Every so often, it pays to revisit an old Achievement. Sometimes, it’s a yearly event that always has a new twist. Sometimes, it’s something that has enough options to go on for years. And sometimes, it’s something so unique about Pittsburgh that we just weren’t able to accurately capture on the first go-round.
And that’s what brings us back to our Beltway Tour.
The Allegheny County Belt System is one of those magical Pittsburgh things that you’ve probably heard of but never really quite understood. If you’ve ever seen one of these signs on your travels through the city, you’ve been on one of the belts. But does anyone still use this mysterious pre-GPS, too-good-for-a-real-map method of getting around?
Well, yes. Yes, some of us old-school Yinzers do.
Back in 2009, when we were in our first year of Achievement-ing and before we had a blog to detail all of our adventures, we set out to drive all of the beltways. There are five of them: Red, Blue, Yellow, Green, and Orange, with a sixth Purple Belt added in later to cover the immediate downtown area. And just like a rainbow, the red is the outermost, all the way down to the purple (violet) innermost layer*.
Originally designed as a way to avoid heavy traffic on the more-traditional routes around the city, the Beltways have remained in place since the 1950s despite any declines in use. But solid information about the Beltways is few and far between on the Internet, which is one of the reasons I’ve been so interested in traveling them and educating others about their usefulness. The Red Belt and Green Belt aren’t complete circles (and the Orange Belt *used* to be, but part of it got cut out in the 1970s). The Purple Belt is actually part of the Wayfinder System, which is why its signage doesn’t match the rest of the belts. There’s a magical section of Green and Blue belts where they run the same course for about a mile. The Orange Belt is the longest. The Blue Belt is the hardest to follow (okay, that’s not an easy-to-find Internet fact, that’s just speaking from personal experience).
Each Belt has its own feel: the rural touch of the Red Belt, the blue collar landscape of the Blue Belt, the seamless way the Orange Belt connects four seemingly-distant county parks. But there’s one common aspect to each of the Belts – they’re all uniquely, distinctly Pittsburgh. Whether or not people are using them as fully as they were originally intended, they’re a permanent part of the Pittsburgh landscape, and something we feel deserves to be explored and celebrated.
This year, we decided to revisit the Beltways and give this semi-mysterious wonder of Pittsburgh its due. Not only are we driving all of the Belts this year, we’ll be stopping at one or several businesses along the route to explore some lesser-known restaurants and shops.
*Beltway image from Alekjds on Wikipedia. Thanks for the awesome graphic!