Getting There: Questions about right turns on red
By Scott Gutierrez
Mike Pearson wonders when the Seattle Department of Transportation plans to install a sign to prevent drivers from making a questionable maneuver at Wallingford Avenue North and North 80th Street, just before Green Lake.
Heading south on Wallingford Avenue, the street jogs about 20 feet to the right at the intersection. When the light is red, some drivers will stop and turn right, and then make an immediate left turn back onto Wallingford as a way of skipping the red light. “Almost every day you see someone make a ‘right’ turn on red followed by sitting and blocking traffic waiting to make their left turn to continue on Wallingford,” Pearson writes. “If I remember correctly, someone from the city had stated that they were going to put into place some signage prohibiting this action.”
He continues: “I don’t remember if they were going to just flat-out prohibit the right on red there, or if there was going to be specific signage prohibiting the jog to try to continue southbound on Wallingford Avenue. At any rate, there are still no signs, and there are still a lot of people jamming traffic by trying to avoid waiting at the light.”
The Seattle Department of Transportation plans to install a “No-turn-on-red” sign this summer next to the signal on the southbound side of the intersection, said Eric Widstrand, city traffic engineer. SDOT estimates it will improve safety at the intersection without affecting efficiency.
Even without the sign, making that maneuver on the red light could result in a ticket under multiple city traffic codes and at the very least, is unsafe.
The traffic law that best applies here is Seattle Municipal Code SMC 11.55.140, which says: “No person shall make a left turn between intersections on any street when such left turn delays or stops any vehicle traveling in the same street or the opposite direction on the street, or when such left turn endangers or is likely to endanger any person or vehicle on the street.”
Turning right onto 80th when the light is red and stopping to turn left to continue on Wallingford could unsafely impede traffic that’s approaching from the west on 80th, and potentially impedes northbound traffic on Wallingford that is turning left from a protected left turn on the south side of the intersection.
Seattle police Detective Jeff Kappel, a police spokesman, said the overarching principle is drivers shouldn’t make a maneuver unless its reasonable, prudent and safe. “I think you could always argue that it is not reasonably safe to be turning with all that’s going on right there,” Kappel said.
Another way it creates a traffic hazard is that the left-turning driver may have a harder time seeing and determining if vehicles approaching from the west on 80th Street are going to turn right onto Wallingford. SMC 11.53.100 says drivers must not move between lanes until they have “first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety. And SMC 11.55.080 says the driver “intending to turn to the left shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction which is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.”