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Laura Uldrich
New member
Username: Mluldrich

Post Number: 4
Registered: 05-2007
Posted on Tuesday, February 11, 2014 - 10:02 am:   

Ran into a situation today and need clarification about the law about turning left on a divided roadway. (perhaps a future Tuesday transportation tip topic?)
When travelling on a divided road and turning left, where should my car be in the intersection waiting for opposing traffic to clear? A couple of circumstances - when the median is wide enough for my car to fit without impeding traffic on the divided road; when the median is not wide enough; when I am making a u-turn on the divided road; and when making a left turn onto a different roadway.
Also, when crossing a divided roadway, either to make a left turn onto the divided roadway, or continuing on the same street on the other side of the divided roadway.

I feel like everyone is making up their own rules and it causes confusion...


Joel Fitts, Senior Traffic Engineer
Username: Joel_fitts

Post Number: 151
Registered: 03-2008
Posted on Tuesday, April 01, 2014 - 05:25 pm:   


Traffic on the divided roadway that is waiting to turn left onto another street will be in a left-turn lane and should wait at the front of the turn lane while they wait for a gap in oncoming traffic. In some cases you might be a little bit out in the intersection, but you should not be so far forward as to prevent an oncoming car from turning left in front of you. (Most people do this correctly at traffic signal intersections, so imagine yourself at a traffic signal when waiting to turn left at an intersection that doesn't have a traffic signal.)

The width of the median will not change this answer, nor will the fact that you are making a u-turn or a left turn.

When you are crossing a divided roadway, you should wait at the stop sign until you have a clear path to complete your left turn (or cross the entire road) in one movement. Often times, traffic is heavy enough that people do not want to wait for the large gap to do this. If that is the case, the best course of action is to turn right and take an alternate route or make a u-turn down the road.

However, if the median is wide enough to contain a car, many people will travel half way across the divided roadway and wait in the median. If someone does this, these would be the "rules":

Let's say that the divided roadway is Main Street, which runs east-west, and that you are on a side street which runs north-south. Traffic on Main Street always has the right of way over traffic coming from the side street. Therefore, traffic coming from the side street should always yield to eastbound and westbound through traffic on Main Street as well as to eastbound and westbound traffic making left turns off of Main Street. This means that side street traffic should never go out and wait in the median if there is a car waiting to turn left off of Main Street.

When northbound traffic leaves the side street and waits in the median to complete the maneuver, there should only be one car from the side street waiting in the median at a time. Therefore, the first car in line to leave the side street needs to make sure there is no northbound car waiting in the median ahead of them (or a car waiting to turn left from eastbound Main Street). Then, when they see a gap in eastbound Main Street, they can proceed to the median opening and stay on the right side of it (being careful not to block the westbound left-turn lane). The median opening should be treated like a little road, with traffic staying on the right.

As the car sits in the median, it now works as if the car is waiting next to a one-way street. This means that the side street car needs to let all westbound through traffic and westbound left-turn traffic go in front of it before it can go. So if a westbound car enters the left-turn lane while the side street car is waiting, the westbound car gets to go around the side street car first.

In most cases, if the divided roadway is six lanes wide, the median will not be wide enough for a car to wait in the middle and so this type of two-stage maneuver should not be attempted.

Joel Fitts
Senior Traffic Engineer

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