Walking Mt. Lebanon

Woman walking on sidewalk with dog
Kate Nielsen with walking companion, Romeo.



omeo and I had grown tired of taking the same three looped walks near our house on Inglewood Drive.

Depending on the time of day, we did a short, medium or long loop. We were like two old trail horses who could have found our way blindfolded around those same streets. Well, in retrospect, maybe only one of us had started to tire of those well-trodden paths. Romeo, my golden retriever, probably did not care, as long as he got to go for a walk.

I had thought about driving to other parts of Mt. Lebanon to take a walk, but it was always easier just to head out the door on foot. In the spring of 2022, inspired by reading about walk-your-city projects, many of them undertaken during the darkest days of the pandemic, I thought: Why not walk every street in Mt. Lebanon? I had read about a man who had run every street in San Francisco. If he could do that in such a large city, surely I could at least manage to walk all the streets of our town. And, if nothing else, Romeo approved of the plan as it meant long walks in previously unexplored territory.

On a warm Saturday in May, I parked at Jefferson Elementary School and Romeo and I set off on our first walk, exploring the leafy green streets of Pinoak, Sweet Gum and Old Hickory roads, and Oak Park Place. I could have used a map app to track my progress, but I decided to go old school. My husband, Krister, a volunteer with the Mt. Lebanon Fire Department, lent me a set of detailed paper maps that divides Mt. Lebanon into 10 zones (those paper maps were more than a decade old; the firefighters use a phone app now to see the location of a call).

As I worked through the zones, I highlighted each completed street on the maps. I was wildly undisciplined in my approach, sometimes dabbling in one zone and then jumping to another. Other times, I worked methodically through a zone in consecutive walks. I tried to be somewhat strategic to avoid too much doubling back but sometimes it was unavoidable. I did not hit every square inch of every street, and there were times when I chose not to go all the way to the end of a dead-end street, but I made an honest effort to see as much as I could, minus a few streets like Connor Road that were simply not safe for pedestrians.

Occasionally, a family member or friend joined in, but it was mostly just Romeo and me. A dog as my copilot, always cheerful and willing.

Four months later, with virtually all 10 zones of our MLFD maps brightly colored with neon yellow, Romeo and I did our final walk of the project. It was our 41st walk and it included streets such as Valley Park, Brafferton and Fruithurst drives, and Sleepy Hollow Road. All told, we had covered 106 miles and walked for more than 36 hours during those 41 walks.

Exploring Mt. Lebanon on foot allows you to appreciate so much more than when you speed past in a car. During my project, I realized how much there was to see, including swaths of the municipality that were entirely new to me, even after living her for more than a decade.

For example, as someone who lives on the west side of Washington Road, most of the east side was uncharted territory. It felt like the part of a medieval map that said, “Here, there be dragons.” I had heard of Crystal and Gypsy but had never been on those streets. I had heard of Sunset Hills Park but had no idea where it was. But now I could see those areas at a meandering pace and understand how they connected to the parts of Mt. Lebanon with which I was familiar, as well as to our neighboring communities.

I also grew to appreciate how different the various corners of Mt. Lebanon are. Some streets felt urban while others had a suburban vibe, with houses set further apart and larger lawns.

The diversity of residential spaces was surprising too, with apartment buildings tucked in amongst single-family homes, an impressive array of duplexes and some beautiful mansions. And, of course, I appreciated the architecture for which Mt. Lebanon is well known—the Tudors, Dutch Colonials, Arts and Crafts bungalows, and mid-century ranches. Checking out the numerous examples of renovations and additions was like flipping through an architectural look book in real time, giving me ample inspiration for both home and garden projects (most of which will remain in the fantasy realm).

woman looking at maps
Nielsen highlighted the streets she walked on a map.  

There were also surprising features, such as the glimpses one can get of the private Cedar Lake from Lakemont Drive, the small lanes that connected the backs of houses, and the stairwells and footpaths that connected streets like a life-sized version of Chutes and Ladders. There were also unusual road features, like ring-shaped roads that changed names halfway around, such as between Woodhaven/Longuevue drives and McCully Street/Royce Avenue. And the curious stop-start nature of Sleepy Hollow Road, which stopped after Sunset Drive, only to start up again at Richland Road. I would love to know the story behind that.

Geographically, I can attest that there was not one walk that Romeo and I took that did not involve some sort of hill. Every single segment of the municipality had a calf-burning ascent, often to a lovely vista. But there were some that put other sloped streets to shame (you call this a hill? Here, hold my beer) like Kenforest Drive, Glaids Drive and the Mayfair stretch from Vernon Drive to Cedar Boulevard. In addition to the hills, many walks included a street with beautiful, towering trees. The block of Austin Avenue between Summer Place and Terraceview Avenue, with its impressive canopy, left me awestruck, as did the block of Old Farm Road between Fruithurst and Brafferton drives.

Maps of Mt. Lebanon streets
The finished product. All the streets. Walked. 

As I walked through Mt. Lebanon, I couldn’t help but imagine what it would have been like to live on other streets or in other houses. What would our life have been like if we hadn’t landed where we did? When we moved here from Washington, D.C., we had a day to find a house and did a whirlwind tour of five properties. My mind played out a scenario from the movie Sliding Doors in which we ended up in that house we looked at on Jayson Avenue instead of the one we did. Would we have been happier if we lived closer to Uptown or the recreation center? Yet, at the end of these musings, and, at the end of every walk, I was always happy to return to the street where I live, the street where the house we bought had become a home.

There is something about Mt. Lebanon, or “the bubble,” as some people call it, that creates unusual loyalty among its residents. This is a place where people grow up, maybe move away for a while, but then come back to raise their children. This is a place where adults still have friends they met in elementary school. Yet, it may also be a place where we are stuck in our familiar grooves. We have the same streets where we always travel and the same places we always walk our dogs.

So, if you have the ability to get outside your usual routine, I encourage you to take a walk through an unfamiliar street in Mt. Lebanon. There is so much to see. And, as for Romeo and me? We are thinking about our next project.

Photography by Elizabeth Hruby McCabe