This meme was making its rounds today:
I think everyone has experienced this nightmare. Coming into the city the Ft Pitt bridge is our crown jewel, leaving the city it’s our worst nightmare.
As an amateur fan of civil engineering, I’ve created a list of things that typically cause traffic:
- Sharp curves
- Lanes ending
- Steep hills
- Changes in speed
- Confusing road conditions
- Quick merge areas
The Ft Pitt bridge/tunnel area is pretty much a greatest hits of civil engineering failure. There is an amazing video out there from the 1950s that showed how this bridge/highway would solve all of Pittsburgh’s traffic problems (I searched my hardest for this, but can’t find it anymore, if you can, please let me know). The video showed a man happily driving on the empty new highways of Pittsburgh.
What has been discovered over the years though, is that increasing road capacity increases the likelihood people will use their cars, and thus increases traffic. It’s kind of a weird problem, you add capacity to reduce traffic, which causes more traffic.
Pittsburgh has always had a difficult problem connecting the heart of it’s city to the West End, here’s what it looked like before the Ft Pitt Bridge:
Basically just yet another bridge off of the point to Carson St. So the idea of being able to go straight through Mount Washington to the point was quite appealing.
The problem is that we are well over the amount of traffic they expected. And frankly, too much is happening in too short of a distance.
Here, traffic from the North Side, Downtown, and the East are all merging at once
Which is a bad situation under ideal conditions, but as the meme at the top alluded, you only have a few hundred feet to make it happen. I think even that would not be so bad, but you also have people who need to get off at Carson St, creating a cross-fire situation. Not only that, but the people coming from the east have to make almost a 90 degree turn!
And not only that, but you also have people trying to merge on from Stanwix St (with the typical 20 ft merge area)!
Is it any wonder that there is always traffic here?
I have a proposal that I think would greatly alleviate the problem.
Get rid of the exit for Carson St. No more crossfire situation. People coming from the North needing to get to the West End can use the West End bridge (you could also add a new exit after the tunnel). People coming from the East or Downtown can use Smithfield St (although the East needs a better way to get there)
Get rid of the on-ramp from Stanwix St. There are already multiple ways to get on the highway from downtown, let’s get rid of one more merge area.
The last big problem is the 90 degree turn. Because you have to slow down to 30 mph, this will always be a huge bottle neck. I’m not sure of a way to fix this without building a new bridge and tunnel unfortunately.