Tag Archives: left turns

Difference of opinion on left turns at red lights

The in basket: PEMCO Insurance has begun issuing weekly lists of story ideas it thinks will interest and help its clients, among whom I am counted.  This week’s list dealt mostly with hazards created by extremely hot weather.

Last week’s had an item that made me sit up and take notice. “Speaking of road questions,“ it said, “misconceptions about free left-hand turns onto freeways could be costly for drivers trying to make that move (that’s because legally, you’re not allowed to).”

Whoa, said I, that’s not what I’ve been telling readers of the Road Warrior column for many years.

State law permits a left turn against a red light after stopping fully and yielding to any traffic with the right of way, but only on to a one-way street where no sign prohibits such turns. Freeway on-ramps, I have asserted, are one-way streets and my local police contacts have agreed.

Twice I have interceded for readers who took my word for that after they got a ticket for doing it. Both times, the tickets were excused.

Derek Wing produces the weekly PEMCO lists so I called him to ask what makes him think the action is illegal.

The out basket: He got it from a report on KIRO Radio, by reporter Chris Sullivan, Derek said.

KIRO Radio or Sullivan has something called MyNorthwest.com, where he wrote, “We’ve all heard of the free right turn after coming to a stop, but a lot of drivers don’t realize they can also take a free left, in certain circumstances.

“Several drivers on MyNorthwest.com commented that they routinely take free lefts onto freeway on-ramps, believing that it was legal to do so.

“Here’s the scenario: They are sitting at a light with a red left-turn arrow. They turn left onto a freeway on-ramp, against the red arrow, once on-coming traffic has cleared.

“They believe the law allows this. I wasn’t so sure. I checked with the police, including the state patrol, and they say that is not true. Freeway on-ramps are not considered one-way streets unless marked as such.”

Next I tried to call Sullivan to see who he’d talked with. It turns out that trying to reach KIRO Radio by phone is next to impossible and an e-mail I sent asking that he call me wasn’t returned.

So I asked my go-to WSP source, Trooper Russ Winger, to see if he agreed with whatever sources Sullivan had used.

Such a turn “is legal,” Russ replied. “There is nothing in the RCW  that implies that it is illegal.”

It’s usually a moot point, as you almost have to be the first car in line at the red light before you get a chance to make the turn, because the law is so little known that few drivers will do it. I’d be surprised if anyone could “routinely take free lefts onto freeway on-ramps.”

If you want to join those of us who do it, know the law is RCW 46.61.055, section 3-c and be prepared to cite it if you get stopped. And know that some in law enforcement over in Seattle think it’s not legal.

One other thought. I was reprimanded often when I had used the term “free left” or “free right” to describe a turn against a red light. The authorities regard that as a “right on red” or “left on red” and say a free left or right has no traffic control, like the right turn from the Waaga Way off-ramp to Ridgetop Boulevard in Silverdale.

Entering via a designed exit

The in basket: A Road Warrior column in April that questioned the legality of turning left across the double yellow lines on Lund Avenue/Tremont Street in Port Orchard into the shopping area that includes Auto Zone brought a response from Robert Martin, who noted that the exact same alignment exists across that street at the Puerto Vallarta restaurant.

Drivers turn left across the double yellow lines going in both directions, where they meet a right-in-right-out alignment that makes it easier to turn into the half of that alignment intended for cars that are leaving.

Is that legal, he wondered.

The out basket: I wrote at the time that left turns are legal across double yellow lines unless there is a raised barrier, a yellow line 18 inches wide or wider, cross-hatching between the lines, or signs saying No Left Turn. None of those thing exist in either direction at that spot on the street. The turns, though often difficult and risky, are legal.

I wasn’t able to learn then whether turning into a roadside access designed to be an exit constitutes a traffic infraction.

So I asked again.

Commander Dale Schuster of Port Orchard police replied, “Both of these access driveways are on private property so there is no traffic violation, hence no infraction.”

The answer would be different where the access is publicly owned, which  is hard to determine when in motion. So those who do it risk a ticket in some locations, just not those two.

Driver worries about lefts and rights against red signals

The in basket: Yvonne Dean has some questions, she said in an e-mail, starting with one about an odd state law that I don’t see mentioned accept in the Road Warrior column and remains little known by drivers. It’s the one permitting left turns against a red arrow signal, but only onto a one-way road or street and only after coming to a full stop and yielding to any vehicles with a green light or to pedestrians.

“I have been wondering if this type of left turn would be permitted on Ridgetop (in Silverdale) when you are coming down from Ridgetop Junior High and turning left to go toward East Bremerton,” Yvonne said. “Before making the turn on red I assume you have to check to make sure there was no one coming off of Waaga Way who might be turning left up Ridgetop and no one coming up Ridgetop up to that intersection.”

Then she asks about two right-turn-on-red situations at 11th and Warren Avenue (in Bremerton).

“Tonight I was coming east on 11th and a fire truck was in the curb lane with his right-turn signal blinking,” he said. “He didn’t turn until the light turned green.  Can you not turn right at that (red) light after coming to a complete stop and having no traffic coming toward you?”

Finally, “when I am coming south on Warren Avenue to that same intersection and I want to turn right to go up 11th if the light is red I have stopped and check to make sure there is no on-coming traffic and then turned up the hill.  Is that legal?”

The out basket: State Trooper Russ Winger and Lt. Pete Fisher of Bremerton police provide answers for Yvonne.

A left on red at Ridgetop onto the southbound Highway 303 on-ramp is legal if done with the restrictions Yvonne and I stated above.

But as I’ve said before, the odds that the first driver in line to turn left knows the law and dares to use it are so low that it’s usually not seen.

The right turn on red is legal on 11th at Warren. Pete Fisher guesses the length of the first truck would have required it to swing too wide to make the turn comfortably if cars were coming south in either lane of Warren. Fire Chief Al Duke says that sounds right. There’s no department policy forbidding legal rights on red, he said.

And the presence of the traffic signal that offers a protected right turn on Warren at 11th does nothing to negate the opportunity to turn right when it’s red, after a full stop and while yielding to any conflicting traffic or pedestrians.

How about red flashing lefts, rather than yellow?

The out basket: Married couple Sherri and Patrick Burch each wrote me around the first of March, alarmed by the fatal accident in Silverdale at Kitsap Mall Boulevard and Randall Way shortly before, to which the flashing yellow left turn signals there may have contributed. They each had the same suggestion: Replace the flashing yellow lefts with flashing reds.

“Across the country, drivers know that a blinking red means stop, evaluate, then proceed,” Sherri said. “For so many people, a yellow light does not mean caution, it means gun it!

Her husband wrote, “If the arrow was blinking red, the driver would have to come to a complete stop before proceeding. This would avoid any confusion for anyone unfamiliar with this type of traffic signal. Red means stop first then proceed.  Changing from red to yellow will undoubtedly save crunched metal and future injuries.”

The out basket: Jeff Shea, Kitsap County traffic engineer, replied, “When the transportation industry was looking for a good signal indication for the permissive left turns, flashing red arrows and flashing red balls were considered.

“The flashing yellow was determined to be the preferred option for the permissive turn,” he said. “The flashing red arrow creates confusion in its own right. In my experience, when motorists see a flashing red light of any sort they assume every other motorist (at the intersection) is seeing a flashing red light and expect other motorists to stop.

“Perhaps the most common situation motorists see flashing red street signals is when the signals aren’t operating normally. The motorist assumes it indicates an all-way stop, and expects other traffic to stop as well. When flashing red arrows are used for permissive turns opposing traffic has a green signal and does not stop.

“For that reason I don’t combine flashing red signals on the main street with yellow or green signals on the side streets. If one direction is flashing red, all directions will flash red.  The only deviation from this would be an intersection beacon where the side roads have conspicuous stop signs.”

Yellow flashing lefts not guaranteed at 11th and Warren

The in basket: As I pass by the work at 11th and Warren in Bremerton, where the intersection is undergoing major changes to provide more holding room for cars waiting at the lights at Warren, among other things, I had some questions.

Will replacement of the existing traffic signals allow the city to put yellow flashing left turn signals there, as it did when the current sewer replacement project provided money to do that on Sixth Street?

And will the center lane of eastbound 11th be changed to a left-turn and straight ahead lane, as was done at Sixth and Warren for the Manette Bridge replacement project, or will it remain with two left-onlys and the outside lane the only through lane?

The out basket: Gunnar Fridriksson of the city’s street engineers says yellow flashing left turn signals are a possibility at the revised intersection, but by no means a certainty.

“With the Crosstown Pipeline project, we were able to update all of the signal controllers on Sixth Street from Kitsap Way to Warren Avenue to be able to implement the flashing yellow as we needed to make the entire corridor more efficient for traffic,” he said.

“The signals along the Warren/Wheaton corridor are inter-tied from 11th Street to Riddell Road and are of an older controller that will not accommodate the yellow flashers. Putting yellow flashers at 11th and Warren would require removing the inter-tie with the other signals.” The inter-tie allows the signals to work together to move the most traffic

“There are a couple of options we are looking at, but no final decision has been made,” he said.

He also said no changes are planned as to where cars in the three eastbound lanes of 11th can go.

Why are left turns banned from Park onto Burwell?

The in basket: Nancy Thayer of Bremerton wrote to say, “I noticed that when driving south on Park,  there is no left turn allowed onto Burwell.  What is the reasoning behind that?  I could understand if cars traveling on Park had a stop sign rather than a light, but since they do have a light it seems silly not to allow them to turn left.”

She also wonders if the flashing yellow turn signals on Sixth Street will be kept when the detour around the 11th Street sewer project closure that prompted there installation ends in August.

“I hope not because it is such a pain to have to wait in a left turn lane when nothing is coming toward you,” she said.

The out basket: Gunnar Fridriksson of the Bremerton street engineers says the left-turn prohibition at the south end of Park is temporary and construction related, but not the 11th Street work.

“The construction in Park Avenue (a block north) cut the traffic (detectors) for this movement so there was no way for the signal to detect vehicles,” he said.”We did not want to put this signal on timed cycle and have it conflict with outgoing ferry traffic, so a quick and simple fix was to prohibit the movement – especially as the roadway has been closed most of the time with construction.

“With the construction nearly complete, we should be removing the restriction here shortly.”

As I’ve reported here before, the yellow flashing left turn lights, installed with money that came from the sewer project to facilitate movement on the designated detour, will be kept in service when 11th Street reopens.




Wrecking yard access near Sunnyslope called hazardous

The in basket: Richard Paul writes, “I travel Highway 3 between two and three times a week from Belfair to Silverdale and beyond. There is a major auto accident waiting to happen in front of the Airport Auto Wrecking  just before Sunnyslope Road. I have been close to being involved in two accidents myself.

“The problem is that the driveway of the Airport Auto Wrecking Yard spills right into Highway 3. (There is a double yellow line in front of the business, but people ignore the lines.) People will stop in front of the Airport Auto Wrecking Yard and wait to make a left hand turn over these double yellow lines in front of cars traveling at 55-plus miles per hour on their way to Gorst .

“In addition to this on coming traffic, Richard said, “the traffic coming from Gorst that is traveling up and over the hill at 55-plus miles per hour can not see these people stopped in front of the Airport Auto Wrecking Yard trying to make the left turn. People coming out of the yard will make a left hand turn right in front of the people coming over the hill as well.

“I have missed being slammed into by people trying to avoid these left hand turners twice,” Richard said. “There is no place for them to go but into the right lane that is merging left at this point.

“It would be such an easy fix to close off the Airport Auto Wrecking Yard’s driveway exit to Highway 3 and have the cars going and coming to the yard use the parallel street that can be reached from Sunnyslope Road. it’s about a half block away.”

“Has anyone been working on this problem? This is a major accident waiting to happen.”

The out basket: Richard appears to be one of the many who think turning left across a double line is illegal. It is not. Only passing across a double yellow line is.

And it’s a good thing. Hundreds of driveways in this county alone would be inaccessible for would-be left turners without them continuing on and doubling back to make it a right turn.

Steve Bennett, the traffic operations engineer for state highways here says, “We did look at the collision history near this driveway access.  We found that in the last eight years there have been no collisions involving vehicles traveling southbound on SR 3 and vehicles stopped waiting to turn left into the business.

“Requiring a business to abandon an access to a state highway is often a complex and difficult issue,” he said, “especially if the business does not wish to do so.

“In this case, in talking to Kitsap County and looking at an aerial photo, it appears as though other property owners own the narrow dirt road in question.

“Long term, there is conceptual plan to build a four lane divided highway on this section of SR 3,” Steve said,  “but with no funding for design or construction, it is probably years, or possibly decades, away.”


Chico Way left turns strike driver as dangerous

The in basket: Mike Spieker says his drive to work takes him southbound on Chico Way to turn left on Erlands Point.

“The left turn lane is marked with a double yellow line,” he said. ” On several occasions vehicles in front of me have unexpectedly stopped short of the turn and made

a left turn into the gas station on the east side of the road.

“The gas station entrance has a traffic control island that seems to be an attempt to limit such a turn,” he said, “with ingress access apparently intended only for northbound Chico Way traffic on one side and an “exit only” side  (marked with a sign) to allow egress for northbound traffic on the other side.”

“Can you comment on accident activity at the site and whether the left turn into the gas station is legal?  Is there anything that might be modified to address what appears to be a perfect recipe for a rear-end collision?”

The out basket: There are no signs visible to drivers on Chico Way forbidding a left turn and no cross-hatching on the pavement on Chico Way to make left turns illegal.

The northernmost of the two accesses is quite wide and has room for two-way traffic.

The other one is narrower and built so that a left turn is difficult but not impossible. The left turn pocket for turns onto Erlands Point Road extends back to the narrower access, with a turn arrow on the pavement.

I can find no “exit only” sign on the service station property.

Similar situations probably exist all over the county. One I’ve noticed serves the new Walgreen’s store at Kitsap Way and National Avenue in Bremerton. It’s even worse because that left-turn lane leads to a traffic signal which creates a sense of urgency for drivers trying to get through the light before it turns red. A car on its way to Walgreen’s and waiting in the turn lane for oncoming traffic to clear can surprise a driver looking past the stopped car and concentrating on the signal.

Nevertheless, there is nothing to make a left turn illegal at either spot.

Unless rear-enders actually increase at such spots, they’ll probably remain the way they are.


Two more CK intersections could use yellow flashing lefts

The in basket: Two more Central Kitsap residents have nominated two more intersections for the blinking yellow left-turn lights that Kitsap County has installed at numerous Silverdale spots.

Alice Gray would like to see them at Ridgetop Boulevard’s northernmost intersection with Silverdale Way, near the top of the hill north of town. And Linda Bruce points to the next signalized intersection north, at Bennington Drive and Crestview on opposite sides of Silverdale Way.

Alice adds a new element to her request, saying that while she waits needlessly before being allowed to turn, “one can see there is no traffic  coming north on Silverdale Way for almost a mile and the left-turn light does not change to green until any northbound traffic almost comes to the intersection. I am sure I am not alone in my aggravation. When there are so many yellow blinking lights elsewhere, why isn’t there one here?”

The out basket: The two requests will have to be added to previous ones for the blinking lefts, at Provost/Old Frontier and Anderson Hill Road most recently.

As before, the reason is a lack of money to add those flashing lefts to any more intersections than have them now. When money becomes available, I’m sure those places will be considered,

As for traffic moving northbound on Silverdale Way looking at a signal that stays green until they are almost there, Jeff Shea, the county’s traffic engineer, says, “We do work with the state to coordinate signals when possible, and when the coordination of the signals increases efficiency for through traffic.

“The (federal) Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) states signals located within a half-mile of each other should be coordinated. The signal at Silverdale Way and Highway 303 is about 1.5 miles from the Silverdale Way / Ridgetop intersection. In that distance there are many variables (speed, traffic volumes, opportunities to exit the roadway between the intersections) that makes coordinating the signals difficult. In light of that, coordinating these signals would not gain the efficiencies your reader desires.”

Left turns and the new Burwell-State light

The in basket: When I read that Bremerton and the Navy had scraped together $200,000 to put a traffic signal at Burwell and State streets, the site of numerous complaints about danger to pedestrians going to and from Naval Base Bremerton, I wondered how the signal would handle left turns. It’s not much of a problem eastbound, where two lanes offer traffic a way around a left turner, but westbound there is only one lane and a driver waiting for oncoming traffic to clear before turning left holds up everyone behind him. 

The out basket: Larry Matel of the city’s street engineers says, “This signal was warranted by the number of pedestrian crossings at this

location. Signal heads will be red-amber-green on all approaches, with

NO left-turn signal arrows. There simply are not enough left turning

cars at this location to warrant.” 

The new signal, on flashing mode today, will go into full operation Jan. 21.