The Keys to Driving in the City


Driving in rush-hour Pittsburgh traffic is brutal. It’s a cut-throat business. It’s a battle of size and strength and wits. It will weed out the losers from the winners. It is a fight to the finish. The one with guts gets all the glory.

I used to be terrified of driving in the city. It was quite literally my biggest fear. I was forced to get over this fear when the organization I work for moved offices. And of course we moved to a place that is farther away and harder to get to, across two  rivers, over five bridges, under three overpasses and through one tunnel. Oh wait, two tunnels. There was nothing I could do; I had to face my fear.

It took me about a week and a half before I felt confident enough to put away my GPS. Even now, a month later, I still keep my phone on the seat next to me, just in case there’s an accident, or a fire, or a water main break, and I’m forced down an unfamiliar road.

Now, I’m almost a pro. I say almost because, like I said, driving in rush-hour, city traffic is cut-throat. And I do not always come out on top.

In order to drive in traffic across two rivers, over five bridges, under three overpasses and through two tunnels, one must be aggressive. Never drive in the slow lane if you think you could be going faster or you might want to go faster later. You will inevitably get stuck behind a large 18-wheeler or a mom in a minivan, and they do not care how slow they are going.

One must merge into lanes forcefully. Make the decision to cut in front of someone and stick to that decision. If there is not enough space for your car, the person you are cutting in front of will just have to stop and let you in. Because you are in it to win it.

On a similar note, merge at the last possible second. Too many people try to merge the second they see the lane on their left, thus stopping all traffic behind them on the ramp and firmly positioning themselves too far back in the line. If you keep driving in the merge lane until you can drive no further, think of all the cars you will pass, stuck in that traffic.

After you’ve merged, don’t let any space get between you and that car just ahead of you. You never know who might try to sneak in at the next ramp. Don’t make eye contact and don’t give an inch. You earned your spot in line and you’re going to keep it.

Drive on the shoulder of a ramp when you are positive that no one will hit you. Driving outside the lines, on the rumble strips sometimes cannot be avoided. This is part of the battle. You just have to drive around those people who tried to merge too soon and cut in front of the lazy drivers.

When coming to a traffic light, one must run the yellows, even at the last possible second. It is legal to drive through a yellow light. So do it. If you stop at every yellow light you get to on a 45-minute drive through the city, it will end up taking you an hour. Or you will get rear-ended because the car behind you was planning on running the yellow light after you.

If the left-turn-signal on the traffic light goes out, you have about five more seconds to make a left-hand turn before the oncoming traffic actually starts to move. Use that time wisely and make your turn. But be aggressive about it. If you hesitate, you will lose your five-second advantage and be stuck in the middle of the intersection.

Which leads me to my next point. One must never stop in the middle of an intersection. You will get beeped and honked at, especially by buses because they’re big and clumsy, and you will probably get hit and smashed. Enough said.

If you manage to make it through all the bumper-to-bumper traffic, avoid the distracted drivers on their phones, eating a sandwich, balancing coffee while painting their nails, and arrive at your destination on time, give yourself a small pat on the back. Because you’ve survived only one half of the nightmare that is driving to work, because you have yet to go home. Getting home at the end of the day is often worse, after people have gotten crap from their bosses, worked overtime, and spilled their lunch all over their shirt. This is when the real fun begins.

This is when you show no mercy. It’s the big trucks and the tiny convertibles who think they are invincible, so you have to show them you mean business. All the above rules go into overtime at this point. Merge like you mean it, get into the fast lane ASAP and don’t budge. Pedal to the metal, and all that jazz.

This is war. And you, my friend, will emerge victorious.



UPDATE (2/22/13): Due to concerns expressed by several readers, I would just like to make a note that I do not in any way condone illegal or reckless driving. I advocate strategic driving. When driving in Pittsburgh, one must find humor in small things or one will go crazy.

(photo via)


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