Downtown, Carrick and Fairywood

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

RATS #00365 – Downtown and Duquesne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATS #00366 – Slick Carrick

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATS #00367 – Fairywood

Route of RATS #00367
Route of RATS #00367

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

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

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Fairywood.”

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

Ridgemont and Westwood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sandcastle And Beyond!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ice cap shimmering
Ice cap shimmering

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

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

Smokestacks

High on Herschel

https://www.strava.com/activities/4594264949
RATS #00352

Ah, a sunny Saturday in January! I took this opportunity to finish off some small streets near Herschel Park and then make my way over to Crafton Heights and Corliss to tackle that conundrum.

If you’ve never been to Herschel Park, get out the door and GO! It’ll take a few twists and turns and maybe some back-tracking, but once you’re there, sitting high on a hill, the tremendous views of Heinz Field at the confluence of the Mon and Allegheny are amazing. The trek out there seems so arduous, I didn’t realize that it’s less than a mile away, as the crow flies. Damn crow.

View from Herschel Field
View from Herschel Field

From this starting point, I trotted down toward Noblestown Road, winking in and out of small alleys perched on the cliffs. For some reason, even after several forays here, I had not completed Weston Way. This time I made sure I ran it from end-to-end. Now I understood. Where Weston is supposed to intersect Steuben Street there are houses. Weston Way ends in a path which takes you down front steps to Steuben. Argh, so much for a public path!

With my first little goal accomplished, I hit a secondary goal; the three-street Whitehead Drive subdivision between Steuben and Arnold. Nothing much too see there, as split level fifties houses curved along the concrete streets.

Now to my number one goal, a mysterious section of Pittsburgh off of Middletown Road. What makes that area “mysterious”? Well, for one, I’m not familiar with it, so I don’t have a “mental map” of it. Secondly, while it can be approached from several directions, it is high above each of them (Chartiers Avenue, Berry Street and Middletown Road). Thirdly, there is a curious mix of streets, paths and steps. I wasn’t sure which would be truly passable and which sections were just lines on the map.

I shouldn’t have been worried. It is a beautiful neighborhood. The tree lined streets are broad. The houses are generally large and well maintained. Folks were walking dogs, chatting with neighbors and enjoying the day. The streets do tend to dead-end on the top of what I’ll call “Chartier’s Hill”. However, unlike some sections of Pittsburgh, where run down houses mar the view, these semi-country estates added to it.

In planning this run, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to understand Straka Street. In an overgrown summer, the Straka sign on Berry seems to be another misplaced Pittsburgh street sign. From Google maps, it looks like a walk-way, or a long driveway. Finally the Pittsburgh’s step website indicated that Straka way was a reality. So, I tentatively planned to do it.

Again, nothing to be worried about. A driveway lead to a walkway and then a long series of shallow steps from Sanborn Street to Berry. The collage below takes it all in. These must be super convenient, as Chartiers and Berry are busy with buses and this leads to the heart of this hillside neighborhood.

Straka Way Steps
Straka Way Steps

With this, I made my way back to Herschel Park. I skipped part four of this run as that would have pushed me to nearly fifteen miles.

October 2020 Monthly Catch-Up

Summary

October 2020 was a pretty good month. I did not do big long runs on the weekends, but got a good fifteen runs done, with fourteen of them covering new streets. Final stats were 100 running miles with over 12,000 feet of elevation. I’ve made significant progress in north Pittsburgh, with 98% of the streets done from the Northshore to Riverview Park. I’ve also continued to cover southern neighborhoods such as Carrick and Lincoln Place. It’s been a beautiful Fall, with only a couple of cold days. Several runs swept through ‘stairy’ areas; run #319 hit at least half dozen long ones. For better or worse, there are several significant runs in this catch-up, so its rather long.

RATS #00315: Brookline, Overbrook and Carrick

https://www.strava.com/activities/4212640666
RATS #00315

Starting at Brookline Memorial Park, I ventured down Breining to Briggs in that area of long streets. But Briggs turns into Seldon, which took me directly to the Fan Street Steps down to Glenbury. I’m constantly attracted to dead-ends, tunnels and steps. This had it all. I passed through the Glenbury Viaduct to find myself at the busy intersection of Saw Mill Run Boulevard and Library Road.

I noticed a line of steps up the farther hill and waited patiently at the light wondering exactly where they would lead. Those steps turned out to be Horning Street, off of Ivyglen. Horning keeps rising, even after leaving the benefit of the steps behind. At any rate, in keeping with the spirit of the run, Horning dead-ends at a cemetery, Beth Abraham Cemetery. I kept on its perimeter, looking in briefly where Ivyglen enters.

I wandered further into Carrick, eventually getting to Brownsville Road and almost stepping into Brentwood. Thankfully, a sign alerted me, so I curved back. The curvy streets twice concluded in curvy sidewalk steps along Ivyglen, once where Lodge meets Ivyglen and again where Odette hits Ivyglen. For some reason, Odette is not in Bob Regan’s book and not on the City of Pittsburgh’s stair list even though they both include the Lodge Street steps, a block away. They also both include the Sanderson Street Steps which have been closed since at least 2007.

With that I made my way back, peeking in on Pinecastle Street in passing.

RATS #316 Brighton Heights and Marshall Shadeland

https://www.strava.com/activities/4221953319
RATS #00316

This was a five mile run on a chilly misty Autumn evening starting at Legion Memorial Park. I have mixed feelings about this memorial. While I have the utmost respect for those whose names are listed, I find the Disneyesque Mr. Universe sculpture almost ridiculous.

War Memorial Legion Park

From there, it was just down Shadeland Avenue, then up Schimmer.

RATS #00317 Just a bit of East Street

https://www.strava.com/activities/4226476207
RATS #00317

There’s a new run club in town – City of Bridges Run Club. This run was supposed to be with them, but I was running late. No worries, I just took on a small section of East Street, climbed Suffolk and got a Fineview. It was great to hang out afterwards, masks and all.

RATS #00318 Back to Carrick

https://www.strava.com/activities/4230823897
RATS #00318

Another run in Carrick, mainly along Spencer and Kirk avenues. Eventually, I stepped out of bounds, dipping my toe into Baldwin Borough for a bit. It was dark, so I can be forgiven. Speaking of dark, they could use a few lights along Custer Avenue I daresay. I skirted a couple of spooky cemeteries along the way.

RATS #00319 – Marshall-Shadeland and Woods Run

https://www.strava.com/activities/4238684338
RATS #00319

Hold onto your hats and handrails! This was an epic half marathon in Marshall-Shadeland and Woods Run. What made it so epic? The autumn scenery, the crazy number of steps, the half-marathon distance, the 1,768 feet of elevation, and finally the hills and houses! I also took an epic number of pictures, which I pared down to fit here, believe it or not.

First, some Autumn scenery

Now for some steps. Of these, Wing Way was pretty neat because it intersected several streets on the way up and had a little walkway to Courtright Street, which took me under the Shadeland Avenue Bridge. Malden Street Steps were also pretty cool.

Now for some houses and scenes along the run. The neat white house is in Highwood Cemetery, while the multi-level ‘chalet’ at first looks impressive, until you see the boarded up windows. The rather rural looking Courtright Street runs under the very urban Shadeland Avenue Bridge. Deck gargoyles added a little spookiness to the streets, as if they needed it.

Finally, I got a kick out of the intersection of California Street with California Street and I always love seeing the belly of the bridges, like large dragons sprawling across the hollow.

RATS #00320 Sunday Afternoon in Carrick

https://www.strava.com/activities/4242858122
RATS #00320

RATS #00320 took me back to Carrick. In particular, I wanted to finish up on some areas which had been cut short by darkness earlier. Unlike the epic run #00319, this one was fairly tame. A few steps, some deer and lots of suburban houses.

At the end, though, I got quite a scare. I had stepped out of the city again.

And that’s about it. November, with early darkness and poor weather was a struggle for me last year. Hopefully I can do better this year.

Stepping from Uptown to the Hill

https://www.strava.com/activities/4187229338
RATS #00321 – Uptown and Lower Hill

Starting under the Birmingham Bridge, near the Boat Ramp off of 18th Street, I crossed over the bridge and embarked on some more exploration of the Lower Hill and Uptown. While Forbes Avenue and Fifth Avenue take thousands of people downtown, it is rare for people to venture up the slope for even a street or two. There are reasons, of course. Most of these streets spill out onto Kirkpatrick Street and stop. Further into the Hill District, Centre Avenue is alone in continuing all the way through Oakland. Webster becomes a small residential street after Herron Avenue while Wylie stops entirely there.

It is also generally poor, rundown and is considered dangerous. Nonetheless, I needed to do these streets. Along Fifth Avenue, not far from the Birmingham Bridge, there’s a set of wooden steps (Rising Way) which take you to De Raud Street. One section of De Raud winds along past a couple of abandoned buildings to a little playing field off of Kirkpatrick Street. I was nervous about running there, but had no problem. In fact, the playing field had been used as a garden and several folks were out there in the cool early evening cleaning it up. (Don’t confuse Rising Way with Rising Main. Rising Main is in the Northside and is much longer.)

I actually did the Rising Way steps twice, because I looped around Kirkpatrick Street upon exiting the park. The second time around, I took a left to the corner of DeRaud and Wyandotte. A brief look at Strava indicates that Wyandotte continues on the right for a bit. In a sense, it does, but not for cars. It continues as a long set of steps and walks.

While not shown, when you make a left off of these steps at the end, you’re at the end of Diaz Way. There’s a lone house there with cars parked in front. That’s the only house on Diaz until you get to Wicks Street about a quarter mile away. Unfortunately, Diaz Way has been trashed for years. A fence on the uphill side holds back layers of leaves interspersed with cans, bottles and other debris. Halfway to Wicks Street are the Lombard Street Steps. The lower section takes you to Colwell Street, while the upper side takes you to Lombard Street.

I took the lower section, making a left to the end of Colwell Street, which, I must say, is blocked off and doesn’t actually meet Wyandotte anymore. Turning around, I got that view of the downtown skyline, a mile and millions of dollars away. Returning to Diaz Way took me to the Wicks Street Steps, very similar to Upper Lombard Street. Here, though, the steps don’t plop you out onto a street, but rather a narrow sidewalk. The street is held back by a shoulder-high retaining wall, even in front of a house.