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Matt:

Would you do a favor for all us bike riders and make a list of the steepest streets in San Diego?

-- A. Rider, San Diego

Dear Matthew Alice:

What are the steepest street sections in San Diego? Suggested nominations are on West Laurel Street, downtown, and Loring Street in Pacific Beach. What is the steepest the codes allow for public streets?

-- Mary Krimmel, the net

This question was good for one of our better office pools. Everybody had an opinion. We were all in agreement, though, that Mary really has to get out more. The stretch of Laurel between State and Union is up there on the steep-o-meter, but there are locations that can beat it. To be honest, my money was on B Street in Golden Hill, between 20th and 21st. Turns out that's the same as Laurel-- a 22.5% grade. A lot of the elves lost their allowance betting on Ash Street, between Sixth and Seventh, downtown. It's only 22.2%.

So maybe the elves have to get out more too. According to city calculations, the best streets on which to commit suicide on a skateboard are in Point Loma and Mission Hills. Number one is Poe Street at Evergreen, on the east slope of Point Loma, at 28.6%. Neighboring Oliphant Street is number two at 26.6%. Torrance west of Keating, in the Uptown/Mission Hills area, is number three at 26%. Just west of there, Bandini between San Diego and California is 24.9%. The city's list doesn't have anything to say about the likes of Texas, Hill, Talbot, Guy-- a few of the others that got a vote from the elves.

Of course, there's always one wise guy in the pool. Pa Alice kicked in a fin and just said "Dictionary Hill." We couldn't get him to be more specific, streetwise. He just insisted that somewhere on that legendary knob in Spring Valley we'd find our steepest street. Well, the place is known for its gravity-defying layout, so we grabbed our calculators and took a field trip to the county cartography department. Now we're sorry we did. Pa Alice is demanding his money; Ma Alice, our referee, says he loses on a technicality; and Grandma Alice, who was holding the pot, keeps bugging us to drive her to Fashion Valley to spend her windfall on new aprons and oven mitts.

Dictionary Hill is a neighborhood that lies roughly in the northeast quadrant of the intersection formed by Jamacha Road/Apple Street and Grand Avenue. The cause of all our problems is a little driveway that would connect Maria Avenue from the north to Chestnut Street, if Maria didn't dead-end at the cliff edge. There are several houses along this driveway, but it's not officially part of Maria Avenue on any map. Over the horizontal distance of 200 feet, this roadlet rises 65 feet. That's a grade of 32% (grade = rise/run). Pa Alice is pulling a Clinton, saying something like, it depends on what you mean by "street." We're not buying any of it. The steepest official thoroughfare in the neighborhood appears to be Maria's neighbor Ramona Avenue, north of Chestnut, which includes a grade of 28.3%. This is 3/10ths of a percent less than Poe Street, which Ma Alice has declared the winner. But nobody bet on Poe Street, which is why Grandma Alice has her mind set on those aprons.

Since I have nothing more to lose after my bet on B Street, I'd be glad to entertain some other guesses about steep streets anywhere in the county. You submit the name (and the block, if applicable) and we'll check it out. If you can beat Poe Street, I can't promise you the kitty, but you will be made a life member of Team Matthew Alice. One suggestion. Don't bother looking in new developments. According to the road-builder bible, Street Design Policies and Guidelines, depending on the category of street you plan to build, the maximum grade for any stretch is 15% (for low-volume urban residential or rural local traffic). If you're building your own freeway, you can knock that back to 6%.

Big Fun on Illion Street

Matmail:

I lived at the bottom of [the hill] at the corner of Illion and Knoxville and Gardena streets for 20 years, and believe me, we had quite a few that were ILL'en over...why they didn't pay attention to the downhill grade. [They] would end up hitting the curb and go straight into our fence, or our car, or the neighbors' cars. Or the young man who thought he could go down it on his bike, got "speed wobbles," hit my mom's car, and went flying over the fence and SPLATTERING into the side of our house! I tell ya that was a FUN hill to grow up on. And YES, I too have a scar on my forehead from thinking I could skateboard down it.

-- Cal-e-forny, the net

Dear Matthew Alice:

Steep hills? Upas Street between Park and Florida.

-- Jim, faxland

Dig this. "First Gear Hill." Traveling along Florida, head west on Upas Street just north of the four-way stop.

-- S Man, Somewhere in Transit

How about Del Cerro Boulevard between Cavite Court and Edinburgh Court?

-- Jon, Escondido

Did you check out Camino Rico in Del Cerro?

-- Tom, the Net

I think you should check out the intersection of Mill Peak and Adobe Falls Roads in Del Cerro.

-- Susan Skala, Del Cerro

I submit the transmission-wrenching block of Illion Street north of Gardena Avenue, Bay Park.

-- Dan Blair, Mission Heights

I used to ride up Illion Street in Bay Park. My bike almost fell over backwards.

-- Scott, P.B.

Try Chesterfield Drive in Cardiff.

-- Vance Sharp, Leucadia

These represent only the tip of the "steep streets" iceberg. If you submitted a candidate and don't see it here, assume the gradient was somewhere in the vicinity of 10%, a minor blip on our screen at this point. We'll take them in ascending order. (For comparison purposes, the familiar drop-off on Laurel Street, between State and Union, is 22.5%.)

The elves got pretty good at eyeballing gradients. They declared Del Cerro the optical illusion capital of San Diego. Camino Rico in the block between Ridge View and Estrellado looked like a hot candidate. It has a slight curve in it, cutting the grade a bit, but when we ran the numbers, even cheating wildly to boost the figures, the best we could do was a little over 12%. Likewise, Del Cerro Boulevard between Cavite and Edinburgh is only 13. Elfin speculation: When you're on a road that is hanging on the side of a cliff, it seems steeper than it really is.

According to the Encinitas city engineers, Chesterfield Drive in Cardiff has a gradient of 15%. Nothing to write home about, but if you grab your surfboard and dive flat-out down the hill on your skateboard, there's a chance you could fly right out past the surf line and save all that paddling time and energy. Just a thought.

Our last Del Cerro candidate, Mill Peak Road/Adobe Falls Road (the name changes mid-grade), is a particularly charming nook. And a respectable uphill hike: 17%. I imagine there are a few more in the neighborhood, but no real blockbusters.

Wheeling south to Balboa Park, we perused Upas Street between Park and Florida, a sort of glorified alley between Morley Field and Roosevelt Jr. High School. Upas levels out a little near Park, but the steepest part has a gradient of 20%. A solid gasper of a hill, but only second place to Illion in Bay Park.

I hope the congregation at St. Mary Magdalene Church gets a discount on car maintenance for making the pilgrimage up that grade every week. From Gardena to the church, the gradient is 25%. And whatta view when you get to the top.

But overall, the prize still goes to the 32% grade on Maria Avenue in Spring Valley. We didn't even beat neighboring Chestnut (28.3%) or Point Loma's Poe Street (28.6) or Oliphant (26.6) or Mission Hills' Keating(26).

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