Know your weird and wonky Pittsburgh terms? This post is part of our Pittsburghpedia series, a handy glossary of words and phrases unique to our city that’ll help you #talklikeyoulivehere. Let’s fill you in. Today’s entry … The Pittsburgh Left.
WHAT IS IT? A divisive and for outsiders deeply confusing traffic maneuver. It works like this: A driver at a light makes the left before oncoming traffic instead of waiting for oncoming traffic to pass — and sometimes with that oncoming traffic’s permission. This GIF will show you.
WHERE’D IT START / WHY’D IT START? Pittsburgh developed from a patchwork of boroughs and municipalities. And its geography basically ruled out a more traditional street grid.
That lack of a street grid combined with old-school narrow streets and fewer left arrows to give birth to a bold traffic move — necessity and urban planning being the mother of invention.
90.5 WESA has a great writeup about the Left’s history here.
CONTROVERSY? Yes. There are Pittsburgh Leftists — those who revere the maneuver — but plenty who don’t. The city is also designing intersections in ways that discourage it.
In 1985, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Peter Leo condemned the Pittsburgh Left as the “Pushy Pittsburgh Left.” To be clear, his beef wasn’t with Pittsburgh Lefts made with oncoming traffic’s consent. His beef was with Pittsburgh Lefts taken without consent.
But both versions are arguably bad. We’ll explain why in a moment.
IS IT LEGAL? Not according to Pennsylvania’s traffic code, which says failing to yield to oncoming traffic while navigating a turn is a traffic violation.
IS IT SAFE? Advocates say the question of whether the move is made with or without oncoming traffic’s permission misses the point entirely. Because that permission is often given without pedestrians in mind, and pedestrians are usually the ones in the path of a vehicle making the Left in a hurry through their crosswalk. Car crash attorneys aren’t big fans either.
IS IT CHAOTIC GOOD, CHAOTIC NEUTRAL, OR CHAOTIC BAD? It might be all three. You be the judge.