From: The Incline

The science of why drivers slow down for Pittsburgh tunnels

The Incline:

I brake before tunnels.

This is an admission that, as a person new to Pittsburgh, I did not think would cause a scandal. But in a “city of tunnels,” confessing that you are guilty of this particular vehicular sin elicits sighs, groans and exclamations of outrage from people who just moments before were kindly offering you recommendations for good pierogies.

That’s not to say that braking for tunnels isn’t a weird point of civic hate-pride: There are Reddit threads. There’s a T-shirt. There’s a song.

In an effort to defend myself, I contacted Roberta Klatzky. She’s a psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University and is on the faculty of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition and the Human-Computer Interaction Institute.

Klatzky studies how “people perceive and how it relates to how they act,” she told me by phone this week.

Read the whole story: The Incline


I can definitely buy the article’s explanation of the brain’s inability to process perceptions of speed while in tunnels. This makes sense.

For me though (as a native Pittsburgher), this explanation would seem to apply to drivers in any tunnel. If I am driving in a tunnel in Pittsburgh, I would be subject to limitations in my ability to perceive speed. If I am driving in a tunnel a few hundred miles away on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, my brain would still be subject to this limitation in my ability to perceive speed.

But – as many people have observed over times – it is only drivers in Pittsburgh tunnels (e.g., the Fort Pitt Tunnel and the Liberty Tunnel for example) who actually brake upon enetering and exiting the tunnel. Some people jokingly refer to this unnecessary braking as “avoiding the tunnel monster.”

When I drive a few hundred miles away on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, there are several long tunnels. Drivers in these tunnels typically do not brake when entering or exiting the tunnel.

So – the question still remains – why is it that drivers in Pittsburgh tunnels brake upon entering and exiting the tunnel? This is not normal tunnel driving behavior, as this unnecessary braking upon entering and exiting tunnels is not typical tunnel driving behavior. Braking upon entering and exiting a tunnel s not a universal human reaction to our limited perception of speed in tunnels.

I’ve had driving jobs in Pittsburgh for the last 20 years. I’ve tried to figure out the tunnel issue And my conclusion is the numerous obstacles (hills,curves) entering, exiting or both. Thes obstacles cause some to be overly cautious and feel that they may loose control and hit the tunnel or others vehicles. My objective when I hit a tunnel is to get in and out as quickly as possible obstacles and all.

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