The Pittsburgh Left: How does everyone else manage?

Okay, for the unfamiliar, here is the basics of the P.L.:

Imagine a 4-way intersection with a light. The light has no left turn arrows; the intersection, no dedicated left turn lane. It’s rush hour and there are cars backed up in all directions. You’re first at the red light, waiting to turn left.

To execute a “Pittsburgh left,” you would observe the crossing traffic’s light turning red. Knowing how long the “all red” lasts, you would begin moving forward so that you enter the intersection, with momentum, just as the light turns green. You would then turn left in the time it takes the opposing car to react to the green (or, if he’s a nice guy, he’ll let you go to avoid tying you up…and everyone else behind you at the light.)

Now, I realize this is a quasi-legal behavior to compensate for (1) high traffic volume and (2) lack of adequate traffic engineering infrastructure.

Granted, Pittsburgh has (1) and (2) in abundance, but the scenario I just described can’t be unique to Pittsburgh. Assuming one wants to make a left, and faces an indefinite delay waiting for traffic to clear, what does one do to avoid gridlock?

(The obvoius corollary to the P.L. is to enter the intersection on the green–reasonably expecting not to get a chance to make a left before the light turns red–then clearing the intersection on the “all red.” Not sure what that’s called though.)

Fan, The Intersection And Tactics You Describe Are Not Unique To Pittsburgh. Those Of Us Who’ve Been Driving For Quite Some Time Consider This To Be Soup Du Jour.

Go back 2 or 3 decades and you are describing practically any 4-way intersection. Now you can see why these have been all but eliminated.

You’re actually supposed to stay out of the intersection until you’re making the turn. You can’t block it.

In these situations when “It’s rush hour and there are cars backed up in all directions.” I don’t mess with these left turn nightmares at all. I turn before the intersection or go straight through the intersection and turn left or right a little way up or even turn around and come back. Even if it winds up taking longer (which it usually doesn’t) it’s worth it for mental health resons and personal safety.

For me when it’s rush-hour, I avoid turning left at these Pittsburgh Lefts. Wow, I’m starting to miss living near a city, already.


I picked up the “P.L” bad habit while driving in Boston for several years back in the 70s. Then I moved for a bit to a quiet town on Colorado where I retained that habit - and received many angry faces, middle fingers, and fists shaken at me.

As CSA said, the best way to deal with intersections of that nature on very busy roadways is to simply avoid having to make a left turn like that. The right, right, right turn strategy may actually not take any longer than the extended wait at the PL intersection, and is also likely to put you in less danger from oncoming traffic.

The worst part of these PL situations is the driver ahead of you who refuses to pull into the intersection while the light is green. I have actually been in back of people (always women, I might add) whose timid behavior causes everyone in back of them to sit through 3 or more traffic light cycles, simply because they would not roll past the stop line until they had an opportunity to make their turn.

Incidentally, if the authorities in your area don’t have the space or the funds to install either a dedicated left-turn lane or a jug handle at these intersections, then pressure should be kept on them until they institute a “delayed green” traffic light timing device. A delayed green can be used to hold back opposing traffic long enough to allow a few vehicles to execute their turn, and the cost is really minimal compared to adding a turn lane or a jug handle.

Due to the complete disregard for traffic signals by drivers in Baltimore, the PL would get one killed almost immediately. One in Baltimore must wait until the light is green for at least 3 and sometimes 5 seconds because the cross traffic will run the red light EVERY time.

The correct (and legal) way to make this turn is the sitaution you describe, moving into the middle of the intersection on a green light, waiting patiently until on-coming traffic has stopped and, "clearing the intersection on the “all red.”

This should be reserved for ONE car, not all five cars behind you at the light. The second car in line should wait at the stop line until you have cleared the intersection. If not, they could be ticketed for “blocking the intersection” as mentioned by CSA.

The best answer to this (as everyone is recommending) is to avoid the situation entirely. I utilize about 6 different routes to and from work. I don’t know which one I will use until I evaluate the traffic flow on any given day (and it keeps the commute from being routine and boring). Good Luck!

It’s extremely common here in the Boston area…and it is NOT quasi-legal…it’s ILLEGAL…If the guy WASN’T nice and hit you…YOU’D BE AT FAULT…NO QUESTION ABOUT IT.

but do-able depending on cross traffic as you suggest. ( I do it too sometimes if I can see the cycle of the opposing light. Like in a left turn lane I use every day, if I arrive too late for the sensor to give me the arrow, just zip left before the others react. )

At the end of the green cycle however is the perfectly legal means of ONE car turning left. ( But you must advance halfway into the intersection during green to claim your stake -“control the intersection”- or you are technically running the red from behind the line. )
Why ; you’re not running an east bound red light at all…
You’re the first car in line for the north bound green.
And by pulling forward you leave room for the strait throughs to go around you and on their way.

But to get at least TWO cars through said light, one of them would have to P.L. at the beginning of the cycle.

“Due to the complete disregard for traffic signals by drivers in Baltimore…”

And in suburban Charm City, too. I prefer to turn left at the end of the light cycle. I’m less likely to be hit by oncoming traffic from any direction. Turning left at the beginning of the cycle sets the driver up for a big bill and a fine for ignoring the right-of-way, unless your local laws allow the first driver in the intersection the right-of-way.

Mike, I’ve heard rumors for years that in Boston, the first driver in the intersection has the right-of-way. From your post, it sounds like urban legend. True? It’s always offered as a lame excuse for the insane driving there.

In times of heavy traffic, it’s almost always better to “make the rounds”. If you can turn right down one street, right onto another, then right onto the next street, you could probably save yourself a few hassles and headaches.

I don’t know how you’d not get broadsided by a car running the yellow/red going across the intersection. As it is I don’t pull away from a fresh green without looking both ways.

Two wrongs don’t make a right, but three rights make a left.

Mike, I’ve heard rumors for years that in Boston, the first driver in the intersection has the right-of-way

There are many rumors about what is legal and what isn’t…It is NOT legal in Massachusetts or New Hampshire. My wife was involved in a accident years ago. Guy turned left in front of her as she was going straight…she probably would have let him go, but she wasn’t paying attention (kids in the back were making a fuss). No one was hurt…the guy was given a ticket for failure to yield.

I don’t play the first-into-the-intersection game under any circumstances. I’m glad to hear the law is reasonable in this regard. Thanks for the info.

I don’t play the first-into-the-intersection game under any circumstances

It would be a nightmare for law enforcement and the courts if it were true. Everyone would be claiming that THEY were at the light first. Having the car turning left yielding to the car(s) going straight is far far far safer and much easier to enforce and control.

Here in the Boston area…not only does the first car turn left in front of on-coming cars…but you’ll see about 5-10 cars behind him doing the same thing…They’ll pull within inches of the car in front of them and DARE you to hit them…And people wonder why insurance rates in Boston are among the highest in the country.

Perv2820, that was my thought exactly. When I would go on shopping trips with my mother when I was a kid, she would plan her trip so she only needed to turn left once. After that, every turn was to the right.

I think if I found myself in this kind of situation every day, I would either find another route or find another way to commute that didn’t involve my car. In my experience, the cities that have these kinds of intersections usually also have pretty good mass transit. I suppose I could find a way to make three right turns to go around the block, but that shouldn’t be necessary. In New Jersey they have right hand loops to replace left turns on many intersections, which I think only makes matters worse.

As to what’s legal, I always thought that if you entered the intersection before the light turned red, you would be legal. Being able to tell which oncoming cars are slowing down and which ones might accelerate to make a yellow light is part of using your depth perception to safely operate your vehicle. We should all be able to handle this kind of situation in order to qualify for a license.