Tucson, AZ

Just as states have symbols and emblems, and can be branded with associations such as Texas being famous for chili and New York for taxi cabs, some states also have specially designed traffic patterns attached to their name, the Michigan left being the most familiar. In Texas, the infamous indirect left is referred to as a “Loop Around” or “Texas U-Turn”, and Utah calls them, “ThrU Turns”.

Confusing and hated, variations on “customary” patterns perplex most drivers. The last thing city governments want to create is more road rage and accidents, and alternative traffic patterns such as Michigan lefts and roundabouts have proven to relieve traffic congestion, reduce accidents in left turn auto and pedestrian situations and, effectively, road rage over a number of years. They are a creative and more cost-conservative solution over buying properties and widening roads or other more expensive traffic improvement ventures.

In Tucson, Arizona, civil engineers have taken a liking to the Michigan left. City planners learned from the example of the state of Michigan, which adopted the variation left turn in the late 1960’s. The goal of the Michigan left is to decrease delay time to get through a left turn so that motorists will be less likely to risk a traffic ticket or hitting other cars or pedestrians by running a red light to avoid being stuck through another light cycle. Indeed, the Michigan Department of Transportation has found that the indirect left is 20-50% more efficient in terms of reducing traffic delays and accidents. Some intersections have improved by as much as 60% in pedestrian safety over intersections allowing direct left-turning motorists.

The turn is designed to only take drivers about ¼ mile through the light before presenting the turn around, which is actually much more time efficient than having to wait through another complete traffic cycle to make the left turn.

However, the short ¼ mile trip up the road ruffles some drivers. Michigan lefts were introduced to Tucson, Arizona in 2013, starting with two problematic traffic and pedestrian-heavy intersections, with the intent of reducing accidents and red-light running. The city’s engineers have studied the statistics of crashes and congestion at various intersections and plan to install more of the turns at similar intersections, much to the chagrin of many Tucson drivers.

But the evidence is shown not only in data. The benefit of the indirect turn is apparent to some local drivers as well. When responding to an online poll conducted by the Arizona Daily Star, one Tucson resident says she favors the new Michigan turn, stating that she can get through the intersection in one light instead of the 3 it used to take. She also notices that traffic congestion is considerable lighter with the introduction of the new intersection design. A large number of drivers reported their disdain for the indirect left turn, but there were still several positive reviews of the change.

Roundabouts are another sore area for motorists who are accustomed to direct traffic patterns. However, studies by the IIHS and Federal Highway Administration show that crashes are reduced with the installation of a roundabout in place of stop signs or signals. The studies indicate that “Roundabouts reduced injury crashes by 75 percent at intersections where stop signs or signals were previously used for traffic control.”

Love them or hate them, Michigan lefts and roundabouts are here to stay, with other states such as North Carolina and Louisiana  having already followed suit. Traffic is only projected to increase with new drivers joining the party daily and older drivers maintaining driving privileges longer. Sensible and cost effective traffic pattern changes are vital for growing cities, ensuring a lighter traffic burden for drivers and safer travels for pedestrians and cyclists. Engineers have found through evidence presented over time, the Michigan left and roundabouts are our best solution for happier, safer, urban residents.