Pittsburgh driving for the uninitiated

Fig. 1. Screengrab from KDKA (probably the television station) video, via Harrisburg Patriot-News, October 28, 2019,[1] fair use.

I come to Pittsburgh from California. Driving here presents challenges I had never encountered in all my years of previous driving. This page is intended to help other newcomers. And it will be an ongoing project, meaning it will be updated as I figure out how to cram in more stuff.

Challenges include extreme traffic congestion with limited lanes of travel, the bridges, navigation, and bizarre intersections. The terrain here often means streets meet at odd angles: If you’re used to intersections with 90-degree turns, you’re in for a shock. But also, the road system is ancient, with limited space for expansion. There are relatively few usable freeways so traffic congests on surface streets which via circuitous routes sometimes lead to bridges or tunnels or both, many of which are also old, also with limited capacity for expansion.

Finally, because traffic is generally so awful, I think traffic control decisions are often made with a view to facilitating traffic rather than to enhancing safety. There is some really weird stuff here and this is legitimately hard driving. I’ll try to take all these in no particular order. Tips are sprinkled throughout, not always under heading that might seem immediately applicable.

I’ve broken this page into several, in part to keep image numbering manageable, and in part just because this page was just getting too damn big:


In general, driving here requires a high tolerance for ambiguity. Some things should be sensible and aren’t. Lots of things can’t be sensible and aren’t.

  1. [1]David Wenner, “Sinkhole swallows part of bus in downtown Pittsburgh,” Harrisburg Patriot-News, October 29, 2019, https://www.pennlive.com/news/2019/10/sink-hole-swallows-pittsburgh-bus.html