With serpentine streets and many hills and valleys, Pittsburgh can be notoriously difficult to navigate without a good map. Conventional maps will usually do the trick, but a great resource for visitors residents alike is Pittsburgh Figured Out, a locally-produced collection of easy-to-follow maps and insider tips on everything from hassle-free parking to short-cuts to the airport. This book is available from most major book sellers.
Driving around Pittsburgh became much easier during the summer of 1994 when new city-wide signage - the Wayfinder System - was created to help residents and visitors navigate from one part of the city to another. The Pittsburgh Wayfinder System organizes Pittsburgh into five regions, each represented by a corresponding color. The Wayfinder System creates a loop, the Purple Belt, around the periphery of Pittsburgh's downtown pointing the way to walk or drive to such major attractions as the Andy Warhol Museum and Fort Pitt Block House. Practical visitor information such as parking is also part of the signage system.
Since Pittsburgh doesn't have an Interstate Beltway, leaving the two main Interstates running through Pittsburgh very congested at times, the Pittsburgh Belt Route System was constructed to provide a series of marked alternate routes around the city. Six color-coded loops surround Pittsburgh and link various towns, highways and important sites such as the two airports. The colors of the Belt Route system are arranged in order of the rainbow - the outermost belt is Red, followed by Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue and Purple (the Purple belt is the Wayfinder System mentioned above). A few of the routes do not form complete loops because they meet the outside edge of Allegheny County. The Belt Route system is pretty complete and well-maintained. Pretty much anywhere you come to an intersection along a belt route, you will find a new sign, so they can be relied on to get you where you planned to go. The AAA Pittsburgh Downtown & Vicinity map shows the Color Belt system. The laminated Rand McNally EasyFinder Pittsburgh map is another good choice.
If you are traveling into downtown Pittsburgh from the East, South or West you will probably arrive through a tunnel. I-376 (the Parkway East) travels through the Squirrel Hill Tunnel from the east, truck 19 travels through Pittsburgh via the Liberty Tunnel (Liberty Tubes) from the South and the Fort Pitt Tunnels and Fort Pitt Bridge connect the southern and western suburbs of Pittsburgh to the Golden Triangle via I-279. Be careful when driving through these tunnels and their connecting bridges for the first time - many of the signs are on the overhead spans and are hard to see until you are practically underneath them.
Pittsburgh is affectionately known as the City of Bridges for good reason - over 1700 bridges exist in Allegheny County alone! Pittsburgh bridges are truly remarkable, both for their beauty and variety. People often brag that no two bridges here are alike in color or design, with the exception of the identical Sixth, Seventh and Ninth street bridges (known as the Three Sisters). The Smithfield Street Bridge holds the prestigious designation as the country's oldest steel bridge - it was designed and built in 1845 and is still used by thousands of cars and pedestrians each day.
Rules of the Road - the Pittsburgh Left
For people visiting Pittsburgh for the first time, I have to add a word of warning - watch out for the Pittsburgh Left! Essentially, this means that when you are stopped at the front of a line of cars at a red light and the car across from you has its left turn-signal on, they are going to expect you to let them go first. This tradition began because most streets in Pittsburgh are narrow and are also filled with parked cars, allowing for only one lane of traffic in each direction. Therefore someone waiting to turn left at a light is going to hold up their entire lane of traffic, unless someone lets them through. It's known as the "Pittsburgh Left" because it is not only tolerated in this area, it's expected. Try it in any other city in the country and you're bound to get a good number of irate drivers flipping you off.
More Pittsburgh Driving Tips
- You can't get there from here
- Many Pittsburgh entrance and exit ramps have stop signs instead of yield signs. Pittsburgher's will often come to a full stop prior to slowly merging, even on ramps that do have yield signs.
- Everyday is "Sunday" here, so watch out for slowpokes!
- Pittsburgh drivers are more polite than most so watch out for people in front of you who may be stopped in the roadway to allow someone to turn left in front of them or enter from a side road.
- Most roads in Pittsburgh are two lanes with narrow to non-existent shoulders and lots of twists and turns. Watch out for joggers, bikers and pedestrians!
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