by David Safier
I 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.