Misuse of right turn lane is driving motorist crazy


September 19, 1994

Proof that the fundamental fabric of society is unraveling: A lane is marked "right turn only," but traffic frequently doesn't turn.


This is utter foolishness, chaos, anarchy, Baltimore.

David L. Smith of Halethorpe recently brought this troubling situation to our attention. He found it at the intersection of Howard and Read streets near the state office complex in Baltimore.

"When turning off Martin Luther King Boulevard onto Read Street there is a lane designated for right turn only onto Howard Street," Mr. Smith writes. "However, many motorists choose to use this lane to proceed on to Read Street which presents the situation of two vehicles attempting to enter the one lane on Read Street at the same time."

"You must constantly be on your guard. I believe some people do this so as not to have to wait in a line of cars using the correct lane.

"Perhaps a clearer designation of the overhead sign that the right turn only lane is for Howard Street would help."

Well, Mr. Smith, your complaint shook up the Baltimore Department of Public Works. Traffic engineers observed the intersection and confirmed exactly what you wrote to us.

"Our investigation revealed that while signing and pavement markers were proper, we need to add a 'Howard Street Only' sign for the far right lane," says Vanessa Pyatt, the department's spokeswoman.

That sign should be installed in a week or two, she tells us. After that, it will be up to the police to enforce the traffic laws.

Mrs. Pyatt admits that the department would never have realized the problem if it hadn't been for Mr. Smith's letter, a compliment we believe he deserves to read.

Right on red during arrows?

Eleanor Altvater just needs to be pointed in the right direction.

At the southern exit from Marley Station Mall to Ritchie Highway, there are two right turn lanes controlled by signal arrows, including red arrows to indicate stop.

Easy enough. But when the Millersville resident stops for the red arrows she is not sure whether she can turn. Right-on-red rules don't have much to say about arrows.

"We really need a sign posted that says, 'Red arrows mean stop,' " she writes. "I can't tell you how many people get angry when I stop. They even go to my left to get around me and then make all kinds of gestures."

Ms. Altvater notes that the eastbound right-turners are sometimes in conflict with westbound vehicles making a left onto southbound Ritchie from the opposite side of the divided highway (exiting from a large garden apartment complex across from the mall.)

"But then maybe I'm all wrong about that red arrow. If I am, it shouldn't be there at all."

Well, yes and no. Intrepid Commuter can state with complete confidence that it's perfectly legal to turn right on a red arrow after stopping -- provided you first yield to traffic as you must with any right-on-red.

Mike Ulrich, a State Highway Administration engineer in Anne Arundel County, reminds us that no one MUST turn right on red. It's merely an option available to you.

Further, he tells us there are definite problems with that intersection. Many right-turners aren't looking out for traffic from the apartment complex.

The conflict between the left-turners and right-turners is aggravated by the fact that just south of Marley Station is the exit for westbound Route 100.

To top it off, the presence of two right-turn lanes means cars in the curb lane sometimes can't get a good look at Ritchie traffic.

"With all these things thrown into one," Mr. Ulrich says, "we've decided to make it a no-turn-on-red intersection."

VTC Mr. Ulrich says the intersection will be posted in 30 days. He doesn't expect the loss of the right-on-red to have much impact on Marley Station.

The red arrows will stay, however. They permit traffic leaving Marley Station to turn right while northbound Ritchie Highway traffic simultaneously turns left into the shopping mall.

License plate alphabet puzzle

What's the significance of the letters HC, HD, and HP?

Alert city resident V. I. Sorgen correctly notes that the handicapped license plates end with one of those three combinations of letters preceded by five numbers. But how does the Motor Vehicle Administration decide who gets which code?

"Can you enlighten me as to the difference?" Reader Sorgen writes. "I'm guessing at 'handicapped car or driver or passenger' but it's not very logical."

"And while we're at it, how about "DR" with no handicap attached?"

OK. IC is only too happy to answer both Qs. For guidance, we sought out J. P. Lang, longtime spokesman for the MVA.

Mr. Lang confirms that all three are unique to handicapped licenses, and they are abbreviations for the word, "handicapped." They are intended to reinforce the idea that a disabled person uses the vehicle and is entitled to park in marked spaces.

HC came first. It was issued in 1979. But by 1991, the MVA had exhausted all 99,999 in the series so the agency started using HD.

HP was started the same year. The MVA needed a combination for the then-new Chesapeake Bay license plates.

As of this past week, 9,200 Bay plates with the handicapped designation and 33,000 of the standard license plate with the HD combination have been issued. There are more than 70,000 handicapped plates in circulation.

The unrelated combination, DR, stands for "daily rental." The state no longer issues tags with that code out of fear that tourists will be targeted by criminals.

You may still see cars with those letters, however, because not all car rental companies have replaced their old plates.

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