The City of Pittsburgh website states that there are 712 city steps, but in a 2014 Wall Street Journal article, Guy Costa, chief operations officer for the city, said that number was approximately 675. Bob Regan, who wrote the definitive book, The Steps of Pittsburgh: A Portrait of a City, contended in his book that that there were 712 sets of city staircases composed of 44,645 individual steps that in total is an elevation change of 24,108 vertical feet or 4.65 miles. That’s nearly 4,000 feet more than Alaska’s Mt. McKinley. However, in that same Wall Street Journal article, Regan states that he now believes that there are 739 city steps. While the actual number may be open to debate, no one quibbles that the city steps are quintessentially Pittsburgh.
Some Long Climbs
At more than 375 steps, making it one of the longest city steps, the Ray Avenue steps traverse backyards in Brookline beginning at the bottom of W. Liberty Avenue and rising to Pioneer Avenue.
Estimates vary between 330 and 375 steps, but either way, Rising Main is one long, steep climb from Howard Street up to Warren Street in Fineview.
The Oakley Street steps at approximately 333 steps will take you from Josephine Street to Sumner Street in the South Side Slopes. These steps have been recently adorned with a colorful mosaic.
Some streets in Pittsburgh are actually staircases. Three hundred of the city’s steps are classified as streets but only on paper, as these “streets” can only be traversed on foot.
The Canton Avenue steps at a 37 percent grade are some of the steepest in the city. In fact, Canton Avenue in Beechview is officially recorded as the steepest public street in the country.
According to Anna J. Cawrse, a Harvard graduate student who studied our city, the five oldest steps in the city are:
- Junilla Street, built in 1911 and connects Centre Avenue and Elba Street in the Hill District.
- Armstrong Street, built in 1919 and connects Second Avenue with the Bluff at Duquesne University
- California Avenue, built 1923 and connects Eckert and Knapp Streets on the North Side
- Oakley Way, built 1928 and connects Josephine and Mission Streets on the South Side.
- Murray Avenue, built 1928 and connects Beechwood Boulevard and Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill.
steps in East Allegheny give a great view of the North Side and Downtown Pittsburgh.
St. Thomas Street
descending from St. Joseph way gives a great view of the Golden Triangle, Hill District and Oakland.
steps, descending to Second Avenue, give a great view of the South Side.
A Variety of Stairs
Some of the city’s stairs run along the street, while others are staircases built down steep mountain sides, sometimes built on piers elevated from the ground. There are even a few city steps that are wooden. Sometimes the steps get up close and personal, passing through backyards and mere feet away from the porches of homes.
Some Great Names for City Steps
Romeo Street Steps (Oakland)
Napolean Street Steps (Banksville)
Caesar Way Steps (South Side Slopes)
Holy Moly That’s a Lot of Steps
Climbing these staircases can be quite a hike; maybe that’s why so many of them are named for saints. Maybe Divine intervention is called for in gathering the strength to finish them. Here area a list of our divinely inspired staircases.
The Ladies Have It
While many of the city steps are named for the streets where they are located, there are quite a few named for women. Why? Initially, the city steps were built as away for workers to get to and from their jobs in the steel mills. No one can say for sure, why so many of the city steps are named for women, but perhaps they were the names of the women atop the staircases who were awaiting their husbands to arrive home safely after a hard day at work in the dangerous mills. Here are some of the steps named for women.
Some Sponsored Climbs
Fineview Step Challenge
For more than 20 years, the Fineview Neighborhood on the North Side of Pittsburgh as been holding its annual step challenge, a run/walk incorporating the city steps.
Southside Step Trek
The Southside Slopes neighborhood has the greatest concentration of city steps in Pittsburgh and each fall hosts the Step Trek, a tour of the steps and hillsides, which provides an in-depth look at the history of the area while also offering some breathtaking views.
By Janice Lane Palko
After all that climbing, take a rest and check out our video about the city steps.