TIFFS: Tales of turn lanes and toll booths

Number three in the Transport-in-a-Fine-Fix Series.

I once spoke with a railroad man at just about the time of his retirement. I asked what he was going to do. His response: “If the light is green, I’ll go straight. If red, I’ll turn right.” The then about-to-retire railroader definitely had the right idea. No waiting.

MUTCD_R3-18.svg[1]I bring this up because I cannot think of a single instance where a person would look forward to waiting. Waiting, though, is one of those things that comes with the territory – seems unavoidable meaning no person is exempt from such.

When I am out and about on the road driving, at no time am I ever not in witness of a “hurry up and wait” experience. It happens all the time.

Here is what I mean. I’ll get passed by someone in an adjacent lane, that driver giving the appearance of being in a really big hurry. Their having to stop at the upcoming signalized intersection is practically a given, and almost as certain, I will catch up. What I am left thinking is why the rush.

Turning left

I know of nothing out there to test the patience of a driver more than gridlock. Gridlock can happen most anywhere a vehicle traverses and one can be on it before one knows it.

Take the left-turn lane for instance. There always seems to be that one driver waiting at the head of the line who just sits there after getting the arrow not realizing the light turned green because the offending driver’s attention was on something or was somewhere other than on the road, apparently. I have been guilty of that myself, so I can relate. Those waiting behind the one not on the ball can be delayed, even be prevented from making the turn on that cycle. This may drive some of the ones missing the light on account of that one inattentive driver, batty. Robo- or driverless cars ought to be able to solve that problem.

Then there are those who insist on turning left on red lights but only at times when no opposing traffic is there to impede left-turn progress, obviously and, I would guess, as long as enforcement measures like intersection photo surveillance, for example, are not in effect. Robo- or driverless cars should be able to prevent infractions like that from happening too.

The solution

MUTCD_W2-6.svg[2]For those making left turns at signalized intersections equipped with left-turn arrow signalization, having the ability to turn left not only when the green left-turn arrow illuminates, but also at times when the light for moving forward turns green thus providing for straight-ahead and right-turn traffic movement in addition to left-turn and U-turn traffic movement, so long as there is no traffic entering the intersection from the opposite direction, can be a huge help. I have seen this provision in cities like Scottsdale, Arizona and San Luis Obispo, California, to name two. This approach makes perfect sense from the standpoint of traffic-flow efficiency.

Even simpler and far less expensive to install are traffic circles, rotaries or roundabouts. Drivers can turn right, go forward, turn left and make U-turns all without having to stop first if all the stars line up and the timing is right.

Toll booths

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link and the same would apply to transportation, infrastructure, you name it, regarding attributes. Where toll booths are concerned, the fallout comes in when bunching or bottlenecking of traffic occurs in advance of the booth itself.

There are only a few places that I can think of in California where tolls are collected: The Richmond-San Rafael Bridge ($5 per vehicle last I remember), the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge, and the Golden Gate, the San Mateo and quite possibly the Dumbarton bridges (although I wouldn’t swear to the last). I cannot think of any others.

Conventional_Toll_Plaza_Advance_Sign_2.svg[1]While I have nothing against paying tolls – as the revenue more than likely goes into bridge maintenance, waiting one’s turn in toll-pay lines while at the same time being in rush-hour traffic is no picnic. Rush-hour is called rush-hour for a reason. Put another way it is the “peak-traffic period.” Backed-up traffic can be considerable during those times depending on location.

The solution

In May of 2012, I drove to Texas and back starting and ending in California. In the Arlington area near Dallas and Ft. Worth, I remember there being highways galore. At least one of those was a toll road. However, on one entrance ramp to that one highway, I do not recall seeing any personnel on hand or collection bins present to collect the toll monies.

Presumably, present was an electronic means to establish who is using the highway, perhaps through a photo-capturing technology, through which positive vehicle license plate identification could be ascertained. What with today’s technological capabilities and all, I could also see said motorists using the tolled thoroughfare being sent corresponding bills electronically or via mail.

In both the left-turn lane and toll booth cases, by traffic being impeded as minimally as possible, not only does this help in easing congestion but there is some benefit to air I’m sure as well.

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