No U Turn?


by David Safier

ImagesI pulled out of the Park Place Mall earlier today, turned right onto Broadway, went to the next left turn lane and made a U Turn. Half a block later, a policeman pulled me over for making an illegal turn. He told me that turn lane is only for turning into the Best Buy parking lot. There are two "No U Turn" signs posted that I didn't see.

Officer Lyons was a polite young man. When he returned with my ticket, I said, equally politely, "I'm not contesting the ticket, but I have a question. In what way is a U turn more dangerous in that spot than a left turn into the parking lot? They both involve crossing oncoming traffic."

He said he didn't know that one was more dangerous than the other. But he said there's a similar No U Turn posting heading west on a left turn lane that takes you into the Park Place parking lot. In fact, he said, he had ticketed someone there earlier today. I commented that it may have more to do with getting customers into the store parking lots than with traffic safety. He smiled and shrugged.

When I got back onto Broadway heading west, I saw the No U Turn sign he was talking about. It was at a stoplight with a left turn signal, meaning the person turning would have no oncoming traffic. How could a U Turn be a traffic hazard?

"Why didn't I see the clearly posted signs?" I asked myself as I continued driving. "I'm a reasonably careful, alert, defensive driver." (The officer clocked me at a safe 10 MPH as I made the turn). The reason, I decided, is that you can almost always make a U Turn — every other left turn lane I saw on Broadway allowed U Turns — and my eyes were focused on the oncoming traffic to see when I could turn safely. I simply looked beyond the signs that normally wouldn't be there.

Then I had another thought. I imagine the other guy who got ticketed is no more of a scofflaw than I am and probably made a similar mistake. If it happened twice today, it's probably a regular occurrence. For all I know, Officer Lyons hangs out there ticketing people. But if lots of safe drivers make the same inadvertent error, wouldn't that mean the restriction should be marked in a way that safe, lawful drivers don't make that mistake? Isn't the purpose of traffic markings to help people obey the law?

I'm not planning to contest the ticket. I did the crime, so I'll do the time in Traffic School. But this just seems wrong to me.


  1. My guess is that Best Buy paid for part or all of that turnout, and only wants it used for potentially profitable customers, not just any old uturn traffic. So BB stipulated no uturns, and the city enforces it for them.

  2. A city traffic engineer has to sign off on street plans. You can start by asking there. My only guess is that Best Buy is a high-traffic store (at some times) and so with many people *leaving* the parking lot, allowing U-Turns would create unnecessary risks and delays.