Pittsburgh’s Bragging Rights

I mentioned previously that I totally geek out over maps.  I recently came across a fascinating “new” map called The “Z” Atlas & Map of Pittsburgh, PA, and Mount Oliver, PA.  I am adding it to the Sanborn Maps and GM Hopkins Maps as a go-to for studying the changes Pittsburgh went through in the 20th Century.  The “Z” Atlas was published in 1952.  There are two things about this map that caught my eye as setting it apart from others during my initial perusal.

First, in the street index, it identifies which streets have unusual addressing.  Pittsburgh is known for some unique addressing situations.  For example, there is a block where houses built before WWII have 1300 numbers and the ones built after WWII have 1400 numbers, even though they are intermixed.  This atlas shows that the post WWII houses were built after 1952 because the address numbers on that street weren’t wonky yet.

Second, this map claims that “Pittsburgh has more streets than any City in the World. You will find EVERY ONE of them in this ‘Z’ Atlas and Map!”

“Preposterous,” I said, when I first read that claim.  Pittsburgh’s land area is small compared to other large metropoles.  It does not make Wikipedia’s current list of the 150 largest US cities by land area.  Without digging into census data, I assume that many of the old cities (ex. New York City, Chicago, Cleveland), if not most of the 150 listed, likely were of a similar size in the 1950s as today.  How could it be possible for Pittsburgh to have more streets than these cities that are significantly larger?

Then it hit me.  It is possible by the same token that makes it possible for Pittsburgh to have more bridges than any other city in the world, more steps than any other city, and the steepest paved street in the world: topography.

Pittsburgh’s many hills, ravines, cliffs, and rivers mean there are few long streets and many short streets.  Maybe after all, Pittsburgh did have more streets than any other City in the World in 1952.  Reading more of the “Z” Atlas, it elsewhere explains that Pittsburgh had over 6,000 streets at the time of the map’s publication.  That number does include the numerous “paper” streets that were surveyed and mapped, “but never built or even marked in the dirt.”

Many of these paper streets still exist today causing headaches for the City and its citizens, but some have been vacated and turned over to private ownership.  Between that and the rise of mega-cities since the 1950s, I won’t say that Pittsburgh can still claim more streets than any other city.  A quick Google search showed that the question of what city has the most number of streets is not as well discussed as what city has the most bridges.  Perhaps a more ambitious person than myself could run an analysis to see whether Pittsburgh still has more streets than any other City in the World.  (Don’t forget to count the step streets!)

Pittsburgh Steps

According to an article in today’s Post-Gazette, not only does Pittsburgh have more bridges than any other city, but it also has more steps (at least compared to US cities).  Pittsburgh has 712 flights of steps, while San Francisco only has 168.  After I walk all 446 of Pittsburgh’s bridges (at least all of them that are pedestrian accessible), perhaps my next goal should be to walk all of the steps.  I have considered doing this in the past, but have hesitated because of the condition of some of the steps.  The one pictured above is in good condition, but more often than not the steps are over grown, cracked, perhaps missing a step or two, and the railings are rusted and look like they’ll crumble to the touch.  The steps were frequently used in the past by mill workers who lived up or over the hill from the mill, but since cars became more common and the mills closed, they mostly sit vacant.  As there isn’t much demand for them, it is understandable that the city doesn’t spend the few dollars it has on their maintenance.  All the same it is a shame to see them deteriorate.

However, that may all be about to change!  Today’s article is about a group of young people who created an organization, Community Steps Cooperative to clean the steps and make them safe.  An eventual goal is to make them attractive destinations a side-effect of which may be that they rival San Francisco’s steps.  I am very excited to see a group take initiative on this and I hope to be able to participate in some of the volunteer events to help clean the steps!