In Days of Yore, Traffic Police Ruled the Road

Article excerpt

Pittsburgh could have used a little help Friday from Vic Cianca.

The hundreds of motorists stuck in traffic jams citywide might have yearned for the sight of the retired Pittsburgh police officer, who for years tooted his whistle and waved his white gloves in a ballet that urged pedestrians or motorists forward, by turn -- he who would twiddle his thumbs at pokey drivers or shake his folded hands in mock prayer.

Some say that Cianca and other city traffic officers kept vehicles moving through rush hour and found ways to maneuver traffic around accidents. Others believe traffic control should be left to technology, freeing up police officers to fight crime instead of gridlock.

"With our dwindling population and dwindling budget, why do we need policemen to direct traffic?" said Carolyn Carson, coordinator of the University of Pittsburgh's Department of Urban Studies.

The traffic headaches started yesterday at 6:25 a.m., when a seven-vehicle accident closed the Fort Pitt Tunnel for more than two hours. The accident -- which included three tri-axle dump trucks and a U.S. Postal Service tractor-trailer -- occurred on the Fort Pitt Bridge and backed up traffic at least 10 miles on the Parkway West, state police said. Three people suffered minor injuries.

Inbound Parkway traffic was stacked to the Interstate 79 interchange, and secondary roads quickly became congested, as commuters fought to find alternate routes into Downtown.

The accident occurred when the driver of the postal truck failed to brake for inbound traffic and collided with a semi -- which then sparked a series of chain-reaction crashes, state police said. Three of the Fort Pitt Bridge's four lanes were closed, and traffic coming from Carson Street onto the bridge was able to pass on the span's left lane.

Police detoured traffic onto Route 51 south and the West End Bridge.The Fort Pitt Tunnel and Bridge reopened shortly after 9 a.m.

Just two hours later, the outbound lanes of the Fort Pitt Tunnel closed again while workers removed loose ceiling tiles. Traffic backed up along Carson Street, through the West End Circle, across the West End Bridge and caused extensive backups on the Parkway East and Fort Duquesne Bridge. Accidents on Routes 65 and 28 complicated the traffic problems.

Tricia McTigue of Mt. Lebanon said she heard about the multi- vehicle wreck yesterday morning and decided to take the "T" into Downtown. …