John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Where lie the country's steepest, most muscle-shredding streets?
Any cyclists out there want to take on what Lance Armstrong has deemed the "steepest climb I've ever seen on a bike"?
Then buy a ticket to for Hawaii and pedal to Waipio Valley Road, a short but tortuous climb of 800 feet in six-tenths of a mile. With sections slanted at a 45-
degree percent grade, and access given only to cars with 4-wheel drive, just looking at the muscle-shredding lane can make rivers of sweat start to flow. As Armstrong said: "You know it's steep when the people walking down are walking backward."
This fearsome cliff road gets top billing on "Top 10 U.S. Steepest Streets," a ranking of terrible hills for cyclists created by Fixr and recently featured at Urban Velo. The run-down contains some challenging claims for folks who think America's worst hills are located in San Francisco or perhaps the Rockies. The second-slantiest street, for instance, is said to be Canton Avenue in Pittsburgh. It is the "steepest public street in the United States," writes Fixr, "only second steepest in the Guinness Book of Records because of a mistake in calculations (1st is Baldwin St. New Zealand, thought to have been 38% but is actually 35%)."
The next four steepest streets in this ranking are all in Los Angeles. There's Eldred Street, a hill so perilous that locals "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." And on the circa-1800s Baxter Street, drivers are said to "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."
The Bay Area and Spring Valley also make the list, though San Francisco makes a poor showing at ninth and tenth places. That must seem insane to anybody who's humped around the famously hilly city. And indeed, one commenter has taken issue with this low placement, writing that the "real steepest streets of San Francisco are upwards of 40% gradient." As evidence for that, there's this investigation by Data Pointed's Stephen von Worley challenging the city's official list of steepest streets. Through dogged legwork, Worley found a hill on North Beach's Romolo Place with a 40 percent grade, and promptly rechristened it the "Super Steep Street Most Likely To Inflict Coffee Crotch On Early Morning Delivery Truck Drivers."
So, anybody want to go on a ride tomorrow?
For people not lucky enough to have slogged up or down these mini-mountains, here's footage of what a nerve-wracking experience it can be. First, Waipio Valley Road:
Head to 2:30 in this video to see people actually trying to race up Pittburgh's notorious Canton Avenue:
Image courtesy of Fixr