Pittsburgh Left = China Left


Photo by Melissa Robison

I subscribe to the Urban Dictionary word of the day mailing list, and just yesterday I got this one:

> Pittsburgh Left

> Making a left turn just as the light turns green, pulling out before the oncoming traffic. Most people in Pittsburgh allow and encourage this behavior.

> “That jagoff wouldn’t give me the Pittsburgh left!”
“You should honk”

Hmmm, I would have called this a “China Left.” (Usually at a major intersection in Shanghai, the first 2-3 cars in the left turn lane will try to make their turns before the incoming traffic crosses the midpoint. This is totally normal, and no one gets upset about it.)


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. As someone who has driven in Beijing (and mostly enjoyed it) I think the estimate of the first 2 – 3 cars is a little low.. I found that with good timing and confidence you can perform a left turn through oncoming traffic.

  2. I agree with Josh – definitely more than 2-3 cars much of the time! Especially when the left-turners cascade well. I don’t think I’ve seen this sort of turning anywhere else…

  3. The difference is the Pittsburgh left is easy to anticipate. It is usually made from a left-turn lane or at least by a vehicle with left-turning intentions announced with activated turn signals. Unlike China, it is never made from a right hand lane or by someone passing on the right. In Pittsburghese we would call that driver a Total Jagoff.
    Go Steelers

  4. I can attest that the Boston area is at least one other place where the Pittsburgh/Beijing left is not only commonplace, but considered by some to be a basic human right! I grew up in Boston, but unlearned some of my Boston driving skills in 5 years away. On my return, I found out that I was a terrible driver for infringing on the ‘right of way’ of the second, third, or fourth person making a left turn. For some reason older ladies got the most upset at me, and it was usually worse than a honk!

  5. That’s funny because in college I had a good friend from Pittsburg (named John) and we all called him “Johnny U” because he would always make illegal u-turns and cheat on traffic lights. Had no idea it was a Pittsburgh thing.

    • Dan: Don’t forget the “h” in PittsburgH. It does make a difference. Not trying to be a jagoff an’at (yes, by stating I’m not trying to be a jaogoff defeats my point.) haha

  6. The Los Angeles Left would be just the opposite.

    In L.A., you make a left turn by pulling out into the intersection in the left-turn lane when the light is green. Then you complete your left after the light turns red and stops oncoming traffic.

  7. Just following up Gregg’s comment about LA, that might be a Cali left then, because I can attest that people in San Diego and San Francisco also often make lefts like that. I actually like the Pittsburgh/China left, I wouldn’t want to do it out west because people would freak out and TRY to hit you, but it seems like there’s a certain efficiency.

  8. henrycrab Says: March 4, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    John, I don’t know what is the way in SH. In Hangzhou, the China Left is actually a way that traffic police uses to improve the traffic. Their theory is like this, if you ask first 2-3 cars to go to the midpoint when the light for the cars going straight turns green, it helps more cars to make their left turn, without hinder other cars going straight

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