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Cars should be able to turn left without an arrow

Original post made by Craig, Stanford, on Jan 26, 2007

The driving regulations in Palo Alto are needlessly paternalistic. The best example of this tendency is the inability to make a left turn at intersections without an arrow. In every other city in which I have driven, a green light permits cars to go straight through the intersection or, if the opportunity permits, make a left turn. Not so in overprotective Palo Alto and the surrounding communities, where motorists are forced to wait until a green arrow releases us from driver’s purgatory.

Is anyone else frustrated by this regulation? While helpful during rush hour, the regulation is ludicrous during the early morning and late evening hours. Normally, the light on El Camino will be green, and there will be no other cars anywhere in sight (literally, I could crawl across the street on my hands and knees, and oncoming traffic would not reach me), yet I am unable to make a simple turn.

I’m not advocating a complete expulsion of the arrow. As I said, turn protection is imperative during heavy traffic hours. I simply think the cycle should go as follows: green light for North/South (N/S cars can make left turns if appropriate), then green arrows for N/S (allowing protected turns), then green light for East/West, then green arrows for E/W.

If licensed drivers are trusted to drive sixty (or more) miles per hour on the highway, then I cannot fathom why we are not trusted to determine if oncoming traffic is at a sufficient distance to permit a left hand turn. The safety risk of such a regulation change should be negligible, since risk aversion would prevent us from making an unprotected turn unless absolutely certain that oncoming traffic poses no threat.

The benefits of such a change are numerous. First, congestion at intersections would decrease. Second, drivers would save precious time. Third, automobiles would be idling less, which would slightly reduce fuel consumption and environmental externalities.

I’m curious to hear everyone’s thoughts on this issue. Thanks for reading!

Comments (4)

Posted by Brian
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 26, 2007 at 2:47 pm

I agree completely, Craig. Perhaps the red arrows make sense during rush hour, but as you say, there are plenty of times when the street is completely deserted but you must wait for a complete cycle for a green arrow.

Perhaps the ideal solution would be to have the red arrows on a timer so that they only occurred during rush hour or other particularly busy times of day.

Posted by Anon
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Jan 26, 2007 at 3:54 pm

I ride my Bike everywhere in Palo Alto.

Ever heard of our "Addiction to Oil"?

Anything to make cars slow down is great.

Posted by Addicted to Oil
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 26, 2007 at 5:12 pm

In response to Anon, cars idling needlessly at an intersection rather than decreases, actually increases the consumption of oil.

Posted by SkepticAl
a resident of Ventura
on Jan 27, 2007 at 12:07 am

I grew up in Los Angeles, which had the opposite problem - way too few left arrows. But I'd say that about half the left arrows we have are unnecessary up here, and the others should definitely allow left turns yielding to oncoming traffic before or after the green arrow. I wonder if Mr. Roadshow has taken this up in the past.

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