It's 'City Steps' weekend in the 'burgh

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

steptrekEleven years ago, Bob Regan of Squirrel Hill had counted and mapped all of Pittsburgh’s 712 sets of public hillside staircases. A computer mapping professional, he donated his mapping project to the city, which didn’t have its data mapped and didn’t know about more than 100 of the sets.

It was Bob who envisioned an annual event to celebrate the city’s steps — most of them paper streets only — and even named it: StepTrek. The first was held in April 2000 in the South Side Slopes, where it has always been. The Slopes have the greatest concentration with 67.

With a one-year pause in the sequence, StepTrek is now in its 10th year, and it is this Sunday. Registration is at 11 a.m. at 21st and Josephine Streets. It’ll cost you $15, and Animal Friends will benefit. You can even take your leashed pooch along.

Find out more about StepTrek by clicking here or calling 412-488-0486.(Thanks to Bob Kripp and the Southside Slopes Neighborhood Association for these photos.)

I dedicate this post to Bob Regan, who moved to the ‘burgh from Beantown in 1991 and became fully engaged with his new city, biking everyday and discovering the steps as a newcomer. It sometimes takes a pair of fresh eyes to see a thing that natives take for granted. Bob discovered what a lot of us hadn’t realized — that Pittsburgh has the most city steps in the nation and that they are an attraction beyond basic function.stairs

“I remember you and I were walking on the South Side and I envisioned an event called the StepTrek,” Bob told me the other day.

"In the late 1990’s, Ed Jacob of the South Side Slopes neighborhood and his former neighbor Marc Selvaggio were discussing activities for their budding neighborhood association," he said. "They both agreed that one of the fascinating aspects of the Slopes were the public steps.

“It’s incredible to see how it took off.”

He credited the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association's leaders, Joe Balaban and Beverly Bagosi, for keeping the event going.

Now 71 and still biking the city every day, (the photo below is of a bobblehead of Bob), he has another cool idea. “I’d like to see the city have a Celebration of City Steps Weekend,” he said, citing the fact that Fineview is having its Step-a-Thon Challenge — a five-mile hike/run — tomorrow. Other neighborhoods could schedule events that bring their steps to people's attention and we could all meet up afterward for an enormous beer.
Bob saw the tourism potential in the steps at the outset and said then that he hoped each StepTrek would feature different neighborhoods.

In 2004, Bob and photographer Tim Fabian collaborated on a book, “The Steps of Pittsburgh: Portrait of a City.”

The original steps, all of which have been replaced, were built 200 years ago to get people around where no streets could. But they are also naturally whimsical. If it didn’t exist in real life, a staircase that climbs a hillside would be in a fairy tale or a child’s fantasy.

I remember the first StepTrek. It was a warm day. People were sweating and swigging a lot of water. The views were spectacular, but what charmed me most were the patterns of the steps and walkways and streets meeting at strange angles.

There were two or three courses for trekkers to choose among. I did them all with a friend. It might have been then that I fell in love again with this cockeyed ‘burgh. I have re-fallen several times since.

As we walked past little houses and great views, I thought of all the workers who trudged up and down these steps with lunch boxes in hand. At one point, I paused with a group to admire the view and noticed a  women at her side doorway looking at us. We were on her "street," steps whose name I forget now. Her expression said, “What in the world?"

I’d like to think that the next time she went out to get her mail, she saw her “street” anew, like most of us did for the first time on that first StepTrek.

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