On this bright Saturday morning, a group of friends, led by Bob and Nancy, were doing the South Side Slopes piece of the “Take the Stairs Fatass” 50k. That route draws a jagged circle around Pittsburgh, starting in Spring Garden. An unsupported event (e.g. a ‘fatass’), it uses over 70 flights of city steps to bring the participants to some of the best views highlighting the city.
Anyway, I was NOT doing it, but figured I could meet up them. Sure enough, shortly after I parked in the South Side, I ran into them huffing and puffing up Eleanor Street. It has great views, and everyone in Pittsburgh should do them.
Breaking off after a few blocks, I continued through Arlington and to Amanda Street as it cuts down to Carrick. I needed to complete Charlock Way and Dove Way.
This area of the city; Knoxville, Mount Oliver, Mount Oliver Borough and Beltzhoover, are tightly packed. In some lucky areas, trees throw some shade, while in others, it is just sun, concrete and houses. Dove Way sounds pleasant enough, like the gentle cooing of mourning doves as the sun comes up over a green yard edged by flowers. The reality is different. It goes behind narrow towering houses leaning on each other for support. Grimes Avenue, while aptly named, at least has some trees.
Continuing the bird theme, I cut down through Partridge Way and a little unnamed alley off of Hawk Way.
Finally, I went back to Brownsville Road, passing the flower vendor en route to Borough Way. Borough Way straddles the southern border of the Borough of Mt Oliver and the City of Pittsburgh. At the end of Borough Way sits Traverse Field, which has little league baseball games. I finished up a little alley there and made my way back over the big hill, back to the South Side. It was a hilly seven miler. I was beat at the end.
Last Saturday I decided to take a shot at the 50k “Take the Stairs Fatass” route. The weather was pretty good, but I got a late start (it was close to noon) by the time I got out. Now, treating this more seriously than I did the 25k route, I suited up like I was doing Hyner. I dug into my ultra gear box where I found treasures such as TP and hand wipes.
Much of the route I’ve documented already, but I did hit a number of new streets and stairs. I also had the good fortune to meet up with Sherpes Hasher, who was doing the route in the opposite direction. There were a couple of snafus – Vista Street steps are under construction, which I had forgotten. Early on, I added in the steps from Howard St to Compromise Street, an effort which likely contributed to an overall DNF. But, I’m not too sad about this DNF, I covered seventeen miles with over 3,500 feet of elevation and traversed at least 37 sets of city stairs before calling it a day on Wyoming Ave.
Here are the pics. Take Dramamine now if you have vertigo…
I went ahead and did the whole route of the planned “Take The Stairs Fatass 25k” last Sunday. If you’ve been reading along, you’ll know that I had organized an event for March 29, for unsupported (Fatass) runs of 25K and 50k around Pittsburgh, focusing on using Pittsburgh’s public stairs. There were over 125 people signed up and another 50-60 on the wait list. I have t-shirts which will be arriving soon (for a small price of $15). However, with the Covid19 pandemic, this event has been canceled. Restaurants, especially Threadbare, our starting point, will be closed except for take-out. We’re supposed to stay at home, except to get exercise and aren’t supposed to gather in groups.
So, this turned out to be a solo run. While I used RunGo to guide me along the route, there were a couple of glitches. Apparently it doesn’t understand that there are steps through the concrete pier of the 31st Street train trestle. Can you believe that? Sometimes it told me to make a right or left turn when there weren’t any turns to make. Then, it kept telling me to make a turn off of a perfectly good road onto a cliff. Actually, that was OK, it was just directing me to steps.
And steps I did. I counted thirty bona fide flights of stairs. I started with the Basin Streets steps, which took me from Spring Garden up and across Troy Hill. One thing about Rungo; if it doesn’t say anything you’re supposed to continue straight.
The roller coaster ride took me down the steps to Vinial Street, near Penn Brewery. My amazing route brilliantly directed me up Troy Hill Road, only to plunge off the cliff on the Troy Hill steps, those multi-level, swirling steps leading to the bike path along Route 28. I had a bit of a breather as I crossed the 31st Street Bridge and ran along Spring Way in the Strip District.
Here, Rungo wanted me to keep going to the next street, but I knew better and went through the silly little stair case through the pier. Now I got into serious step country, Polish Hill. Throw a rock in any direction and you’re likely to hit a set of stairs. Jewel Street, Harding Way, they were all on this route.
With just about a 5K done, I had covered over 900′ of elevation with a half dozen flights of stairs. The fun was just beginning. Next was the climb into the Hill District. Finland Street, which starts in Polish Hill, doesn’t let slopes break it up, it just transforms, as a shape-shifter, from road to stairs as needed. Here, we see it intersecting Bismark. I must admit, I ran up and down Bismark because I hadn’t done it before. It’s not really on the route.
Moving on up Ridgeway to Monroe, I got to the long Orion flight. Those pop out right next to a distressed house, which can be unnerving. But, no worries, I continued down Webster, making sure to take a right there. From this point, there weren’t anymore stairs until the Southside. That was just a lack of imagination on my part, as I suppose I could have gone down Chauncy Street Stairs. But then I would have missed a great musical mural.
I had another breather as I crossed the Birmingham Bridge and made a left on East Carson Street. Before heading into the maze of steps known as the Southside Slopes, I came across this mural on the Birmingham Bridge Tavern.
Now, Southside Slopes is the Mecca for city stairs. With sixty-eight sets of stairs, it has, far and away, more steps than any other section of Pittsburgh. Many of them provide sweeping views.
There is more to see than just steps, of course. I do like these murals on Old Arlington Avenue Streetcar Loop.
The slopes are somewhat divided by a large greenway and South Side Slopes Park. The steps above are on the East side. On the West Side of that greenspace are long stairways like the S 18th Street steps, Yard Way, and St. Thomas Street. Eventually a set of winding stairs on South 15th Street took me down to the flats. Here I had another breather as I crossed the 10th Street Bridge.
The official route takes one through the Armstrong Tunnels in a rush to get across downtown. However, sitting at the light at 10th and Second Avenue, I noticed a rather long flight of steps up. I decided to take it instead of the tunnel.
Rejoining the route at outflow of the Armstrong tunnels, I continued across Downtown and the Northside. I ascended James Street, up the stairs past Henderson and on up. This is Fineview, and indeed, has a fine view of the city. Between detours, intentional and accidental, I was already at 15 miles coming to Rising Main. From the top, it just looks like another step off the cliff, but then you see it spread out before you. Hope you don’t have vertigo!
After crossing 279 on Gerst Way, a pedestrian bridge, you come to East Street. The next set of stairs should really be closed, but they’re not. Watch out for a landing that has fallen through as you go up to Radner Street and make a left. Do not go up the next set of stairs on your right. It leads to a blocked-off street which is overgrown and has at least one manhole without a cover. Of course, that’s what I did. @@
Coming back on course to Radner and Rostock, I caught the modest set of stairs up to Solar Street. At this point, you’re less than a mile from Thredbare, using the impressive Lappe Lane stairways to get there. My phone battery was very low, so I didn’t get a picture of them. Whew, that was it! Back at Threadbare, I jumped into my car and sped home, about 17 miles in the bank and 3,200 feet of elevation.
In this latest installment of “Does this route work?”, I was interested in exploring a couple of staircases I had never been on. This was in a small warren of streets between PJ McCardle Roadway and Arlington Avenue. The pedestrian gateway to this neighborhood are the 10th Street Stairs. On the lower side, these stairs rise in five landings from dead end flat streets just to clear the railroad tracks. The landings provide respite from the stairs and some nice views. On the other side, though, the stairs rise again.
At the top of these stairs, the city seems to have fallen away and I was in an enchanted forest. Felt like I was Edmund first stumbling into Narnia. On the left, the untouched snowy street curved around into the Knoxville Incline Greenway. I disturbed four deer in their evening ramblings. They were not pleased to see me and only grudgingly gave way, staring me down like truculent teens as I jogged by.
Just past the herd, stairways to Hartford Street rose on my right. Despite the four inches of fluffy snow, the going was good. The stairs were solid and the snow crunched, packing as I went up. Hartford Street is narrow, but with cute houses. Squeezing past a resident who had parked in the street unloading groceries, I came all the way up to Arlington Avenue, but not before I got a good glimpse of the top of the German Square Stairs. I’d be back for those.
Making a right onto Arlington, I kept a lookout for my next set of stairs, Lauer Way. No, not Behring Street, whose steps were a vertical cul-de-sac. Behring Street is one of the few named stair streets which dead-ends. Ceasar Way in Southside Slopes declines into a grassy path but doesn’t really dead-end. Behring Street just traipses in front of a house and stops. Maybe it went through in years gone by.
At any rate, Lauer Way has an impressive stack of snowy steps. It traverses the slope from Arlington Avenue to Windom Street, two blocks below. Again, in spite of the snow, the stairs were solid, both in treads and handrails.
I meandered a little, and found myself trotting past little houses on Newton, which became another wooded glade of snowy stairs, Owl Way. These have a right-angle turn and landed me on Windom again. I took the German Square Steps all the way up the hill again.
German Square and Lauer Way are part of the “Take the Stairs Fatass” 50k route. I couldn’t fit them into the 25k, but it is a beautiful little section of stairs and hills pretty close in to the Southside Flats. This part of the route looks solid.
For those who missed it, I’m organizing a run around Pittsburgh, focusing on taking public stairs where ever possible. In my previous “Does this route work?”, I verified a section of the route in Oakland. It was a good thing I did, because some of the stairs indicated on my maps were not, in fact, there. This run was meant to check out part of the route, circled in yellow above, in Fineview, Perry South and California-Kirkbride. Fittingly enough, only half of this involves the 25K, but all you 50k people, pay attention!
Going out of the Northside toward Fineview, I took James Street all the way up the hill. As the roads plows into the hillside, a pretty solid set of stairs, with only a few shaky treads, rises to Fountain Street. Good thing, too, since it is high on concrete pillars.
Once on Fountain Street, signs for the Fineview Fitness Trail lead to the next stairs. The 50k’ers will be going up these. The 25k folks will be coming down them, almost done. At any rate, the next sets of stairs take you to Graib Street and then onto Henderson Street. The pictures really don’t do this view justice.
The 50k follows along Henderson, crossing Federal and landing at the end of Arch Street. There’s an angled set of steps going up to Perrysville Avenue. A few years ago I saw “Steps In Motion: A Northside Animation”, at the Carnegie Library in Oakland. It is an animation about community project which cleaned up the Arch Street stairs. As you start up these, you can see the fading paint from that project.
The top of the Arch Street Stairs is Perrysville Avenue. You stay on that for a short section, then charge down the O’Hern’s ruts and uneven steps. I remembered it as all overgrown, but it looks like someone actually uses this road, despite the wavy asphalt. A little later, going up North Charles street, I made a left at the bold mural on Ferris Street. Stairs are at the far end of that small street and there’s a rather intimidating house and rambling porch besides them. I would advise moving past this place quickly. In fact, I waited until I had clambered over the fallen tree and up the stairs before I took a pic.
Staying on the 50k route, I made the left onto Island Avenue. Where did they get that name? This couldn’t be a more land-locked street. At any rate, making the left on Hyena Way was promising, but the entrance to the stairs off of Success Street looked more like a walkway between houses.
The Hyena Street Stairs are in reasonable shape, but don’t seem to get much use. Dried vegetation was strewn across the treads as it dropped in on Marvista Street. This lower section of Marvista Street still has a few occupied houses but also a few houses on the brink of failure. The 50k route continues down Hyena. Hyena and Ferris stairs were the ones I wanted to verify. Whoo! This part of the route works.
Now that that was settled, I started to work my way back my car. It wasn’t the easiest way, but Sunday Street was a pretty straightforward way back. It also happened to include an incredible set of brightly painted stairs. At the top was an amazing house set on the top of the hill. At one point, perhaps most of the houses here looked like that? I don’t know.
That’s a wrap. Hyena Way does indeed lead to viable steps.
A few years back, before I starting this “Run All The Streets” project; before I did a stairs tour; before all of that, Lamar, a local runner and urban explorer organized a “Take The Stairs Fatass” event. A Fatass in the running community is an unsupported, no frills run. No fees, no bling, just a run for the fun and adventure of it. So, one morning in March 2018, I found myself under the Birmingham Bridge with about 20 other running nuts, ready to do a big loop around Pittsburgh, taking city stairs whenever possible. I was running with Monica and Amy.
At that point, I had run a few Pittsburgh Marathons and even a few trail ultras, but otherwise had run mainly in the East End of the city; Regent Square, Squirrel Hill, Frick Park, Edgewood. Well, that 50k was an eye-opener for me. Polish Hill, City View, West End, Duquense Heights were some of the areas we went through. Despite examining the map in detail the night before, we spent a lot of time just finding the stairs. One of us had the directions, one of us had Google Maps on the phone and another tried to take in the big picture and keep us moving in the right direction. Unfortunately, after 20 miles, we got turned around coming out of Emerald View Park and couldn’t find our way anymore. We bailed and ran back to our cars, a mere 22 mile day. Ever since then, Amy and I have been chatting about finishing it.
Now I’m over a year in to my project of fastidiously running every street, alley and stairway in Pittsburgh. I’ve run on thousands of streets. I’ve run hundreds of miles and dozens of stairways. I’ve seen many stairs and nooks of the city with mis.steps, as the muses of the stairs speak to her and inspire her stories. I’ve covered many areas on my own, up hills unbelievably steep, seeing deer everywhere, finding surprisingly cute homes everywhere. I always find a house at the end of those long dead-end’s.
So I’m re-creating this “Take The Stairs 50K Fatass”. It will be on March 29. This time, I’m starting at Threadbare Cider instead of underneath a bridge. I’m relying heavily on Lamar’s original map, but I have changed it slightly to include a few more stairs. This run was about verifying some of the route. My friend and fellow runner, Naomi, was feeling adventurous and came with me to explore the route in Oakland.
We started in the South Side and crossed the Hot Metal Bridge. Just past Parkway overpass on Bates is a little side street – Hodges. Only a dozen houses populate this neighborhood in the holler. Stairs rise on either side. I was interested in the ones going up to Bates, so we took those. Sunday morning traffic was light, so we were able to scamper across Bates to catch the Frazier Street Stairs. This is part of the upcoming 50k.
Frazier Street is a long street at the edge of South Oakland. This area is generally overrun by students, but there are still some single-family homes holding out down here. Unfortunately, some people have given up the ghost, even though their houses look good. If you can’t read it, that sign says “Sorry, We’re Dead”.
From there, we traversed on Dawson to hit Diulius Way. Years ago, when I was a student at Pitt, I found this route from Schenley Park to South Oakland. This is also on the new race route.
Now, once down at Boundary Street, Naomi wanted to just run for a bit, so we ran about a mile or so to the train trestle. Coming back, I wanted to verify a couple of stairways I saw on maps which would take me up again to South Bouquet Street. Unfortunately, development in Oakland has taken over some of the stairs I hoped to find.
Eventually I did find a path, albeit between two apartment buildings. So, I’m glad I did this run. I verified that the route through Hodges Street works, yet found some paths just didn’t exist anymore. The route will also include the newly refurbished Joincare Street Stairs, gleaming on the next hill. Just one more section to verify before springing the updated route on the world. Stay tuned!