Ahh! Pittsburgh streets, you drive me CRAZY!

https://www.strava.com/activities/3798163893
RATS #00271

I had a good game plan going into this run. However, after spinning my shoes on some of those tiny, hilly streets, I got a bit disoriented and managed to run out of my way, covering more miles and fewer streets than I hoped. Oh, well, another Pittsburgh Bermuda Triangle!

Highlighted area of Perry South with many map mistakes
Bulk of run was just in this small area, dominated by steep hills and disconnected streets

Most of my effort was to cover the streets circled in red in the map above. The black marks indicate streets that don’t connect like the map implies. Last week’s run with George gave me an inkling the area would be hilly, but otherwise I didn’t know what to expect. Would it be a pleasant run in the park? Or a stressful run with snarling dogs?

I was pleasantly surprised at first. I turned onto East Marshall, took the next sharp left on Sonora and figured it would lead me down Pelham Street, a long dead-end. That’s what OpenStreetMap shows. That’s what Google Maps show. On an old Pittsburgh map, Pelham even intersects Perrysville Avenue. However, it is just not there anymore. The Allegheny County Real Estate page actually lists five parcels on Pelham. All are owned by the city and now Sonora Street just dead-ends into a funeral home.

Following East Marshall past the deceptively flat part, it plunges down a hill, ending high above I-279. Only overgrown bushes stop a basketball from bouncing all the way down. I imagine there’s a veritable treasure trove of balls captured by the devouring vines.

I made my way down Leroy Way. After it turned into Goshen Street, I found myself looking up a steep Kennedy Avenue slope. As I criss-crossed the streets, I found some very overgrown street steps along Daisey; the top of the Hawkins Street steps and a nice view from the top of Veterans Street. You can actually make out the Trimont Towers if you look closely. As the healthy crow flies, that’s over two miles away. A hot, thirsty crow might want to take a dip in the Ohio River along the way.

Coming off the steep hills there, I made my way to North Charles Street. Of course, nothing is simple and here, Maple Avenue crosses North Charles on a bridge.

Maple Street Crossing North Charles.
North Charles passing under Maple.

North Charles sweeps downhill, passing Fowler Park and Allegheny Cleanways; a great organization committed to cleaning up the region’s rivers. I think everyone should volunteer with them at least once. You may never use another plastic bottle again. I took a short detour and hit a little set of steps leading to Kenn Avenue and past its tiny little subdivision. What goes down must come up, so I trundled up Marshall Avenue slowly. It passes between two large cemeteries, Union Dale and Highwood.

Pushing past five miles, with a rock in my shoe and a hot sun on my head, I explored no more and returned to my starting point. It was a good run and now I’m THIS close to finishing this section of town!

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!

Allentown for Eleven

RATS #00254 – Allentown to Carrick

I’ve been all over this town but never to Carrick. Today I’m changing that. For today’s run, I started overlooking Downtown from Grandview Park, did a grid of streets in Allentown and then plunged south to sample Carrick.

Grandview Park is a narrow strip of greenery high above the Monongahela River. From here, you can practically open the windows on the skyscrapers downtown. There’s not much there except benches to look at the view, a viewing platform to look out over the city and a little natural amphitheater, with views over the city. And all of them are grand! I’m not sure if all cities are like this, but Pittsburghers really like to look at pictures of Pittsburgh.

Tearing myself away from the view, I embarked on the grid of streets behind the park, high in Allentown. In spite of the proximity to the views and Mount Washington, this residential area is tight with small, rather shabby houses. I saw at least five houses with the blue “condemned” sign on them. Small streets disappear into the vegetation. Of course there are steps and boats here, too.

Speaking of steps, Emerald Street drops off the hillside and becomes steps on its way to Arlington Avenue, passing Canary Way en route. Arlington intersects East Warrington, with its small business area.

East Warrington is not a large street, but is usually busy. If you are vegan, you should stop at Onion Maiden. The food is excellent and the music is rocking! No neighborhood is complete without a Little Library, and there’s one here too, a few houses from Beltzhoover Avenue. Of course, everyone needs a laundromat every now and then. Here, “Splish Splash” is incongruously nestled on the first floor of an older red and pink apartment building.

While completing several streets south of East Warrington Avenue, I came across another “Project Picket Fence” site. If you’ll recall, that was a mid-90’s project by Mayor Tom Murphy to encourage communities to brighten up vacant lots. Here, while the picket fence is down, the lot is nicely kept.

Another Picket Fence Project

From there, I found the source of Amanda Avenue, at its intersection with Manion Way. Amanda Avenue has a few street steps as it meets Arlington Avenue. I stayed on Amanda until it merged with Brownsville Road. (Not to be confused with Browns Hill Road, which is in another part of the city.) Here, Brownsville Road also forms a border with Mount Oliver, the independent borough entirely surrounded by the City of Pittsburgh. Just to make life interesting for dispatchers, there’s also a neighborhood in the City of Pittsburgh called “Mount Oliver”. It’s adjacent to the borough, of course.

In spite of the local differences in jurisdiction between Pittsburgh and Mount Oliver, there are few visual differences on that rather dirty, dusty street. Just the street signs; Pittsburgh’s are bright blue and Mount Oliver’s are a dusty green.

I continued to Noble Lane. In spite of its name, it is not a noble place to run. Where there are sidewalks, there are cars parked. Otherwise, you just have a narrow grassy, rocky path to navigate as the cars whiz by you on their way to Saw Mill Run Boulevard. Approaching Saw Mill Run, at least you get a nice view of the South Hills T-Line near Whited Street.

T-Line Bridge over Saw Mill Run Boulevard

Climbing out of the pit that is Saw Mill Run Boulevard, there are some more spacious residential areas. I made my way back towards Brownsville Road via Copperfield Road. At nine miles in, I was a bit disheartened to see the multi-block set of steps rise above me.

Copperfield Steps rising to Brownsville Road

Returning to my starting spot, I ambled along Brownsville Road until I hit Knox Avenue. Knoxville, along Knox Avenue is similar to Allentown, with undulating streets lined with houses and old three story apartment buildings. Ironically enough, yesterday I was listening to Malcom Gladwell’s book “Talking to Strangers” as he discussed the Amanda Knox case. Today, I ran on Amanda Street and Knox Avenue. Coincidence?

Steps to Singer Place

https://www.strava.com/activities/3392709444
Point Breeze to East Hills RATS #00230

This was a long Sunday run. In the normal course of life, this would have been Marathon Sunday for both the Pittsburgh Marathon and the Cincinnati Marathon. As it was, I did a half marathon, concentrating on completing the streets near Singer Place, high on a hill in Homewood. I parked in Point Breeze, along Frick Park Bowling Greens, another unique feature of Pittsburgh. You can play lawn bowling there. The “bowls”, not balls, are not sphere’s but rather two half-sphere’s of different radii joined together along their equator.

Frick Park Lawn Bowling Greens

From there, I crossed Penn Avenue and completed a short section of Thomas Street. Quite the contrast, I must say, from the bowling greens. This area is actually showing signs of development. Had I pointed the camera the opposite direction, I would have captured construction scaffolding along an adjacent warehouse.

I continued into Homewood proper, working my way over to Oakwood Street. Oakwood Street plunges into Wilkinsburg, where its name changes to Wood Street. The hill rising above Oakwood was my main target this morning.

A memorial, either to a shooting or a car accident, has sprung up along Oakwood.

There’s one main street, but three sets of stairs you can take to get up to Singer Place. Here are the steps.

Once in the warren of streets on top of the hill, the pavement mostly flattened out. Large, multi-story houses stood sentinel on the overlooking slopes. At one point, I was surprised to find an entirely different structure, more like a farmhouse than a brick, four-square house.

I made my way down to Oakwood again, then finished up Frankstown Road, coming up East Hills Drive to complete the circuit. Again, I found a boat at the top of a hill, providing further confirmation of my “Pittsburgh Boat Theory”.

On the way back to my car, I passed another Pittsburgh feature, Clayton Mansion, the former home of Henry Clay Frick, a pivotal figure in the area’s steel industry.

Clayton

Getting back to my car, I was just shy of a half-marathon, so I ran a few more blocks to finish that out.

Thursday Brookline Miles

https://www.strava.com/activities/3377638002
RATS #00228

This run, nine miles through Brookline on a Thursday evening, actually belonged in my “April Catch-Up”, but I overlooked it. Why nine miles? Why Thursday? Well, it came down to completing my Stava challenge to run 200 km in April. I was about nine miles short and Thursday was the last day in April. I chose Brookline because the route was easy to plan. Every street was a new street.

Brookline Neighborhood, courtesy of Tom Murphy VII

Brookline is a large neighborhood and densely packed with houses and streets. The “Brookline History Homepage” has an outline of its history, which seems to have been a series of housing booms as access to the area improved, first trolley lines and then cars. It is a very car friendly area, with most houses having a little driveway or an alley garage available. Most of it is also pedestrian friendly. However, bikes might have a tough time on some of the streets and I only noticed bike lanes on Brookline Boulevard.

I started out on Brookline Boulevard, but when it veered off I stayed straight onto Chelton Avenue. The pictures above are fairly typical of the area. Moderate two and three bedroom brick houses stand shoulder to shoulder up and down the hills. There’s a lot of yard pride here, with neatly cut lawns and front yard decorations. My favorite was the row of miniature houses along Sussex Street. My next favorite was Boots the Friendly Cat.

The streets which are roughly parallel to Brookline Boulevard have big sweeping hills, while the cross-streets are crazy steep. Stebbins Avenue is a cross-street and is stair-studded. There were more steps as well. As dusk settled in, I found myself at the end of Hobson Street, which descends in steps to Breining Street.

There’s much to explore in Brookline, and I’ve only begun to scratch the surface.

Wells of Steps

https://www.strava.com/activities/3248165617
RATS #00212 – Duquesne Heights

This was a few miles around Duquesne Heights – the stepchild of Mount Washington. While my main purpose was to completely traverse Well Street, I made it from the great views of Grandview Avenue to the industrial bottom of Shaler Street.

I started out on Grandview Avenue. The view never gets old, especially on a clear sunny evening.

The grid of streets below Grandview are lined with modest houses with small yards. The alleys here mainly give access to garages and garden gates. They are also ideal playgrounds. Nice to see hopscotch markings and some gratitude for the garbage workers, but watch out for crouching panthers.

Shaler Street is a back-way off of Mt. Washington. It falls steeply through the Duquense Heights greenway and emerges between the pink buildings of the Minnotte Manufacturing Company. I ran around the block before heading back up the hill.

Finally, I started on Well Street, my target. From Shaler Street, it jumps up, hill after hill, stair after stair, until it reaches Oneida Street.

Well Street steps – some of them at least

Completing Well Street, I made my way back to the car. Another cool run in a super hilly section of Pittsburgh.

elliot

RATS #00203 – Elliot and West End

A day after running around the city and taking every stair I could, I was ready for the flat lands; no hills, no steps, no views. I just wanted the horizon to disappear in front of me, an unreachable challenge. Then I woke up and remembered that I was living in Pittsburgh!

For today’s run, I decided to check out the neighborhood around West End Park. Last Fall, I had attended an outdoor fashion show in the West End, off of South Main Street on Sanctus Street. That area seemed flat and I figured this area would be similar, I mean how much can things change in a mile?

Turns out, a lot. I parked near West End Park and ran down Kerr Street. Immediately, I came upon a very impressive set of steps leading far down. Their siren’s song drew me in and shortly, I found myself at the bottom, looking way up. I would have to ascend that eventually, and for now, went up Walbridge Street.

This twisting, steep street has some remarkable houses perched on its edge. Branching off of Walbridge, several small streets transform you from an urban runner in Pittsburgh to a wandering soul in the back roads of West Virginia.

My run planning had just set general boundaries – don’t go past Steuban Street or Route 60; leaving the exact route up to life’s realities. So, I just went back and forth on small streets and alleys. As it was a nice Sunday morning, people were out and about. Many were working in their yards and houses. Others were walking their dogs.

I was surprised at a few things I found. First was the back street full of boats. Next was the amazing view of the Ohio River near the Casino. Then, there were some really large and beautiful houses up here.

Of course, there were more stairs. The Hassler St Stairs off of Wymore are marked on my OpenStreetsMaps but not on Google. Usually Google is more accurate. I’d have to check again, but I at first glance didn’t see them in Bob Regan’s book, either. Also of note are the Lorenz Avenue stairs, which start slowly, just one step every ten yards before plunging down the hillside like proper steps. Elbon Street was surprisingly long. At one section, it bordered on an artifact of urban redevelopment – former Mayor Tom Murphy’s “Project Picket Fence”.

All in all, this was a cool area to run in. On a sunny Sunday morning, it couldn’t have been better.

Climbing Crumbling Stairs

https://www.strava.com/activities/3186942297
RATS #00198

This sunny run took me from the flats of Upper Lawrenceville to the heights of Stanton Heights along several precarious paths. As the reality sets in of Covid-19 social distancing, it was solo run without any stops at cute little coffee shops. I mainly was focused on a couple of streets with staircases, 56th Street and 57th Street.

I warmed up on the flats between Butler Street and the Allegheny River. This area is seeing new residential development, but still hosts large warehouses such as A-1 Cold Storage, the impressive buildings of McKamish, a mechanical contractor and a Sunoco facility. As for Sunoco, it was founded in Pittsburgh, apparently:

Joseph Newton Pew and Edward O. Emerson were partners at Peoples Natural Gas Company in Pittsburgh, PA, when they decided to expand their gas business to oil. It proved to be a success. Within a few years, the oil company had acquired pipelines, leases and storage tanks – emerging as one of the area’s leading suppliers of crude oil. On March 17, 1890, they made it official with a new name. The Sun Oil Company was producing, transporting, and storing oil as well as refining, shipping, and marketing petroleum.

https://www.sunoco.com/about-us

Who knew?

Now warmed up, I began to tackle the first objective, the 57th Street stairs and a small set of streets perched mid-way on the hillside. The stairs begin where the paved 57th Street turns left and becomes Christopher Street. The first section is very solid. Getting a breather at Duncan Street, stairs continued, ostensibly to Camelia Street for an official total of 345 steps according to Bob Regan’s book.

I had done streets on the top earlier and knew there might be a “connection issue” but, from a distance, I saw an individual climbing the second set of stairs. They disappeared as I went up this next flight. After three or four houses on the right, the stairs became challenging. Treads were sometimes missing. Railings were sometimes missing. Hell, at points, even landings were missing. However, not all at once, so was able to I scrambled up. Near the top, vegetation took over and I could not proceed.

I did the little circuit of streets, Duncan, Wickliff, a section of 56th Street and made my way down to Butler Street. This time I would ascend the 56th Street Stairs from the bottom. Now, just as 56th Street turns into the Shop & Save parking lot, stairs rise majestically up the hill. I must say, they are “officially closed” here, but I slipped through. Same story as 57th Street Stairs – missing treads, missing landings, but actually passable for the nimble.

The first section was the only one which was closed. After that, they become street stairs along the section of 56th Street I had already done. There is another section which ascends to Celadine Street, all in good shape.

Once at the top, I did some streets in Stanton Height and made my way down Kendall Street – a very steep, cobblestone street which masquerades as a country road. That brought me out to Kent Street, taking me back to the flats.

Kendall Street

Heart of Beechview

https://www.strava.com/activities/3122913950
RATS #00188 – Beechview

This run was all about Beechview, catching its northernmost subdivision as well as exploring the southern edge. I parked at my go-to spot next to the Andick Way playground and set out. I was using the RunGo app to guide my turns. There were a few glitches, but overall it worked pretty well. Beechview is incredibly hilly and is home to Canton Avenue, reportedly the steepest street in the US. But Canton Avenue, for all its steepness, is short, not more than one-tenth of a mile. Many of Beechview’s streets are over 10% grade, with a few more approaching 20%, and much longer.

The Shadycrest subdivision in northern Beechview sticks out on a plateau above Banksville Road and Saw Mill Run Boulevard. From the end of one long street, Tropical Avenue, you can see the tops of the tallest Downtown buildings. As the crow flies, they are less than two miles away. Here, the yards are large, the houses have a 50’s and 60’s feel.

Crossing over Crane got me back into the main section of Beechview. Like many of its parallel brethren, Fallowfield undulates into the distance. I took Beechview Avenue into the heart of Beechview, where the T-Line makes quick work of the commute downtown.

I followed Beechview until it became Broadway Avenue and then turned onto Wenzell Avenue. By this time, my hydration was catching up with me and I desperately needed a pit stop. Luckily I made it to the McDonalds on West Liberty Avenue before I had to take drastic measures. Fully refreshed, I charged up Saranac Avenue. At this point, RunGo started acting up. It may have never recovered from being in McDonalds. At any rate, I carefully did the grid of streets around Saranac, charging up less and struggling up more.

Finishing that section, I crossed over Broadway to see those streets. Bad mistake. The roads just plunged off of Broadway and coming back up was very challenging, even with the few staircases I came across.

While much of the area was very residential, I was able to spot the illusive bottle plant during its bottle blooming phase. Its always interesting what pets people keep on their porches, too.

And that was it! About twelve miles and over 1,700 feet of elevation. My knees are mad at me now! Nice area, too.

The Other Murray Ave

Murray Hill Ave – much quieter than that other Murray Ave

Today’s run took me across Squirrel Hill back into Friendship where I started yesterday. It was a relaxed Sunday run with no real target other than to see some new territory and get a few miles. With that relaxed theme in mind, I traveled up Murray Hill Avenue, which reminded me of a story.

When I first arrived in Pittsburgh, exactly 1 million years ago, I lived in a studio apartment in Shadyside. I lived in that one big room, galley kitchen and tiny bathroom for a couple of years. It was on the first floor of a large Victorian house. As I began to learn more about the city, I kept hearing about “Murray Ave” and “Squirrel Hill”. In school and without wheels, I explored on foot. One day, breaking out the Rand McNally map of Pittsburgh, I noticed that Murray Avenue was very close and decided to go see it. I crossed Fifth Ave and walked up a rather hilly street with big gray Belgium Block pavers and large, rambling houses on either side. After a half mile of this, I was not impressed. Sure, the houses were architecturally interesting, but where were the stores? The restaurants? The bars? This was not nearly as cool as everyone had made it out to be.

Turns out, of course, that I was on Murray HILL Avenue, not Murray Ave. Silly me, I didn’t think there would be such similar street names! But today, I knew where I was and rather enjoyed the quiet Murray Hill Ave instead of the bustling Murray Ave, with all its restaurants, coffee shops and bars. I continued into Friendship, covering some new territory, like Olga Way, pictured below. In many of my blogs, I’ve commented how some Pittsburgh streets are like being on country roads. Not so with Shadyside and Friendship, they are pulsing with urban life. This is the heart of a living city, with varied houses, businesses, people and traffic. I love it. Well, not the traffic.

Flowers along Olga Way
Route of run #00112 through Squirrel Hill North into Friendship