Step Streets: An Unusual Means of Network Connectivity

For accurate routing, network connectivity is essential. This is the case regardless of one’s mode of travel. A person may start a journey on foot, move to a bicycle, then to subway and finish off her trip again on foot. Nevertheless, all legs (e.g., street, bike lane, subway line) of the journey, regardless of the mode of travel, need to be connected.

In the course of a trip, we may on occasion encounter unusual means of ‘network’ connectivity. For example, we may need to carry our bicycle up a set of stairs to enter onto a bridge. In this post, I will cover what I find to be an unusual means of urban connectivity: step streets – more on the name later. Quite simply, a step street can be considered an outdoor stairway or a series of steps that connect two different elevations.

When I think of ‘step streets’ as access ways in urban environments, older European cities come to mind first. Cities with narrow streets and sometimes steep grades that were laid out well before the advent of the automobile. One of the most famous examples, albeit not of a narrow passageway, is the Spanish Steps in Rome that connects Piazza di Spagna and Piazza TrinitĂ  dei Monti.


Image via Wikipedia

A more classic example, of a steep narrow passageway comprised of steps, can be found in Lago D’Iseo, Italy. You could probably schlep a bicycle up these steps but not much more.

Narrow Step Street

Narrow Step Street

Image via Martha’s Marvelous Munchies

In older city settings, stairs or paths were probably the only means for getting pedestrians from point A to point B. I do not profess to know the history of steps in urban settings, but I imagine they were built out of necessity. In most cases, one could imagine, due to limited remaining space and a large difference in elevation. And in these parts of a city, cars are often not permitted for obvious reasons.

Stateside, San Francisco comes to mind first due to its hilly terrain and a street layout that works with, not against, the terrain. Although an amazing site with beautiful landscaping and a notable tourist destination, Lombard Street demonstrates the impractical nature, and some might argue, misuse of space, in trying to move automobiles through extremely steep spaces.

Lombard St, San Francisco

Lombard St, San Francisco

Image via Wikipedia

In contrast there are a series of pedestrian-only ‘stairways’ that connect Jones and Taylor Streets in the Russian Hill section of San Francisco. In OpenStreetMap, these ways are tagged highway = steps. For more in San Francisco stariways see here.

San Francisco Stairways

San Francisco Stairways

Back here in New York City, where the terrain is considerably flatter and the rents slightly lower, there are a series of narrow passageways comprised entirely of steps that are limited to pedestrians and are referred to in the local vernacular as ‘step streets.’

Many step streets are official streets and therefore can be found on the official City Map. For background context, the official City Map is a collection of Alteration maps. Alteration maps record changes to the City Map including public streets, parks and public places – see here for more information. Alteration maps of a corresponding area supersede all previous Alteration Maps from previous dates).

Below is a portion of an Alteration map from 1955 recording the elimination (de-mapping) of West 230th Street in the Bronx. This map shows both West 230th and West 231st Street labeled ‘STEPS.’ This label is most likely how the term step street started: as one might say as a cartographer’s annotation.

Alteration Map: Elimination of W 230 St

Alteration Map: Elimination of W 230 St


Alteration Map courtesy of the Department of City Planning. To see the complete map click on the image.

Step streets can also be found in NYC Open Data where the Roadway Type (RW_TYPE) is 7.
LION
CSCL

One of the hilliest areas in NYC is northern Manhattan and the Bronx. And as one might expect that is where the greatest number of step streets are found. This is where you will find the densest clustering of step streets. And these are the ‘classic’ step streets (i.e., connect two streets). The example below connects two sections of Pinehurst Street in Manhattan north of W 181st Street.

Pinehurst Ave & W 181 St, Manhattan

Based on the data, the longest step street is West 230th Street between Netherland and Johnson Avenue in the Bronx. A length of approximately 295′ with an elevation difference of 38′ for a grade of 12.9 percent. A relatively modest slope compared to the 26.8 percent grade of W 187 Street between Overlook Terrace and Fort Washington Ave also in the Bronx.

The definition of a step street seems to have been expanded to include steps that connect streets to the boardwalks in the Rockaways. In any case, go ahead and download the data to explore these and other interesting anomalies or check out the map below.

Additional reading:
Forgotten New York
Sister Betty
Boredpanda

Make your own map of NYC

So you want to make a map of NYC. You are familiar with the NYC Open Data Portal but have had some difficulty in finding all the data you need. You have the requisite software to construct the map (e.g., QGIS, ArcGIS, MapBox Studio, etc.) and the basic skills to do so. Perfect, read on.

This post is intended to provide a single source for the map ingredients. It is not intended to be the map cookbook. It’s up to the reader (i.e., mapper) to decide on data to include, colors, symbols, labels, fonts, etc.

NYC Planimetrics

The table below lists NYC DoITT geospatial data on the Open Data Portal and provides a very basic description of each data set. For more detailed information, see the included metadata. The table is grouped into core basemap features and other DoITT data.

The first grouping of data comprises the data used to construct the above map. These data are referred to as the planimetrics (aka NYCMap). Planimetrics are features captured from aerial photography and represent the City’s basemap. These features are updated on a four year cycle. Most but not all features are provided to the public. Utility structures is one that is not due to security concerns. For an historical perspective and to see how far we have come, read the following article on NYCMap. *Note the full article requires a subscription.

The second group represents other NYC DoITT data that may be of interest but is not necessary for producing a basemap. Some of these data are maintained directly by DoITT and others are compiled from agency sources. We do our best to keep these data current.

The last group includes notable geospatial data sets not managed by DoITT and agency sites where spatial data can be found.

Feature Name Notes/Alternate name Download URL
DoITT Boardwalks Boardwalks http://bit.ly/1AgMGek
Building footprint Permiter of base of building with height http://bit.ly/2gj5p1m
Contours Two-foot contours http://bit.ly/1xzWbBJ
Hydrography Water bodies http://bit.ly/1GXHvSp
Hydrography Structures Manmade features at the waterfront http://bit.ly/1qVgBAn
Medians Physical separation between travel lanes. http://bit.ly/2gsQPHZ
Miscellaneous Structures Billboards, sign gantrys, etc. http://bit.ly/2gsY2HS
Open Space City and Non-City parks and fields http://bit.ly/1xp4KSu
Parking Lots Paved parking areas http://bit.ly/1rZDCof
Pavement Edge Perimeter edge of pavement http://bit.ly/1q69NxX
Retaining Walls Where elev difference >= 10 feet http://bit.ly/2hc1V2i
Roadbed Roadway (polygon) http://bit.ly/1sNPqbn
Sidewalks Sidewalks in the right-of-way http://bit.ly/1s33RLE
Shoreline features NYC shoreline http://bit.ly/1BJo2EL
Swimming pools Inground only http://bit.ly/2hdo9nt
Cooling towers Ventilation and cooling towers > 4′ in diameter. http://bit.ly/2hdrGlH
Additional DoITT Spatial Data
Address Points Point representing addresses. http://bit.ly/2hbXu7H
Citywide Street Centerline CSCL; includes Bike lanes http://bit.ly/1zVbRmk
Digital Elevation Model One-foot DEM http://bit.ly/1sNY0GQ
NYC Wi-Fi Hotspot Locations Open and fee-based public wifi http://bit.ly/1wOcEiX
After-School Programs City-funded programs http://bit.ly/1BJnv5S
Agency Service Center Walk-in service centers http://bit.ly/1xxtqYZ
Greenthumb Community garden program http://bit.ly/1uEYXWv
Business Improvement Districts BIDS http://bit.ly/1qpzSiP
Individual Landmarks Individual, scenic and interior landmarks http://bit.ly/1ClycWj
Historic Districts Designated historic districts http://bit.ly/1G9V6HA
NYCHA Developments New York City Housing Authority http://bit.ly/1vkNxZJ
Zip Code Boundaries Zip code polygons http://bit.ly/1Ha4JVx
Data Services / Ready-to-use data
Building footprints and subway lines, stations and entrances Auto-synched on CARTO http://bit.ly/2gtoIs3
Notable Non-DoITT Spatial Data
Digital Tax Map DOF tax map; inlcudes blocks, lots, air rights, etc. http://bit.ly/1gfX6gs
Bytes of the Big Apple Various data sets including MapPLUTO http://on.nyc.gov/1wBowrp
Dept. of Transportation Various data sets & feeds http://on.nyc.gov/1yiQTtX

Every effort will be made to ensure the above table is complete and the links are current. If you find an error or omission, please feel free to add a comment below to let us know. Lastly, check back periodically as this table will be expanded as newer data sets are published.

Last updated: 12/09/2016

Happy mapping!