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


U-Turn addendum

This weekly column is about dispelling knowledge, and sometimes the recipient of that education is me.  My May 23rd column explored allowable U-turns in Washington and Idaho.  In summary, such turns are legal given certain prerequisites, such as no vehicles coming in either direction within 500 feet, safety of the maneuver, and a lack of curves, grades or prohibiting signage (sections 1 & 2 of RCW 46.61.265).

The previous column answered a question from R.B. about U-turns on Bernard Street in downtown Spokane.  Per the provisions of Washington state law, that turn is allowed.  However, although Spokane’s Municipal code often mimics state law word-for-word, there are exceptions.  Regarding U-turns, two reader emails reminded me of that.

First, A.J. noted that he received a ticket from Spokane Police for making a U-turn on Driscoll Boulevard.  He went to court using the state statutes as a defense, expecting that his turn was legal.  While there, he found that the Spokane code contains a section forbidding U-turns in certain districts and arterials.  Whereas sections 1 & 2 contain text identical to state law (no vehicles, safety, no curves, et cetera), Spokane added a section 3, which became effective January 1st, 2009.

The other email, from R.R., a retired judge, went into further detail.  He agreed that the law is little-known by the driving public, as multiple violators in his court exemplified.  His detailed note was good notice that, at times, additional verbiage in city ordinances “trumps” or overrides state laws.

The Spokane city law he brought to my attention disallows U-turns in a “congested district” within section 3 text that was added to state law section 1 & 2.  He also noted a second ordinance that defines “congested area.”

The Spokane city “addendum” reads, “3. It is unlawful for the driver of any vehicle to make a U-turn at any place upon any City street within the congested district or upon any arterial outside of the congested district except when authorized by the street director and the street has been properly posted. U-turns shall be lawful if made at an intersection upon other City streets.”

And the “congested district” is the area bounded as follows:  “On the north by the Spokane River; On the west by the west line of Adams Street; On the south by the south line of Third Avenue from the west line of Adams Street to the east line of Washington Street; and by the north line of the several viaducts of the Burlington Northern Railway Company, from the east line of Washington Street to the east line of Division Street; On the east by the east line of Washington Street from the south line of Third Avenue to the north line of the Burlington Northern Railway Company’s viaduct, and by the east line of Division Street from the north line of the Burlington Northern Railway Company’s viaduct to the Spokane River.  The congested district shall also include Monroe Street, from Main Avenue to Mallon Avenue; both sides of Riverside, Sprague and First Avenues from Adams Street to Cedar Street; and both sides of Cedar Street from Sprague Avenue to the north line of the Burlington Northern Railway Company's viaduct.”

That’s a lot of text, but valuable to understand if you wish to make U-turns in Spokane or end up in traffic court for doing so.  It also makes the U-turn on Bernard Street proposed by reader R.B. illegal.

Readers may contact Bill Love via email at