Pittsburgh’s Canton Avenue is getting new signs designating it the ‘steepest street in the continental U.S.’

Could the hills help with Beechview’s comeback?

Hell on Hills 5K
Hell on Hills / Facebook
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It may not come as a surprise to you — or anyone who’s ever climbed up it, driven down it or marveled at its precipice — but Canton Avenue in Beechview is uncommonly steep.

In fact, it’s considered the steepest street in the continental U.S.

But visitors and the uninitiated may be forgiven for not immediately recognizing this distinction with nothing there to indicate as much.

That changes Saturday.

In a ceremony scheduled for 11 a.m., District 4 Councilman Anthony Coghill — whose district includes Beechview — will be joined by others in unveiling two new signs that will be affixed to the top and bottom of Canton Avenue declaring it the steepest street in America. Moira Kaleida, spokesperson for Coghill’s office, said to her knowledge this will be the first such marker on Canton.

The road itself is short, just a tenth-of-a-mile long, but stunningly vertical with a 37 percent gradient. For comparison, the Duquesne Incline has a 30.5 percent gradient.

The sign — or signs — will note its class-leading slope and direct readers to five similarly situated streets nearby: Boustead, Hampshire, Fallowfield, Belasco and Dagmar. (For the record: none of these are runners-up. The second steepest street in the continental U.S. is in Los Angeles.)

Kaleida said the signs were Coghill’s idea: “He said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if…’ and I said, ‘Let me see what I can do.’” The idea was greenlit by Department of Mobility and Infrastructure Director Karina Ricks soon after. And for Coghill, whose 2017 campaign promised a business and economic resurgence in lagging District 4 neighborhoods like Beechview, embracing the district’s topographical quirks is part of that process.

“We have a lot to offer by way of not only our geography, but also our restaurants and our new businesses, and it’s important to us that people recognize we’re here and want to be seen and that there are cool things to do,” Kaleida explained.

In Beechview, streets like Canton Avenue are already something of a driving force. They’ve led to the creation of the Hell on Hills 5K, which touts Canton Avenue’s inclusion in what organizers call the steepest route of its kind in the world, and the Dirty Dozen bike race. Both promise a punishing, not-for-the-faint-of-heart experience made all the more possible by grueling natural terrain.

Kaleida said Dirty Dozens founder Danny Chew, who was paralyzed in a bike accident in 2016, has been invited to attend Saturday’s unveiling along with Hell on Hills founder Bethany Ruhe and representatives of the BikePGH organization.

In an email to The Incline, Ruhe said she’s all for marketing the local terrain to weekend warriors who then stick around and shop local.

“Beechviewers have been weirdly proud of our steep hills forever,” she said. “Now we are just realizing that other people are embracing our hills, too. We’ve got a lot of things going for Beechview that are starting to get out there, Our quirky hills, the T running down main street, the best tacos in Pittsburgh, and a business district that is in the midst of a comeback. Basically, it’s come for the hills, stay for food and culture.”

Kaleida said people passing through Beechview and asking about Canton Avenue have become more common in recent years. Most want a photo opp or selfie. Come Saturday they’ll have two new signs to pose in front of.

“Pittsburgh is famous for its steel producing heritage and infamous for its hills,” those signs will read, adding, “In Beechview, you don’t stroll through, you have to conquer.”