Friday, 30 September 2016


7 of the world's steepest streets
By Matt Hickman,
Mother Nature Network, 27 September 2016.

Do you have reoccurring anxiety dreams that involve abrupt stalling, rolling backwards or brake failure?

Have you ever had a panic attack driving in downtown Seattle?

Well then, the seven roads that we're about to describe - among the steepest in the world - are perhaps the roads best not taken.

For everyone else - we're talking to you, confident motorists and undaunted cyclists - super-steep streets can be quite thrilling. (Take for example the top photo from Baldwin Street, which we will talk about more in the next entry.) Many of them are throwbacks to an era when urban planning was more loosey-goosey and grade limits didn't exist, no matter how formidable the terrain. Some are bona fide tourist destinations, others a bit more out of the way. Most, but not all, are residential and fully open to public traffic. And, most importantly, some boast stomach-sinking maximum grades of over 30 percent.

So, buckle your seat belts - or lace up your best walking shoes - we're in for a vertiginous ride.

1. Baldwin Street: Dunedin, New Zealand

Photo: Tristan Schmurr/Flickr

A major city on New Zealand's South Island, Dunedin is famous for its sizable student population, wealth of Victorian architecture, UNESCO-recognized literary pedigree and for having hills - lots and lots of hills. It's at Signal Hill in North East Valley, one of Dunedin's slope-y inner-suburbs, that you'll find this already-photogenic city's most Instagrammable landmark: a street that seems to shoot right up into the heavens.

Dead-ending in what's likely the world's most terrifying cul-de-sac, 1,150-foot-long Baldwin Street reaches a maximum grade of 35 percent, rising from 98 feet above sea level at its bottom to 330 feet above sea level at the top. While Baldwin Street's length is modest, its dramatically inclined nature has earned it the title of world's steepest residential street by Guinness World Records. However, there's typographical error-based controversy attached with this title as, supposedly, the street's grade in degrees was confused with its percentage grade, initially measured at 38 percent and later downgraded to 35 percent. Whatever the case, Baldwin Street is the real deal - a tourist magnet in which brave visitors limp away with photos of impossibly tilted abodes and incredibly sore calves.

The result of a London-based surveyor laying out Dunedin's neat grid system without taking into consideration the area's ultra-hilly terrain, Baldwin Street is home to two annual competitions: the Baldwin Street Gutbuster and the Cadbury Jaffa Race, a hugely popular event also known as the Running of the Balls in which thousands of red-shelled chocolate candies are hurled from the top of the street in the name of charity.

2. Canton Avenue: Pittsburgh

Photo: Dobie/Flickr

If you've ever visited or lived in Pittsburgh - enchanted land of funiculars and French fry-stuffed sandwiches - you're already probably well aware that it's a unique and, at times - depending on how you feel about bridges and hills - daunting town to get around. Boasting a terrain best described as super-vertiginous, it's to little surprise that Steel City - Steep City is more like it - is home to the most precipitous public street in America.

Located southwest of downtown Pittsburgh in the Beechview neighborhood is Canton Avenue, a public thoroughfare with a gulp-inducing grade of 37 percent. At a little over 200 feet long, the hilly section of Canton Avenue is significantly shorter than that of New Zealand's Baldwin Street, the street recognized by the superlative-bestowing folks at Guinness World Records as the being the steepest in the world. However, cobblestone-paved Canton Avenue is technically steeper than Baldwin Street by a grade of 2 percent. Furthermore, depending on whom you ask, Pittsburgh isn't just the steepest public street in the U.S. but on the planet.

While slowly slogging up the public staircase that flanks Pittsburgh's most arduous avenue is one thing, biking up the street itself is another. Just ask the brave cyclists participating in the annual Dirty Dozen, a hill-conquering 50-mile race around the 'Burgh in which Canton Avenue, recently featured in all of its extreme glory in Audi's Quattro Challenge campaign, serves as the grueling, spirit-breaking centerpiece.

3. Filbert Street: San Francisco

Photo: Goodshoped35110s/Wikimedia Commons

Say what you will about San Francisco in the 21st century (prohibitively expensive, smelly, overrun by tech bros, etc.), the City by the Bay has managed to maintain its striking good looks - good looks that involve some serious hills.

Most serious of them all is the calf-burning stretch of Filbert Street directly below the detour-worthy Filbert Street Steps and, above that, Pioneer Park and the art deco landmark, Coit Tower. With a maximum grade of 31.5 percent between Hyde and Leavenworth streets, this rather daunting stretch of concrete that travels up the side of Telegraph Hill isn't technically the steepest street in San Francisco. (In fact, a stretch of 22nd Street between Vicksburg and Church in Noe Valley is just as steep.) However, Filbert Street is often promoted as the steepest major street in the city. It's also one of the most tourist-y - if you were to stop and ask a local to be directed to the city's steepest street, they'd likely point you in the direction of Filbert Street. Or perhaps they'll mistakenly/dismissively send you two blocks over to the postcard-starring stretch of Lombard Street between Hyde and Leavenworth, which is more famous for its hairpin curves than its stomach-dropping incline. In fact, this exceptionally crooked part of Lombard Street is so overrun with visitors, a toll is being considered to help regulate traffic and placate frustrated area residents.

4. Eldred Street: Los Angeles

Photo: Roy Randall/Flickr

While San Francisco and Seattle - both, like Rome, claim to have been built on seven hills - tend to get most of the attention in the steep street department, another West Coast burg, Los Angeles, is quietly home to decent handful of few breathtakingly pitched roadways that rank among the steepest in the world.

Located in the sleepy and affluent northeast LA neighborhood of Mount Washington, Eldred Street is so steep (33 percent grade) that it dead ends and continues as a wooden staircase, which connects it to the cross street directly above. Established in 1912, long before the city instituted its 15 percent grade limit for new streets, life on Eldred Street - a street that, gulp, climbs 219 feet in elevation - is, well, unique.

As the Los Angeles Times detailed in 2003, weekly garbage pickup is performed by modified garbage trucks. Mail delivery became non-existent after carriers threw in the proverbial towel - residents now must descend to the bottom of the hill to fetch parcels and letters. There have even been a number of tilt-and-roll incidents over the years. As for the poor drivers who inadvertently find themselves at the top of Eldred and are too terrified to turn around and come back down, the Times notes that those who reside along this perilously angled road keep a watchful eye out: "Eldred residents have been known to rescue unsuspecting motorists from the top of their street by volunteering to drive stranded, panic-stricken strangers' cars down for them." As one Eldred Street homeowner explains: "One thing you cannot do is get off the paved road if it's raining or wet. You'll slide sideways down the hill." He adds: "To live here, you learn what you can and can't do."

5. Baxter Street: Los Angeles

Photo: Oleg./Flickr

Sure, Baxter Street, which runs through the ultra-hip east-side neighborhoods of Echo Park and Silvelake, may not be the steepest in LA. Both Eldred Street (33 percent grade) and a super-short stretch of 28th Street (33.3 percent grade) in San Pedro are listed by the city as being a touch steeper.

However, what Baxter Street boasts over its competition is length: This notoriously white-knuckle road laid out in 1884 goes on and on for blocks - with a grade of 32 percent, the steepest section stretches from North Alvarado to Allesandro Streets, parallel to equally as panic-inducing Fargo, Ewing and Duane streets - giving it what the Los Angeles Times calls "a roller coaster quality." Writes the Times of Baxter Street's stomach-dropping charms: "Unsuspecting motorists gasp when they reach the crest and discover the roadway in front of them has dropped out of sight and there is nothing but empty space in front of their car's hood."

Over the years, Baxter Street residents have witnessed head-on collisions, runaway cars and at least one perilously positioned school bus. The street is so infamous that it's earned a few Yelp reviews, including this one-star assessment: "...our little hybrid started sliding backwards and we almost died." Fargo Street, one street over and just as hellish, is home to a long-running annual bicycle climb hosted by the Los Angeles Wheelmen.

6. Waipio Valley Road: Honokaa, Hawaii

Photo: Wasif Malik/Flickr

Twisty, turn-y and altogether terrifying, Waipio Valley Road, on the northeast coast of Hawaii's Big Island, is the one outlier on this list in that it's not a fully accessible public road and there are no homes or business located along it it. In fact, only incredibly brave and experienced operators of four-wheel-drive vehicles are permitted to travel along this perilous - but, mercifully, paved - one-lane stretch through the lush Hawaiian rain forest. Rumor is, even local car rental companies forbid customers from attempting it.

Now for the numbers. As Stephen Von Worley of Data Pointed notes, the road begins at a scenic overlook and a whole bunch of warning signs - or where the "pavement dives into a giant gash." The under-a-mile descent itself is a cold sweat-inducing 900 feet down into the preternaturally beautiful Waipio Valley with an average grade of 25 percent throughout the entire ride. With extended sections of the mountainous road titled at 30 percent, at one point it reaches a maximum grade of 45 percent - yep, 45 percent. While the scenery is certainly stunning, we'd give this drive a hard pass given that even this video makes us anxious.

7. Vale Street: Totterdown, England

Photo: Sam Saunders/Flickr

The United Kingdom, particularly Wales and South West England, is home to a slew of superlatively slanted streets: Jenkin Road in Yorkshire, Jutland Street in Manchester, Keere Street in Lewes and, of course, Steep Hill in Lincolnshire, just to name a few. Most notable, however, is Vale Street in the hip 'n' hilly Bristol suburb of Totterdown. Often referred to the steepest street open to regular traffic in the U.K., Vale Street may be relatively short (only 600 or so feet) but its gradient is one for the record books.

So how steep exactly is Vale Street? That’s unclear, although most put the near-vertical bottom section of the street in the ballpark of 35 percent. Not too shabby at all. Flanked by 19th-century terrace homes and a staircase built into the concrete, Vale Street is closed off to automobile traffic once a year for one of Bristol's most unusual annual events: a community Easter egg roll.

Top image: House at Baldwin Street, Dunedin, New Zealand. Credit: Andy king50/Wikimedia Commons.

[Source: Mother Nature Network. Edited. Some links added.]

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