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Your Guide to Turning Left When There's a Median

Thursday, January 23, 2014 - 02:08 PM

A classic driving conundrum: When turning left off a street with a wide median, can you continue to drive after you've turned? If that question didn't make sense, take a look at the picture below. What do you do?

The intersection of 110th St. and Broadway in Manhattan

(image from google maps)

On Thursday's Brian Lehrer Show, former NYC Traffic Commissioner "Gridlock" Sam Schwartz took on the question he says he's "probably one of a handful of people in the city" qualified to answer. And that answer is... GO FOR IT!

According to Schwartz, the law states that as long as the median is less than 30ft wide, you can continue to drive once you've made the turn -- even if the light you're now facing is red. Many of NYC's medians are less than 30ft wide, and many NYC drivers mistakenly think they have to come to a full stop and wait for their new light to turn green.

Here's that intersection, again, annotated.

(thanks to Jessica Miller for annotating the picture)

Below, a simple step-by-step process for determining whether you can keep driving after you've turned left across a median:

  • Make sure the light is green.
  • If the light is green, put your car in park and put on the flashers.
  • Get out of the car with a tape measure and measure the width of the median.
  • Get back in the car, turn off your flashers and, if the light is still green, make the left turn.
  • If the median is more than 30ft wide, stop.
  • If the median is less than 30ft wide, you can proceed. It doesn't matter if the light is red or green.
  • Check to see if there are other cars or pedestrians in the way. You still have to yield to them. This really matters.

Listen to Sam Schwartz explain the maneuver in the audio above. Hear his full segment on NYC's dangerous intersections on the Brian Lehrer Show here. You can also find another explanation in his book Gridlock Sam's Traffic Conundrums. Here's a PDF of that explanation.

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Comments [8]

Bryan

I was unfamiliar with the 30 foot rule until today. Yesterday I got a ticket at 84th and Broadway for going through a red light while sitting in the median. Looking on Google maps it looks like the median is about 20 feet across - to me it was just like a normal left turn.

Having seen this - and an article on the NY Times from a few years ago I'm thinking of pleading non-guilty, but wondering how much hassle and what the odds of winning are.

Feb. 16 2014 01:34 PM
jooltman

Please list the streets with medians more than 30 feet wide. There can't be that many.

Jan. 24 2014 10:32 PM
Carole Bahou from Upper West side


I have lived for many years nearby to the Broadway/ West 96th St intersection where three
fatal accidents occurred recently, not to mention another child who was killed during the summer
when a car went up onto the sidewalk where she was standing.

In addition to whatever design flaws may exist, the congestion at the crossing involving both traffic
and pedestrians is simply overwhelming . The character of the entire neighborhood has
changed due to the rapid over development and the resulting increase in foot traffic.
Add that to the usual aggression and haste of the average New Yorker, and the relentless visual
attention devoted to electronic toys rather than the surrounding activity, and you
have a witch's brew regarding safety.

I nonetheless appreciate Assemblyman O'Donnell's attempts to improve the situation. But does
safety ever pre-empt entertainment or haste in our town?

Jan. 24 2014 09:47 AM
bob

i would- and have never- continue through. one, theres almost always oncoming traffic and two its just way to sketchy to go through that obvious red light. it seems like you should just stop and wait like the other 3 cars tring to fi. what nyc really needs is the more modern and prevalent turning lanes with arrow lights. makes left turns much safer and speeds up the process even though its an extra step in the light procedure. like the other three cabs turning left trying to fit in the median space so as not to block traffic.

Jan. 24 2014 12:15 AM

A fully annotated map would be handy…

Jan. 23 2014 07:57 PM
frank from Brooklyn

Err, yes the median on Park Ave is less than 30 feet. Its closer to 15.

Jan. 23 2014 07:49 PM
Mitch from Woodside

I lived on Broadway, in the low 90s, for several years. If I had a dollar for each accident I witnessed from my window, I'd be a wealthy man.

The problem, there, is that the visibility of the oncoming traffic (the leftmost lane, especially) is very poor.

Jan. 23 2014 04:15 PM
Lincoln from Woodside, NY

Is the median on Park Ave. less than 30 feet?

Jan. 23 2014 03:56 PM

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