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9.11.2016

The Surprising Streets of Pittsburgh: Steep Roads, a Wooden Street, and More

As an old city, Pittsburgh has a diverse range of early streets, old paving styles, and more in regards to its street infrastructure.
Here you can see the crumbling concrete slab method of paving *wink, wink* followed by cobblestone paving. This is Canton Ave, the steepest officially recorded street in the continental United States. It looks like your average steep road in Pittsburgh. The hill is visually deceiving, for the steep part only lasts for about twenty feet before it levels back out. This lack of intimidation takes bicycling enthusiasts by surprise, often with a result of them crash landing. The city's annual Dirty Dozen bicycle race that goes through the city's steepest streets happens annually on the Saturday following Thanksgiving. This hill always takes racers by surprise with its extreme gradient. There seems to be a great argument throughout the world as to which place has the steepest street. All we know for sure is that this street is amongst the world's steepest. I've seen figures on gradient ranging from 30 to 37 percent. All we know is that this street is steep! Here is a commercial filmed by Audi that used the street for races between their automobile, a snowboarder, a skier, and a downhill mountain biker.
At 24 percent, Rialto Street is the fifth steepest road in the city. It leads up Troy Hill from Route 28. The view from the bottom makes this stairway lined street look endless. This hill is also known as "Pig Hill," for livestock was carried from the railroads up to slaughterhouses at the top of the hill. At about a quarter of a mile in length, Rialto Street is quite impressive.
More cobblestone paving! A common sight throughout the city.
Also common is brick paving.

And brick paving with fully intact old streetcar rails. This is the most visibly intact area of original tracks in the whole city. There is still some streetcar action with the T light rail that heads from Downtown to the South Hills, but this is the most visibly intact section of rail from the old Pittsburgh Railways days. I say visibly intact because the majority of the rails actually remain under generations of pavement throughout the entire city. Sometimes you see really bad potholes, and the old brick and rails temporarily see daylight once again. It is a shock that this section of Chestnut Street in the North Side is still intact after many decades of being idle.
In the middle of one of Pittsburgh's busiest streets, Forbes Avenue in Oakland, you can see the old brick paving at the bottom of a small pothole. 
You often see the old rails when workers have to do some digging in the road. I caught this scene on Semple Street in Oakland a few years ago. 
And the last road of its kind in Pittsburgh, a wooden block paved street!
Roslyn Place in Pittsburgh, right off of Ellsworth in the city's Shadyside neighborhood. is one of only a handful of remaining streets with Nicolson Wooden Block Pavement. Roslyn Place has wrongly been claimed to be the only remaining street of this type. Chicago, St. Louis, Cleveland, and Philadelphia have remaining examples of this nearly extinct type of paving. The blocks are treated with creosote and then placed into the pavement. 26,000 of these little blocks make up the length of this 250 foot street.
Another type of paving remains in spirit within the city and the region, plank roads, made with 8 foot long planks of wood. I say that this style remains in spirit due to the fact that no roads remain with this style paving, but some street names still reflect this, such as Butler Plank Road.

The varied old infrastructure in large cities is always impressive to see, and Pittsburgh is no exception to this. Old infrastructure surprises await seemingly at every corner. In the city with the second most bridges in the world, these places often get overlooked, but they are pretty cool in their own right.

Be sure to check out our Interesting Pennsylvania 2017 wall calendar, available through the drop down menu at the top of this page, or through this link. It is available on early-bird special for free with purchases of our book through the page, or individually for $9.99 plus shipping. 

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