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Left lane must turn REALLY left

I’ve recently had to travel by this area a couple of times, and it’s super confusing…

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Ok, another typical 5-way Pittsburgh intersection, this isn’t my first rodeo.  But the confusing thing is the signage and lanes if you are coming up Mairdale:

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Left Lane Must Turn Left.  But considering 2, possibly 3 of the directions possible could be considered left, which lane do you want to be in if you are going down Baytree?  Every time I’m at this light, people interpret it different ways, so you never know who’s going to go straight or right or whatever.

I’m unsure who has the right of way at a five way intersection?  I think every intersection must have it’s own green light,  since no direction is truly straight.  Would love to know the history of intersections like this.  It’s dying for a roundabout.

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Some Insight Into How Bad Road Decisions Are Made

Recently, Pittsburgh was selected to receive a grant for “Protected Bike Lanes”.  For those who are not familiar, protected bike lanes are kind of awesome if you’ve ever been to Manhattan:

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It’s like a little highway just for bikes.  In New York, these go up the main arteries in the city, and provide a quick, safe(r) way for people to commute around.

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So it’s obviously great for Pittsburgh to have this option.  But where did we decide to put these protected bike lanes?  Well the first is downtown.  Ok, makes sense, I mean people are commuting downtown right?  

So it connects the existing bike infrastructure where Jail Trail meets Grant St? No.

Oh ok, what about where the Point/Riverfront trail meet downtown?  Well, no not there either.

Actually we decided to just put them on this random stretch of Penn, which is already pretty safe to commute down.

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Huh that’s odd.  Ohhhh but I see in the articles about this there is some bike convention coming to town, and that road runs right by the convention center.  So it’s a way for people going to the convention center to think we’re super hip and bike friendly (I’m sure those bikers will never actually call our bluff and use this little “Bike route” right?).  Ok, well that kind of makes sense.

So where’s the other stretch going?  Oakland you say?  Thank god!  Oakland is a nightmare for cycling, we can definitely use some protected bike lanes there!

So did we put it down Fifth Ave?  Maybe even connecting Oakland to Downtown?  No?  It’s in Schenley Park?

Ok that’s cool, you mean like down Blvd of the Allies in Schenley Park, where it’s super dangerous to bike, finally safely connecting South Oakland to Squirrel Hill?  Well, no… it’s not there either.

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Yes, we’ve decided to add protected bike lanes from Pitt to the playground in Schenley Park.  Maybe I’m not as hip as I was in college, but I haven’t seen many Pitt kids commuting to the playground in Schenley Park.  In fact let’s take a look at this stretch:

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It’s perhaps the widest…

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Most comfortable…

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Stress-free road to bike on in the entire city.  

And while perhaps the one section kind of connects CMU to Pitt, the rest of it doesn’t serve any bike connection at all.  In fact, at the end, you get to the stretch of Blvd of the Allies which you’d be crazy to bike on.

So why did we build in these places? Well, it’s obvious to me the question was asked “We got this money for bike lanes, where can we put them the quickest with the least resistance?”  If we actually cared about bike infrastructure the question that should be asked is:

"Where are these bike lanes needed the most?"

Well, look you say, how can you complain about free bike lanes?  I mean SOMETHING is better than nothing right?

Well there are two major reasons I think doing something is worse than doing nothing in this case.

First, when you add bike lanes cars expect bikes to use the bike lanes.  During the last administration, bike lanes were added anywhere with wide enough roads.  Most of these lanes are in the “door zone” and have already fallen into disrepair, so sometimes I’ll still need to ride in the road for safety sake.  But then cars honk and yell and tell me to “get in my lane!”.  So you’re furthering the idea that roads are for cars, and bikes need to be on trails, sidewalks or in their own lanes.

But the bigger problem here is that if the lanes go unused, it’s going to be VERY difficult for the city to ever pony up their own money for useful lanes.  Surely the next time we look to build protected lanes, they’ll look at usage of existing lanes, and where these new lanes exist, I can guarantee they’ll get little usage.

This is only all tangentially related to roads, but it’s finally started to give me some insight into how we ended up with all these weird intersections, non-sensical lights etc… our politicians make decisions on what’s easiest, not what makes the most sense.

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Ok, Seriously. Enough With the Pointless Stop Signs.

For some reason, I keep coming across these lately.  I swear someone at PennDOT is getting a kickback on every stop sign.

Going into Downtown, using the 7th st exit from the Crosstown blvd…

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You get our old friend the stop sign.

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But why?  The cars on the right are not allowed to turn left (into your path of traffic), and no one else is turning in front of you.  

I’m sure the “reason” is the traffic coming off of 579 from the other direction, but of course they ALSO have a stop sign

You have one/two lanes going into 3 lanes… traffic into this area is usually slow enough that both of these lanes can happily merge together with a yield…

Everyone (me included) stops at this stop, trying to figure out exactly what we are looking for (traffic from the left?).  Until I looked at the map, I had never really realized there is no good reason to stop.  I think even just making traffic on the right stop would be ok, but really they can probably handle a yield sign…

I swear Pittsburgh is the only city that gives no single street a right of way ever, instead gridlocking things by forcing all directions to stop (which I’d argue causes as many accidents…).

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We Love Us Some Stop Signs

Came across this beauty yesterday.  I’d been here before, but it really just sank in how stupid this is.

Heading southbound on I-279 into the city, if you get off at the “East St” exit to go to the North Side, at the top of the exit ramp you’ll find our old friend the stop sign.

No problem, we clearly need to stop because that other lane up there has the right of way right?

Well, no.  In fact, they ALSO have a Stop sign.

Well this is a sure recipe for traffic, but hey better safe than sorry right?  If both intersecting roads have stop signs, that must mean the number of lanes is smaller, or they share a lane or something right?

Well… no actually

Three lanes, for three lanes.  Why do EITHER have a stop sign let alone both????  This may be worse than my arch nemesis, the useless Birmingham Bridge yield.

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Explain This One To Me.

So I’ve already talked about how we love to stick 4 way stops everywhere, instead of just picking a major and minor road.  But one intersection that always confuses me is this one:

I’ve drawn where the stop signs are.  So normally, roads make traffic stop if there is ample room for cars to pile up behind the stop sign without blocking traffic, while small connections which would result in a blockage in traffic typically do not have a stop sign.

This intersection is the exception for some odd reason.  It seems like there should be stop signs on both sides of Beechwood, but NO stop sign on Dallas.  Why?  Because traffic can backup at the Dallas stop sign to the point that it starts blocking Forbes.  

Meanwhile Beechwood eastbound has no stop sign for some inexplicable reason, so if traffic is backed up to Dallas, these people are using their right of way, and this snake like mess can occur:

Where cars coming from Beechwood to Dallas and wanting to turn left on Forbes cannot because they are blocked by people on Dallas, wanting to turn to Beechwood!

I’d love someone to explain why there is a stop sign at Dallas and not at Beechwood.  Seems like it should either be a three way stop, or no stop at Dallas and two stop signs at Beechwood.

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PghRoads Guide to Driving in Pittsburgh

We as individuals can’t do anything to fix the horrible roads in Pittsburgh, but something we can all do is drive the best we can.  

Pittsburgh was recently rated as some of the most courteous drivers in the country.  As an outsider, I can concur, people are super courteous here, but to a fault.  And as much as I hate to say it, we as drivers are just as responsible for the road mess here as PennDOT.  So I’ve put together a brief guide on how you can improve the roads for everyone, while still being courteous.

When a Lane Ends Use Both Lanes Until The End.

It’s sad that PennDOT actually has to put signs reminding people of this, but I’ve seen it first hand several times, where a yinzer in a big pickup truck will block the closing lane to ensure people don’t “cheat” by using that lane until the end.

Have you ever seen a zipper before?

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This is the principal behind merging when a lane is closed.  How often has one side of the zipper beaten the other side?  Never right?  So the only way this can happen in a merge scenario is if everyone does not take their turn, or people merge into the open lane early.  Do the efficient thing, stay in whatever lane you were in to it’s end, and if you are in the open lane let one person (not three, courteous Pittsburgh drivers) in front of you, and one should go behind you.  Same thing if you are in the closing lane, don’t try to sneak two at a time in, let the person in front of you go, then get in behind the person behind him.

The Pittsburgh Left is Taken, Not Given

I’ve been on the record that anytime you do a Pittsburgh left you are breaking the law, and in general ruining the flow of traffic that our civil engineers designed.  But let’s accept the reality that it’s the custom here.  The key is if someone is clearly aware of the situation and planning to take it, let them take it (but only one person, not three, courteous Pittsburgh driver).  Do not, under any circumstances sit at the green light and wait for them (who may not understand this odd custom and not want to risk their life).  If they don’t go right away, proceed straight and let them make the left on their own, like adults do every day around the world.

Look Before You Pittsburgh Left

The worst person alive is the guy that makes a Pittsburgh left only to realize there are pedestrians crossing after committing.  Now he is stuck, and so is all of oncoming traffic.  When people do this, it’s ok to give them the stare of death while they pretend they can’t see anything around them.

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Don’t Slow Down In Tunnels

Another sad state of affairs is how PennDOT has to put signs in the tunnels reminding people to maintain speed.  Scientists have studied the Squirrel Hill Tunnel syndrome, and it continues to be the greatest mystery of our day.  Every day someone, maybe the same person, starts this vicious cycle.  I try to do my part and not brake when people in front of me are.  If you just let off your gas, it’s often enough to slow your car, but not enough to freak the people out behind you.  One day we’ll identify the criminal that starts this every morning, but in the meantime, do you part and don’t use your brakes unless necessary.

If you are the person who slows down, ask yourself why?  Are you afraid of hitting the walls?  Do you drive something larger than an 18-wheeler?  Because they can go through the tunnel without scraping the walls, so maybe there is more room than you think.

Don’t Wave People In When the Light Is Green

I see this all the time, someone wants to enter your lane from a side street, parking lot, etc…  By all means you should let this person in.  But not when the light is green.  This causes a huge delay for everyone, and usually only two people will get through in this cycle.  Let the traffic move, and then whoever is stopped in front of them when the light turns red again is responsible for letting them in.  This also applies when people have a stop sign and you do not.

Don’t Stop In The Middle of The Road To Wave People In

This is the prime example of “courteous to a fault”.  I can’t tell you how many times someone has stopped in the middle of the road to wave me in or let me go left.  This extreme courteousness is dangerous because once you get used to the idea that people will let you go, you will be in for a world of trouble anywhere else.  Plus the people behind you are not expecting you to stop, putting you, the left turner and the person behind you in danger.

Please Get Off Facebook

I often bike to work, and you get amazing insight into what people do during their commute since you see them up close.  I’ve seen people creating Power Point slides, doing their makeup, eating elaborate meals, but the most common thing is using their phone.  Honestly talking on the phone is distracting enough, but so often I see people on Facebook.  Next time you are thinking about using your phone while driving, remember a few things:

1. By far, the most likely way you will die a premature death is in your car.  Not terrorists, not Ebola, not random criminals, not tornados, sharks or the many other things you have worried about in your life.  You have a 1 in 84 chance of dying in a car crash during your life.  That means if you work at an office of 150 people, two of you will die behind the wheel.  This does not include pedestrians, cyclists etc… you could kill.

2. So now we’re clear your operating a lethal weapon, would you fire an AK47 randomly into a crowded area while looking at your phone?  Seems ridiculous right?  But that’s what I see people doing every day.  Driving a car feels like a passive, almost video game like activity, so we forget we are playing with people’s lives.  I like to remind myself every time I start the car that if I’m not paying full attention, someone could die.

3. It’s habit to check the phone when it vibrates, so I put mine in the center console.  There is nothing that can’t wait for you to arrive safely.

4. Do you want your final act on this earth to be updating your Facebook status

If you’re bored during your commute, get yourself some new challenges.  Buy a manual transmission car, a motorcycle, or a really good book on CD.

Call/Tweet/Email 311

311 has been very responsive under Peduto, I’ve seen potholes repaired anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks.  But if you don’t call, it’s not on anyones to-do list.  The city doesn’t really have the money to fix the roads correctly, but at least we can do our part.

Take Mom/Dad’s Keys

Some of the most frightening driving I see out there are the Octogenerians driving their Buicks on our crazy roads, and Pittsburgh has quite a lot of elderly people.  

Don’t think of it as taking away the ability for your parent to drive, instead ask yourself “How could I make my loving mother drive to get her own groceries?  She deserves to be taken by someone else”.  

I’d bet using an UberX or Lyft for the trips to the grocery store and church would not only cost less then they pay for a car/insurance/etc… but also make sure they’ll still be around to see the grandkids. 

What tips would you add to this list?

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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:

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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:

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

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.