The Conundrum of Protected Left Turns

The SF Bay Area (which includes all the way down to San Jose, yes), is the land of protected left turns.  Everywhere you go, there is a left turn lane, and a signal just for that lane.  People get used to it.

There are two problems with this.  First, it’s not really ‘everywhere.”  There are a couple of intersections here and there that don’t have it.  One in particular, Oak Grove and Middlefield in Menlo Park, is surrounded by protected left signals but does not have one itself.  The result is that everyone presumes they can blast through when they see a yellow, but that is precisely when someone trying to make that unprotected left has to try and zoom through.  Not a good combination.  I’ve been on the wrong end of that a few times, though have escaped unscathed thus far.

The other problem is when a light didn’t used to be protected, they’ve made it so, and done the related multiple-lane changes required.  For instance, at Washington and Lafayette here in Santa Clara, heading east-west, there was an unprotected left, and two straight lanes in either direction.  So you have just the one light that went for east-west, and those turning left just fended for themselves.  It worked just fine, I almost never missed making a left, though sometimes I had to wait a bit and yes, I used the yellow sometimes.

In particular, since I cross there when walking to work, the timing was very good and I never waited for long.

Now, however, they have made the right most lane right-turn only, the other straight lane straight only, and provided a protected left.  People aren’t running into each other like the Oak Grove example, but it takes forever to cycle through all the lights now.  Now it’s southbound-protected, then northbound-protected (this was as before), then westbound protected, then eastbound protected.  I want to cross on eastbound protected.  And I have to wait for the people turning on the protected left to turn first, then it says I can cross.  I seriously waited for 4 minutes the other day, and that is a long time at an intersection if you actually sit and watch the time.  The link above actually shows the new version of the intersection, by the way.

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