Stop signs in Pittsburgh

There are oddities with stop signs in the Pittsburgh area that are at least far less common in other places I’ve been.

Asymmetric stops

One thing I’d never seen before coming to Pittsburgh is a stop sign with another sign immediately below it that says “except right turn.” In at least one place (figure 1), this right turn looks a lot more like a straight direction of travel than a turn. As you approach such a stop, that means you have right of way if you are turning right (which sometimes seems straight) and should proceed without stopping.IMG_0070
Fig. 1. This is an example of a “Stop Except Right Turn,” at the intersection of Streets Run Road and Delwar Road in Baldwin Borough. An actual right turn would plunge through the guardrail and down the side of a ravine. You might indeed want a running start. Photograph by author, December 25, 2019.

If, out of force of habit, you actually stop at such an intersection when signalling a right turn, you may be honked at. But also, drivers approaching the intersection from other directions have no notice that you have that right of way (for example, figure 2).

Fig. 2. This is the stop sign at the end of Prospect Road, where it meets Streets Run Road in Baldwin Borough. Prospect Road has a fair amount of traffic, but Streets Run Road is a major thoroughfare. The sign tells you that traffic from your left does not stop (this is for traffic continuing on Streets Run Road from north to south). It does not tell you that traffic coming in the oncoming direction and turning right (that is, toward your left and continuing on Streets Run Road from south to north) does not stop, which is something you might want to know if you’re entering the intersection to turn left. Photograph by author, December 11, 2019.

And Pittsburgh drivers seemingly do not know about tapping on the horn. When they honk, they blare at you as if you are the worst person in the world and deserve not to even exist.

Often an intersection will have stop signs in every direction except one, in either the uphill or downhill direction. I assume this has to do with winter weather driving, but in combination with the fact that stop signs are not always placed in standard locations (see next section), this introduces some real ambiguity as to who has right of way.

Oddly placed stop signs

I mentioned about terrain. It is often extremely steep here. The streets are often very narrow and the practice of taking turns so drivers proceeding in opposite directions can all get past each other and parked cars is more of an art than a science.

This also means that stop signs aren’t always placed in expected locations. They still apply, even when intersections are complicated with multiple streets that don’t always form neat singular intersections.

But the other problem with oddly placed stop signs is that you don’t know where they are for other directions of travel. Even in places where you know where to look, they can be hard to see. Here, you can’t even be sure you know where to look.

So does that other car have right of way or do you? Sometimes there will be an additional sign posted below the stop sign indicating that oncoming traffic or traffic from some other direction does not stop. But not always. So you don’t always know.

Booby traps

I really don’t like to complain about the placement of stop signs, but some of the stop signs around Pittsburgh really are placed in unexpected locations. I thought these might be unexpected because I’m from California and maybe they just place them differently here, but my passengers assure me they catch everyone.

It’s often as if they were placed as spots for cops to wait near so they can write tickets to the unwary, but I never see any cops waiting by them.

Some of these stop signs are on the other side of blind curves. They might be announced with a “Stop Ahead” sign, but either or both the stop and the “Stop Ahead” signs might be obscured by vegetation, which frequently overgrows around here, and the “Stop Ahead” signs really don’t tell you the distance to the actual stop sign.

Ambiguous stop signs

I’ll talk about weird intersections in the next section, but there are a few intersections where roadways come together at very close angles. You will see a stop sign between them and you will wonder: Is this stop sign for me or for the other roadway?

I have already mentioned above and will also talk more about obnoxious honking later on in this page. If you get the answer to that question wrong, you flunk. You’re the worst person in the world and deserve not to exist.

Sometimes, there will be clues, like a slight, often very slight angle to the sign, which fails to inspire confidence because many signs here are simply askew, apparently due to mischief. Or there will be the pretense of a shade meant to suggest that you aren’t supposed to see the sign. In one place I know of, one of the signs is marked for the “ramp,” but if you’re unfamiliar with the territory, you might not be sure which direction is the “ramp.” And of course, you need to judge all this very quickly. Otherwise, you’re the worst person in the world and deserve not to exist.

But one secret to these seems sometimes to be that the direction of travel where the stop sign applies will have stop signs on both the right and left sides. If in such a situation, you only have a stop sign on one side, it might not apply to you. And of course, there are exceptions, so feel inspired and confident that you will always, in every case know exactly what’s going on with every intersection. Because if you don’t, you’re the worst person in the world and deserve not to exist.

This page is part of a section on driving in Pittsburgh: