Living the Dream – Swisshelm Park on July 4th

Map of Swisshelm Park, a neighborhood in Pittsburgh
Swisshelm Park

Swisshelm Park is a border neighborhood in Pittsburgh. The naive pedestrian or driver could go down a road such as Nevada St or Whipple St and never know they had passed the boundary between Swissvale and Pittsburgh. There IS one tell-tale sign: the line in the street showing where one municipality’s road maintenance ends and the other one begins. If you tried to walk that line, you’d find yourself in the middle of backyards, front yards, sheds, kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms! Don’t walk that line.

Running all of Swisshelm Park: RATS 00082

So, on a hot Fourth of July I decided to run all the streets of Swisshelm Park in one blow. My rough calculation was that it would be about ten miles, and I was close. At any rate, I started by climbing Commercial Street, from beneath the Parkway East Bridge, where Frick Park spills toward Duck Hollow.

Once on the hilltop, the streets were pretty much level. The houses are modest two and three bedroom affairs; a few ranches, a few split levels, some larger houses. Most of the yards were a decent size with grassy lawns and maybe a tree or two. Home mechanics worked on their cars out of small garages lining the alleys. I could see tomato plants and zucchini bushes in gardens and the occasional backyard pool. Diligent homeowners were hosing down their sidewalks and watering their gardens.

Now, this is a convenient place. You can get downtown quickly as long as Commercial Street isn’t closed and you can get out to the eastern suburbs quickly as well. While too far to carry groceries, there are convenient stores along South Braddock Ave. You can attend Pittsburgh city schools, getting school bus transportation. Of all the streets I ran on, I don’t remember seeing any derelict houses, even at the end of the long dead-ends. In fact, some of the bigger yards and nicer houses were at the end of the dead-ends. With all these amenities, you’d expect a high-priced area, but its NOT.

My conclusion: These residents are living the American Dream. Life is never perfect, but this is a great neighborhood.

But, be forewarned, things may change. The owners of the land surrounding Duck Hollow, the same folks who built Summerset, have their eyes on developing housing along the woods and trails along Nine Mile Run. That would undoubtedly change the character of this neighborhood.

Also, I didn’t realize that Duck Hollow is considered to be part of Swisshelm Park. I thought that was its own neighborhood. Thus, I have a few more streets to run before REALLY completing Swisshelm Park.

Eleanor, Steady on the Steep

Strava Cadence – straight as the South Side Flats

Not a long run, Just take Eleanor Street up from Josephine Street. If there are stairs, take ’em. If the hill is epic, keep your arms and legs going. Even six inches a stride if you need. Whatever you do, don’t stop (unless its to take pictures). Watch yourself coming down, that’s almost worse than going up. One trip and it’s tumble-sault time.

The graph above is from Strava and shows the distance along the bottom axis, the elevation along the left axis and three squiggly lines. The blue and dark purple lines are my actual pace and my “gap” pace (which takes the grade into account). The nice flat magenta line is my “cadence”. It is remarkably steady, but makes sense, given that I was trying to keep an even effort. I daresay the two sharp dips in cadence just after 0.5 miles and at 1.5 miles were picture-taking opportunities.

Downtown Pittsburgh from Cobden St
Great view from Cobden St on the South Side Slopes
View of Oakland from Keibe Way
Oakland from Keibe Way in South Side Slopes

Running up these streets always takes my breath away, both literally and figuratively. Eleanor St is incredibly narrow and steep. Starting from Josephine St, the pavement only goes a block before it gives up and becomes stairs for a tenth of a mile. That might not seem like much distance, but it is 282 steps according to Mis.steps (see Trip#212). Not willing to hit the steps just yet, I veered off onto Leticoe St, only to suffer Barry St and Holt St before rejoining Eleanor on the upper side of the stairs. Unwittingly, I was taking on the Twelfth Hill in the Pittsburgh Dirty Dozen. You might think it is the last one, but Pittsburgh is generous that way, there are thirteen hills in the Dirty Dozen. But I digress. This area has houses of all sorts of sharp angles, clinging to the hills, with decks and porches high in the air looking out toward Oakland or downtown. Cobden St ends at an overlook, where I took a picture and exchanged greetings with a woman sitting on her rocking chair. I always expect people to ask what the hell I’m doing, but in this case, she said that lots of people come there to take pictures. Ha!

I traveled a bit into Arlington, running the rest of Eleanor Street. I returned to the South Side Flats via the Eleanor Street stairs. On the way down, I kept an eye out for stairs and streets not taken. I’ll be making another appointment with South Side Slope streets soon!

Eleanor St Route: RATS 00071

HPRC Tribute Run

Run through Highland Park and Stanton Heights: RATS 00069

I got out of my neighborhood for this run, starting in Highland Park. Ironically, I had skipped over an HPRC run which started a little earlier, but was from downtown. Highland Park is both a city park, but also a neighborhood. The history of each are intertwined. The park dominates the neighborhood and the park is dominated by the Highland Park Reservoir. It rests about ten or fifteen feet above the rest of the park. Surrounding the irregularly shaped reservoir are conformal streets and paths, with sections descending to lower curves. This is a major portion of the water system run by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. The history of the water system is fascinating. It takes vision, significant engineering and an ability to bring together fractious local politics to create and maintain public water systems. Clean water is also a bedrock of public health, relegating diseases like cholera and typhoid fever to the dim past in modern cities. The 125 million gallon Highland Park Reservoir #1 was put into service in 1879, 140 years ago, for those who are counting. In recent years, lead levels in the city water have become a major concern. PWSA has a number of projects ongoing to mitigate this problem, including installing pipes like those below.

Pipes for the next 100 years

While I was pretty quiet exiting the park on Stanton Avenue, I apparently scared the horses. I guess I was breathing harder than I thought! There are some nice tennis courts along Stanton Avenue, the street I would follow for much of the run.

Horses Guarding Highland Park Stanton Avenue Entrance

Highland Park is a large area. While the housing stock varies from garden apartment complexes to single family homes, there are not many small houses. Usually they are large brick affairs with three floors and decent sized yards. Many have been converted into apartments. The streets are largely tree-lined. There are broad, relatively flat areas surrounded by some big hills. For the size of the area, businesses are rare, being concentrated along Bryant Street and Negley Avenue.

At any rate, I ran down Stanton until I caught Chislett Street and exited Highland Park. I turned onto Black Street until it became Mossfield. I caught a few small streets off of North Aiken Avenue, too. I veered onto Schenley Avenue (nowhere near the park of the same name) and then to North Mathilda Street. This area was much hillier than Highland Park and the houses were not as impressive. There was surprising new construction but also older houses and the too-often seen ragged Pittsburgh row house. This neighborhood is Garfield and this was my first time running though it. My initial impression was that it was very green, hilly and a little empty. North Mathilda dumped my down onto Friendship Avenue. From there, I cruised past Children’s Hospital, into the narrow houses and steep streets of Lawrenceville. I followed 45th Street to Butler, then caught 43rd Street to it’s terminus at the Allegheny River. Is has a cool view, but is also the entrance to 43rd Street Concrete (which has an impressive operation going).

40th Street Bridge from the end of 43rd Street

Finally, I needed to turn back to the car. I made my way to the low end of Stanton and followed it (mostly) back to Highland Park. That’s quite a climb! This was a cool run, having covered many different areas of the city and taking me from one of the highest points in the area to river level.

the·od·o·lite

Strava map of route on Theodalite Way in Greenfield
Horizontal and Vertical Angles along Theodolite Way: RATS 00067

I’ll admit it, I just like the name, “the·od·o·lite”. I like the way it rolls off the tongue. I like the image of an explorer pulling out a theodolite to measure tracks of land in the jungle. Not sure if they did. The French Geodesic Mission, an expedition to measure the roundness of earth, used quadrants instead. Robert Whitaker wrote a fascinating book, “The Mapmaker’s Wife” about events surrounding that journey. These days, you’re more likely to see theodolites at roadway construction sites, as you crawl by in traffic. I do think they’re cool. Here’s more info about them if you’re curious.

But getting back to the run. Theodolite Way is a rather long alley in Greenfield which mirrors Greenfield Ave, only one short block away. Like many residential alleys in this area, Theodolite Way provides access to garages and a place for garbage cans. Like most of the streets in this area, Theodolite Way is hilly. There are two dead-end segments of Theodolite Way, separated only by fence and a flower garden. After traversing Theodolite Way along its length, I tried to cover as many Greenfield streets as possible; Montclair St, Lopez Way, Kish Way, Norfolk St, Millington Road. Slowly, but surely I’m traversing many routes in the warren of streets of hilly Greenfield.

Denniston, Hastings and Glen Arden

Strava map of run 00065 which was in Squirrel Hill and Point Breeze.
Strava map for route down Hastings in Squirrel Hill: RATS 00065

This run was all about finishing streets so familiar to me I should have done them already. I often cross Denniston or Hastings, but its rare that I actually run the length of these streets. Today was the day!

Denniston has a couple of disjoint segments, one in Squirrel Hill and one in Shadyside. Today I was concentrating on the one that goes nearly a mile from Darlington past Wilkins. This is a nice street in Squirrel Hill, tucked between Shady and Beechwood. The houses are mostly three or four bedrooms on small lots. Everything is well-kept, but kinda close. Denniston is “flat” by Squirrel Hill standards and straight. The street just stops in front of some houses. There is a tiny cul-de-sac, but a van might have a hard time turning around in it. Looking at the map, it’s possible that years ago Denniston went through to meet up with its Shadyside segment, but I that would take it through Mellon Park, and that has been around awhile. Squirrel Hill is rather interesting, being one of the later parcels of land developed in the Pittsburgh area. The Squirrel Hill Historical Society has a wealth of cool information.

Crossing Denniston is the little street, Hastings. If you’re zipping by on Shady Avenue, you might even miss it. My impression was that Hastings was a short little street which didn’t go anywhere. My impression, however, was wrong. Hastings goes from Shady to roughly the intersection of Penn Avenue and Fifth Avenue. Tree lined Tinsley Way and Light Way branch off of Hastings and provide backyard and garage access to the surrounding houses. Hastings itself continues past Point Brugge until flattening out and running into Fifth Avenue. It was fun and peaceful to run here.

Finishing off the run, I headed back toward South Dallas. However, I got a little mixed up and ended up on Glen Arden Drive. Whoa! Whereas Hastings and Denniston were comfy streets with mixed housing, the houses on Glen Arden were definitely more upscale. Instead of three and four bedroom houses, most of these houses looked to have five or six bedrooms. It was also tree-lined with large, mature oaks towering over the brick homes.

Easy Swirl through Squirrel Hill

Strava map of running route
Squirrel Hill RATS 00064

Good morning! Today’s run was an easy run through the swirling streets of Squirrel Hill. The streets here follow the contours of the hills which makes for a much flatter run than in Greenfield, where contours are ignored and the streets are stubbornly laid out in a grid.

This part of Squirrel Hill has a mix of housing. There are older, huge houses up on Beechwood Blvd, with something like 5 bedrooms, innumerable chimneys, driveways (and likely to have tiny closets). There are smaller, mid-50’s split level houses with three bedrooms. There are a few avant-gard houses, with sharp angles and glass. There’s even a super-insulated passive house on Fernwald Street; apparently one of only 80 such houses in the United States, according to the Trib. There are newer McMansions concentrated on Rosemont Lane, with nicely manicured lawns which are truly loved by deer. One night I witnessed three deer lightly leap across a hedge and feast on the flowers.

This morning, no deer, just a few people running and walking dogs. My running companion had grown up in the area and had a story for every street. “That’s where my best friend in 7th grade lived. This street is pretty much a driveway. We used to hang out there! No, not the HILL!” Lastly was the prudent “No further, you have a big race coming up!” It was so true, too. A 40 miler on Saturday for which I was significantly under-trained. So this pleasant, pre-work run came to an end. This was a very efficient three mile run, covering mostly new streets.

HPRC Coffee Run and the ways of Lawrenceville

Classic Railroad Trestle along the Allegheny River in Lawrenceville
With me scanning the horizon, or maybe reading graffiti. Photo by Dayana R.

This was a fun run organized by the HPRC. It was from Espresso a Mano on Butler Street. With Steel City Road Runners going through some re-organization, HPRC picked up a number of new runners that morning. It didn’t hurt to be from a popular coffee shop. I ran easy with no intention of doing huge miles or a lightning fast pace. Spoiler alert; I was successful on both counts.

I ran with the 9:30-10 mile/min pace group, pretty much the same people I run with on Wednesday. We crossed the 31st Street Bridge, did the loop around Washington’s landing and had a photo op on the Southwest corner of the island, from which you can see downtown. We came back on the 40th Street Bridge, which is emblazoned with coats of arms every twenty or thirty feet. All of this part of the run was a standard route. Then, coming back to Lawrenceville, the planned route diverged from the normal. Sasha and Dayana busily crisscrossed streets to snatch low-hanging mulberries. We passed by one of the remaining Busy Beaver stores in the area and headed back to Espresso a Mano. Dayana wanted a few more miles and I wanted to cover a few more streets, so we ran together.

Lawrenceville is a neighborhood along the Allegheny River. The area closer to the river is dominated by warehouses, railroad tracks and other artifacts of its manufacturing and distribution history. Many of these warehouses are still in use, either by older businesses (olive oil, construction supply, tires) or by newer industries (restaurant distributors, Uber testing, auto garages). As the streets rise in elevation, newer Lawrenceville emerges. This area has yoga studios, bars, coffee shops, and at least one candle making store. The residential housing is being transformed from tall narrow row houses to large condo complexes, with gleaming glass facades.

Dayana and I ran in the older, warehousing section. Even though we did another four miles, we didn’t go far. We ran alleys like Mulberry Way, and down long broad streets like 36th Street, which are heavily rutted and end at railroad trestles. We ran past the place where I interviewed to be an Uber Test Driver and the fenced area where they keep their fleet of self-driving vehicles. We ran up to the railroad trestle, rising fifteen feet above the road. Dayana was a good sport, taking pictures and insisting on completing even the smallest alley. We covered many new streets that day.

Afterwards, the group gathered in the coffee shop. Corbin insisted that we all sit together which was a nice touch and helped welcome the newer HPRC runners.

A Strava map of the route through lower Lawrenceville, across the Allegheny River and back, winding through some alleys at the end.
HPRC Coffee Run: RATS 0063

May Catch Up

PBR Pre-Marathon Run: RATS 0051

With the Pittsburgh Marathon only days away, this was a short easy run with the Pro Bike and Run Wednesday crew.

Strava map of run 00056
HPRC: Run All The Streets: 00056

Highland Park Run Club Taco Monday run. A fun, quick run with a cool crew.

https://www.strava.com/activities/2389693228
PBR Run: RATS 0057

Wednesday run with Pro-Bike which actually covered a bit of new ground.

https://www.strava.com/activities/2401204085
Early Memorial Day Run: RATS 00059

An easy, early run on Memorial Day

https://www.strava.com/activities/2401909530
Fineview: Run All The Streets 00060

This run in Fineview combined street running, stair running and quite a few dead-ends. Compromise is a dead-end in Fineview. Literally!

https://www.strava.com/activities/2408601960
HPRC Morning Run: RATS 00062

An early morning run with HPRC