Is Pittsburgh Hard To Drive In?

Birdseye view of Pittsburgh skyline at water front

Whether you’re going to see the fabulous museums and historical sites from the Gilded Age, heading to the botanical gardens, or taking in a Pirates game, Pittsburgh is one of America’s favorite cities. But is Pittsburgh hard or easy to drive in?

Pittsburgh is very hard to drive in. The confusing road layout, stupefying intersections, the massive number of bridges, congestion, and human nature make driving in Pittsburgh challenging. However, if you are just visiting, you can get around on foot or via transit instead of having to drive in the city.

There’s a lot to learn about driving in Pittsburgh; read on to discover when the Pittsburgh rush hour is. Are there traffic cameras in Pittsburgh? What the heck is a Pittsburgh Left?

Driving in the City of Steel

Pittsburgh is a great city, with a ton of neat things to do and many fascinating historical sites and museums. But driving in Pittsburgh can be a bit of a challenge. The city is nestled among hilly terrain, which makes logical street arrangements challenging. Like many old east-coast cities, Pittsburgh’s roads are laid out in what sometimes seems like a random hodgepodge of angled intersections, one-way streets, tunnels, bridges, and overpasses.

The confusing road layout in Pittsburgh comes from history. As the town grew and expanded, different areas which had already developed their own grid system were incorporated into the larger City of Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, this integration created disjointed naming systems and an assortment of oddly angled intersections with confusing signage. 

In the early days, when Pittsburgh was growing, cars were uncommon. Even as cars became more popular, the road network was built to the needs of the time: in other words, the roads were made for a smaller number of slower and smaller cars.

Traffic on bridge with city skyline in background

As time went on and Pittsburgh grew, it became difficult to change the roads without demolishing buildings or otherwise disrupting large parts of the city. Add to the mix the 446 different bridges that criss-cross the city, and you can see why Pittsburgh presents a unique challenge to most any driver.

As if the odd layout and assortment of bridges weren’t enough, Pittsburgh’s roads are congested. About 85% of Pittsburghers drive every day, which puts about 256,000 cars on the road in the city daily. Unfortunately, many of these drivers are habitually rude; according to a study, Pennsylvanians are considered some of the rudest drivers, and Pittsburghers are no exception.

Abrupt maneuvers, the Pittsburgh Left, careening through intersections (or blocking them), and following too close are all common sins on the roads of Pittsburgh. There are occasional road-rage incidents as well.

The Pittsburgh Police tend not to initiate a lot of traffic stops. In fact, they are not allowed to make traffic stops for minor violations, which has been a controversial decision for many reasons. Police activity, when it does occur, tends to snarl traffic as people gawk and rubberneck.

On top of all that, Pittsburgh has heavy pedestrian traffic. Many Pittsburghers travel on foot, and some travel on bikes, which adds an exciting element to driving in the city. All in all, driving in Pittsburgh is quite challenging.

View of Steel City at dusk with different types of bridges crossing the river

There is good news, though. While the roads are super confusing, Pittsburgh is one of the least car-dependent metros in America. Despite being less car-dependent than other cities, residents of the City of Steel do not tend to bike or take transit: they walk! Because of the way Pittsburgh’s major employment centers and major residential areas are laid out, many Pittsburghers can (and do) walk to work.

Keystone Answers Fun Fact: Love listening to the radio in the car? The first commercial radio station on earth was KDKA, founded in Pittsburgh in 1920.

What Time is Rush Hour Pittsburgh?

Like most cities, the rush in Pittsburgh is tied to the operating hours of local businesses. On some days, traffic can begin building up early around the airport as people fly in and out of Pittsburgh on business. On most days, traffic really starts to stack up around 6 AM. Peak traffic is usually from about 7 AM to 8:30 AM, and by the time the clock rolls around to 10, traffic has usually reverted to more normal levels.

In the afternoon, traffic spikes again at around 3 PM, as office workers and other commuters embark on their journeys back home. The afternoon rush usually ends about 6, but depending on what part of town you’re in, traffic may remain heavy into the nighttime hours as revelers flock to restaurants, bars, and theaters.

While the rush can be bad everywhere, there are a few problem areas in Pittsburgh that are especially prone to bad traffic:

  • Route 28: Drivers on this route frequently engage in aggressive behavior like weaving and speeding, and accidents can cause major traffic snarls that will often last for hours.
  • Parkway East and West: This route can become especially ugly near the Squirrel Hill Tunnel, as traffic tends to bottleneck here.
  • Liberty Tunnels: Tunnels are amazing feats of engineering, but they are difficult to expand and often lead to congestion. Rush hour often causes significant bottlenecks at the Liberty Tunnels, and the occasional accident on the tunnel approach or in the tunnel can be a commuter’s nightmare.

Does Pittsburgh use Traffic Cameras?

Pittsburgh does have traffic cameras. Traffic cameras are used for two main purposes. First, some cameras are linked to computer systems that control signal timing to optimize traffic flow. These cameras are usually unmonitored and automatic, although in some cases, they archive footage that can later be accessed by law enforcement or other government authorities.

Steel City freeway ramps and bridges

Other traffic cameras are intended to provide a more general monitoring of road conditions. Many of these cameras can be accessed by the public on the 511PA website. With a few clicks of the mouse, you can observe real-time traffic conditions at points along major routes such as I-70, I-576, PA-119, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and more.

In addition to the traffic cams, Pittsburgh has many red-light cameras that will automatically record red-light violations and mail the offender a ticket. The maximum fine for a red-light violation in Pittsburgh is $100. Crazy as traffic might get, avoid the temptation to floor it through a yellow light: running red lights can not only lead to a fine, but it can cause deadly accidents. In 2020, almost 1,000 Americans were killed in red-light accidents, and more than 116,000 were injured.

What is a Pittsburgh Left?

Pittsburgh Left is a driving maneuver that happens at intersections where there is no protected turn lane. In these situations, a driver who wants to turn left would normally have to wait until incoming traffic was cleared to make their turn. This can cause traffic to back up behind the turning driver, who often has to wait until the light has cycled back to red before they can make their turn.

In response to this, drivers have adopted the practice of the Pittsburgh Left. When the light turns green, the left-turning driver will turn through the intersection before oncoming traffic has accelerated away from the stoplight. Often, drivers in the opposing lane will signal the left-turning driver to go out of a sense of mutual courtesy, but sometimes drivers will take the Pittsburgh Left even when not signaled. Either way, the Pittsburgh Left poses a safety hazard, as the abrupt left can cause drivers to strike pedestrians or cause a car wreck.

Overview of freeway and Point State Park

While the intent of the Pittsburgh Left is to ease congestion and clear traffic on roads that don’t have protected turn lanes, the maneuver is technically illegal. Not yielding to oncoming traffic is a moving violation that could lead to a traffic ticket. The law says you should yield to oncoming traffic before turning left.

When is the Best Time to Drive Through Pittsburgh?

In general, the best time to drive through Pittsburgh is mid-day. The morning rush usually dies down by about 10, and the afternoon rush doesn’t really pick up until about 3, so the five-hour window between 10 AM and 3 PM is generally your best bet. If those hours don’t work for you, or if you’re a night owl, you might try passing through the city between 7 PM and 6 AM.

Is There a Bypass Around Pittsburgh?

Pittsburgh’s road map is in a constant state of flux, ever-evolving, ever-changing. The most recent road to open is PA-576, a turnpike extension that connects the Pittsburgh International Airport with I-79, thus allowing residents of the southwestern suburbs to approach the airport and the city without having to endure the heavy traffic of I-79 or I-376.

Otherwise, many of the major local highways do pass close to Pittsburgh and can be susceptible to congestion. For example, I-70 passes east-to-west just south of Pittsburgh, and I-79 passes north-to-south just west of the city; I-76, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, heads roughly north-to-south just east of the city. As a result, all of these roads can become busy and congested during peak times in and around Pittsburgh.

Driving in Pittsburgh: Challenging, But Not Impossible

Pittsburgh is a cool city, but it’s not super cool to drive in. There are many factors that make driving in Pittsburgh a challenge, but some of us love to embrace challenging situations. If you do decide to drive in Pittsburgh, be sure to keep your eyes on the road and drive defensively. Driving in Pittsburgh may be difficult, but it’s certainly not impossible – especially if you keep your wits about you.

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I was born and raised in Pennsylvania; I love to travel, visit new destinations, explore unique locations, and meet great new people. However, sometimes, you don't need to travel far from home to find new adventures, so I decided now was the time to learn more about this great state I call home.