Our 3 Favorite Ways to Avoid Penn Avenue | Pittsburgh City Paper

Our 3 favorite ways to avoid the timesuck that is Penn Avenue

click to enlarge Four lane street filled with cars and busses
CP Photo: Pat Cavanagh
Cars drive past the busy intersection of Penn Avenue and Negley Avenue during rush hour.

In Pittsburgh, Penn Avenue seems to be everywhere you turn, literally, and that’s not a compliment. Wherever you start, and whatever your destination, it seems like some part of Penn is at least one leg of your journey, and it’s probably the most aggravating part. The stoplights are plentiful, the congestion is maddening, and the stop-and-start is enough to make you want to get out and walk. But don’t despair! We’ve put together a list of our favorite ways to avoid Penn Avenue, and hopefully get you to your destination a little faster, or at least without the white knuckles.


Black Street to Mossfield Street

Amanda Waltz and Jordana Rosenfeld


If you’re coming from the east and want to avoid the string of traffic lights on Penn en route to Bloomfield, few shortcuts are as picturesque and carless as Mossfield Street. The backway, accessed from Negley Avenue to Black Street, which then turns into Mossfield, twists past a stretch of Allegheny Cemetery where wild turkeys and deer can be seen hanging out among the graves. Drivers are dumped out at the intersection of Mathilda Street and Penn, right around where Garfield and Bloomfield meet. Be watchful taking this route at night, as the cemetery deer who graze during the day are more likely to bound in front of cars.


Headed the opposite direction? Turn onto North Mathilda from Penn and hew to the left. That will get you to gently curving Mossfield, which of course turns into Black Street. This can take you via North Negley to Highland Park and the city’s northern suburbs via Route 8. Or, if you turn right onto Negley, it’s fairly easy to hop onto East Liberty Boulevard, another underrated alternative to parts of Penn Avenue, through a protected left turn.


Still headed east from there? It’s worth sticking to Hamilton, and here’s why:


Hamilton Avenue

Ali Trachta

There’s a scrap of lore in Los Angeles that tells the story of long ago, when famed actress Bette Davis was asked on a talk show how to make it in Hollywood. Her answer, so the story goes, was “always take Fountain.” She was being cheeky, but it’s good advice. Fountain Avenue runs east-west through the city, parallel to the constantly congested Sunset and Santa Monica Boulevards. Fountain may go a little slower, but it often ends up getting you wherever you’re going in less time.


Hamilton Avenue is Pittsburgh’s Fountain.


Hamilton also runs east-west, right alongside popular Penn Avenue near the Point Breeze/Homewood border, and we know all too well this strip of road can slow you up with seemingly endless red lights and long lines for the next left.


But Hamilton is a leisurely breeze in comparison. Lined with quick stop signs and short lights, you’ll find yourself zipping along to your destination with less aggravation, and quite possibly in less time.


Even better, you can stop at KLVN to pick up coffee if you’re on your way to work, or East End Brewing right off of Hamilton on Julius Street to grab some cans if you’re headed home. As a bonus, you can almost always catch a glimpse of cute pups being walked outside the Humane Animal Rescue. That will lift your mood any time of day.


Reynolds Street

Hannah Kinney-Kobre


Anyone who lives in or commutes through Point Breeze will tell you there is nothing more common and more despair-inducing than being stuck at the intersection of Penn and Dallas Avenues for 10 minutes straight.


But there’s a hack, fortunately, that makes all the difference. Instead of taking Dallas all the way to Penn, turn onto Reynolds Street and find yourself twirling through a series of traffic circles. (These traffic circles have actually caused extreme ire in the neighborhood; old school Point Breezers are not a fan!)


From there, you may as well turn off at the first one and take Murtland Street to Penn, where you can usually make a right turn relatively easily, but there’s another traffic circle further down that will take you past The Frick Museum via South Homewood Avenue with an actual traffic light if you’d prefer a protected turn … to each their own!

Hands off Rafah protest in East Liberty
21 images

Hands off Rafah protest in East Liberty

By Mars Johnson