Adjusting to Pittsburgh traffic practices

This topic contains 24 replies, has 19 voices, and was last updated by  Ahlir 3 yrs, 5 mos.

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Feb 13 2013 at 9:05am #

I’ve been in Pgh now for almost five months, and I’m still kept awake at night thinking of the vengeance I want to exact on the drivers of my daily encounters. I’ve never lived in a place where such disregard (hostility?) for cyclists (and other drivers, for that matter), happens with so much frequency. I’m beginning to think that the health benefits I used to enjoy by commuting are being overweighed by the risks of riding, and by the stress it causes me. And I thought I would have a simple commute here (Shadyside to Oakland via Ellsworth and 5th). Strangely, it’s the smaller streets that seem to be the most dangerous.

I’m wondering what I can do to better protect myself and promote cycling. I don’t like the idea of giving up on riding. I have a rear view, and am thinking I need to get an air horn.

Another question, does the bicycle painted in the middle of the street mean that I’m supposed ride in the middle of the street? This is on Ellsworth in several locations. I don’t mind if people can pass me safely and slowly, but if I sense that they’re doing it aggressively (or passing me only to wait in line at an upcoming red light), I don’t want to give them the room, and would love to be justified by riding center of road. Especially on that street, where I can keep up with traffic pretty well.

Any tips would be appreciated.



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Feb 13 2013 at 9:51am #

Disclaimer: I haven’t ridden Ellsworth, am not sure of the smaller streets you’re referring to, and doubtless haven’t ridden those either.

But the bit about staying toward the right when practicable is so you’re not impeding the flow of traffic. If you can keep up pretty well, my suggestion is to take the lane.

I’m especially unapologetic about taking the lane any place and time there is a second lane to my left a car could easily merge into and use to pass me, for the same reason.


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Feb 13 2013 at 9:58am #

dp, Your comment reminded me of a 2013 goal I set for myself: to continue to cultivate a more Zen attitude when biking.

Sometimes when I find myself getting overly cranky, it helps to take a short break. Sometimes, I’ll count the number of cars/drivers who treat me respectfully. Then it becomes apparent that the disrespectful drivers are the minority. It’s just that the scary things stick out more in memory.

I also like to congratulate myself on being calm. Yesterday, I was walking my bike through a crosswalk with the walk signal and almost got hit by some jackwagon making a turn on red. When he did stop (slammed on his brakes because I was in front of him), he waved me on as if he was royalty conferring a favor unto me.

In my head, I said, “Wow thanks so much asshole considering I have the effing right of way! I’m so glad you could take an extra half second to not kill me.”

Out loud, I waved and said, “Thank you!” I consider that to be a win in keeping calm and will try to do it again next time.


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Feb 13 2013 at 10:20am #

First welcome! I hope you find people here who are not driving to be lovely. Where have you ridden previously?
Second, do whatever you need to do to not be kept awake at night with vengeance. I recently saw a quote, attributed to Buddha, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”. Take deep breaths, laugh at the assholes, whatever. Personally when I get angry I drive it into the pedals.
Third, yes, it’s crazy that the secondary streets get as nuts as the heavier streets. What you will find is that every local comes up with a shortcut to avoid the main streets, and expects to go as fast on the secondary streets. No real solution to that.
Where the symbol is in the street you are to ride in the middle of the lane if that is what you determine is the safest approach given the particular conditions. Actually, symbol or not, PA law permits you to take the lane if that is what you deem necessary for your safety.
Riding is always best. Be peaceful, be vigilant but do not allow the stress to overcome you, and do not allow yourself to be bullied by drivers.
Have fun!


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Feb 13 2013 at 10:24am #

@dp, the bike cartoon in the middle of the street just means that the lane is supposed to be a recommended place to ride, more or less. It’s not a guide on where in the lane to ride.
Your placement in the lane depends on your perception of where it is safe to ride. Legally you’re supposed to ride as far to the right as you can safely. Depending on conditions that could mean your taking the lane, i.e., riding in the middle or even in the left part of the lane. I usually take the lane when I judge there is no way for cars to pass me safely, especially when traffic is heavy and drivers get aggressive. Whether or not you’re able to go as fast as drivers would like to go doesn’t really enter into it.


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Feb 13 2013 at 10:52am #

also, maybe we can help you find a better route?


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Feb 13 2013 at 11:06am #

What pinky said about zen.
What byogman said about taking the lane.

I routinely ride Grant Street, Perry Highway, McKnight Road — all of them multi-lane streets. I take the lane, unapologetically. They want around me, fine, there’s a lane there, they can use it to do so.

You are traffic. They have to wait in line behind you, same as if you were a car.

“As far to the right as practicable”, to me means being LEFT in the lane, about 3 on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being the line to the left and right being the edge of the parking lane or curb or white line.

Be very visible: bright clothing, lights.
Be very predictable: signal your intentions, hold a straight line.
Follow the rules. I don’t run lights (most of the time), I do stop at stop signs (most of the time), and I don’t filter forward (most of the time).


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Feb 13 2013 at 11:22am #

@edmonds: my resistance to iocane powder has allowed me to drink poison and watch the other man die several times.


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Feb 13 2013 at 11:55am #

to follow up on stu’s comment “Be very predictable: signal your intentions, hold a straight line.”

I’d like to add “act confident.” It’s hard to describe, but i feel confidence helps put drivers at ease. If you’re confident in your actions, then they’ll feel confident that they won’t accidentally hit you.


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Feb 13 2013 at 12:00pm #

I’ve read that the city has been trying to use the position of the bike graphic to indicate correct lane positioning for cyclists. But they haven’t always positioned it appropriately. So it’s a suggestion your judgement should override when needed.


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Feb 13 2013 at 12:06pm #

I have a handlebar mirror, so I can see who’s behind me without looking back. I often wave cars by to pass by extending my entire arm and just moving my hand at the wrist. I think drivers feel a bit impressed that I just somehow “know” they’re there. Mirrors aren’t for everyone (some people really hate them), but I recommend giving them a try.

I also use the arm extending any time a driver wants to pass me on a narrower street (Penn ave in Lawrenceville, uphill side, for instance)


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Feb 13 2013 at 12:07pm #

@JaySherman5000 : just because you CAN survive something doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, especially when death is on the line.

But, hey…as you wish.


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Feb 13 2013 at 12:21pm #

@Jaysherman my resistance to iocane powder has allowed me to drink poison and watch the other man die several times.

IRRC, once we sat on flagstaff hill. You were drinking poison and I got intoxicated.


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Feb 13 2013 at 12:22pm #

In most cases the “sharrow” in Pittsburgh represents where you should ride and where drivers should expect you to ride. They are supposed to be positioned outside of the “door zone.” That said, other cities don’t always use them in the same way and they aren’t always installed in the correct place.


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Feb 13 2013 at 5:20pm #

He gave me less than four feet… I did not get his license number, but I know that this man had six fingers. You don’t, per chance, have six fingers do you?


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Feb 14 2013 at 9:16am #

I ride Ellsworth inbound most days, and I find that the right edge of the sharrow graphic puts me just outside of the door zone. Don’t know about sharrows on other streets, as these are the only ones I encounter.


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Feb 14 2013 at 11:21am #

Ellsworth appears as a street that should be great for bike commuters, but it does present some difficulties. There are long lines of parked cars, and riding just outside of the door zone tempts drivers to pass closely within the lane. I’ve had better luck taking the lane inbound for long stretches until the parked cars end, and generally it seems I can keep up with traffic outbound and take the lane then, as well.

There are alternative side streets, but there is often even less room with all of the street parking.


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Feb 14 2013 at 6:41pm #

Thank you all for your great suggestions.

I like the idea of having a zen attitude, and knowing that you all out there have had similar experiences.

My finger did slip today when a benz decided to take over my lane to pass a left-turning driver on the right. I was utterly calm about it though.

I also appreciate the Princess Bride references.



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Feb 15 2013 at 8:38am #

“My finger did slip…” haha – don’t you hate when that happens? That pesky middle digit can really get away from you.


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Feb 15 2013 at 11:29am #

Hmm, sounds a bit like Dr. Strangelove’s gloved hand.


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Feb 15 2013 at 2:26pm #

“Gee, I wish we had one of them doomsday machines.”


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Feb 15 2013 at 6:52pm #

Weird, I’ve found drivers here to be so much more polite than Philly or Boston. Anyway, I second what people said about being as predictable as possible. If you’re stuck at a light, try to rotate your wheel in the direction you plan on going in addition to signaling.

I have also found that, as a female, if I bike in a dress or a skirt (with spandex underneath obviously), drivers give me WAY more room. It’s an interesting phenomenon that I try to take advantage of in the warmer months without thinking too much about the politics of it…


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Feb 15 2013 at 10:09pm #

Judging from my experience, there’s maybe three stages of urban biking:

1) Nervousness. You worry about all those fast-moving cars that always want to zoom by way too close, and maybe are just gunning for you. Sign: You find yourself hugging the curb and cringing at the sound of any engine behind you.

2) Entitlement. Believing that you can do whatever you want. You are a leegal vee-hicle, dammit. Just like the rest of them. Besides, you are way greener. Sign: You find yourself pulling up to drivers at stops and berating them for some infraction or other, or at least making those gestures and yelling those words.

3) Equanimity. You don’t really care anymore, you just want to get to wherever it was that you were headed. Sign: you know where bikes might get in trouble and you avoid those places, or you just take the lane and ignore the cars behind you. You discover that you can somehow sense the bad drivers and you keep an eye on them.

Anyway, “just ride”.


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Feb 15 2013 at 10:58pm #

Some folks never get past the entitlement stage, BTW.
On the women issue, there was a study a while back where somebody measured the space drivers give cyclists, with a specially equipped bike. Best was when he wore a long blonde wig. Wearing a helmet and taking the lane both reduced the space.


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Feb 15 2013 at 11:41pm #

I sense a marketing opportunity.
— Bicycle helmets with golden tresses attached!

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