Tag Archives: left turn

Driver wants details of yellow left turn lights

The in basket: Allen Gibbard writes, “Hoping you can help with lawful traffic signal responses.  Today while approaching an intersection, the main traffic signal was red, but the left-turn arrow (where I wanted to go) that had been flashing turned to solid yellow.  I interpreted that to mean I was free to turn left if I could complete the maneuver safely.

“As I entered the intersection on the solid yellow arrow, the arrow turned red.  I accelerated a bit to clear the intersection as fast as possible without incident.

“Here’s my question: does a blinking yellow left-turn arrow mean proceed with caution and a solid yellow left-turn arrow mean it will be changing to red soon so if you’re unsure if you can clear the intersection quickly, do not enter?  Like the yellow light within the green/yellow/red cycle of a main traffic signal light?

Guidance please!”

The out basket: My answer to Allen: A solid yellow left-turn arrow tells the driver the light is about to turn red and if he or she can’t make it past the white stop bar on the pavement before it does, he’ll be committing an infraction – and possibly be responsible for a collision. If it was green prior to going solid, it also is the end of a protected left-turn cycle during which oncoming traffic has a red light.

A yellow flashing left turn provides a period of permissive left turns during which oncoming traffic does NOT have a red light and has the right of way over the turner, who must yield.

I asked Kitsap County Public Works if that covers it and Traffic Engineer Jeff Shea replied, “A solid yellow also terminates a flashing yellow. It’s important to understand what a solid yellow signal means. It doesn’t mean hurry up. You can cross the stop bar on a yellow. If you can stop safely, you should. If not, the solid yellow allows motorists to get through the intersection before conflicting traffic is given a green indication.”

Left turns at Bucklin Hill Road spot worry reader

The in basket: Shawn from Silverdale, as he signed himself, says, “I have a concern about a left turn that is being made into the Starbucks parking lot on Bucklin Hill Road in Silverdale. I see drivers turning left into the parking lot between Starbucks and IHOP.

Now the way the little island is set up, it looks to be designed to enter as a right hand turn coming down the hill rather than a left going up. There are no turn markers on the pavement except for the left hand turn onto Bayshore Drive.  Also to make the left turn into Starbucks, drivers cross over a double-yellow line.

“All the time I see many close calls with that turn and have even seen a couple cars almost hit head on.  I have even seen oversized trucks make that turn while running over the curb in the process.

“I have been unable to turn left onto Bayshore Drive because the left turn is full of cars, backed up to go to Starbucks,” he said. “Is this an illegal left turn?

“Further up the road there was a turning curve barrier installed for Levin Road to prevent left turns from Levin.  Is there a possibility of some sort of barrier installed by Starbucks that allows cars to turn onto Bayshore and prevent turning into Starbucks?

“There is a turning spot just about 100 feet past IHOP that goes into the same parking lot, (but) drivers just don’t use it. And I personally believe putting up a sign that says Do Not Enter might be something, but won’t help much, since most drivers are too distracted to see road signs and will still make that turn.

“I just have a feeling that this is going to be a bad accident waiting to happen,” he said.

The out basket: This complain echoes ones I’ve dealt with recently on Lund Avenue in Port Orchard, where right-in-right-out configurations make left turns into and out of them difficult, but not illegal. The turns Shawn is seeing also are legal.

Double-yellow lines don’t forbid a left turn, unless there is a raised barrier, crosshatching between the lines or a sign saying no left turn. There are none at this location.

Jeff Shea, traffic engineer for Kitsap County, says there will be a sign forbidding left turns.

“We recognized the issue before the Starbucks was built.  We conditioned the developer to install a channelizing device at his approach.  But, like similar devices, motorists either don’t recognize it as a turn restrictor or choose to make the left turn against the restriction. It is difficult to construct a true turn restrictor.  The angle has to be so extreme that it forces traffic to practically do a U-turn. That takes up a lot of space and property.

“The property owner is aware of the restricted turn, so placing a barrier in the road is an option.  The difficulty with a barrier is that it blocks turning movements in both directions.  In this case it would restrict movements into Hop Jacks across the street.  Hop Jacks doesn’t have any turning movement restrictions placed on it.  This would restrict their only driveway entrance to a right-in-right-out only access.

“Our Community Development Division is talking to the Starbucks property owner about this issue.  To make it clear, we will install a no-left-turn sign at the turning location.

‘The sign would have to go on the right side of the road.  We may, depending on the success/failure of the right side sign, try to place another no-left-turn sign near the Starbucks entrance,” Jeff said.


Another country heard from on flashing yellow turn lights

The in basket: Jo Clark writes, “When you approach an intersection and need to turn left, if the (flashing) yellow arrow is showing, do you have to stop before you turn?

“I don’t think so but my Canadian relative was adamant, not wanting to earn a traffic ticket.

“I say that that impedes traffic flow and could cause a rear-ender. Please clarify Kitsap regs for me.”

The out basket: Jo is right and her Canadian relative is wrong.

“If there is no approaching traffic or there is significant distance between the two approaching vehicles where the turn can be made safely, then the driver conducting the left turn may execute the movement without having to first stop,” says Deputy Scott Wilson, spokesman for the county sheriff’s office.

Knowing that Scott is originally from Canada, I asked him if it’s possible the Canadian person might be correct up there.

“There are federal, provincial and municipal traffic code laws in effect in Canada, and there are 13 provinces,” he replied. “Confusing enough? It can be.”

So he checked only with British Columbia and forwarded the section of the BC drivers training manual dealing with traffic signals to me.

The manual makes no mention of flashing yellow arrows at all, but it does mention flashing yellows generally, saying they mean “slow down and proceed with caution.” That’s close to the phrasing in Washington state law regarding flashing yellows, which says they mean “drivers may proceed through the intersection or past such signal only with caution.”

So I don’t see any support for Jo’s Canadian relative’s belief at all.

Stopping at a yellow flashing light when you don’t have to certainly impedes traffic. I suppose it increases the risk of rear-end accidents, but only slightly, since you DO have to stop if there is oncoming traffic and anyone behind you has to be ready for that.

Odd left turns on Lund raise a question


The in basket: Ron Galla of Port Orchard asks whether the numerous drivers he sees turning left across the double yellow line on westbound Lund Avenue just west of Bethel Road are committing a violation.

“When these cars have to stop and wait to cross the double yellow lines because of oncoming traffic, it creates a real hazard to the cars behind them, some times slamming on their brakes,” he said.

“There is nowhere for these cars in the rear to go, as both lanes are usually full of traffic coming off of the Bethel/Lund intersection heading west.

“Then it is also a hazard when they finally cross the double yellow lines because of oncoming traffic, traveling east toward Bethel, not expecting someone to cross in front of them.”

Ron suggests a barrier of pylons like the one preventing left turns out of the Port Orchard Post Office as a solution to the hazard.

“By the way,” he added, “the entrance / exit to that parking lot is not designed to allow this turn, nor is it designed to allow traffic exiting to cross over the double yellow lines and continue west on Lund Avenue

The out basket: I was a little surprised by the question, as the long lines of would-be left turners in the eastbound left turn pocket to head toward downtown there, often spilling out into the inside through lane, are a lot more noticeable than left turners going the other way. I guess just after the green cycles on the signal at Lund there are opportunities to cross the double yellow lines to reach Auto Zone and the other businesses in there.

Ron starts with a common misconception, that left turns across double-yellow lines are illegal.

They are legal in most cases. Double yellow lines prohibit passing, but not turning left.

None of the exceptions that would make the turns illegal – painted or raised cross-hatching between the lines, a raised curb, an 18-inch-wide or wider painted line, or signs saying or depicting “No Left Turn – are present there.

The access configuration designed for right turns in and right turns out make left turns difficult, but not illegal.

Commander Dale Schuster of Port Orchard police says, “Many more vehicles are exiting the parking lot to turn left onto westbound Lund Avenue than those waiting to turn into the lot from westbound Lund Avenue. I do not believe we have responded to a traffic accident at that location due to turning traffic.”

Left turners vs. right turners at yield sign

The in basket: At a recent dinner gathering of Olympic Thunder, the female motorcyclist club, a member asked me about right of way rules where a yield sign faces right turners who meet left turners coming the other way.

Standing driving rules require left-turners to yield to just about any other movement, but does the yield sign for right turners countermand that? The specific locations mentioned both are on Highway 308 linking Bangor and Keyport, at Highway 3 northbound and Central Valley Road southbound.

I told the group the answer is yes, but later asked State Trooper Russ Winger to be on the safe side.

The out basket: Yes, Russ replied, “normally the right turn has priority but, as you know, road signs, engineering  and markings such as the yield signs can control movement.”

It’s comparable to how a no-right-turn-on-red sign eliminates the lawfulness of a right on red.

Bayshore left-turn lane on Bucklin Hill Road is hard to see

The in basket: Rosemary Crow e-mailed to say, “The crosswalk signs on Central Valley Road near Fairview school have yellow paint that shows up really well at night. Is there any chance we could get a coat of that paint on the post at the entry to the left turn off Bucklin Hill Road onto Bayshore Drive in Silverdale? That left turn lane is nearly invisible at night, especially a rainy night.

“The white reflector is so old it hardly shows at all. The paint on the curb is also old and hard to see.

“We travel this route twice a week at night and in the winter it is very difficult to see even though we know it is there.”

The out basket: I knew that the water main replacement work in Silverdale still has some excavation and restoration yet to do at that intersection, and I asked the county if the turn could be made more visible then.

Doug Bear, spokesman for county public works, replied, “This is not part of the Silverdale Water project. Our traffic division is looking at ways to more clearly delineate the turn lane. This could include increasing the reflective content of the stripe there, or other strategies to make the turn more visible.

“The fix there will depend on weather and may have to wait for the spring striping window,” he said.


Raised pavement markers raise left turn question

The in basket: Robbie McCabe writes, “I have a question that may keep me from getting a ticket.

“I have been going westbound on Sixth Street and turning left into Group Health’s underground parking lot for many years,” he said. “For some reason, today I noticed that there is now a double line of those caps starting just past Kitsap Bank and heading further down Sixth Street.

“Does that mean I can no longer turn left into the parking lot?”

The out basket: Those caps, called raised pavement markers or RPMs, substitute for painted lines in many places. There are two sets of them where Robbie asks about, creating the upcoming left turn lane on eastbound Sixth, adding confusion as to what is permitted around them.

Whether such lines are painted or created by the RPMs, the rules are the same. You can turn left across them, even pairs of them, unless there is a sign prohibiting that, crosshatching between the lines or a center line 18 inches or more thick.

Since none of those things exist at the Sixth Street location Robbie mentions, he can continue to turn as he has in the past. Yielding to oncoming traffic is required, of course.


Disparate signal operation on Highway 303 puzzles reader

The in basket: Robert Arper e-mails to say, “I am curious why the left turn lane into the East Bremerton Fred Meyer is programmed so differently than the left turn lane into the East Bremerton Walmart.

“Right now it would appear that Walmart shoppers are getting preferential treatment but Fred Meyer shoppers are getting the shaft. Yet it is the motoring public that is paying the price in the form of delays in both cases.

“Those of us waiting for the light to turn to allow us to turn into Fred Meyer have to wait forever while traffic heading north on 303 gets the green regardless of the amount of traffic.

“Those of us traveling south on 303 are delayed by those wishing to turn left from the northbound lane into Walmart even if there are only one or two cars in the left-turn lane.  It would seem that the people programming the lights at these two intersections are not the same person or they just want to make it difficult for the motoring public.”

The out basket: The history of those intersections is quite different, accounting for the difference in treatment.

Former officials in the Olympic Region signal shop for state highways have told me that when Fred Meyer wouldn’t agree to shift its main entrance when the store was built, the entrance didn’t line up with the existing road across Highway 303, creating an offset intersection.

As a result, the two opposing left-turns onto 303 must happen separately, prolonging the wait for those wanting to make other movements. I often hear complaints about the left turn into Fred Meyer being annoyingly short when it finally does come around, but in my experience, that comes and goes and isn’t always the case.

In front of Walmart, the center barrier installed there between McWilliams and Fairgrounds roads to eliminate left-turn accidents at other intersections near there was finished during the holidays and heavy traffic into Walmart soon spilled out of the left turn lane into the inside northbound through lane.

So the signal shop gave it an extra left turn opportunity in each cycle to eliminate the danger of rear-end accidents that created. It’s been that way ever since, though watching that turn lane, I’m not sure I often or ever see enough turning traffic during the two cycles combined that it would fill up the turn lane. But I’m not often there during the holidays.

Nonetheless, the Olympic Region signal shop and the city of Bremerton are considering whether changes should be made in the timing of signals between Fred Meyer and points south.

Ken Burns of the signal shop says, “Robert’s assessment of the signals’ being operated by different people is correct.” The city has one and the state the other.

“(We) are working together on a corridor analysis for the system on Highway 303 from Sheridan Road to the Fred Meyer/Furneys Lane signal,” Ken said. “This analysis will examine left-turn volumes, pedestrian crossing clearance times, as well as the overall delay at the intersections in this corridor.”

Silverdale fatality focuses concern on yellow flashing left turns

The in basket: Ian MacKenzie wrote the Road Warrior shortly after a fatal accident at one of Kitsap County’s yellow flashing left turn signals in Silverdale last winter.

While saying he loves the signals and considered them a great benefit to moving traffic, he adds, “after all this time, I am still finding that there are a lot of people out there that are still confused by them and don’t  know what to do.

“As a result,” he said, “they often do one of two things: Sit there and do nothing and the light turns red and they wait for the next green arrow cycle, or they think the light is changing to red so they bolt through the turn in front of oncoming cars. The recent tragedy and death at the intersection of Kitsap Mall Boulevard and Randall Way could easily have been the result of the latter.”

He said the city of Federal Way augments the flashing yellow left turn signals there with a sign with wording to the effect of Left Turn Yield on Flashing Yellow.

“Has or did Kitsap County consider placing signs of this nature to help with the confusion that many still seem to have?  Have there been many accidents attributable to the flashing arrows?” he asks.

Southbound Kitsap Mall Boulevard at Randall Way is the only intersection I know of with adjoining left turn lanes both controlled by flashing yellows. Ian thinks having two cars side by side making the turn on yellow might negatively affect behavior of or visibility for the drivers.

The out basket: Jeff Shea, Kitsap County traffic engineer, says, “Flashing yellow arrows (FYA) are the most popular new technology I’ve seen in the 16 years I have been working in the traffic field.  With just about all new technological innovation though, it brings with it a learning curve and complaints from motorists.

“It is rare when motorists applaud new efforts, even when the new device improves operations and/or safety. In the case of the FYA, we received many positive observations regarding the technology, and comments from motorists indicating that they are effective.
“The ability to turn left when no opposing traffic is present allows them to move through intersections more quickly with less frustration. The previous signal indication used to allow permissive left turns was the green ball over the turning lane. This created confusion for a few motorists as they sometimes interpreted the signal as a protected left turn, rather than a permissive one.  It is permissive in terms that they had to yield to oncoming traffic, whereas protected means they are given the right of way to make the left turn.

“Because of this, we have phased out the green ball for permissive turns because the FYA provides motorists with a much better understanding of the permissive nature of the turn.

“Tens of thousands of motorists navigate through FYA intersections in Kitsap County every day without incident.  (But) FYA signals do not eliminate collisions at intersections.  Misunderstanding signs and signals can play a part in these collisions, but they are not always the primary cause.”

He said the federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices recently accepted yellow flashing left signals for traffic control and the county adheres to the requirements of that manual.

“Prior to authorizing this new technology,” Jeff said, “extensive research was done by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program. Over a seven-year period, comprehensive research was conducted, including engineering analyses, static and video-based driver comprehension studies, field implementation, video conflict studies, and crash analyses. The FYA was determined to be the best overall alternative to the circular green, and it had a high level of understanding and correct response by drivers.

“We review collision records regularly looking for trouble spots, and we rely on direct reports from the Sheriff’s Office at locations where deputies see frequent collisions. We pay special attention to those areas where new signs or traffic devices are installed, including the FYAs.

“There have been a few collisions attributable to motorists not yielding on a flashing yellow arrow; exactly how many is difficult to tell from the reports. Some of these collisions report a lack of understanding of the signal, others happened when the motorists misjudged how close the opposing traffic was.

“What records don’t show is how many collisions this technology reduces.  Permissive left turns can reduce motorist’s frustration and lessen the likelihood for motorists to make a ‘mad dash’ to get through the intersection before the protected turn sequence ends.

“They understand that they need to wait only for the opposing traffic to clear and then proceed through the intersection, rather than having to wait a full cycle for the next protected turn. The signal may also reduce rear-end collisions by reducing the number of motorists that abruptly stop in front of another motorist for the same reason as above.

“The FYA greatly improves the intersection’s capacity. More vehicles can get through the intersection during the same amount of time.  The FYA … significantly shortens the queue for left turning vehicles. This allows us to shorten the left green signal and give more green time to the other movements at the intersection.  This in itself can reduce driver frustration and possibly reduce overall collisions at the intersection.

“Kitsap Mall Boulevard and Randal Way is a unique intersection in that we have a two left-turn lanes. There have been a few other collisions here including a tragic fatality and we are considering a change.

“We are evaluating installing a sign on the mast arm to remind motorists to yield on the FYA. If any intersection that uses FYA shows high collision rates we will consider this enhancement and other solutions including limiting the times of day for permissive left turns, or eliminating the permissive turn altogether,” Jeff concluded.

About the same time Ian wrote me, Patrick and Sherri Burch also did, suggesting the yellow flashers be replaced by red flashers. We’ll talk about that in the next Road Warrior column

When left turners and right turners conflict

The in basket: Edgar Ahiers of Port Orchard called to say that one day in March he was sitting at a green light at the Bremerton National Airport, wanting to turn right onto Highway 3 to go toward Gorst, when a steady stream of vehicles turning left from the Olympic View Industrial Park across the intersection kept him from making his turn.

Finally, he said, he saw an opening and made his turn, only to have one more vehicle coming out of the industrial park pull into the oncoming left turn lane, which had no other cars in it, to pass him and follow the others toward Gorst.

There was no collision, “but a very close call,” he said, and wondered who had the right of way.

The out basket: I told him that the right turner has right of way over left turners in such conflicts, and had there been a collision, the left turner would have been at fault. Further, I said, the driver who used the left turn lane to pass committed a lane violation as well as the right-of-way infraction.

Not so fast, State Trooper Russ Winger told me when I ran my advice to Edgar past hims. It’s a little more complicated than that.

It depends on the nature of the traffic signal, he said. As it happens, I was right in this instance. The signal at that intersection has no specific left turn phase, just a pair of round ball lamps, so is comparable to an intersection with stop signs. In those cases, left turners must yield to right turners as well as oncoming vehicles.

BUT, had it been a more sophisticated signal, with turn lanes and a left-turn phase protected by a green arrow light, the left turners have the right of way, he said. The right turner would have a red light on his side, telling him that the oncoming left turner is making a protected turn.

Though it didn’t apply in this case, yellow flashing arrow turn lights require the left turner to yield to conflicting traffic, right turners included. Russ cautioned, however, that in any such conflict, should the left turner be well into his turn when the right turner arrives, the right turner must wait until the left turner is out of his way.

Back to Edgar’s incident, the driver who used the oncoming left-turn lane to pass him did commit an infraction, Russ said. But at an intersection with a green arrow left-turn signal, fault would depend on whether Edgar was found to have cut off the other driver and forced him into the turn lane.