Q: Why are peopled allowed to turn left onto North Yakima Avenue from Division Avenue? Is the city ever planning to change that? Why are people inherently selfish?
A: I’ve heard some version of this rant from several people, especially those who live in the Stadium District.
I can’t answer why people are inherently selfish, but trust me, I’ve wondered it often myself. And I’ve wondered it while sitting at that intersection behind someone who’s trying to make the left from Division onto Yakima near Wright Park.
Unfortunately, according to the city of Tacoma’s traffic engineering group, the city isn’t planning on banning left turns onto Yakima at that intersection anytime soon. But they are planning some improvements that will come with the light rail extension, a Public Works spokeswoman told me.
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Here’s the scenario, for the uninitiated:
You’re driving northeast on Division and make it to the intersection near Rhein Haus, with Wright Park on your right. There are two lanes traveling in your direction. When the light turns green, you can continue straight on Division if you’re in the right lane, or easily make a slight left onto North 1st Street if you’re in the left lane. Both maneuvers have the right-of-way.
In the left lane you also can choose, if you hate everyone, to make a hard left onto North Yakima Avenue, causing all the cars in line behind you to wait while streams of traffic passes by in the opposite direction. It’s rare during rush hour or any busy-ish time of day that you’ll get an easy opportunity to make that left turn. Remember, if you’re trying it, you’re supposed to yield to oncoming traffic.
It would be easy enough to just continue with the flow of traffic onto North 1st and then turn left down a residential street to get to Yakima. But that’s beside the point. The turn is lawful, no matter how frustrating it might be to the drivers caught behind.
When the Tacoma Link Extension is built, bringing light rail from downtown Tacoma up through North 1st Street and then up to the Hilltop, there will be improvements made to that intersection, Tacoma traffic engineers said. Construction for that project begins this year.
“Once improvements are completed, there will still be occasional delays while drivers wait to turn left onto Yakima,” city staff said in an email. “The intersection improvements will not restrict any of the turns which are currently allowed, except when a train is approaching from the opposite direction. The lane configuration will stay the same with Link vehicles traveling along with traffic in the existing lanes.”
There is this: “New traffic signal equipment, including a flashing yellow arrow for left turns onto Yakima, will help make this intersection easier to understand and navigate for drivers.”
So the turn still will be allowed, but other than yielding for trains, it sounds like the only difference is there will be a flashing yellow arrow reminding Yakima left-turners to yield.