Monday, May 16, 2011

Steep streets, here and elsewhere

On the right you can see the rail, handy for pedestrians trying to make it safely down this road--which cars also drive.

Recently I found this article online about the steepest streets in the world. They range in grade from 32% to 37% and are all in the United States and New Zealand.

This makes me wonder: exactly who is it who says these are the steepest streets in the world? And do we really believe that the very steepest streets in the world also happen to be in the countries with active zoning commissions and rich traditions of self-promotion? None of the steepest streets are in the Himalayas? or in the Andes?

Or in Sarajevo?

We have tried many times to take photos showing how very steep the streets of Sarajevo are (see the photo above, for example), but I can't capture it. Inspired by this list of the steepest streets, I decided to use math to show just how steep our Sarajevo streets!

Basically, the grade of a road is a ratio of how far it rises vertically over a horizontal distance. So if you imagine the surface of the road as the hypoteneuse of a triangle, you just figure out the lengths of the other two legs, divide them, and multiply by 100.

This would, I imagine, be a piece of cake with a surveyor's transit. Which I don't have. You could also figure it without too much problem with a measuring tape and a level. I don't have a level either (though I did find directions for making a homemade one; all I would need would be a length of surgical tubing; sigh).

In the fine expat tradition of making do with what I have, I pulled out my fabric dressmaker's measuring tape and decided that I would measure only roads where the masonry on buildings along the road gave me a pretty good indication of what was level.

My conclusions?

30% grade is really, really steep. Even steeper than most streets in Sarajevo.

Our street, for example, is 15.3% until the steps begin. (At the steps, the grade steepens to 34.7%! Take that, Eldred St. and Fargo St., US New & World Report's third and fourth steepest streets.)

The street that starts just below our steps (seen in the photo at the top) ranges from 17.5%- 19.9%.

Steep though not quite world-record steep.

But I measured only my neighborhood, with only my homemade measuring apparatus. I suspect there are other, even steeper streets in the city.

And I doubt there are many cities that could claim the sheer number of steep streets that Sarajevo has. So bring on the surveying transits! Let's find some new steepest-in-the-world streets.

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