Not Making the Grade

Something that I definitely run into in Pittsburgh more often than anywhere else are rain drainage grates that are not at the same grade as the rest of the road.

What do I mean by that? We’ve all been there, we’re in the right lane driving fine when suddenly, dip, BAM!  The pothole that was not a pothole:


People who know the streets end up riding in the left lane, as these are almost unavoidable while driving fully in the right lane.

One of the worst stretches is down Browns Hill Road while heading towards the waterfront, which is simply a gauntlet of drainage grates below grade:


And my perpetual favorite, the “Widow Maker” near the Pizza Hut on Baum Blvd:


Rumor has it, this was was designed on purpose to trick people into stopping at Pizza Hut.

This seems like an easy problem to fix.  There are millions of rain grates all over the world that are at grade with the rest of the street.


Mixed Signals

Pittsburgh has been doing great stuff in the East Liberty area, to fix the mess made by planners in the 50s.   Where there once was a circle and a road that went under a housing project, we are returning to semi normal two-way streets and the East Liberty core is re-connected to the roads.

But something that bugs me is Broad Street and Penn Circle.  At one time, both of these streets were one way.  But since Target opened, Penn Cir is now two-ways, and Broad St is two-ways except where the parking lot is (inside the old Penn circle).

Google Street View actually had a “transitional” picture of this:

This is about how you’d expect a one way street to look if you were facing the wrong way.  A giant median keeping you from going the wrong way, and funneling in correct traffic, along with no stop light facing your way.

Now however, there IS a light facing the wrong way, and that median has been removed as Broad St is going to be two-ways again.  Here’s a really bad picture I took at night of the same scene:

So the road is basically a fully functioning two-way street now, complete with stop light.  The only problem is that the “One-Way” sign still exists.  As far as I can tell, that sign is the only thing that keeps this from being two-way, is there a reason it’s not removed yet?


Updates - Feb 25th

Well, I can only assume because of this blog, at least two of the posts from the past have been addressed by the city/PennDOT.

First, 2nd Ave - Where Laws Don’t Exist has been “fixed”.  They’ve made it clearly one weird lane now. Although I think it had room for two lanes, I guess they’ve decided to make it one clear lane instead.  It seems like this mostly has fixed the chaos, and it only took two years after a fatal crash to resolve this.

Next, along a similar line, the Wilkinsburg DMZ has been clarified. Now here the solution was not to make the lines more clear, but instead to add big signs that say “Form Single Lane”.  I’ve noticed people trying to form a single lane earlier now, but locals still try to make it two lanes.  Pretty sure a gallon of paint is cheaper than that sign, but whatever.


The Pothole Blitz - Quantity over Quality?

I didn’t really want to comment on the potholes.  It’s not a Pittsburgh thing really as much as a fact of life in areas who constantly go through freeze/thaw cycles.  Also, this giant pothole in front of my house (which I call “Lothar - Destroyer of Rims”) is a constant source of entertainment as clueless people fly into it at full speed.

That said, I think everyone has personally or known someone who has gotten a flat this past week in a pothole.

Bill Peduto is really going out of his way to show the city is listening to us, and setup a 311 Twitter so anyone can tweet where potholes are.  The most common thing I hear these days when the conversation turns to potholes is “did you call 311?”.

Here’s the thing though.  There are still giant car swallowing holes on major avenues.  5th Ave, Negley, Shady and even the Blvd of the Allies have some pretty dangerous holes.  Yet Beacon Ave where it hits the backroads of Squirrel Hill has it’s holes filled.  I see him retweeting potholes being filled on minor roads I’ve never heard of.

Which makes me wonder, in a metrics driven government, is quantity better than quality?  Why do we have to call 311 at all at this point?  Surely the city could just drive down any random road and spend the day filling potholes.  How are the major arteries not filled first?

Here’s some ideas I have for the city in pothole priority:

Seniority - Roads get patched from oldest to newest.  Penn Ave, which was once an old indian trail goes first, followed by the numbered streets, Forbes and Carson.

Number of Lanes - Surely roads with 4 lanes should be patched over roads with 2?  Although maybe the thinking is you can swerve better on 4 lane roads.  (Tell that to the people I saw changing flat tires on Fifth Ave this weekend)

Common Sense - The least likely option of all, but maybe we patch roads in order of use?  Blvd of the Allies, Fifth, Forbes, E Carson, Penn, Liberty first?  I know it’s crazy, let’s keep patching W. Nowhere Ct first.


Is it Really Closed?

Greetings from the Polar Vortex Part 2.  Hope all of your roads are running grey with salt and your potholes patched with a shovel full of stones!

It’s been a while since I ran into a dangerous road situation that was worth writing about, but not to worry, PennDOT keeps producing fodder for a lifetime.  

Riding down Rich Hill Rd near Cheswick (aka the middle of nowhere), I came across this situation:


It’s hard to make out the signs even with my bad photoshop job of two bad photos, but essentially there is a bridge crossing 76, and these signs say “Bridge Closed”.

Now, there’s nothing worse then driving down a road in the middle of nowhere and coming across a bridge closed sign, somehow you have to find a way around right?  But it turns out the bridge is not actually closed, because I saw a car coming off of it.

It turns out they’ve just made it one lane, with a temporary stop sign to alternate traffic.  In my world, we usually call this “Lane Closed” or “One lane, alternate turns”.  But “Bridge Closed” gives you that familiar PennDOT feeling that maybe once you get halfway, you might just fall into a gaping hole and onto the PA turnpike.


The Pittsburgh Wiggles

@grabman reminded me of something that always annoys me, the “wiggles” you have to do on Penn and Liberty Ave.  I couldn’t find a good Street View of the situation, so here is a crude drawing my 3 year old nephew did with a pen in his mouth (just kidding I drew it, and this is why I didn’t get into Art School).

Basically you are driving in the single lane they have, but whenever an intersection comes up, you have to get over in the right lane (which was previously parked cars).  Requiring you to swerve back and forth like a maniac.  Almost always someone from out of town will be confused and go straight in the left lane, resulting in some honking and probably an accident or two.

I don’t remember ever facing this situation in other cities.  I’m assuming what the normal thing to do is bump out the left turn lane into the on-coming lane, and not allow parking on that side.


One Way, Two-Way, You Can’t Go That Way!

There are a couple of examples of this in Pittsburgh, but one I ran across today while trying to avoid the rainpocolypse traffic in Oakland is Semple St.

In the stretch of 3 blocks, it’s a two way road, a one way east-bound, and then one way west-bound!  One way streets are cool, but not ones that change direction, this makes navigation a nightmare.  I guess they just really don’t want you going to Bates from Semple?


Regent Square 4-Way Stop Mystery

As a programmer in by day, I’m the kind of person that likes to find patterns in things.  Which is why Regent Square is a mystery to me.  Pittsburgh loves it’s 4-way stops in neighborhoods.  While most cities pick a major road and a minor road, here you have to stop at pretty much every intersection in a quiet neighborhood for the heck of it (don’t even get me started on how much more efficient round-a-bouts would be).

I had to map out the four way stops in Regent Square to really visualize what was going on here

The red squares are four way stops, the green circle is a traffic light.  Do you see what I see?  There is a very discernable pattern, a 4-way top on all roads east of Macon.  EXCEPT!!!!!  Overton, which has no 4-way stops at all.  

So if you are driving along Milton Ave, north, you’ll stop at every intersection, and then maybe assume the intersection of Milton and Overton is a 4-way stop as well, but it’s not!  It’s only a two-way stop.

If I had my way, all east-west streets (Hutchinson, Sanders, etc…) would have no stop signs, and all north-south streets would.  This would clearly indicate which roads are the more prominent ones and give those the right of way.

I think I figured out WHY Regent Square is like this at least.  Regent Square is an odd neighborhood, bisected almost exactly in half (but diagonally!) by the Pittsburgh/Swissvale boundary.  You can see that basically in the Pittsburgh areas are where no Stop signs exist.


The South Hills - The Land That PennDOT Hath Forsaken

-Gargle Razor Blades

-Walk on Flaming Coals

-Have Major Surgery

-Visit Cleveland

These are all things I’d rather do then drive in the South Hills.  

When I first moved to Pittsburgh I heard everyone joking about crossing rivers being a big deal and I thought they were being silly.  Then I learned the vast difference between the North, East, South and West.

Now don’t get me wrong, the South Hills seems like a great place to live, with some of the best schools, parks, and homes in the area.  But the roads are just dumb.  For some reason, even though a considerable portion of our population is here, there are no highways that run through the South Hills.


Instead of highways, there are old school undivided roads that are a mix of concrete, blind turns and strip malls.  If you’ve ever taken the South Hill’s “highway” (Route 51) during rush hour, you know you were probably better off walking.

If you ever map a route using Google Maps to a point in the South Hills, it will undoubtedly have at least 19 turns to get to your destination.

The South Hills will surely provide all sorts of fodder for this blog, but @kickflipjr reminded me of one of the more notable messes on 51, the intersection of 51/Library/Ivyglen/Hillview/Glenbury.  Yes, it’s another multi-intersection thing.

It has one of my favorite things, a stop light about 10 feet from the last stop light.


The obvious solution here seems to be to reroute Glenbury St.  I know there are some challenges with topography here, but we just have to pick and choose which streets are the major arteries and reroute the rest instead of just building on top of everything!

Not too far from this intersection is another one that almost killed me.  If you are driving down Provost Rd towards 51:


You’ll be driving along, and what seems like the continuation of your road is suddenly ONCOMING TRAFFIC!


Yes, there is a little Do Not Enter sign there, but if it’s late at night and no one is coming the other way, it’s very easy to think that is a continuation of your road… beware.


Yinz Can Just Go Park In The Middle of the Street

@youmaycallmesam reminded me of a Pittsburgh oddity, the random parking lots in the middle of the streets.  Such as 21st St:

I love old photos of Pittsburgh, and this seemed to be a pretty common way to handle parking in the old days when density was high and parking garages were not common.  There’s another one like this in Schenley Park:

Most of these have been removed during various redevelopment stages, but for some reason, these parking lots remain.