Jaywalking is treated in the sports town of Pittsburgh as both a birthright and participatory sport, and judging by photos found in our archive, this has been the case for a long time. Columnist Phil Musick of The Pittsburgh Press put it nicely in 1986 in a piece describing the city’s character quirks.
“For example, unlike the less sophisticated residents of such paradises as, say, Cleveland, we both chop our ham and chip it… We originated and continue to make heavy use of the mangled but innovative pronoun ‘yuns.’ And our favorite outdoor sport is jaywalking, which we have long since raised to an art form.”
There were times when authorities tried to put a halt to Pittsburgh’s long-running jaywalking history.
In 1977, Mount Lebanon police started dropping $15 fines on pedestrians spotted jaywalking; few were amused.
“I’ve never been so angry in my whole life,” resident Stuartie Merrill told a reporter of The Pittsburgh Press. “I refused to sign the citation, so they wrote ‘refused’ on it, and for a moment I thought they would cart me off to jail.”
Business owners were unhappy about the crackdown as well, seeing it as a harassment on customers.
Traffic patrolmen interviewed by The Pittsburgh Press in the 1970s said jaywalking wasn’t against the law in Pittsburgh, “thus proving a 1932 ordinance on the subject is one of the best-kept secrets in town.”
Through the years, there has been an ebb and flow here to jaywalking regulation.
In the late 1970s, Pennsylvania’s General Assembly mandated enforcement of its jaywalking ban. But in Pittsburgh, enforcement rarely went past a warning — only if the pedestrian caused an accident.
Often, it was just too pervasive to bother. As a 26-year-old jaywalker from Spring Hill once told a Press reporter, “The only people in this town who don’t jaywalk are the ones who ain’t fast enough…”