After several emails challenged my advice, I checked out the northbound left turn lanes on Maple Street leading to westbound Francis Avenue in person.
For starters, my advice to make left turns “into the extreme left-hand lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the same direction as the vehicle on the roadway being entered” is correct according to the applicable statute. It’s also correct that making a left turn from an additional, adjacent left turn lane (to the right) should be made into lane number two from the left on the entered street.
My advice was prompted by C.K’s note, where he described the layout as “two-into-three” regarding left turns from Maple to Francis — and that is also correct. At face value, turns from the left lane would be correctly made into the left-most lane on Francis, and left turns made from the adjacent lane would be made into the middle lane.
But wait — due to a combination of poor intersection design, worn or missing pavement markings, and local driver behavior, normal rules must be modified to avoid continuous fender-benders there.
The main anomaly facing Francis-bound left-turners at that spot is that the third lane to the left is a left-turn-to-Ash lane.
The first reader to inform me of this was P.R., who adamantly declared, “If I followed your directions from the 2nd left turn lane onto the “middle” lane of Francis, I would be in a wreck 50% or more of the time. The left lane on Francis is for left turns only onto Ash. Unless I’m trying to circle the block, as maybe <1% do, I go to the middle lane of Francis from the far left on Maple.”
After inspecting the site, I generally concur. However, while sitting in the left-most turn on Maple, the left-most lane on Francis looks like any other lane, hence a candidate for turning into. Again, the design and markings there leave much to be desired. There is a solid white line at the right side of the left lane on Francis, which, along with an arrow on the pavement is mostly obliterated at the east end of the lane.
Actually, the solid white line (though worn) doesn’t begin for a couple of car lengths after the intersection. This is correct, since westbound Francis traffic cannot legally change lanes within the intersection, and cannot legally cross a solid white line. Therefore, there needs to be a section of the left-turn lane that allows vehicles to legally enter it after crossing Maple. But that leaves open the gray area implying left turners from Maple should turn into it. That’s why C.K., in his original note, longed for dotted lines on the pavement to direct left-turners to the proper lane.
I like it when drivers afford driving due thought process, and readers M.S., D.B., D.M., and M.C. are all doing that. They are drivers who regularly drive the subject route, and wrote to inform me of the “unique” layout there.
And M.N. summed up many thoughts I had after looking at characteristics of the intersection and watching driver behavior there. He wrote, “Even though I agree that by the letter of the statutes, drivers from the far left turn lane on Maple should turn into the far left lane on Francis, I’ve almost never seen that happen. The main issue is that turning from the left-most lane on Maple to the center lane on westbound Francis is the local custom. If a vehicle attempted to turn from the second northbound left turn lane on Maple, into the center westbound lane on Francis, it would normally cause an accident because there is already a car to the left of you that is heading for that same lane.”
While watching, I saw several vehicles turn from the right-most Maple left turn lane to the center lane when no vehicle was to their left. When someone was to their left, however, turners bolted to the right-hand lane. At best, one needs to be vigilant to move suddenly left or right in case another driver has differing ideas on required vehicle paths there. DOT, how about some dotted lines.
Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.