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Stop signs on merge ramps – WTF

Merging onto the highway is one of the more stressful aspects of driving.  I remember doing my learners permit training in Maryland with my dad, and we had to merge on the highway from a cloverleaf.  This exercise filled with fear as I came around the corner at 35 mph and was expected to both let people onto the off-ramp and get myself onto the highway without being killed.  And yet, I never had an incident, and I’ve never even seen an accident in this brilliant design, seen throughout our fine country:

Watching a cloverleaf from above must be like ballet, the dance of people letting other in and getting off the highway themselves.  But this design is no where to be found in Allegheny County.  I did a quick scan on Google Maps (and my memory) and don’t see a single traditional cloverleaf in the area.  I’m not sure why they didn’t gain favor here.  The biggest disadvantage is that cloverleafs require a lot of real estate in exchange for their efficiency.  And yet, a quick glance at New York or Washington DC, two areas where real estate is sparse, shows many cloverleafs.   So perhaps it’s the topography?

Leave it to Western Pennsylvania to add more stress to an already stressful situation. Instead of a cloverleaf system, each exit is completely different (more on that in another post).  But the most frustrating, and frankly dangerous thing on these roads is the stop signs a the end of exit ramps.  I’ve never ever seen a stop sign on an exit ramp elsewhere in the country.  Some places, like Phoenix and LA have stop lights to help with the flow of traffic, but when the light turns green, you still have a merge ramp to gain speed.  Presumably a stop sign should only be used when there is absolutely no way to provide ample room for someone to merge on.  Asking someone to go from zero to 65 is a big task, and I can’t tell you how terrible this is.  Let’s look at some of the examples of this in Pittsburgh and see if there was a good reason:

Here is the Squirrel Hill exit.  This has multiple infractions, but today we’ll just focus on the stop sign.  What’s going on here is that a three lane highway is losing a lane (people getting off at Squirrel Hill/Greenfield).  So if you are getting on east bound, you not only need to floor it at the stop sign, but you also need to get over another lane immediately.  It’s no wonder there is always traffic here (even if the tunnels stopped being a bottleneck).  This seems like a perfect spot for a half cloverleaf, you can easily see how the on-bound exit could connect to the off-bound exit.  Maybe just end the lane a little earlier and use this lane as an area to merge?

Next up is the merge from Braddock Ave to 376 E.  There is also once again a stop sign here.  You can see at least why they did it here, the merge area is very small.  But here’s another idea.  Instead of having a right hand merge from Braddock Ave at all, why not direct traffic going to eastbound 376 to turn left onto the other on-ramp?  That on-ramp is long enough for a 747 to merge on comfortably.  Traffic flow experts might say that all the people waiting to turn left would cause congestion, but frankly the stupid stop sign here causes traffic to back all the way up to Forbes Ave, so it really couldn’t get much worse.

Now the biggest head scratcher of all.  The merge onto 376 E from Poplar St (Greentree Exit).  You can see out here in the burbs, we almost have a conventional cloverleaf (I’ll assume the reason you get off on one street and get on at another is something political for now…), and yet here is this mysterious stop sign as the end of a merge ramp where there is plenty of real estate for a normal merge!!!!  There is traffic at this spot almost every day.  People assume it’s the tunnels but I’m sure this stop sign is a large part of it.  I can think of no reason why this stop sign should be here, and yet there it is.  The worst part is that because there is a stop sign on this one on-ramp, people stop at the Yield signs on the other on ramps!!!  Perhaps the most dangerous thing you can do when driving is come to a complete stop when the people behind you are expecting you to merge.  Merging onto the highway in traffic from this stop sign usually isn’t bad, because of the slow moving traffic but if you try it at 6:30, it’s like playing chicken.  For some reason, people in Pittsburgh don’t get over to allow people in this situation to merge, so you kind of have to floor it and pray that they get over or break.

Seriously, WTF PGH Roads.


Why I created this blog

I moved to the city of Pittsburgh 3 years ago.  I couldn’t believe how hard it was to find my way around, or what bizarre traffic situations I encountered.  Even to this day, I’m still shocked about some of the decisions the civil engineers make around here, and hope to gain some insight from anyone who knows whats going on.   Here I’ll address all the crazy road conditions you’ll find in western Pennsylvania, from the on-ramps with no return, to the multiple direction one-way streets, and the pot holes the size of a car.

But first some background on me.  I figure I’ve driven over 200,000 miles in my life.  I’ve driven in almost every major city in the USA, and have drove cross country.  I’ve driven on the wrong side of the road in England and Australia, and in little medieval castles in Portugal.  But I’ve never encountered roads as poorly designed and maintained as we have here in Pittsburgh.  I understand some of the decisions are made by the geography.  You have a city surrounded by rivers and hills, I get that.  But yet San Francisco and Cincinnati seem to be able to follow reasonable road conventions.

This won’t be a commentary on Pittsburgh drivers.  I’ve come to think that people are products are their environment.  So when you are used to having STOP SIGNS where you would normally merge onto a highway, you can’t blame people who have never lived anywhere else for stopping when they encounter a rare yield sign.  Sure people hit their brakes when then enter a tunnel, but that’s probably because the roads here present you with so many dangerous and mysterious conditions here, that Pittsburghers have been trained to slow down because you never know what you might encounter.

This will be a place to vent and discuss, but keep in mind I’m not a Civil Engineer.  I’ve played a lot of Sim City and driven in many other cities, but have no formal training, so please chime in if you know why something was designed a certain way, because I truly want to know.