As a big urban walker, I like to head for the hills. So when I stumbled upon this list of the steepest streets in the US, I just had to see what they looked like, and I started planning a trip to hit all of the most insanely steep stretches of American streets. The scariest thing? People live (and park!) on them.
Of course, what's defined as "steepest" is certainly up for debate. Steepness is measured by grade, so a 32 per cent grade means for every 30m travelled, you rise 10m in elevation. But that grade is also usually not consistent along the whole length of a street, so you might have a longer street with only a very short, steep stretch. It's all in how engineers (and list-makers) choose to count it.
Then you have to look at the definition of a "street". One road that's widely regarded to have the steepest grade in the country, for example, is Waipio Road in Honokaa, Hawaii, at 45 per cent. But only 4WD vehicles are allowed on that road, so I disqualified that one. Here are nine of the steepest in the country that are paved, marked, inhabited and require no special equipment to climb — except calves of steel.
Canton Street, Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh is definitely known for its hills — it has an impressive network of public stairways that go where roads can't. Canton Street is said by locals to be the steepest street in the world, with a 37 per cent grade (even though the Guinness Book of World Records lists Baldwin Street in New Zealand as 38, it was supposedly later proven to be only 35 per cent). Anyway, it's really steep, and some insane people ride their bikes up it every year.
Eldred Street, Los Angeles
A special garbage truck must back up the hill to collect trash on Eldred Street. The 33 per cent grade street has a community of exceptionally friendly people who live on it, who will usually come out and tell tales about rescuing motorists who get spooked when they can't turn around in the tiny cul-de-sac. Yep, it's so steep that it ends in steps — 196 wooden stairs that take residents and urban hikers to the next street above.
28th Street, San Pedro, Los Angeles
If steep streets had nemeses, Eldred and 28th would be mortal enemies. 28th Street in the San Pedro neighbourhood of LA has a 33.3 per cent grade, but only for a very short stretch — a block between Gaffney and Peck where 28th dead ends on both sides at steep street-free climbs. The official grade of the street is 33 per cent, which puts it neck and neck with Eldred — but don't tell that to the people who live there, of course.
Baxter Street, Los Angeles
Yes, another LA street! When the city laid Baxter's concrete in 1884, engineers put special grooves in it to help tires grip in the rain. But that's not the biggest problem on this 32 per cent street, which runs like a roller coaster through Silver Lake and Echo Park: The apex is so steep on each side that larger vehicles tend to bottom out, like this famous shot of a school bus getting stuck. Or this limo getting stuck.
Fargo Street, Los Angeles
Fargo is Baxter's identical twin sister: It's the next street over, features a 32 per cent grade, concrete texturing, and just-as-terrifying ups-and-downs. There are several annual bike rides which climb LA's steepest streets, but the one devoted to Fargo is the most brutal: A simple test to see how many ascents one can make on two wheels. In 2008, one dude did it 101 times.
Maria Avenue, Spring Valley, CA
This peak known as Dictionary Hill might not qualify, technically, if we're talking roads, since Google Maps actually lists this as more of a glorified driveway in the city of Spring Valley, near San Diego. But it makes the grade with 32 per cent, and it does have those fun concrete ridges, which means it's a bitch to get up in the rain.
Dornbush Street, Pittsburgh
At 31.98 per cent grade, Dornbush is so steep and awkward (it's one-way) that there's apparently a gap in Google Street View where the camera couldn't seem to capture the angle. I couldn't find the blind spot, but I did appreciate the fact that a staircase was constructed right next to the roadway to keep walkers safe from runaway cars.
22nd Street, San Francisco
Finally, San Francisco makes the list! The famous Lombard Street might have hairpin curves, but the street itself is not the steepest. San Francisco gets into the top 10 with a tie, actually: Between a stretch of 22nd between Church and Vicksburg, and Filbert Street. 22nd makes its own switchbacks, as you can see here, wandering slowly up from Noe Valley. Again, there are all sorts of disputes to this, like this well-researched article looking at some alleys in the city that might be steeper.
Filbert Street, San Francisco
A tie with 22nd Street's 31.5 per cent grade, Filbert between Leavenworth and Hyde is just as steep and just as scenic. In addition to having stairs built into the sidewalk and not just diagonal but horizontal parking, Filbert, like Eldred in LA, ends in stairs to help walkers get over Telegraph Hill.
Exhausted yet? Or do you want to see how these streets stack up? Fixr.com's infographic shows each street by grade and is worth checking out.