Important Tips Everyone Needs To Know For Getting Around Pittsburgh

If you’re not an expert on city's labyrinth of roads and intersections, navigating can be a challenge. Here are some essential tips.


We’re not gonna sugar-coat it for visitors: It’s tough to figure out where you’re going around here.

Highway exits appear to be bearing left then swerve right. Bridges are somehow several interstates at the same time. Intersections seem to have been glued together by toddlers — and can only be navigated by locals who know the unwritten rules of negotiating particularly nettlesome bottlenecks.

Even for the pros, it’s intimidating. Bonny Diver is a longtime radio personality who provides traffic updates for regional iHeartMedia stations. She’s not a native, however; born outside Columbus, Ohio, she was baffled when she first visited Pittsburgh.

“We were driving down a one-way street — the wrong way,” she remembers of her first visit. “The police stopped us. I said, ‘Well, we’re just trying to get over there. Can you help us?’ He said, ‘Uhh … no. Just turn around.’ That’s the setting for Pittsburgh: cops can’t even get you there!”

Diver says the name of the game is planning — and being willing to admit defeat and ask for help (maybe from a civilian rather than a uniformed officer). “People are really friendly at helping you.”

And don’t worry: While mistakes can quickly put you on a highway going in the wrong direction, Pittsburgh is at least geographically compact. Even a major screw-up likely won’t cost you more than 10 minutes.

With help from Diver’s years of expertise, here are four simple rules for navigating Pittsburgh.

1. Use your GPS — but take a look at the route first. Even lifelong residents often use GPS on every trip, since construction or traffic could snarl plans. But, Diver says, look at the route your phone produces before you set off. “Sometimes [navigation apps] don’t tell you [what’s next] in time — and you can’t just go around the block.”

2. Signs are not necessarily your friends. Logic can go out the window when it comes to navigating Pittsburgh’s highways. “You could be on Route 65 going north and want to get to 79 North, but it’s an intersection! How can two highways that are both going north have an intersection?” The city’s color-belt system, a relic of an optimistic 20th-century project, is similarly confounding. Instead of trying to learn the highways, you should …

3. Know the major destinations and towns. If you’re headed North, look for signs for Cranberry; if you’re eastbound, look for Monroeville. The highway numbers on the signs may be meaningless to you, but destinations like Airport, North Shore and Oakland are helpful. Get going in the right direction and hope your GPS can handle it from there.

4. Learn the two sacred unwritten rules. It’s essential for all visiting motorists, Diver says: “You gotta know about the Pittsburgh left.” Due to all the bizarre intersections, it’s frequent courtesy that a driver headed straight at an intersection will let an opposing counterpart making a left turn go first when the light changes. Unfortunately, some drivers expect this treatment and jump uninvited; don’t be surprised. Equally important: If you see an old chair on the curb, keep driving. That’s a parking chair, and it means the spot is not up for grabs. You don’t wanna incur anyone’s wrath.

Categories: Visitors Guide