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Pittsburgh left

Filed under: — adrian @ 11:24 pm

I’m pretty amused that there’s a wikipedia entry for “Pittsburgh left”.

Unfortunately it’s not particularly well-explained exactly what it is. This is a particularity of Pittsburgh driving when there’s an intersection with no left-turn arrow. After the lights turn green, the car going straight yields as (usually just) the first car turns left.

There’s one particular intersection I remember where the Pittsburgh left is absolutely critical. It’s when one is turning from Washington Ave. onto Station St. in Bridgeville. There’s always a steady stream of cars down Washington Ave. and no left turn arrow so you’ll just sit there forever if you don’t execute the Pittsburgh left.

7 Responses to “Pittsburgh left”

  1. Em Says:

    This is also seen often on the streets of Boston. The name I heard for it there was “beat the green.”

    A Kansas left is when the driver slows down and drifts over into the oncoming traffic lane before turning. Also known as “bad driving.”

  2. Patrick Says:

    Wow, I can’t believe that either. My coworker who’s from Philly always talks about the “Pittsburgh left”, saying that you’d be greeted with lots of honks and fingers if you tried that on the eastern side of the state. I always thought that he was the only person who used the term. Now I know otherwise.

  3. Ben (pat's coworker) Says:

    Here’s what I emailed to Pat, completely tongue-in-cheek, mind you.

    re: the pittsburgh left
    When someone tries to pull that crap in eastern PA, there are murders. Pretty much, the roads are so ridiculously horrible here, especially concerning traffic flow, paired with the typically-slower reaction time (especially the red-green light transition reaction time) associated with native Pittsburghers, the Pittsburgh Left became a traffic necessity. I am quite sure that the Pittsburgh Left was actually not invented or initiated by Pittsburghers, originally. In fact, it is almost certainly of East Coast origin, deemed necessary in Pittsburgh by East Coast immigrants. Initially, I am quite sure that the technique was met with much surprise and anger, if, in fact, the Pittsburgh natives were deft enough to realize that a car had just passed in front of them. However, as more East Coasters immigrated and mated with local Pittsburghers, more “new” natives had high enough reaction time to begin to take advantage of the “original” native Pittsburghers and the Pittsburgh Left. Pittsburgh is essentially a time-space-vortex were the East Coasters meet the slow Midwesterners and somehow the Pittsburgh Left is precariously balanced in the middle. Eventually, when the equilibrium is reached, I think that the Pittsburgh Left will be eliminated. Either each stoplight will be treated like the lights at the drag strip like they are in the east, or Pittsburgh will revert to its slow Midwestern style, where no one is in enough of a hurry to get such a quick start off a light.

    Upon reading the previous reply, I append my email by adding:
    This may, in fact, be an anomoly where the metro-DC-NYC-Philly area meets areas of a less “fast-paced mentality”. e.g. Pittsburgh is half-way between Philly and “the midwest” and Boston is half-way between NYC and Canada, both in a very vague sense. However, I’m surprised that it occurs in Boston, I thought that the “agressiveness level” would be too high there. So, I further conjecture that there is ring at a certain radius around the whole DC/NYC metro area where the “Pittsburgh Left” occurs.

    The Pittsburgh Left, is, in fact, technically illegal, for what it’s worth. A car turning left has to yield right of way to traffic going straight. Now, if there were one thing that I would really enjoy if the East Coasters could import to Pittsburgh, it would be passing on the shoulder of cars that are turning left. Oh man.

  4. Adrian Says:

    I think Pittsburgher’s aren’t slow in reacting, they are simply not super-aggressive drivers like one might expect coming out of the East Coast. I sort of like the wikipedia explanation, which is that is arose out of consideration. There are points in Pittsburgh (like the intersection I pointed out) that one could quite literally wait hours if the Pittsburgh left is not executed. Pittsburgh drivers tend to be pretty considerate and defensive in my opinion.

    In Boston, I bet when this is happening, both parties are aggressive, the one “beating the green” is simply more aggressive and inconsiderate and the other one wants to ram them but doesn’t want to have to deal with insurance companies etc.

    My friend Jon’s reaction to the Pittsburgh left was “they do know that’s not legal, right?” Technically passing a car turning left on the shoulder is illegal on many roads too. There’s a solid white line at the edge of the lane which cannot be crossed. Also, many Pittsburgh roads do not have wide shoulders.

  5. Ben Says:

    Interesting comment about Boston and both parties being super-aggressive… sounds more reasonable than my explanation =). I like it. Kills my theory, though =(. Haha.

    As for the passing on the shoulder being illegal… I know… that’s why I brought up the Pgh left being illegal as well… people from Pittsburgh seem aghast at passing on the shoulder: “That’s… ILLEGAL!” whereas the Pgh left is AOK… if you follow my meaning.

    Anyhow, tongue-in-cheek, lost in transmission, yadda yadda….

  6. Milkshake Says:

    I was never a big fan of the Pittsburgh Left when I lived there. I like to get where I’m going quickly and so I’ve always been one to go when the light turns green – and on more than one occasion I’ve almost smacked into a car taking its Pittsburgh Left.

    It is funny how many regional differences there are when it comes to driving. Here in NYC you can do just about anything illegal you want except turning on red – suddenly we’re a civilized society when it comes to that. I remember from driving in LA that after the light turns red about 3 to 10 cars will make their left turn – which seems even worse than the Pittsburgh Left to me. And then there’s Texas where it’s actually law that you own a huge SUV and drive like an asshole.

    Ben I’m with you all the way about the shoulder thing. After living in Jersey for some time it became very difficult for me to stop doing that whenever I would head back to the burgh. However – I’d like to suggest you start calling Pittsburgh an east coast city cause people will yell at you otherwise.

  7. Urban Saddle » Pittsburgh left Says:

    […] Its eternal truth has finally been verified by the mighty powers of wikipedia (hat tip to Adrian). Does the “left” happen because Pittsburgh is sort of the crossroads between the rush of the east and the molasses of the midwest? The article maintains the narrow width of the streets as the culprit. Wherever it originates, it’s funny how it’s an expected courtesy. You might be even considered rude if you don’t yield to these lefties – me being one of them. […]

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