Has Pittsburgh fifty-seven varieties of city steps? Maybe.
It’s an intriguing question. There are long and short sets of steps; steps on the side of the street and steps alone in the woods. There are steps of wood, metal, and concrete; steps in good repair and ones that are falling apart; open steps and ones permanently closed. Some have special bicycle ramps added; others just tell you to Try. There are steps with crazy turns and angles and steps that just go up one straight line. There are steps the whole neighborhood uses, step street intersections, and steps that no longer go anywhere.
It would probably take a significant imagination to keep this riff going all the way out to the magic number. However, we know Henry J. Heinz considered 57 to be a lucky number*, and if it’s good enough for the king of condiments, it’s good enough for Pittsburgh Orbit. We certainly felt lucky after a climb up the very fine 57th Street Steps in Lawrenceville.
The steps that make up the pedestrian section of 57th Street qualify as at least two of these varieties. The lower half, from where Christopher Street forks off 57th up to Duncan Street, is in immaculate shape. The treads and rails are all perfectly maintained, with easy clear passage. The surrounding foliage has been neatly trimmed and there was no litter the day we visited. There’s even one remaining house that is only accessible via the steps.
An the upper half? Well, that’s another story. In the middle of a lush Pittsburgh summer, dense knotweed has enveloped the majority of this stretch with just enough room for the city trekker to go full-on Indiana Jones. [Note to readers: bring a fedora, whip, and satchel.] It’s clear this batch is neither as well-loved nor as well-used as its downhill sibling. Still, it offers a great off-the-grid version of the step experience, which is just as much of what we’re after.
If there’s a bummer to the 57th Street steps, it’s that you’re stuck with a straight up-and-back trip–there’s no looping around for a more interesting walk/hike. Somewhere around half-way up the top stretch (above Duncan), you hit a pretty decisive end-of-the-line. The treads are gone, trees and weeds have overtaken what’s left, and a clear Steps Closed barrier has been placed across the route.
At this point, the red handrails continue, tantalizing us by disappearing into the hillside. The map shows that at one point the steps terminated up on Price Way in Stanton Heights, but that connection seems unlikely to be re-opened–at least until The Orbit gets put in charge of public works. Until then, pass the ketchup.
* Heinz famously had way more than 57 different food products when the “57 Varieties” tag line was dreamed up and added to packaging.