Pittsburgh drivers are a unique breed. Mostly because they have to be in order to navigate Pittsburgh’s infamous one-lane streets, crazy steep hills, narrow tunnels that seem more like neverending black holes, and hundreds of bridges. Yes, there are hundreds of bridges in Pittsburgh, 446 to be exact. They didn’t name it “The City of Bridges” for nothing, right?
Whether you are new to the Pittsburgh area or just passing through, it’s helpful to know what Pittsburgh drivers do that other drivers don’t. To prepare for your travels through the city, keep scrolling to learn more about the local quirks of Pittsburgh drivers.
The Infamous “Pittsburgh Left”
As mentioned above, much of Pittsburgh, especially the downtown area, is made up of narrow, one-lane streets. And even if the street does have two lanes, one lane is guaranteed to be lined with parked cars since driveways and parking lots were not in the plans when Pittsburgh was built. Subsequently, most intersections are lacking left-turn-only lanes, which can hold up traffic when a car is attempting to turn left since the cars behind it cannot proceed through the intersection. Thus the “Pittsburgh Left” developed.
The Pittsburgh Left starts with two cars facing one another at a red traffic light: one driver is turning left (and is in a lane without a protected left turn) and the other driver is going straight. The left-turning driver is attentively awaiting the change of light from red to green because once the light turns green, the driver is ready to quickly proceed left before the opposing traffic begins driving straight. If the left-turning car can accomplish this they have saved themselves as well as the drivers behind them from waiting for an entire light cycle to turn left.
Some may read this and think it is simply the left-turning driver’s way of cutting someone off, but the Pittsburgh Left is a known driving practice in this city. So much so that often the driver that plans to proceed straight through the intersection will often expect the opposing car to perform a Pittsburgh Left. The driver will wave them on or flash their lights to indicate the anticipation of the Pittsburgh Left. (CMU) Furthermore, the oncoming cars will typically accelerate slowly enough to allow the turn to be completed without anyone slowing down or being delayed at all.
The Pittsburgh Turn Signal
The Pittsburgh Turn Signal (or lack thereof) is another practice that Pittsburgh drivers do that other drivers don’t. It involves delaying activation of a turn signal until just beginning to make the turn. Picture this: you’re sitting behind a car at a red light, but it’s not until the light turns green and the car in front of you starts to move that you’ll see the turn signal start flashing. Gregg Podnar of CMU explains, “It has been suggested this custom originated with thrifty drivers trying to save the turn signal lamps.” Whether this habit is due to thrifty drivers or just something Pittsburgh drivers have been accustomed to, this driving practice is something to keep in mind when driving the streets of Pittsburgh.
Poor Pittsburgh Driving Habits
While The Pittsburgh Left and The Pittsburgh Turn Signal are two customs that most likely originated many years ago as more and more cars came into the city, a report from April of 2017 revealed a few negative habits of Pittsburgh drivers.
EverQuote Inc., an online insurance marketplace, examined the driving habits of 150,000 drivers who used the company’s EverDrive cellphone app over the course of 11 months. During this time, 20 million trips were recorded by the app, which categorized rankings based on five driving activities: speeding, cellphone use, excess acceleration, hard braking, and hard turning.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh drivers tied with New York City residents for the worst drivers in the country. Out of the five ranking categories, the app found that Pittsburgh drivers use their cell phones while driving and drive too fast. Specifically, the data revealed that drivers in Pennsylvania were found to be using their cell phones 37 percent of their driving time and speeding during 47 percent of their trips.
It may be tempting to watch the Pens playoff game during your bumper to bumper drive home on the Parkway, but to ditch the poor reputation and start driving more safely, Pittsburgh drivers will need to put down their cell phones.
It’s easy to see that Pittsburgh drivers do many unique things during their commutes that other drivers don’t. If you aren’t a Pittsburgh native, being aware of these driving characteristics can make travelling through the City of Bridges more pleasant and less stressful. And it can help prevent some of the road rage you may feel when you are faced with an unexpected Pittsburgh Left. You can’t say we never warned you!