In our automobile-oriented culture, we tend to think of streets as a means for car travel. In cities and towns, hopefully you’ll also get a sidewalk; in the suburbs or out in the country, not so much. If you’re lucky, the road might be striped for bicycles.
Pittsburgh has its own definition. A street is simply a public thoroughfare that may be any and all of these things, but it could also just be a pedestrian walkway, usually on a hillside. These are city steps, and we have a ton of them.
Nowhere is that notion of walkways as public streets more perfect than the intersection of Romeo and Frazier Streets in South Oakland. There, on a steep hillside, in a fen of trees, climbing vines, wildflowers, and thick weeds meet two terrific sets of well-maintained concrete city steps. Like any other crossroads worth its rock salt, this one comes complete with street signs and a streetlight.
The steps go way back. Back to a time before the automobile, the bus, or the trolley. They’re sometimes considered Pittsburgh’s first public transportation system as they were used extensively by workers to commute from residential neighborhoods up the hills to the factories and business districts below.
The steps don’t get anywhere near the traffic they once did. For one thing, most of those industrial areas and many of the business districts just don’t exist anymore (witness the steps leading from Troy Hill down to Route 28 or from Fineview down to 279–there’s nothing to walk down to). And then, of course, there are just a whole lot more ways to get around, and most people prefer them over the shoe leather express.
All that said, the city steps are an amazing resource. This blogger routinely drags his out-of-town visitors up to Fineview or the South Side Slopes or maybe the West End to get a full dose of up-and-down, nature-in-the-city, and a reliably terrific views from whichever ones we opt for. Some first-timers are agasp; others are just gasping for breath. Either way, you do enough of them and they’ll get you in shape right quick. Hopefully The Orbit will get back to all these spots at some point.
One great egg hunt of city step hikes is finding houses (or just the foundations) that are/were only accessible by the steps. On Romeo, there’s just one of these, right at the top of the steps. The house is a good 50 yards or so from the nearest paved road (also Romeo Street).
It must be a pain to move into a place like this or haul your groceries in the snow, but it sure is pretty and peaceful out there. From the Tibetan prayer flags and half-inflated balloon decoration to the snare drum and Oriental carpet on the porch, I’ll admit I was making some unsubstantiated judgements about these renters skipping a little rope. But hey, man, it’s all good. They’s just on the step beat.