Defying Gravity

Pittsburgh is best known as the “City of Bridges,” boasting a world’s-highest 446 spans.

Riverfront Park

Its residents have been crossing its rivers and hills before the French built Fort Duquesne at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers in 1754 to protect their access to the Ohio Valley.

Fort Duquesne

After the British advanced, defeating the French and Native Americans, they established Fort Pitt in 1761.

Fort Pitt etching (2)

As Pittsburgh industrialized during the 19th century, so did its transportation network, and the bridges soon followed, connecting many of the elevated neighborhoods scattered throughout the vicinity.

3 sisters (3)
Pittsburgh’s “Three Sister” Bridges: the Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth Street Bridges. The “Three Sister” bridges were part of a massive series of bridge-building campaigns begun in 1924 by the Allegheny County Department of Public Works, and finished in the late 1930s by the Depression-period Allegheny County Authority. Credit: Allegheny Conference on Community Development Photographs, Detre Library & Archives at the History Center

In fact, the “City of Bridges” moniker could easily be replaced with the “City of Hills,” given Pittsburgh’s challenging geography, for there are hills galore (North Hills, East Hills, South Hills, West Hills, Middle Hill, Upper Hill, Spring Hill, Summer Hill, Troy Hill, Polish Hill, Squirrel Hill, and the Hill District); and there are heights aplenty (Northview Heights, Brighton Heights, Crafton Heights, Duquesne Heights, and Stanton Heights); as well as a variety of lofty-sounding communities (Highland Park, Mt. Washington, Southside Slopes, Beechview and Fineview).

For me, growning up in Stanton Heights was a constant cardio workout of hiking and biking in my neighborhood. I still recall schlepping up Greenwood Street’s countless steps on my way home from junior high at Morningside Elementary School. And climbing those hills in an unforgiving winter frequently required fortitude and a layer of thermal underwear, which was sure-fire bait for bullies.

Characteristically, Pittsburgh’s reputation for having the largest collection of steepest streets in the world underscores the importance of living close to a world-class medical center (UPMC)…

whose headquarters, coincidently, occupy the US Steel Building–the tallest tower of Pittsburgh’s skyline.

steam paddle

It had been a long time between visits to Pittsburgh, so Leah and I relocated the Airstream to an RV park north of Pittsburgh for a few days, appropriately named Mountain Top Campground…

Mountain Top Campground (3)

and determined that a trip to Mt. Washington was a natural first stop for a lasting look at my hometown from the best possible vantage point.

But rather than drive to the top, we parked in a lot and rode the Duquesne Incline as tourists–

crossover

one of two remaining from the original 17 funiculars that Pittsburgers once relied upon to ease their commute to the heights throughout town–

incline graphic

incline car

incline track

incline house

for an unparalleled lookout of the Point.

skyline

After an overpriced lunch at The Grandview Saloon (poached pear salad for $14), we followed Jennifer (our GPS) to Canton Street,

Canton St. Google Maps

in search of America’s steepest street in Beechview.

steep st sign

Although it’s only one block long, climbing the 37% grade behind the wheel of my F-150 was somewhat disconcerting. Aside from the bumpy ride over cobblestones, the angle was so severe, I could barely see the road beyond the windshield.

steep v

A 37% grade! I can’t even imagine what it would take to climb Canton Street during a winter storm…unless you’re a mountain goat.

grazing goat (2)

But there was one last road phenomenon I needed to check out before we explored the cultural side of Pittsburgh. I had heard about a gravity hill near North Park that sounded like a too-good-to-be-true myth that needed busting.

Gravity Hill

When I reached the intersection of Kummer and McKinney, I made a hard left around the STOP sign onto McKinney Road, and passed an Audi that was there to perform the same miracle-manuever.

Kummer Road

Leah and I patiently waited off-road, watching the Audi repeat the same experiment… over and over again…until satisfied. 

rolling back

And then it was my turn.

I inched toward the STOP sign, and held the brake till I shifted to neutral. Leah stepped out of the truck to record the event on her iPhone. I hesitated for a moment thinking how crazy this seemed. Of course, the truck can’t possibly roll unhill. It goes against the fundamentals of science!

When I came to my senses, I released the brake, and the truck began rolling backwards. It was not what I expected!

I’m not a civil engineer, and I’m not a geologist, so I don’t have a reasonable explanation why the truck drifted backwards, so I consulted the experts:

According to Wikipedia, “a gravity hill is a place where a slight downhill slope appears to be an uphill slope due to the layout of the surrounding land, creating the optical illusion that water flows uphill or that a car left out of gear will roll uphill.”

So I was on a hill that made down look like up?

Gravity road intersection

How weird…but then it occurred to me that Donald Trump runs the country the very same way, and “the 37%” who follow him, must be living on their own personal “Canton Street,” unable to see the road ahead.

6 thoughts on “Defying Gravity

  1. Two things I love about this post. 1) I had no idea streets were so steep in Pittsburg. I assumed it was fairly flat, how wrong I was. I’ve witnessed San Fran’s streets guess I have learned a new thing for today. 2) There is a hill here in southern Indiana like gravity hill. I cannot recall where at this moment but again I have learned a little something about why that is. Thanks for helping me check off “learn something new everyday” with your post!

    Liked by 1 person

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