Our streets are in no particular order, because grades vary slightly from source to source. They have almost all been, at one point or another, called "the steepest street in the world."
1. This Super Steep Echo Park Street Is Hell on Earth for Cars
As you take the right turn onto Baxter Street, a lovely but beaten-up stretch of road between Allessandro and Alvarado Streets in Echo Park, adjacent to the urban hikers of the neighborhood stairs, you almost can’t believe it. Baxter Street is not the steepest street in Los Angeles — that distinction goes to the less active thoroughfare Eldred Street in Highland Park — but as you ascend its peak, it becomes clear why this street has such a reputation among Angelenos.
It’s not just steep going up, it’s the exact same steepness going down. The street slopes at a 32 percent grade. At the apex, there is no stop sign. There is no moment to collect yourself for the crest of the hill. Hill is too small a word here. It’s a mountain. Angelenos know it and respect Baxter; it’s the site of constant vehicle breakdowns and accidents. Newcomers gawk at it. Baxter Street could even be our ramshackle answer to San Francisco's steep and winding Lombard Street.
Baxter Street is infamous in Los Angeles and has earned many stories since its first official designation by the city in 1872. In the early 1900s, it was used as a pedestrian path for much-loved, but doomed, Pacific Electric streetcar lines that once connected the city like a grid. Baxter Street is close to the line that ran through Echo Park, back when the area was called Edendale. In a less advanced age, maybe the street made sense. In 1887, you could buy a nice plot of land on a hill in Victor Heights region near Echo Park for $700.
2. The world's steepest streets
Spare a thought for residents of the world’s steepest street. Not only must they grind their way up a 35 per cent slope to get home each day, but they must dodge hordes of tourists while doing so - some of whom, due to a lack of public facilities, had taken to relieving themselves in their front gardens. Until this week, that is. For Baldwin Street in Dunedin, recognised by Guinness World Records for its ludicrous gradients, has just had a loo installed. The $90,000 commode is a response to the quirky attraction’s growing popularity. The New Zealand city is increasingly appearing on cruise ship itineraries, and many of those that disembark make a beeline for the otherwise unassuming residential road.
And when nature called, it was causing problems. A local church minister, Steve O’Connor, told Radio New Zealand that he had been urging the council to install the loo for some time.
“We've had bus drivers just tell the people ‘go and use the church toilets, they're quite happy for you to do it’, without ever checking with us,” he said.
“My administrator was going to lock up one day and heard voices in the chapel and there were 15 people in there waiting to use the loo.”
3. The steepest road on earth takes no prisoners
PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania – Most people would call The Dirty Dozen a grueling bicycle race. Hardcore cyclists in Pittsburgh call it a great way to burn off Thanksgiving dinner.
Every year since 1983 bike nuts have subjected themselves to a 50-mile ride that hits the 13 steepest climbs in a city not known for being particularly flat. Conquering that many hills is no easy feat, but to make it just a little tougher the route includes Canton Avenue, which has been called the steepest road in the world.
Canton Avenue takes no prisoners. It quickly and mercilessly punishes the weak and the stupid. This cobblestone beast has a 37 percent grade. It's a bitch to climb under the best of circumstances, much less after tackling eight other hills in 30 miles. The rest of the course is no piece of cake, mind you. It crosses rivers and valleys while also forcing riders to navigate holiday traffic.
Almost 200 riders turned out this year, and most of them conquered all the climbs. They're a dedicated bunch, and many of those who falter halfway up simply coast to the bottom and try again. The goal for most riders is to finish, not to win, and some of them need seven hours to do it. If it matters, this year's winners were Steve Cummings and Betsy Shogren, both of whom have won before.
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4. Getting the Slant on L.A.'s Steepest Street
There's a steep price to pay for living on Eldred Street. You have cars that run away. Truck cargos that roll away. Mail carriers who fade away. Visitors who turn around and go away. "To live here, you learn what you can and can't do," said Ric Phiegh, whose Highland Park home is on the steepest street in Los Angeles. In a city bisected by a mountain range and laced with hills and ridges, that distinction is high praise.
Experts calculate that Eldred gains 219 feet in elevation as it climbs a stomach-clutching 33% grade between Avenue 50 and Cross Avenue on the side of Mt. Washington. True, a portion of a street in San Pedro has a tiny stretch of pavement with a 33.3% grade. But Eldred is in an elevated class of its own because the slope runs for a long stretch. Special scaled-down garbage trucks are assigned to pick up trash on Eldred Street each Tuesday morning.
And their two-man crews back up the steep incline before inching their way down the street to pick up trash. That way their truck won't tip over when they try to turn around at the top of street. Letter carriers have given up on house-to-house deliveries, although one longtime mailman braved the slope in a squeaky-braked truck for years. Mail is now distributed in group mailboxes at the base of the hill. Some street maps mistakenly suggest that Eldred is a through street. But a rickety wooden stairway connects its dead end with Cross Avenue farther up the hill. 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.
5. Fargo Street (Los Angeles, CA, U.S.)
Fargo Street, located in Echo Park, is the steepest hill in Los Angeles, and one of the steepest streets in the U.S. It has been measured at a 33% grade by city engineers. The street, like Pittsburgh's Canton Avenue, is also home to a grueling bike ride. Since 1974, the Los Angeles Wheelmen Club has sponsored an annual springtime ride on the ascent. According to the organization, the reward for making it to the top is "bragging rights and a handsome commemorative Fargo Street patch."
6. Waipio Valley Road
Waipio Valley is a marvelous valley located in the Hamakua District of the Big Island of Hawai’i. In the Hawaiian language "Waipiʻo" means curved water. Waipio represents a steep road that goes down into the valley from a great point located on the top of the southern wall of the valley. The Waipio Valley Road on the island of Hawai'i is the steepest road of its length in the world, reaching 250 meters from the Waipio Valley to the plateau situated just 1 kilometer above. The average grade is 25% and the peak grade reaches 40%. In some places this valley is steeper than the Baldwin Street, in Dunedin, New Zealand and Canton Avenue in Pittsburgh, which are considered as the world's steepest streets. The Waipio Valley Road looks like a real road, not a street, and offers such a great experience for cyclists. Sometimes it is not recognized as a road because it is open only to 4-wheel drive vehicles, but it is a good paved road well maintained by the government.
7. Lombard Street
The block of Lombard between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets began as a straight, cobblestone street with a 27% grade. In the 1920s the people living on this street wanted cars, but the street was too steep for vehicles. Carl Henry, insurance and drug business executive, is credited with initially proposing the idea of a curved street. Henry owned half of the lots on the 1000 block of Lombard and land all around the street. He created a lily pond and rose gardens, and had planned to give his land to the city as a park. However, when he died his widow sold the property to pay off debts.
Since the Lombard Street lots were inaccessible by autos, the property values were not as high as on neighboring streets. The landowners approached city engineer Clyde Healy, who came up with the street design.
A newspaper article published in the San Francisco Call, 6 December 1905, "New Street Transportation Ideas Are Suggested to City's Merchants" mentions another civil engineer hired by the he Merchants Association. This article indicates that in 1905 the Merchants Association hired a civil engineer named William Barclay Parsons to advise them how to improve San Francisco transportation. Parsons advocated the use of tunneling and terracing. The article includes sketches from his report showing how the terracing would look on California Street and on the slopes of Nob Hill. The California Street drawing is very similar to what was actually done on Lombard in 1922 and Vermont in 1928.
8. Britain’s steepest street is a cyclist’s worst nightmare
But cyclists looking for a real challenge should head to Bristol instead. Vale Street, which is located in the aptly named Bristolian suburb of Totterdown, is the steepest street in Britain, with a shocking 21.81º gradient incline. The second steepest is Old Wynche Road in Worcestershire, with a 17.54º slope. Naturally, the road is a favourite spot for cyclists, who consider making it up the hill alive a lifetime achievement.
According to Road Cycling UK, the path is ‘as much a mental hurdle as a physical one, with the road ramping up so sharply at the bottom it is almost vertical.’ Cyclists are advised to take a generous run-up before they approach the climb if they don’t want to get stuck. Vale Street is also the location of Totterdown’s annual Easter egg roll, when Bristolians go head-to-head on Easter Sunday to see who can roll an egg down the street the furthest before it breaks.