At the corner of Carrot and Celtic

https://www.strava.com/activities/3816294982
RATS #00272 – Oakwood

What will you find at the corner of Carrot Way and Celtic Way? This afternoon, you would have found a rather burnt, sweaty runner, amazed that the playground driveway became a true-blue alley.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Today’s run was all about Oakwood. It’s a small neighborhood squashed between the suburban communities of Crafton and Greentree. It connects to the rest of Pittsburgh via Noblestown Road to Westwood, and, in turn, throws a lifeline to East Carnegie, connecting it to the rest of Pittsburgh.

I started in Westwood, where there is a bit of shopping and a lot of concrete. It makes me hot just looking at the desert of stark asphalt shopping strips. But going up Poplar for a bit I came across Hall Street, which was much more inviting.

Hall Avenue took me slightly out of the city into Crafton and then to Crafton Boulevard. Taking a left along Crafton Boulevard quickly brought me to Oakwood. Coming this direction, Crafton Borough was on my right and the City of Pittsburgh on my left. I caught Oakwood Road, which is immediately a bridge with steps on the left. Ha! Steps. I had to go. It dawned on me that Pennsdale doesn’t actually intersect Oakwood, it goes under it. Maps do have their limitations.

Pennsdale was another world. In a very green hollow, with a stream nearby, there are a few dilapidated houses, a burned out house and a couple of nicer ones at the end. Deer abound, and from the number of fawns I’ve seen, this year has been especially fruitful.

Pennsdale eventually becomes Steen Street and intersects Baldwick Road, a narrow winding road with cars parked all over the cracked sidewalks. Looping back to Oakwood Road, I actually crossed the bridge this time and found steps. leading behind some houses. It seems just to be a shortcut to Balver Avenue.

Quite in contrast to the creepy, burnt-out houses of Pennsdale, Balver Avenue is a ring of modest two and three bedroom houses built in the 1950’s and 60’s. There is an interesting mailbox there, which looks like a tall pink guy with a sailor hat on. Sorry, no pic.

From here, I just tried to hit all the little streets and alleys. Going down Grasmere Street, I knew it was a dead-end and wasn’t looking forward to coming all the way back. As it took a little turn, I noticed that the dead-end “barrier” was a few logs in the street. Continuing, I hoped it would lead to Oakwood Park. Alas, I was disappointed and just came to a wood pile. However, immediately to the right was a set of stairs which took me to very end of Oakwood Road. Yay!

From here, I wandered through the alleys and streets of Oakwood. It is rather small, but has some character, especially in the older streets.

Finally, I made it to Oakwood Park. A lone shirtless teenager shooting hoops was on pace to getting a nice sunburn as well. The old elementary school’s bell has been patriotically painted red, white and blue. The strangest thing, to me, were the tennis courts inside a high, circular, stone wall. Upon further research, it turns out this used to be a reservoir.

Continuing down Carrot Way, I didn’t even see one rabbit, but came out to Craftmont Avenue. At this, I returned along Noblestown Road to my starting point. Turns out, I got seven solid mile in, one of my longer runs this July.

Chasing Deer and Climbing Steps

RATS #00269

Getting out of my isolation bubble for a bit, I ran Friday night with George, exploring the streets of Perry South. It was good to have the company and George got a taste of winding in and out of streets like true RATS. Hanging out before the run, I noticed this marker buried deep in the ground. It was a hot evening but we quickly made it to the Norwood Avenue steps, a harbinger of the remainder of the run.

Norwood Avenue plunges from Marshall Avenue to North Charles Street. Unfortunately, we had to keep going up and down that hill. The neighborhood was active, with people out on most of the porches, a few Friday gatherings, dog walkers and kids on bikes. Along one alley, we surprised a doe and a fawn out for an evening walk.

Along another street, an older woman swept the sidewalk as a little boy played with rocks, while across the street, large butterflies had been caught in a chain-link net.

And then, there were steps. It started slowly, with the gradual steps at the bottom of Norwood. Then it picked up a bit Delger Street. Those wooden steps were in pretty good shape, except one missing tread. It also was a convenient shortcut to the Delger Street, really an alley. Mayfield Avenue had a long series of street steps as it bucked up the hill like a horse.

Finally, as we rounded out one Quartz Way, we came to the Hawkins Street steps. They rose, block after block, from the ravine floor at Leland Street to their apex at Veteran Street, crossing Shelton Street, Ellis Street, and Perrysville Avenue.

Scooting down Veteran Street, we made our way back to the park. It was a solid run on a hot Friday evening.

Park often?

RATS #00266

This was a loosely planned run in Homewood on a Sunday morning which took me from the flats near the East Busway to the towering hills above Frankstown Avenue. Along the way, saw lots of cats, some turkeys, some cats chasing turkeys and lot of greenery. There were steps and urban decay balanced by murals and a few cute houses.

I crossed the East Busway on the North Lang Pedestrian Bridge and started east. This area is very tight with tiny alleys between small streets. There are newer houses, older homes, a few nice places and many decrepit ones. It is the height of summer and weeds are taking over any undisturbed lot. Mulberry trees were so low along one alley, I had to duck to run under them.

Toward the end of Tioga Street, the narrow street was lined with large trucks. On one side, a large dump truck had driven onto a soft meadow months ago. On the other, big rigs were parked all over. I got as close as ever to a shiny Mack cab, while a “Fast-Unlock” dump truck body sheltered Long Haul Kitty. His orange coat looked sleek and a water dish had been even left out.

Now heading north to my real target, I climbed streets splaying out like fingers up the hills above Frankstown Avenue. At the split of Mohler Street and Willing Street a small set of steps lead you up Mohler (yes, they are documented in Bob Regan’s book, all six of them.) Willing was a long, desolate street with mattresses and garbage near a condemned house. That white house looked like it was falling off the hillside. Passing that, and coming closer to a better maintained house, I spied a turkey and three grey chicks clucking across the street. As I approached the adult turkey rushed back across the street and chicks disappeared into the undergrowth.

I wound my way down one finger, and then up the next, Wheeler Street. Pittsburgh has a penchant for alliteratively naming neighboring streets. At the corner of Wheeler and Mohler, I saw another flock of wild turkeys. Here, though, a wily, skinny, white and orange cat was creeping up on them, eye’s as big as saucers. I ruined his cover, and the turkeys went gobbling off into the woods. I’m thinking I did the kitty a favor, as those turkeys would have beaten him up.

Wheeler took me up to an impressive set of stairs at the end of Ferndale. They have several twists and turns, but were too overgrown to completely traverse. On Willing Street, I did not notice their upper landing.

Ferndale Steps – Left is the bottom, middle is looking up them and the left picture are the steps disappearing into the woods.

Running out of Pittsburgh for a moment into Penn Hills, I came to my senses and went up Ferndale. Whew! That is certainly a steep street, making it into the “Filthy Five”. Ferndale intersects Lawndale Street at the top. On the left, Lawndale is partially blocked by Jersey barriers, but I trekked down it a bit anyway. However, once I saw an RV down the dead-end road, I figured I had gone far enough and turned around. That’s probably in Penn Hills anyway.

Lawnsdale careens straight down the hill. As it reaches Perchment Street, it spills down to Frankstown Road as a set of steps.

Back to the flatlands, I made my way back to my car. As I skittered down Durango Way, a colorful wall peeked through a slightly open steel door. I peeked in and was rewarded with a garden of murals.

I finished with six and a half miles – slightly more than a 10k. Most of the run covered new streets and I got to see turkeys and murals along the route. The steps were interesting, too. Nice run!

Large houses on little streets in Shadyside

RATS #00265

Running late in the evening in Shadyside took me down streets with million dollar homes and large porches filled with dinner guests. This section of Shadyside, bounded by Forbes Avenue and Ellsworth Avenue, extending from Neville Street to South Aiken Avenue is one of the most opulent sections of Pittsburgh. Nearby are a number of landmark Pittsburgh institutions; WQED, Central Catholic, CMU, Pitt, and Rodef Shalom, to name a few.

Like sumo wrestlers straining to push each other off the mat, these institutions are constantly pushing and shoving each other to build on precious Oakland real-estate. The wrecking ball awaits any building the sumo can replace.

wrecking ball and giant metal hook

While that sounds ominous, the new buildings are pretty nice, I must admit.

CMU Tepper Quad
CMU’s New Tepper Quad

WQED has a prominent history and was home to Mr. Rodger’s Neighborhood. I suppose that means I was actually running in Mr. Rodger’s Neighborhood! Or maybe the Land of Make Believe!

I tell you what, these houses were unbelievable. The short dead-end streets are lined with ones like the seven bedroom jewel below. I’d be surprised if anyone can guess how much it last “sold” for. Just for perspective, it is neither the largest nor smallest home I saw.

Nice starter home in a quiet neighborhood

Devon Road becomes a “Private Road” at some point, although it really looks like the same crews are maintaining the public road and the private road. There are even steps here, from Fifth Avenue to Warwick Terrace, but the steps are closed. What a shame. Perhaps the folks living here don’t want vagrants, runners, and broke students traipsing through.

Beyond Devon Road, I wove my way up and down the little streets. It was cool to hear the clink of glasses and chatter of conversation as so many people were sitting on their verandas enjoying the slightly cooler night. The evening drew on to full night by the time I finished four miles.

Hot Damn, It’s Hot in Beltzhoover!

https://www.strava.com/activities/3718029970
RATS #00263 – A Cat in High Heels?

This headline “Hot Damn, It’s Hot in…” will be used extensively the next few days. It could possibly be superseded by “Running on the Surface of the Sun…” or “All of Pittburgh is Lava”. Three cheers for July running!

I explored another of Pittsburgh’s southern neighborhoods, Beltzhoover. If you don’t understand how Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods are cordoned off from one another, Beltzhoover is a great example. The northern border is Warrington Avenue. From Warrington Avenue, a few streets climb sharply into the heart of Beltzhoover. On the west, the T-line and South Busway separate it from Mount Washington. On the east, Beltzhoover Avenue is a less distinct border with Knoxville and Allentown. On the south, a large ravine, a park (McGinley Park) and the busy Bausman Street completely seal it off from Bon Avon. It’s an interesting name and there’s a very short paragraph in this old Post-Gazette article attributing the name to Melchior Beltzhoover.

I approached Beltzhoover from the beginning of Beltzhoover Avenue at Grandview Park. It quickly rolls off the hill and after a few blocks dissipates into small shady streets. However, at the corner of Beltzhoover and East Warrington, a few penguins were getting a suntan. I think they would have been happier staying at the zoo.

This area has wide, long streets and tiny alleys. Michigan Street crosses nearly all of Beltzhoover, as do a number of other streets, such as Sylvania Street and Climax Street.

I did not traverse all of Climax Street, but one of the climaxes of today’s run was finding the Beltzhoover Community Perennial Nursery on it. In a cursory internet search, I didn’t find much information, but there it was, on a bright hillside, a slope filled with carefully tended flowering perennials buzzing with bees. I also got a kick out of the white lions at the top of some private stairs.

There were a few other steps, too. The most significant was along Bernd Street. It’s several flights took me to a back alley where the remains of yesterday’s fireworks were strewn across the ground. A phone booth, sans handset, adorned those steps. On the other hand, the only thing adorning the Delmont Street steps were weeds. Perhaps in wintertime, I could use the crumbling steps.

In spite of the gardens and wide, brick streets, much of this area has a neglected look. The wide streets are dusty and street sweeping doesn’t seem to be a regular event.

I cut out after six miles due to the heat, primarily. Also, while my knee is better, I didn’t want to push it too much. It was the right choice. Besides, the route turned out to look like a cat in heels, as my friend Cathy commented. Ha! I couldn’t have done that if I tried.

Hot Damn, It’s Hot in Larimer

https://www.strava.com/activities/3708218189
RATS #00261 – Larimer

Hot and humid, Hot and humid,Hot and humid…

Like the banging refrain to a bad punk song, “hot and humid” pounded into my head as I explored the streets of Larimer this afternoon. I had, honestly, been avoiding this area for a bit. It seems like a no-man’s land, squished between Negley Run Road, Washington Road and East Liberty Boulevard. But, other than the heat, there wasn’t much to worry about on a sunny mid-morning.

Not more than a mile from Google’s Pittsburgh offices in Bakery Square, deserted and overgrown Paulson Avenue whimpers to a dead end above Washington Road.

En route, I saw these oft-photographed murals across from Jeremiah’s Place on Paulson Avenue. Mac Miller, I believe?

As I ran further from the busy streets such as East Liberty Avenue and Frankstown Road, the neighborhood becomes pancake flat and very quiet. Perhaps it was the heat, but except for the occasional dog barking or child playing, there wasn’t much activity out there. Many of the smaller streets and alleys are overgrown. Many lots are empty, presumably where houses had been demolished.

For Pittsburgh, this is an incredibly flat area. I managed to find one small set of stairs off of Finley Avenue. The residents of here, as throughout Pittsburgh, seem determined to make their homes as quirky as they can.

Along one alley, old parking spaces had been transformed into an art gallery.

But overall, there is no doubt of the poverty and neglect of this neighborhood. Across from a decent playground, complete with slides and with a water wall, stand two abandoned houses stamped for demolition.

This area is pretty large, too. I covered only about a quarter of the streets here, but easily racked up the miles. As I approached five miles, I headed back to my car. I ended up with a 10k. Good run!

Age of Discovery in Mount Washington

https://www.strava.com/activities/3679982962
RATS #00260 – Mount Washington Above Liberty Tunnels

Ah, history, it explains a lot. I had no intention of doing a historic run last Saturday, but I came across a couple of historic artifacts, some in use and some not. It all started with a rough plan to complete the Haberman Avenue between Bailey Avenue and Kingsboro Street. After that, I wanted to drift west to cover a series of streets off of Boggs Avenue in Mount Washington.

Not far down Haberman, I encountered Eureka Street where it transforms into steps leading to LaClede Street. While LaClede and Haberman are essentially parallel, and, at one point connected by a 50 yard span of asphalt, they ‘feel’ different. At this point, Habermann seems more spacious and open compared to LaClede. Perhaps it is because the yards off of Habermann have backyards sloping down and away, whereas the lots on LaClede are steeply sloped up, seeming closed in. Perhaps it is because Haberman continues across East Warrington, whereas LaClede dead-ends into Secane.

At any rate, the streets west of LaClede are in a regular grid. One street, Harwood, goes straight downhill. After Secane, it becomes Harwood Way, an increasingly steep set of steps. The steps descend all the way to the South Hills’ trolley line; the “T” as it is known. Coming back up those steps, I noticed that the last house on the steps, with all its gargoyles, actually faces away from the road. I also noticed immense brick towers rising out of the earth.

Running around them, I saw “Liberty Tunnels” emblazoned on the lintel. They were vents for the Tubes. A little digging revealed that these are the original ones, built 96 years ago after a traffic jam on May 10, 1924 caused motorists to get sick from carbon monoxide fumes. The Pittsburgh Quarterly has a great article about it. They had been planned anyway, but the May incident hurried those plans along.

Now my journey took me to Paur Street; that’s right “Paur” not “Paul”. At the end of Paur Street are a set of stairs with the touch of death – bar across them indicating they were closed. It was easy to get over. The steps were generally in great shape, except a couple of places where the concrete treads were totally missing. They were also fairly wide and took me to an asphalt path under the spreading trees.

One section, presumably going down to the South Hill’s trolley lines, was seriously closed; blocked by a chain link fence and missing platform. Apparently, in the ‘good ole days’, Brookline kids used these steps to get to school, as told in Brookline Connections.

On the right, the asphalt path continued. I dodged fallen trees and passed an old metal cabinet. Its slightly ajar door revealed a new, bright orange bag of Reese’s Pieces. Just then, I was startled by a man coming down steps towards me. In his short sleeve, light blue dress shirt and black pants he quickly bore left and went down another section of steps, ignoring me completely. The smell of his cigarette lingered, though, as I went down those steps far behind him. At the bottom, I looked up and saw a “No Trespassing Sign”. Whoops! I returned up the steps, retracing the man’s steps which led me to the intersection of Westwood Street and Albert Street.

Further down Westwood Street, I eventually came the Walden Street steps. Here, they are narrow, wooden and very overgrown. Cutting down an alley, I came upon Tuscola Street, with disintegrating sidewalk steps, also overgrown. Several streets off of Westwood, such as Kramer head straight up to Boggs Avenue. A high section of Albert Street near Boggs Avenue yields more distant views of the venting towers.

As you go south, the streets off of Boggs Avenue get shorter and shorter and more steeply fall on the end. Several of them have steps to South Hills Junction, where the South Busway and South Hills T line intersect.

For a moment, I ventured past Boggs, catching the Soffet Steps. However, my secret hope that they went all the way to Warrington Avenue was dashed and I had to backtrack. Along the way, I did come across this yard, complete with red table, Triceratops skeleton and Christmas lights strung along the fence.

Finishing up, I was tired, but pleased with this eight mile jaunt. The run was more interesting than I expected and I got to see those venting towers up close and personal.

No Shortcuts in Westwood

https://www.strava.com/activities/3656397341
RATS #00258 in Westwood

There it was! My Goal! I could see the Shop ‘N Save through the trees. It was RIGHT there! I checked Google Maps to make sure, for, to paraphrase Dean Karnazes “It doesn’t matter how fast you go if you’re going in the wrong direction.” Yes! Just go on Manley and cross Noblestown Road. My rather jolting evening run would be done!

But no, nada, zip; it was not meant to be. Even if my rule following self could manage to ignore “Road Closed”, “Construction Zone Ahead”, “DANGER, DO NOT ENTER”, “!! DANGER !! NO PEDESTRIANS” and “Street Closed Ahead” signs, the orange mesh construction fence drove the point home. No doubt there were land mines and sinkholes on the other side, too.

Road Closed? Are You Sure?

So, why the rush? Honestly it wasn’t too urgent, I was just trying to keep my mileage down. The evening’s run through Westwood was very productive, but a bit longer than planned. I have extolled the virtues of Westwood before. It is convenient, the area is well maintained and there’s a variety of houses. Unlike the east side of Noblestown Road, this area isn’t extremely hilly; except for Barr Avenue, and Mueller Avenue, and Brett Avenue, and…

But at least there weren’t many stairs. Just a couple from Clearview Avenue to Crafton Boulevard and that overgrown set of street stairs on Mueller.

Overall, the neighborhood was fun to run in. Mileage piles up quickly on the gently winding streets. At times, it’s quite the puzzler to figure out if you’re in the Borough of Crafton or the City of Pittsburgh. Sometimes a telltale diagonal line across a street indicates a change of jurisdiction. Otherwise, it is the blue City of Pittsburgh street signs which, once again, show the way. There are some very impressive homes and there are housing projects. The housing project I went through was teeming with children of all ages, from toddlers trying to kick soccer balls half their height to bicycle-riding tween girls zipping between the parked cars. Families were taking neighborhood walks; whole caravans of mothers, fathers, grandmothers, strollers and kids.

I also saw this box of magic, a brightly lettered Little Library.

Eventually, I found my way around the construction detour, finishing with over five miles. It was the longest run in ten days and portends good things for the rest of the summer.

Ragged Three

RATS #00255 – Corner of Brookline

Today I did a little run in the corner of Brookline squeezed against Dormont, Mt. Lebanon and Beechview. It had potential to be a long run on a gorgeous evening, but a complaining knee cut it short.

This is the “business” end of Brookline. Pioneer Avenue and Brookline Boulevard intersect and then each finds a curvy way to West Liberty Avenue, land of car dealerships. Just off these roads are surprisingly residential areas jammed with strawberries. OK, ok, I didn’t actually see strawberries, but there were certainly many flower gardens, trees and landscaped yards.

Even in this small alcove of Brookline, there were several sets of stairs. Cutting past the dead end of Stapleton Street, steps took me directly to West Liberty Avenue. Another, Edge Vale, abruptly dropped off of Aidyl Avenue to Brookline Boulevard. Whoever had the chore of doing yard work there was using its flat landings to stage their implements; a lawn mower, gas can and orange weed whacker wire graced the steps.

I started down Fordham Street and quickly got sidetracked by Midland Street, which took me down to McNeilly Road, a border between Pittsburgh and Dormont. I wandered a bit in that area, making sure to stay in Pittsburgh. You can tell by the bright blue Pittsburgh street signs at every intersection. However, before I could finish Dorchester, my knee flared up and I called it a day.

Homewood Murals, Alleys and Memorials

RATS 00252 – Homewood

On this morning’s run, I decided to tackle more of Homewood South and North. I do have a feel for the neighborhood, but am still intimidated by parts of it, especially the long, narrow alleys. Making it to Formosa Way, this brilliant mural jumped out. I’m not sure who did this wonderfully colorful artwork, but kudos to them. The day was sunny and warm, with a promise to get hot later.

Trundling down Formosa Way, I saw a couple of older black men chatting across a fence. One was with his large German Shepherd, who lunged at me when I passed. It was on a leash, so no harm done. However, the man said “You know, there ARE main roads”. To which I gave the “I’m running all the streets” response. But then he said, “Well, be careful, its dangerous.” I thought about that as I ran.

I came across several memorials, such as the one below. These weren’t marked with the details, but were probably where someone had died. How? Who knows? Gunshot? Car Accident? It’s hard to say. I saw at least three other memorials, mostly smaller. I suppose it is dangerous here.

Memorial Fence

Homewood South is basically flat with long alleys and streets running parallel to Hamilton Avenue. There are plans in the works for a much needed rejuvenation of Homewood. Reading that plan, I was astounded at the level of poverty here. The median household income is less than $20,000 a year. Imagine trying to live on $20,000 a year in Pittsburgh! The median income in Pittsburgh is close to $40,000/yr.

Murals adorn many buildings and several houses have Randyland-style artwork on their exterior.

There’s also a fair share of run-of-the mill graffiti.

Eventually, I made it to Upland Street, and crossed briefly into North Homewood. I meandered among some of the streets up there before taking the Monticello Street Stairs back to Brushton Avenue.

Top, Middle and Bottom of Monticello Street Steps

As the run grew long and my hot, tired legs didn’t want to move, I was encouraged by several residents. One woman, as she was loading a dark blue van, shouted “Go get that hill!”

A grizzled man, lazily driving his caddie across the intersection of Collier and Kelly said “Trying to make up for them cancelling the Marathon?”

And yet another man, this one man working on a dusty van looked up and asked “How many miles?”

Very often, I don’t have any interaction on my runs, so this was welcome.

I must say, when I first approached Collier and Frankstown, I avoided it because a half dozen dudes were hanging out on their Harleys. However, when I came back, the only thing left was their banner.

And that was it. A solid run in a ‘dangerous’ neighborhood which has a plan in place for improvement.

For further thought:

Now, thinking about it, how ‘dangerous’ a place actually is, is often a reflection of your own activity there. If you’re in a neighborhood for the house parties and ‘nightlife’, this could be pretty dangerous. If you’re here to buy drugs, yes, dangerous. If you’re living here and your neighbor is a dealer, that could be a problem. However, driving through at a reasonable time, running on a Saturday morning, walking your dog, it isn’t too bad.

Just for comparison, from 2018 to 2020, Homewood South and Homewood North each had less overall crime than Southside Flats or Downtown. Admittedly, they are smaller areas. They also had fewer cases of property crime than Shadyside or Squirrel Hill. The high level of poverty in the area undoubtedly influences how well kept it is and what kind of stores and restaurants there are. It is no surprise then, that there are almost none.