sun on my head, I explored no more and returned to my starting point. It was a good run and now I’m THIS close to finishing this section of town!

Little Library and Big Steps in Hazelwood

RATS #00239 – Hazelwood and Glenwood

So, I’ll have to share a secret…. sometimes, just every once in a while, planning a run is a pain in the butt. I inevitably go down the “Oh, I can do THAT” mode of thought. Ten miles and a hundred turns in, the route looks awesome on my 32″ monitor. However, I’ve learned a thing or two along the way.

  • The first is that OpenStreetMap is not always 100% accurate in the fine details, small things like, “Do these streets intersect?
  • The second is that a logical rectangular grid in Pittsburgh means incredibly steep streets.
  • The third is that temporary obstacles, such as loose dogs, tree-trimming closures or police scenes, upset carefully laid plans.

Lastly, the longer I’m out there running, the less likely I am to remember where I need to turn, which is a direct consequence of the first and third things I’ve learned. Just use a route-funder, you say. Well, I have used the RunGo app several times. Once it is off course, you either have to turn it off or accept hearing “You are off-course” in a disapproving voice for the rest of the run.

Today’s run was meticulously laid out to cover a few small streets off of Tesla Street and the grid of streets east of Glenwood Avenue. In spite of its electrical name, Tesla Street looks rural. It is one of the steepest streets in Pittsburgh. Luckily, I was going down it this time.

There are a few small streets off of Tesla, which look like they were the beginnings of housing subdivisions that never quite took off. Nonetheless, they are lined with neat brick houses carefully maintained. Crossing Clarion Street, the last of those small streets, I descended Dido Way, a stairway, to Flowers. Once on Kilbourne, I spied the bottom section of the Eddington Street Steps. I know, from a previous jaunt, they are closed on top. They’re closed at the bottom, too, but I went up them a bit anyway. For awhile, the steps are decent, but then the jungle closes in and there’s no way to continue.

I did feel a little guilty clambering over the “Steps Closed” sign, while across the street small children chattered and played. I hoped they didn’t get any ideas from me.

At any rate, my plan was to go down Kilbourne and Odin then take an extensive flight of steps from Nordica Street to Steele Court. Alas, these steps are either very well hidden or gone. Checking Google Street view, they haven’t been visible for a number of years either. Perhaps on a cold winter’s day, when the foliage has died away, they would be visible. I must say that Odin has lost some of his thunder to only have such a small street named after him.

That left me on another powerful street, Ampere Street. Ampere Street abuts the Hazelwood Greenway. This large undeveloped tract is generally overgrown, but is home to several radio towers. The effect is that people have large yards which back into the woods. In spite of this, during this early evening run, there were more people out than I expected.

I wound my way to Steele Court. This would be the bottom of the expected steps. I did see several flights, but not the ones I was looking for. An aggressive dog barking between the porch railings on Steele Court didn’t encourage me to explore too closely.

This type of neighborhood specializes in micro-decoration. No HOA here, with rules about paint color and height of grass. Here, there are vistas of lawn ornaments, Steeler flags, and other personalizations. High on Glenwood Avenue, a blocky school building sports an avant garde sparrow clutching an iron gear. Perhaps it is a jayhawk, but it looks like a sparrow to me.

Finishing the whole of Glenwood Avenue, I noted a few stairs rising off of it, but figured I would save them for a later run. There’s no easy way back, so I picked my way to closed Nansen Street in Owl Hollow. Nonetheless, they have a nice little library at the bottom, emblazoned with their owl emblem.

Nansen Street is slipping off the hill, sidewalk steps first. Below are pics of the bottom, middle and top sections of those sidewalk steps.

Nansen Street Steps – bottom, middle and top, left to right

Nansen Street is so steep that I was happy to get to the more gradual Hazelwood Avenue and jog back to my car.

Slip sliding away

RATS #00219

This was an interesting and surprising run in the Riverview Park area. According to Google maps, it was partially in Perry North and partially in Brighton Heights. After you see the pictures, though, you might think I teleported to West Virginia too.

Large houses along Perrysville Avenue
Perry North Neighborhood is characterized by very large houses

From a favorite parking spot on the entrance to Riverview Park, I traipsed over to a small subdivision near Perry Traditional Academy bounded by Semicir Street. Those city planners were clever… Guess what shape “Semicir Street” makes? However, the house builders weren’t so clever it seems.

Collapsed House

That’s not actually fair, I suppose, but seeing this collapsed house was shocking. Upon further research, it seems the rains of 2019 weakened the foundation. The residents were forced to move out and shortly after, the house slipped into the ravine. This happened about a year ago and the slope apparently hasn’t stabilized enough to remove the debris. Either that, or it is low on the priority list.

SemiCir Street is rather narrow, but finishes its short span as a driveway between two buildings of Perry Traditional Academy. On the other side of the Academy, Hemphill Street’s cobblestones crest a steep hill.

I finished this little warren of streets and moved on to the next section. This took me past the high school and down Mairdale Avenue. A few weeks ago, I ran down here, past the high school’s football field and noticed houses high on the right. Today I was exploring that neighborhood.

If hill repeats are your game, go to Portman Avenue. It’s not long, but damn it’s steep. The houses are a hybrid between the ostentatious mansions on Perrysville Avenue houses and the tall, narrow structures you see in Spring Garden. I followed Portman back to Perrysville Avenue then started down Vinceton Street, where the corner store is festooned with bold, colorful murals.

Now things began to diverge from the urban setting I was expecting. Menlo Street, the featured image, looks more like a Virginia horse farm lane rather than an inner city street. I made the next left onto Dornestic Street (that’s right “Dornestic” not “Domestic“). That street became a winding lane along the hillside, with houses haphazardly spaced here and there. The right onto Stolz Street completed the transformation with ponies grazing behind a fence.

Ponies
Ponies!

Jogging along in West Virginia now, I was jolted back to Pittsburgh by stairs which led me down to Oakdale Street, where the ravine widens up to a pleasant glade surrounded by towering oak trees.

At this point, I clambered back up the hill, took note of the streets and stairs I had missed and ran back to my car. This four mile run had transported me from turn of the century mansions to a collapsed house to a pasture. Where would I go next?

Criss-Crossing the Hill

RATS #00217 – Hill District

Recently I have been traveling to different areas of Pittsburgh to find new streets and run them. Today’s run was closer to home, in the Hill District. The Hill District has several long parallel streets which roughly go from the hilltop above the University of Pittsburgh to Downtown Pittsburgh. These streets, Bedford, Webster, Wylie and Centre are the main thoroughfares which people take through the Hill District and I’ve already run them. Today’s run was about the smaller streets crisscrossing those major roads.

I had parked in West Oakland, so from this perspective, the small streets begin at a low elevation along Centre and rise to the cliffs off of Bedford Avenue. This is properly called the Middle Hill. Over the years, many of the structures in this area have been torn down, so now, there are plenty wide open grassy blocks.

I started with Junilla Street Steps, which come off of Centre Avenue. It continues, sometimes as a street and sometimes as steps, all the way to Bedford Avenue. Along one stretch of Junilla Street, I saw a few turkeys and heard their gobbles. Groundhogs were freely roaming in the vacant lots.

Morgan Street starts rather wide-open and then closes in as you reach Elba Street. From previous adventures, I call the flight of steps from Morgan to Centre the “Who’s You!” steps.

Briefly put, I had been accompanying a friend along these steps when she decided to go down to Centre Avenue to take pics. For some reason (perhaps because I had run a long way), I just hung out on the sidewalk in front of the porch in my black hoodie and woolen Army beanie. Turns out, a tall dude in a black hoodie and a woolen Army beanie hanging out in front of your porch in the Hill District can be a concern. After a few minutes, I heard some shouting. From the street above, a big black guy in a brown jacket was yelling:

“Who’s You? Who’s You?”

I had just realized he was yelling at me when my companion sprightly sprang up the steps, gave some big smiles and whisked me away. Whew! Even now I muse, “What was the proper response?… I am me?”

But I digress.

Francis Street was interesting. Starting from Centre, it is a rather broad avenue heading up the hill. Then, as I crossed Wylie Avenue, it became a cul-de-sac of newer, rather suburban housing. I did the big circle and went out the way I had come. Later, as I started down Francis Street from the other direction I spied some steps, took them, and again landed in the suburban cul-de-sac. Surprise, surprise.

Coming down the Watt Street steps provided a nice view of Christian Tabernacle Church. I gradually made my way towards the Upper Hill, aka Sugar Top, where the big blue water tower lives. I finished off Milwaukee Street and a few little streets before heading down Herron Avenue and headed back to my car. No one shouting at me today. Thank goodness for social distancing.

Wells of Steps

https://www.strava.com/activities/3248165617
RATS #00212 – Duquesne Heights

This was a few miles around Duquesne Heights – the stepchild of Mount Washington. While my main purpose was to completely traverse Well Street, I made it from the great views of Grandview Avenue to the industrial bottom of Shaler Street.

I started out on Grandview Avenue. The view never gets old, especially on a clear sunny evening.

The grid of streets below Grandview are lined with modest houses with small yards. The alleys here mainly give access to garages and garden gates. They are also ideal playgrounds. Nice to see hopscotch markings and some gratitude for the garbage workers, but watch out for crouching panthers.

Shaler Street is a back-way off of Mt. Washington. It falls steeply through the Duquense Heights greenway and emerges between the pink buildings of the Minnotte Manufacturing Company. I ran around the block before heading back up the hill.

Finally, I started on Well Street, my target. From Shaler Street, it jumps up, hill after hill, stair after stair, until it reaches Oneida Street.

Well Street steps – some of them at least

Completing Well Street, I made my way back to the car. Another cool run in a super hilly section of Pittsburgh.

Rainy Day in Sheraden

RATS #00208 – Sheraden

This run took me back to my first “RunalltheStreets” run, which started in Esplen and went up the hill to Brunot Avenue and Glasgow Street. Today I started on Allendale Circle. Allendale Circle is a newer development of townhouses. Just past the circle, the small streets and alleys are filled with typical Pittsburgh foursquares. Most everyone has at least a little yard and there are lots of dogs behind fences. The hillier area near Hammond Street and Narcissus Avenue features overlooks of the Ohio River and McKee’s Rocks Bridge.

In this last picture, the street falls away sharply. Notice the blue arches of the bridges in the center of the picture and the beginnings of a stairway on the right. That stairs takes you up Glasgow Street.

But not all stairs are as solid as the Glasgow Street Stairs. Off of Adon Street, which is actually blocked off to cars, there’s a significant set of stairs up to Fairdale St. They looked promising, but fall away unexpectedly.

There is a nice flight down to Sheraden Park, with a chalk square emblazoned between the raindrops.

The rain started again in earnest and I scooted back to my car, a little over six miles done.

Warning: Bridge Closed Ahead

https://www.strava.com/activities/3218505142
RATS #00206 – Termon Avenue and Brighton Heights
https://www.strava.com/activities/3236598779
RATS #00210 – Riverview Park to Gass Ave and back

Last Wednesday, I decided to run in Brighton Heights, centering on Termon Avenue and catching a few additional streets. Yesterday, I had very much the same thought about Riverview Park and its environs. Turns out that these were complementary adventures, each one reaching opposing piers of the former Davis Avenue Bridge. Both runs also traversed Woods Run Road and found pink houses along the way.

On a brilliant evening I started on Terman Avenue , which stretches from an Ohio River overlook to Brighton Heights Park. Overall, this was a great area for running with wide streets and a vibrant neighborhood. It was relatively flat for awhile, then ended in steps and ravines as often always happens in Pittsburgh. I went up Wapello Street stairs to Cornell Street and did Harvard Circle, which was a bit disappointing. Instead of a level green lawn with libraries and philosophers discussing the meaning of life, it was a narrow street ringed by modest houses enclosing a hill of wild trees.

Zig-zagging along Aqua Way, I hit another section of the Wapello Street Stairs, adorned with these Spring=like tree murals.

Going up and down the streets, I noticed a rather old detour sign saying the Davis Avenue Bridge was closed. Being who I am, I had to see just how closed it was. I was hoping for maybe a pedestrian path across a little bridge, or a sidewalk available next to some construction. In fact, the pier was substantial, but the bridge itself was gone. The Davis Avenue Bridge had been closed for YEARS, eleven to be exact.

Now, I’ll fast forward to yesterday’s run starting in Riverview Park. I parked along the grand promenade into the park. The apex of the park is Allegheny Observatory.

Running around and around the park roads eventually took me to Woods Run. Roughly my target was to go up Gass Street, and circle back around. Along the way, I got a call from work, so for a few confusing blocks, I was doing phone support for an ERP while finding my way around small streets and stairs above Woods Run Road. I suppose I could have just stopped.

Finally getting off the call, I found myself under Shadeland Avenue Bridge. I got an up-close look at the big church under the California Avenue Bridge. Apparently it is historic and seems to still have services. Unfortunately, it is a big building and in disrepair, so I hope that congregation can keep it maintained.

Finally, I found the Gass Avenue Steps, which lead to a very steep Gass Street, but high on the other side of Woods Run. I took the long way around and came back to Riverview Park via Bascom Avenue, passing Perry Traditional Academy.

So, it the neighborhoods in Northern Pittsburgh are divided by the great Woods Run chasm. The only bridge to span that ravine is gone and getting from one side to the other is quite the chore now.

elliot

RATS #00203 – Elliot and West End

A day after running around the city and taking every stair I could, I was ready for the flat lands; no hills, no steps, no views. I just wanted the horizon to disappear in front of me, an unreachable challenge. Then I woke up and remembered that I was living in Pittsburgh!

For today’s run, I decided to check out the neighborhood around West End Park. Last Fall, I had attended an outdoor fashion show in the West End, off of South Main Street on Sanctus Street. That area seemed flat and I figured this area would be similar, I mean how much can things change in a mile?

Turns out, a lot. I parked near West End Park and ran down Kerr Street. Immediately, I came upon a very impressive set of steps leading far down. Their siren’s song drew me in and shortly, I found myself at the bottom, looking way up. I would have to ascend that eventually, and for now, went up Walbridge Street.

This twisting, steep street has some remarkable houses perched on its edge. Branching off of Walbridge, several small streets transform you from an urban runner in Pittsburgh to a wandering soul in the back roads of West Virginia.

My run planning had just set general boundaries – don’t go past Steuban Street or Route 60; leaving the exact route up to life’s realities. So, I just went back and forth on small streets and alleys. As it was a nice Sunday morning, people were out and about. Many were working in their yards and houses. Others were walking their dogs.

I was surprised at a few things I found. First was the back street full of boats. Next was the amazing view of the Ohio River near the Casino. Then, there were some really large and beautiful houses up here.

Of course, there were more stairs. The Hassler St Stairs off of Wymore are marked on my OpenStreetsMaps but not on Google. Usually Google is more accurate. I’d have to check again, but I at first glance didn’t see them in Bob Regan’s book, either. Also of note are the Lorenz Avenue stairs, which start slowly, just one step every ten yards before plunging down the hillside like proper steps. Elbon Street was surprisingly long. At one section, it bordered on an artifact of urban redevelopment – former Mayor Tom Murphy’s “Project Picket Fence”.

All in all, this was a cool area to run in. On a sunny Sunday morning, it couldn’t have been better.

Climbing Crumbling Stairs

https://www.strava.com/activities/3186942297
RATS #00198

This sunny run took me from the flats of Upper Lawrenceville to the heights of Stanton Heights along several precarious paths. As the reality sets in of Covid-19 social distancing, it was solo run without any stops at cute little coffee shops. I mainly was focused on a couple of streets with staircases, 56th Street and 57th Street.

I warmed up on the flats between Butler Street and the Allegheny River. This area is seeing new residential development, but still hosts large warehouses such as A-1 Cold Storage, the impressive buildings of McKamish, a mechanical contractor and a Sunoco facility. As for Sunoco, it was founded in Pittsburgh, apparently:

Joseph Newton Pew and Edward O. Emerson were partners at Peoples Natural Gas Company in Pittsburgh, PA, when they decided to expand their gas business to oil. It proved to be a success. Within a few years, the oil company had acquired pipelines, leases and storage tanks – emerging as one of the area’s leading suppliers of crude oil. On March 17, 1890, they made it official with a new name. The Sun Oil Company was producing, transporting, and storing oil as well as refining, shipping, and marketing petroleum.

https://www.sunoco.com/about-us

Who knew?

Now warmed up, I began to tackle the first objective, the 57th Street stairs and a small set of streets perched mid-way on the hillside. The stairs begin where the paved 57th Street turns left and becomes Christopher Street. The first section is very solid. Getting a breather at Duncan Street, stairs continued, ostensibly to Camelia Street for an official total of 345 steps according to Bob Regan’s book.

I had done streets on the top earlier and knew there might be a “connection issue” but, from a distance, I saw an individual climbing the second set of stairs. They disappeared as I went up this next flight. After three or four houses on the right, the stairs became challenging. Treads were sometimes missing. Railings were sometimes missing. Hell, at points, even landings were missing. However, not all at once, so was able to I scrambled up. Near the top, vegetation took over and I could not proceed.

I did the little circuit of streets, Duncan, Wickliff, a section of 56th Street and made my way down to Butler Street. This time I would ascend the 56th Street Stairs from the bottom. Now, just as 56th Street turns into the Shop & Save parking lot, stairs rise majestically up the hill. I must say, they are “officially closed” here, but I slipped through. Same story as 57th Street Stairs – missing treads, missing landings, but actually passable for the nimble.

The first section was the only one which was closed. After that, they become street stairs along the section of 56th Street I had already done. There is another section which ascends to Celadine Street, all in good shape.

Once at the top, I did some streets in Stanton Height and made my way down Kendall Street – a very steep, cobblestone street which masquerades as a country road. That brought me out to Kent Street, taking me back to the flats.

Kendall Street