Bridges and Tunnels and Stairs, Oh My.

There are 446 bridges, 19 tunnels, 2 municipal funiculars, and 344 legal streets on which no car has ever driven in Pittsburgh. These streets are really public staircases, dubbed “paper streets.”

Let’s face it, Pittsburgh is a hilly city. But the funiculars from last week’s blog aren’t the only way mill workers and others have traversed the steep hills throughout the city. In total, Pittsburgh has 739 public sets of staircases owned and maintained by the City of Pittsburgh—more sets of stairs than any other city in the world.

These stairs contain 45,454 total steps and equate to an elevation change of 24,545.1 feet and a distance of 4.65 miles.[1]

Directional Signs for a “Paper Street”

But how could a staircase be a street? Well, these “paper streets” have official road names and are listed on maps of the city. For instance, St. Michael Street on the South Side Slopes is one street out of the 67 other staircases in the neighborhood, and if you don’t believe me, you can virtually ascend the stairs on Google Maps! As you’ll see, many of these paper streets include road signs and houses along the way.

Last time I climbed the St. Michael stairs, I met an older gentleman who owns one of the houses on the street. After we talked for a while, I found out that he parks at the top or bottom of the stairs, carries all his groceries up the stairs, and retrieves his mail each day after the mail carrier also climbs the stairs to deliver. Talk about staying in shape.

Each Pittsburgh staircase is an attraction of its own, and I’d argue some of the absolute best views of the city come from spots along some of the city stairs. In Bob Regan’s book, he catalogues the staircases in each of the 90 Pittsburgh neighborhoods and provides maps and walking tours for those interested in a bit of an urban adventure.

The South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association has also created several walking tours. The most popular is the Church Route, which includes marked directional signs and historical narratives of each of the old churches along the way.

Fred Rogers along one of the Southside staircases that is now part of the Church Route. (Photo from Heinz History Center.)

Over in Fineview, the neighborhood hosts its annual Step-a-Thon, which is “[a] 5-mile Urban Trail Challenge ascending Fineview’s hills, streets and staircases. Among the steps are Pittsburgh’s largest stairset (337 steps) on Rising Main Avenue which is the equivalent of a 17-story building! The course covers 12 public staircases for a total of over 1,600 steps and provides breathtaking views along the way!”

A nestled playground and an excellent view of the city.

If you’re interested in learning Pittsburgh history, staying in shape, meeting the people of Pittsburgh, experiencing some breathtaking views of the city, or simply just trying something new, maybe the Pittsburgh steps are for you?

[1] Most of these statistics come from Bob Regan’s fantastic book, Pittsburgh Steps: The Story of the City’s Public Stairways.


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