When Possible, Make a U-Turn


One of the “things only a wedding planner knows” that I already knew was to actually try out the driving directions to our venue before putting them in our invitation. So on the way back from the airport after my task-tackling trip to St. Louis, I programmed my GPS to make a stop at Station Square.

I will break here to give those of you who don’t live here a primer in Pittsburgh geography. This not-very-accurate map should cover the basics:

Basically, to get from the airport to Station Square, it looks like you should be able to take one highway (the orange one on the map) for 20 miles and magically arrive.  But the trouble is, in that last couple of miles there’s a big honking mountain1 in the way. If you stay on the highway, you’ll go through the Fort Pitt Tunnel (the left green circle). This is the route recommended by Bing maps, Mapquest, and my Garmin GPS. On the plus side, you’ll get through the mountain. And you’ll get to experience the wonder of seeing the Pittsburgh Skyline when you pop out on the other side.

Unfortunately, you’ll also exit the tunnel directly onto the Fort Pitt Bridge, and consequently end up on the wrong side of the Monongahela River (as far as our destination is concerned. It’s not like, “the wrong side of the tracks” or whatever). And then you’ll be Downtown, known to Pittsburgh historians as “The Golden Triangle” but known to people who have trouble with directions as “The Bermuda Triangle.” One-way streets that don’t alternate! Mysterious turn restriction at intersections! Perpetual construction! A multidimensional road map that makes GPS units cry blood! Making a u-turn in Downtown Pittsburgh to cross a second bridge is an ordeal I really don’t want to put my guests through.

So the next time I was south of the city I tried a new approach: I just followed the road signs. [An aside: the highway between the airport and the city was recently renamed. It went from being 279 North to 376 East. Yes, I realize those are not the same direction. Does the city? I don't think so. As an added bonus, this meant all the exits were re-numbered. I think these changes were made under the "Make GPS Units Worthless Act" of 2010.] According to the signs, I should take Exit 69B to get to Station Square. Awesome.

Except when I took Exit 69B (putting me on the purple road) I discovered that I had two choices for how to get to Station Square: #1: The Wabash Tunnel (the right green circle with the red X), which is HOV-only some of the time, completely closed some of the time (hence the red X), and generally a mystery wrapped in an enigma.2 #2: The road my GPS suggested when I was forced to drive past the closed Wabash Tunnel, which goes OVER the mountain with a serious of hairpin turns that will surely kill one of my guests if there is even a little rain, and ultimately ends with a complicated detour to avoid a road closed for construction.3

Back to the drawing board. This time I looked up the “official” directions recommended by Station Square. This requires driving past the exit that is designated for Station Square, to an exit for Route 51 North. A road which is not part of the directions to Station Square at all. You see, Route 837 West pops up right after the exit despite zero signage to that effect. Fortunately, Route 837W is exactly where people want to go. So if they’ve made it this far, they just have to get on that road. Oh, and not turn at the first sign that says Station Square, because that’s the wrong entrance. Sheesh.

So I’ve found directions that work! Sort of! Hooray! Yay for me! But I’ve also realized how easy it is to get lost in this area, even for someone who lives here. Who is paying really close attention to the directions. Out of town guests trying to figure it out on the fly or just relying on MapQuest or their GPS are going to get lost. And that’s a terrible start to the weekend, right?

Anyone else have to deal with complicated directions to a venue or lodging? How did you work out this problem? Should I make the directions insert really flashy? Should I set up a “get un-lost” hotline? Should I personally drive everyone from the airport? WHAT DO I DO?

1For those of you who live west of the Great Plains, let me clarify it is actually a large hill.  For those of you who live on the Eastern Seaboard? It’s a GIGANTIC MOUNTAIN!
2I looked at the Wikipedia page for the Wabash tunnel to try to find out why it is so restricted, and found some blatant editorializing that I hope is not flagged for editing until it becomes outdated: “The Wabash Tunnel is a former railway tunnel through Mt. Washington in the city of Pittsburgh. Constructed early in the 20th century by railroad magnate George J. Gould, it has never been of much use.”
3What’s that you say? “The construction will be over before the wedding”? HAHAHAHAHA. Clearly you’ve never been to Pittsburgh. When we put up detour signs, we GET OUR MONEY’S WORTH on ‘em. My marriage will be OVER before that detour ends.


  1. First of all, I have to say that I’m having a blast reading your site! Found it through APW, and have been reading my way through your archives. My fiance and I are from Pgh, and getting married there (at the Children’s Museum) this fall. We haven’t lived there for a few years, but loved to go to FNI when we did :-)
    I hate trying to give directions in Pittsburgh! I would warn people about relying on their GPS in the city, and maybe make a custom set of Google directions with the best route? My fiance’s (tongue-in-cheek) advice for finding your way in Pgh has always been “go downhill until you hit a river, and then figure out where you are.”

    • Welcome! So great to have a Pittsburgher (and Fni person!) reading. Your fiance’s advice sounds like it would be surprisingly helpful. I know the times I’ve felt most lost in the city was in the far east neighborhoods where it’s like “I don’t even know which river I’m closest to right now!!!”

  2. That youtube made my heart go KABOOM.

    As for the directions – stop worrying! People have been finding places without GPSes for a long time. Guests made it to our parents’ weddings ok and our parents’ parents [and on and on] so they’ll find Station Square. You’ve done your part in including the directions now let the guests do their part and wrangle with the ‘burgh.

  3. I dunno. It is my personal experience that people no longer plan out their journey, and by planning this includes bringing the printed out directions you worked hard on. Instead, they just punch things into an iPhone and blindly follow directions.

    Or maybe my friends set is just super lazy and technology-dependent.

    If it were me, I’d probably send a mass email (or have someone else do it) a few days before the wedding with the directions as a reminder and also put at the top in gigantic letters not to trust Google Maps. That way people are reminded and the email is not too far in the depths of their inbox for them to reference on their smart-so-you-can-be-dumb phone. But, as I said, my friends and family are all pretty tech-dependent, so I guess it depends on your guests.

    • Right? I am that person. I have a GPS, Collin has an iPhone, between the two of us I feel like I never need to look up or ask for directions. I think a mass email/phone tree/extensive ahead-of-time warning will be called for.

      • Be warned that even if you do this, people will still disregard it. Our wedding was on an August Friday in New Haven, CT which is on the WORST stretch of 95 probably in the whole country, especially for summer weekends. Despite a warning on our website AND an email to people the week of the wedding, we had a lot of people who were extremely late (3 who walked in right before I walked down the aisle and 2 who made it to the reception as we were sitting down to dinner). It was annoying (trains don’t hit traffic!) but what are you gonna do in this day and age?

  4. I didn’t even read this post. I saw “directions” and “Pittsburgh” and my brain exploded and I just came down here to comment. One of my awesome-est friends (and I’m not just saying that because I’m abt to IM her this post) lives in Pitt (and is also getting married this year!) and has on more than one occasion led me out of the city in her own car to get me out of the shenanigans and back into normal roads with signage you can trust.

    (Ok, I skimmed it, and I know the exact area you’re talking about and it is completely ass-backwards. Whatever you do someone will get lost (probably because they’ll ignore your directions and just use GPS). So I would go with what you think is the simplest possible route to communicate, and if possible build in a buffer between the invite time and the time you actually have to start the act of getting married so that everyone can be late.)

  5. I hadn’t even thought of testing out the directions we wrote for our wedding on our wedsite (the invitations only got a map, no step by step directions). I guess I could send the Beagle to test them out next time he’s in the city.

  6. Yikes, and I though Boston was bad! Good idea on testing out directions though. I think the idea of sending a reminder email out is a good one. And the buffer time.

    • I would say Boston is worse: not from a getting lost standpoint, but from a traffic/aggressive driving required standpoint. I dunno. Both my sibs have lived there at different times, I’ll have to ask them.

  7. Eeesh. Your utmost concern for your guests gave me Remorse for Weddings Past. I neglected to provide driving directions to the venue. Bad bride! Though to be fair, Santa Barbara is a smaller, much more easily navigable city not beset by construction (Fuck the Roads! Let Them Shits Crumble! is what our DOT says). Plus our guests were all staying in different places. But still.

    I truly enjoyed your directional rendering, and I intend to print it out and take it with me the next time I find myself in the Pittsburgh region. I’m fairly certain it’ll hold up better than any other map.

    • Though I just realized that if I DO get lost, and I pull over and roll down the window and desperately shout to the nearest passerby “EXCUSE ME! WHERE IS THE YELLOW ROAD! I MUST GET TO DAHNTAHN!” he or she might not understand quite what I’m talking about.

  8. Funny because it is true. I spent my first 18 years in Pittsburgh and then moved to Philly, Manhattan and now DC- I have experience navigating through cities. When considering my Pittsburgh wedding, I really wanted to get married in one of the churches on Mt. Washington because then I would already be there for the “groom kissing the bride in front of the city backdrop picture” but the thought of getting people from Mt. Washington to Oakland for the reception makes it impossible. It is probably 6-7 miles but may as well be a separate country. I decided that getting married in Oakland near the reception is a kindness to my guests. This is after the disappointment of not being married on St. Patrick’s Day (it’s a saturday) next year because the city allegedly turns into one big drunk fest and my guests wouldn’t be able to drive anywhere because of the parade and the drunk people littering the streets.

  9. a) you’re hilarious.
    b) we’re planning to not include directions, because people are going to NOT USE THEM anyway. But that’s only our crowd. The way we’re getting around this is to have a wedding hotline (fancy google voice #) that they can use for directions. People are all getting to the venue a day ahead of time, and if they don’t, their fault, I’m not going to stress it.

  10. I’m going to a wedding in Pittsburgh in three weeks! I am one of those people who never trusts a GPS, so if I were coming to your wedding, I’d read your thorough directions and be good to go. (I’m also one of those people who drove the church-to-reception route to make sure it was clear and easy enough for the directionally challenged and out of the path of any potential traffic clusterf*cks, as we have a lot of those here in Atlanta… I sort of love navigating.) I’ve been to Pittsburgh once before, and I’m glad that I already have some driving experience there under my belt — I definitely remember it being complicated!

    As for what to do for your guests, I don’t think you need to offer up your cell phone or anything. If you send out directions/post them on your wedding website if you have one/leave them at the hotel for your guests (assuming they can make it to the hotel sans directions) I think you’ve done enough to get your guests to where they need to be.

  11. give people who you think may get lost the cell phone numbers of several close friends/family who are good with directions. that helped me out a ton while I was getting ready, I didn’t have to worry about anyone having trouble finding the place.

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