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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.

January 2021 Catch-Up

Summary

January 2021 was a good month for running, by and large. I got seventeen runs in covering new streets. The weather wasn’t too bad and I explored Ridgemont, nearly completed Westwood, as well as continued to make progress around the city, exploring its nooks and crannies. The only setback was a fall one evening resulting in a few scrapes and bruises, but more tragically, a crushed phone. It took me a few days to get back on track after that. Unfortunately, the pics from that run remain on the old phone, with its ruined screen.

RATS #00354 – Point Breeze

https://www.strava.com/activities/4617306198
RATS #00354

A short evening run with a surprising number of steps, RATS #00354 was a night run on the edge of Point Breeze and Squirrel Hill. Solidly dark, the pics are not great. Thank goodness for a strong flashlight.

As I did crop-circles among the cul-de-sacs in Point Breeze, my flashlight illuminated several little libraries.

And that was it, 4.35 miles done.

RATS #00357 – Downtown and the Hill

https://www.strava.com/activities/4637917031
RATS #00357

This was a pretty long Sunday run. I explored a few downtown alleys and then climbed into the Middle Hill. I was chipping away at the portions of the Hill I had not yet done and covered covered eight good miles when it was all said and done.

Trekking up to through the Hill Distrist is old hat now. Lower Hill has seen a good bit of renovations and is dense with townhomes. If you’ve read along, you’ll know that I’m pretty much done with the Upper Hill. That area has some sketchy parts, but also has a number of renovated houses and the pressure of Pitt pushing down onto it. The Middle Hill, in my estimation, is the worst of the three sections, but still with bright spots. It’s cliff high above the Allegheny is dotted with housing projects. Bedford Square is in much better condition than I expected. At the edge of the cliff are several viewing areas with benches. From one such overlook on Memory Lane, you can see out over the Strip District and down the Allegheny River.

The next cul-de-sac of housing, Somers Drive, is rather utilitarian. At the far end, steps flow up to housing at the end of Chauncy Drive. The UPMC building downtown rose ghost like from the trees.

Now in the middle of the Middle Hill, vacant lots and boarded up buildings dominate the scene. I did run through a rather nice area off of Bently. The street has a nice curve in it, so folks wishing to do a Strava heart art route often run it. Downtown buildings are usually visible, not so far away.

Shortly after Bently Drive, I made my way back downtown. A few more things caught my eye, like this mural and the restaurant which bills itself as Pittsburgh’s Chinatown.

Finally back to Cherry Way, I had to take a pic of the 100+ year old Smithfield Street Bridge.

Smithfield Street Bridge

RATS #00359 – Splat!

https://www.strava.com/activities/4659644088
RATS #00359

Running down Bigelow Boulevard in the dark along a narrow sidewalk, I got some GREAT pictures of the downtown skylights. Unfortunately, they are locked in a cracked phone. For, as I turned away from the Sixth Street ramp, deeming it too dangerous, I tripped and fell flat on my face. My gloves and tights were torn while my hand and chin throbbed. However, there was nothing to be done but to keep moving. So, I did a slow jog and walk for the two miles back to my car. Damn that dry, empty sidewalk!!

RATS #00360 – Spring Hill and City View

https://www.strava.com/activities/4676034699
RATS #00360 in Springhill, Spring Garden and Cityview

After the run-in with the dry sidewalk, I took three days off. I must admit, I’m writing this a month later. It seemed like a cold day, and the Strava data claims it was 24 degrees with an 18 degree wind-chill. That sounds right. Nonetheless, before heading out, I verified that the streets would be wet and the route hilly. No flat, dry sidewalks to trip me up THIS day!

My target area was a squiggley section of Springhill, Cityview and Spring Garden off of East Street. A few months ago, I had come down a closed Gershon Street in the dusk and this was in the same area. It was going to be interesting to see it in daylight. My exploring friend, “Maggie Ess”, is walking all of Pittsburgh (see her blog here) and was in this exact neighborhood the day of my Splat event. I should have run here instead, perhaps? I have to say, between Maggie, Laura, Sherpes Hasher, Alyssa and me, we’ll have Pittsburgh thoroughly documented and vivisected in no time. Then, in ten years, someone will have to do it again to see what has changed.

Anyhoo, I parked over in a public lot near Allegheny City Brewery and trotted over I-279 on my favorite pedestrian walkway, Gerst Way. A short leg along East Street took me to Mt Royal Avenue where a large church building, St. Boniface, claims a swath of flat land. I had thought it semi-abandoned, but a little research shows that it is actually part of Christ Our Savior Parish. Besides the historic nature of the building, the current parish is interesting. Monthly, there’s a Mass in Vietnamese. I didn’t realize Pittsburgh had that large of a Vietnamese population. Many years ago, in a city far away, I visited the church of my baptism and got there early for 10 AM Mass. I patiently waited as the crowded church finished up the Rosary in a foreign language. I naively thought that, once Mass began, it would be in English. I was wrong. It was entirely in Vietnamese. But Mass is Mass and I could follow along.

St. Boniface Church Building
St. Boniface Church

But today, I wasn’t there for Mass. I was there to run streets and explore. Just past St. Boniface was a set of steps on the right. They were blocked off from the bottom, but not seriously. I ventured up them till the treads were largely missing.

Next on the explorers’ bingo card was Bly Street. This little dead-end shoots straight up the hill from Mt. Royal. It quickly ends in the hillside, and comes with those ever popular sidewalk steps.

Squiggling down at from the top of Mt. Royal is Luella Street. Below is a screen-shot of a map I found of Luella in Pitt’s archive. That’s a great resource.

The bottom of Luella intersects Gershon, which is sliding off the hill. Steps conveniently take you up into the neighborhood again.

An abandoned house sits at the end of Heim. It still has a chandelier-ceiling fan combo and skylights, but broken windows and shifting ground has doomed this one.

Further on, a step-alleyway bisects the little rectangular neighborhood.

Now that I’d climbed high on the street and steps, I was rewarded with wide-open spaces and sweeping views.

I spent a good bit of time wandering in and out these roads. Some became private roads before the end. Some took me up to a radio tower.

With this, I headed back to Allegheny City Brewery. In pre-Covid times, I would have stopped and had a beer, but not today.

RATS #00361 – Banksville

A short night run in the Banksville area. It is very suburban. Between that and the darkness, I didn’t have many pictures.

https://www.strava.com/activities/4687028631
RATS #00361

I started in Banksville Park and wound my way along the dark suburban streets. I had to pop out onto Greentree Road for a bit, where the ACE is located.

RATS #00364 – East Liberty & Homewood

https://www.strava.com/activities/4713197236
RATS #00364

Another Sunday morning run, this time in East Liberty. Passing East End Brewery was probably the most interesting thing that happened.

Much of the run was along streets dead-ending into the tracks along the East Busway.

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.

Snowy Run from a Month Gone By

(January to be exact)

https://www.strava.com/activities/4632494430
Route of run #00356

Once again, I’m reaching back into last month’s runs. There were so many of them! Several of my posts delightedly spoke of ice-free streets and sunny days. This day, however, looked more like January. The wind was howling, the snow was blowing, the skies were gray. (Much like today, the February day I’m writing this.)

At any rate, I ran in the Corliss section of Sheraden; a sub-neighborhood, if you will. This is roughly between Chartiers Avenue and Middletown Road. Chartiers Avenue is rather urban. Middletown Road, on the other hand, has a wide-open, suburban feel. Like tectonic plates colliding, these two visions collide in Corliss, yielding steep streets and tortured steps; a land of broken steps.

Getting started right off the bat, I noticed these steps for “Jenkins Street”. I was surprised because Jenkins Street did not appear on my map. Turns out, Jenkins hasn’t been a real street for decades. Most of the “lots” along that papery street are owned by the City of Pittsburgh. I took a screenshot of the Allegheny County Real Estate Portal and added the red arrows where Jenkins is supposed to be. The steps there are in surprisingly good shape and the street sign for this nonexistent street is top-notch.

Moving on, I crossed Middletown and slogged up a long alley. The recent snowfall made everything more picturesque. It went all the way to Chartiers Avenue, where you can see the West End houses rising high towards the overlook.

This high-side of Chartiers has many nooks and crannies. Tybee Steps look pretty official, but when you get to the other side, you’re trekking on a grassy slope between houses. Those steps with the nice white picket fence could be part of Newcomer Street, or they could just be a poorly maintained walkway to someone’s house. Newcomer Street is another street destined to exist only on paper. The one section is a little used section off of Emporia. The other section is now a personal driveway, all fifty yards of it.

While most of my pics are of steps here, there are a few houses. These two, in particular, struck me. The 1920’s red brick house, in particular, is very impressive. That balcony! That wrap-around porch! The octagonal tower! The creamy yellow house is more modest, but is a bright spot on a dead end below Fadette Street.

Speaking of Fadette, Fadette is split into several sections and shape-shifts into stairs for a bit. Unfortunately, the Fadette Steps are tattered and torn. I’m always critical of closed stairs. Are they closed for reason, or just because someone got annoyed with them? These are closed for good reason with missing treads and wonky wooden handrails. Hopefully they will get repaired before nature reduces them to urban artifacts.

These broken steps seriously messed with my planned route. I had to detour along Faronia Street to get to the bottom. Along the way, I came across another impressive, and closed, set of steps; Jeffers Steps. I went up a bit, but could not make it to the top in the swirling snow. Later, Fire Way, above, afforded me the view of the top. It was getting chilly and a fire didn’t sound bad.

I suppose there were enough steps to keep me warm. Pritchard Street and Mutual Street had step-assisted paths from Chartiers Avenue. There were steps down to Tuxedo Street, with its skate park, but they, too, were broken.

Pritchard Street

Not far from these last steps, I turned back toward my parking spot in Ingram, running back along Ladoga, continually looking for the other end of Jenkins Street.

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.