Bumper to Bumper: Left-turners can, but don't have to, wait in intersection
Jan. 9, 2004

Q: What is the law for turning left on a circular green light? In Florida, Ohio, New York and New Jersey, the rule is to proceed into the intersection and wait for the traffic to clear or the light to change. After the light has changed, the car in the intersection has the right of way and may turn left before oncoming traffic begins.

Most people here wait behind the stop bar, and do not proceed into the intersection and wait there to turn left, thereby slowing traffic.

Is the law different in Maryland than any other place my wife or I have lived? Should it be changed?

A: According to Sgt. Roy Russell of the Montgomery County Police Department's Bethesda District Station, the law is the same as in the states you mentioned. But the law you mention is a "can," not a "must."

It's legal for a driver to go into an intersection on a circular green signal while waiting to make a left turn. If the light turns red while waiting, that driver has the right to clear the intersection, Russell said.

However, drivers do not have to proceed into the intersection while waiting to turn left. They can choose to wait at the stop bar for a break in the traffic, but if the light changes before they have the chance to turn left, they may not enter the intersection at that point. They have to wait.

You ask me if the law should be changed. I hope not.

There are many intersections in which I do not like to sit while waiting to turn left, and feel much safer behind the stop bar. If that slows traffic a bit, so be it.

Q: Can you please explain the logic for the lane markings on eastbound MD Route 118 between the entrance of Montgomery College (Observation Drive) and MD Route 355 in Germantown?

For reasons I don't find obvious, three lanes are condensed into two, one of them being for right turns only. The only remaining lane then immediately expands back into three lanes, one going straight and two turning left.

There is much lane jockeying going on in this stretch of road, some by people who realize too late that they can't go straight without merging and by others who think they can outrace a few cars.

Three lanes getting pinched to two, just to expand back to four, doesn't make sense when there is plenty of pavement to accommodate a minimum of three the entire distance.

A: Eastbound Route 118 at its intersection with Route 355 has two left-turn lanes, one through lane and one right-turn lane.

David Buck, a State Highway Administration spokesman, said the road is striped as such due to the number of people driving that way. Many more drivers turn left than right or go straight through the intersection. Traffic for the latter two is comparable to each other.

He said there is unused pavement on eastbound 118 that is "hatched out," striped off so drivers won't use it. If and when traffic increases to the point where two through lanes are needed, the striping can be changed.

But if you ask me, that's where the real problem exists. I drive that portion of road several times a week and am puzzled by that marked-off pavement. It's an entire lane to the right of the right-turn lane.

I can't tell you how many times I've seen someone wrongly waiting to turn right from that marked-off area, only to have another car correctly waiting to turn right from the right-turn lane. The result is that there are two cars waiting to turn right, and though I have not seen any crashes there, I can see where one could easily occur.

Why the state wouldn't use temporary concrete barriers or rubber poles instead of paint to mark off that lane is beyond me.

Q: Anything on Redland and Needwood roads in Derwood?

That light changes too quickly, and every other, or third, car is trying to turn right onto Needwood. A lane to allow the drivers to pull out and turn right would be a good start, along with a longer light cycle.

There is no other light on Redland for two miles, until Muncaster Mill Road. It would help the problem of drivers having to force their way into the only straight lane out of the right-turn only lane coming from Crabbs Branch Way.

The people who are trying to make the right would greatly appreciate it. The police officers who hand out tickets after Crabbs Branch might also.

A: It looks like you're stuck for the short term, but there is hope on the horizon.

The county plans to add left- and right-turn lanes on Redland and adjust the traffic signal for the new lanes by the middle of 2007, according to Thomas D. Pogue, of the county's Department of Public Works and Transportation.

In the meantime, transportation officials will monitor the intersection, and make signal timing changes within the current configuration.

If you'd like more information about the project, go to the county's Web site, www.montgomerycountymd.gov, and click on the departments link on the left side of the page. Scroll down to Public Works & Transportation, and in the search engine, type 500010. That's the number the county assigned to the project to track it, and the search should result in a link to a description of the project.

Q: I had to respond to Josh Gordon of Rockville, who asked in the Nov. 5 column why police do not enforce the HOV lanes on Interstate 270. It's because they're the biggest culprits.

I also travel 270, and I sit with everyone else in the slow pace, watching people in HOV cruise by. Then I started to notice how many police cars with one officer were in the HOV lane. I've watched lots of cops, one in gym clothes and talking on a cell phone, whose tag numbers I've written down.

The best incident was the single driver who was in the HOV lane when a cop came up from behind. I motioned to the cop about the single driver, the officer waved in acknowledgement, the driver moved over two lanes, and the cop followed him. After about one mile, the cop worked his way back over to the HOV lanes and continued up the road without stopping the driver.

That's when I decided to get behind the officer and follow him. Amazingly, I made great time getting home. So now I sit in the slow lanes until an officer goes by me with only one person, then I follow him since I know they are not patrolling the lanes, just violating them like everyone else.

A: Kevin has e-mailed me five times since the Nov. 5 column, each time providing me with a tag number or two of a Montgomery County Police officer who he said he saw driving alone in the HOV lane during evening rush hour.

I'm not going to print those tag numbers, any more than I would print the name (or tag number) of someone who a reader saw run a red light, or break any traffic law.

He also wonders why I'm ignoring the subject.

Relax, Kevin. I'm not ignoring the subject. I've just already dealt with it, in the Aug. 6 column.

In that column, Capt. John M. Fitzgerald, a Montgomery County Police spokesman, said that unless the officer is responding to an emergency, the officer is not supposed to drive in the HOV lane without a passenger.

He conceded there was some confusion on this issue within police circles, and that the department would remind its officers to obey the law.

Sounds to me like they could use another reminder.

A word of caution, though, Kevin. Maryland State Police enforce HOV on 270, not Montgomery County Police. They are separate departments.

Q: The National Institutes of Health in Bethesda changed its traffic pattern to increase security, and now so many cars exit the campus from South Drive straight to Greentree Road during evening rush hour that drivers who want to turn left onto Old Georgetown Road (MD Route 187) from Greentree have a hard time.

This intersection needs a left-turn arrow for drivers turning left onto Old Georgetown Road from Greentree, probably only during evening rush hour. Do you know if one is planned?

A: The state is looking into it, and should have an answer in a few months, said Charlie Gischlar, a State Highway Administration spokesman.

And with that I complete my time as "the bumper guy," as my wife has lovingly referred to me periodically this past year. (I'm moving on to edit The Gazette's Frederick County papers.) But don't worry, Bumper to Bumper will continue with editor JoAnn Grbach at the keyboard. The e-mail will remain the same, bumper@gazette.net. For past columns, log on to www.gazette.net/specialfeatures/bumper.html.