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 U.S., 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 our 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 percent grade means for every 100 feet traveled, you rise 32 feet 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 percent. But only 4-wheel-drive 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.
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 percent 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 percent). Anyway, it's really steep, and some insane people ride their bikes up it every year.
A special garbage truck must back up the hill to collect trash on Eldred Street. The 33 percent 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.
If steep streets had nemeses, Eldred and 28th would be mortal enemies. 28th Street in the San Pedro neighborhood of L.A. has a 33.3 percent 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 percent, which puts it neck and neck with Eldred—but don't tell that to the people who live there, of course.
Yes, another L.A. 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 percent 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 is Baxter's identical twin sister: It's the next street over, features a 32 percent grade, concrete texturing, and just-as-terrifying ups-and-downs. There are several annual bike rides which climb L.A.'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.
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 percent, and it does have those fun concrete ridges, which means it's a bitch to get up in the rain.
At 31.98 percent 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.
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 ten 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.
A tie with 22nd Street's 31.5 percent 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 L.A., 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.
Is there a street near you that could be a contender for one of the country's steepest? Or maybe just a crazy-looking one? Tell us in the comments.