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Passing Thoughts

Four-Way Left Turn Lane?

Across most of the United States, a familiar suburban highway feature is the two-way center left turn lane. Its purpose is to allow cars to wait to make left turns into minor streets and parking lots on either side of the road, without blocking through traffic. This concept has some minor problems, and I've heard some states aren't building any more roads like this, but it's still quite a common design.

What makes this design more dangerous is an unintended use of these lanes. Imagine for the moment an east-west five-lane road in a retail area. Its center lane is, at least for the stretch we're imagining, a two-way left turn lane. Now imagine a motorist wanting to enter this road from the south side, perhaps from a parking lot, intending to turn left. As soon as there's a break in the eastbound traffic, the motorist enters the main road, even though there's still westbound traffic approaching. The motorist turns left directly into the center lane, gets up to speed, and then merges in with the westbound traffic.

Is this maneuver legal? Many years ago my dad told me it isn't legal in Ohio, but I see it all the time. I haven't actually heard official clarification one way or the other, but to me the typical signage indicates the lane is only to be used for traffic turning left off of the main road. Just that use alone has enough potential for conflict; adding another use as a merge lane just makes it more dangerous. Merging traffic could easily collide with vehicles getting into the lane in preparation for a left turn at the next side street. And through traffic may be quite nervous about and/or annoyed by the motorist entering on the left this way. If the maneuver is legal, it shouldn't be. Motorists wanting to turn left should wait for traffic to clear from both directions.

Of course the counterargument is that the motorist has no other place to enter the main road, and/or waiting for both directions to clear is impractical. I say this is a good argument to add a traffic signal to the main road, or implement Michigan Lefts, or just improve parking lot connectivity so motorists can get to a traffic light to make their left turn. The condition of poor or outdated roadway design is not an excuse to unsafely misuse the two-way left turn lane.

It's a two-way left turn lane, not a four-way left turn lane.  Do not use it for merging.  Wait for traffic to clear from BOTH directions before turning onto a road with this kind of center lane.

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