• Defensive Driving Rule #57: Avoid "Reverse Traffic" Lanes

    Some cities designate the center lane of some major streets as "Reverse Traffic Lanes." These are used during rush hours to help move traffic that is predominantly headed in one direction. Here's an example: in Phoenix, Arizona, 7th Avenue has a normal center two-way left-turn lane between Northern Avenue and McDowell Road (a total of 6 miles). But during the morning rush hour (6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.), that center lane is designated only for southbound travel as commuters head into the downtown area to begin their workday. Later, from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., this lane is used only by northbound traffic as these same people head back north toward their homes. These lanes help keep traffic moving when the normal number of lanes would not be enough, and traffic would choke. So, you'd think they'd be a good thing. But I advise people NOT to use them, or if they do use them, to be aware of the increased dangers.

    First of all, driving in a reverse traffic lane puts you in extremely close proximity to oncoming traffic -- with no buffer between you and it. These lanes are often narrower than what you normally find, and driving in them can cost you a side view mirror -- or worse.

    Second, these lanes are designated for use only during specific times. Let's say, for example, that use of a particular reverse traffic lane begins at 7:00 a.m. (hours of use are usually designated by overhead signage). When was the last time you synchronized your watch with all the other expert drivers on the street? Uh-huh, I didn't think so! Left turns are usually prohibited at intersections or altogether when these lanes are in use. So, it is 7:01 a.m. on YOUR Swiss chronograph, but on the other guy's "flea market special" it is 6:59 a.m. Might you two have a misunderstanding about him making a left-turn from the lane?

    You might be blithely tooling down the lane when some other soul -- someone suffering from terminal tunnel vision and oblivious to the signage AND the time --suddenly remembers he wants to make a left turn and whips into what he thinks is a center left-turn lane. He does this at the same time YOU are thinking it is the reverse traffic high speed lane. You (and your Hummer) try to become a hood ornament on his Cutlass Supreme. You fail, and unfortunately end up somewhere in the vicinity of his trunk.

    Reverse traffic lanes were a good try at an efficient method of moving traffic without having to widen some streets and maybe condemning some private property in the process. Maybe they've saved cities some funds they really needed to use for other projects. But there are too many confused souls behind the wheels of automobiles, and the ambiguities associated with these lanes make them a poor bet for a defensive driver. The city of Tucson used to have a few of reverse-traffic lanes, but they recently eliminated their last one. Phoenix is still clinging to the idea, but I have hopes they will eventually put a stop to their use and convert the two streets back to standard two-way left-turn lanes. Meanwhile, I'll stay in one of the other lanes and that much further out of harm's way.