How to Drive in Los Angeles Part 4: The Dream Master

Ausmax recently commented:

I recently moved to LA myself.  My question on this whole left turn is why aren’t there more left turn arrows?  I can’t figure it out.  If an intersection is busy enough to need a left turn lane, then it is busy enough to need a left turn arrow.  I really think some of the gridlock in LA is just stoplight design.

I wish I knew, Ausmax. I wish I knew. Where I’m from, just about every intersection with anything more than a stop sign has a turn arrow.

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation doesn’t have much of an explanation, either:

Unnecessary left-turn arrows degrade overall traffic flow. Other motorists at an intersection must wait for longer periods during red signals in order to accommodate the left-turn arrow.

Of course, this is only true for “protected” left-turns (the ones with red arrows). These seem to be, for no reason I can tell, the most common types of turn arrows I see in Los Angeles. (Particularly Culver City, which is already its own special brand of traffic hell before you add the stupid lights.)

If you listen to Adam Carolla with any regularity, you’ve heard him rant about these lights:

Drive through the left turn red arrows. I do it every single fucking day of my life. It’s the greatest thing that ever happened to me.

To a certain extent, he’s right. Unless you can’t see oncoming traffic, or if the lights in the opposite direction aren’t synchronized, red light arrows are incredibly stupid.

Which is why most or all turn signals should be “permissive.” Basically, these are lights that sometimes have a green arrow (depending on how many cars are in the turn lane), but they also allow you to turn even if oncoming traffic has a green light. There’s a lot of ways of doing this, like “Dallas phasing” (which uses five lights) or the blinking red utilized in Michigan.

When I tell Californians about this concept, they often react in horror: “If people can turn whenever they want, what stops them from crashing into cars coming the opposite way?

In answer to your question, Ausmax, the reason we can’t turn when we want to is because we live in a state where people don’t trust themselves.

Don’t forget to vote next Tuesday!

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7 Responses

  1. Being a native, I’d have to agree with Crystal, you park yourself as far in the midle of the intersection as possible and wait. If the light goes from yellow to red and your still chilling out there “oh well!” that’s about 3 more car that just got through. Everyone does it; it’s practically expected.

    As far a green arrows? The Long Beach area (CSI Miami, etc.) has by far the most yield-on-green, left-hand-turn intersections that also have green arrow protection to boot. But as you said, Culver City is ridiculous.

  2. Wow. I’m so excited i happend to crash into your blog. I’m a student from Finland and I’ve been a PA in just a couple of films. This is just the stuff I want to read even though the industry is slightly different in Europe or at least in Finland. If I just read one more post…

  3. I just moved here from D.C. in June and turning left has terrified me on many an occasion. It’s not unusual to see three cars turning left on red (myself included)– if we waited for the light, we would NEVER get to turn — there’s too many cars coming in the opposite direction!

    Too many cars in L.A., period, really.

  4. Often, the fastest way to make a left turn in Los Angeles is to make three right turns. Otherwise, you’re pretty much stuck waiting for the light to turn yellow.

  5. I’m not sure I understand the last part. Los Angeles lights are already permissive — you turn left whenever you feel least like it would result in death. (Usually on the yellow light.)

    I agree, however, that the DOT is being silly. Not having a turn signal slows traffic by causing the three or four people waiting to turn left to try to all go at once between the yellow light and the red. Which they can never manage to do.

    1. I’m sorry, I was only talking about lights with arrows. The ones without arrows at all… those are just stupid.

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