The land that Pittsburgh sits on is a rumpled place, a piece of rough cloth thrown carelessly on the table. A very long time ago, this place was a flat plain made up of the debris washed down from the left side of the decaying Appalachian mountains. This grand flatness was then itself carved up and out by rivers and kills and everything in between, leaving a landscape of close valleys and hills of oddly similar height.

One effect of this is a habit of running major transportation routes along the river; it is really only there where it stays flat for any great while. This becomes a particular problem where the hills curl up next to the water, squeezing road and rail together on the thin strip of land between the rock and the river. The land becomes precious, and the rights of way become thin and jealously guarded. The decades-long question of the fate of bottom four miles of Route 28 is an excellent example of the pressures produced by the situation. It is the topology that traps us on roadways that become ever less capable, unable to expand to meet unforeseen legions of the poor souls who clog the choke points with the weight of their presence every morning at eight and every evening at five.

The underside to this is that the topology also gives itself over to secrets. There are inconvenient sides to hills, I suppose, where it is difficult to reach, or difficult to run services to, or the possible property development is just too thin to be worth it for the steepness. Where it would not be worth it to do whatever else, they run roads. An unknown road swings a careless ess curve through tall grasses, a stone’s throw from the congestion of a major local roadway but so hidden as to not be there. A middle-class neighborhood of trim homes gives up its lane to the adjacent city park, which consumes the road and compresses it with leaves and shade. A road leaps from another neighborhood and tumbles down a hill, back and forth, until it reaches the smoothness of the valley below, making short scary work of an otherwise long, looping route. These are some of the ones I know about, roads so hidden and lost they turn the world to forest, or jungle, or sky. I cannot tell you where they are, of course.

There are other shortcuts that I could not reveal if I wanted to. I see them in the distance when sitting in an idling car behind a sea of brake lights. I only see glances of them, and always of the middle: I never see where they begin or end. I do not know where the drivers on those paths go. I do not know what led them to find those roads, that first time.