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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Turns and street markings

Following a column that addressed two adjacent turn lanes, I received a reader response that exemplifies why there is sometimes confusion and conflict at such locations.

C.K. wrote, “This morning your column ended with a paragraph exhorting us to stay in our lanes in double left turns.  Well and good.  This does not address places where the two left-turn lanes turn into three or four lanes. Often there are dotted lines showing who goes where and who has what lane choices coming out of the turn.  But not always.”

Then he wondered, “My wife and I have been sparring over the left turn from north-bound Maple into west-bound Francis.  This is a “two-to-three” setup without the dotted lines to let you know where you should go.  My wife has faith that the right-most-Maple left-turn lane goes to the right-most west-bound-Francis lane.  The left-hand left-turn lane gets the other two west-bound Francis lanes.  Is there some basic principle here for determining the proper lanes on Francis?  I’d prefer to have the dotted lines so I didn’t have so much to think about...”

In the original column, I also mentioned that people need to count better when making these turns.  If you turn from the left-most lane, you turn into the first lane to the left on the road you enter; if you turn from the second lane from the left, then you are required to turn into lane number two, counting from the left, regardless of how many lanes there may be available to the right of them.

I agree that dotted lines would help clarify the matter, but in the case C.K. described, the right-most lane on Francis (if it’s the third lane from the left) is for through traffic on Francis, and not for vehicles from the two left-turn lanes coming from Maple.

The correct procedure for a vehicle turning from the right-most Maple left turn lane is to complete the turn into lane number two (counting from the left), then signal and turn into the right-hand lane on Francis if desired, as traffic allows.  If a driver turns into the middle lane of three, from the left-most left-turn lane, they will be interfering with drivers turning from the right-most left-turn lane who are proceeding correctly into the middle lane.  Apologies to C.K.’s wife, but her understanding is in error, and a conflict-causer.

And on the subject of painted lane markings, reader O.F. commented, “Liked what you wrote and would like to expand on a pet peeve; SOLID WHITE LINES:  Ref. the turns, we have a bad one at Ramsey and The Croc center.  We come down the hill and turn left, they come from the West turn right into the left lane.  Solid white lines seem to never be obeyed.  Had a close call on the freeway East of town, where an on ramp is about 3 blocks long.  They [drivers of vehicles behind] can never wait to get to the end.  Will blast in front of you, or come in behind and pass so fast you don’t know where they come from.”

O.F.’s expanded pet peeve is a worthy one. I too see many solid white line violations, especially by vehicles merging from freeway on-ramps.

The driver guide says a solid white line should not be crossed unless “a special situation requires you to change lanes.”  Evidently, many drivers believe they are experiencing “special situations,” but I bet few of them would hold up in the eyes of a law enforcement officer or in a court of law!

Please note that lane markings and roadside signage are placed by the Department of Transportation and are intended to convey important messages to drivers.  Their purpose is to enhance safety and preserve order among vehicles sharing the roads.  Ignoring their messages can negate their effectiveness, hampering safety and creating disorder.

As implied earlier, the official driver’s guides of various states offer good primers on the meanings of posted signs and painted markings.  As a matter of fact, those guides convey excellent knowledge for novice and experienced drivers alike.  Give one a read!

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at