The Chainlink

Incredibly unsafe Left Turn Green Light @ Chicago & Wells

There is an incredibly unsafe configuration of the left turn green light at Chicago onto Wells. At 99% of intersections in Chicago, the left turn green light happens before the actual full on green light cycle for that street. This is not the case at Chicago/wells where the green left turn light happens after straightbound traffic gets a red light! 

I cant be the only cyclist who watches the light turn red the opposite direction and then start moving. Yes I was wrong for doing so but when you are riding into a 40 mph headwind and just about every other light in Chicago has the left turn light in the beginning of the cycle and not at the end, one is not expecting that. I’m sure that I’m not the first cyclist that this has Encountered this and also pedestrians crossing the street must be perplexed at this situation as well!

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Of course you must be observant and never assume when on the road.

My point is, that it would be valuable to all users of the road if there was uniformity in traffic device design which would lend to safety due to its predictability. 

Conversely, though, this shows how supposed predictability breeds dangerous behavior as well.  I'm just as guilty, so trust me I'm not throwing stones, but the danger happened here because a road user (in this instance the cyclist) tried to get a jump start on the light cycle based on how he thought they'd work.  The rub is nothing is ever 100% predictable.  Light cycles get re-timed fairly often, things malfunction, etc.  In other words, the whole "predictability" point cuts both ways, as people start to naturally think they're safe to cheat the system (and in reality they're not safe to do it ever).   

And for the record, I guess it depends where you ride, but these sort of "green arrow to clear intersection" scenarios aren't as uncommon as people thing, both in Chicago and in other cities.  I actually think there should be more when you look at the common traffic back up scenarios people see in the loop and other areas.        

There is such a uniformity, and it is codified in the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices. 'Uniformity' does not mean doing the same thing everywhere - different circumstances, whether of road design or traffic volume or whatever - call for different treatments to problems. In some circumstances, leading turn signals are better and in others it is the opposite. 

Out of curiosity David, have you ever made a mistake in any sort of traffic because something is out of the ordinary?

Yes, I'm sure I have. 

Just to make it clear, which direction are you heading?

Northbound on Wells. Chicago had the green turn signal after the chicago direction had a red light.

It's not horribly uncommon. The light at Halsted and Broadway does the same.  I would wait out the light and watch shoalers creep out or pull into the oncoming turners and hear the horns wail.  You gotta wait for your signal.

The left-turn arrow on Clark at Irving Park was changed from the beginning to the end of the green last year. I preferred the arrow at the beginning, as it was a cue that the green light was coming up. Another reason for the arrow at the end of the green is so to let left-turning cars that are mixed in with thru traffic get up to and in line and form a queue in preparation for the left turn arrow. If the arrow is before the green, those cars would be backed up in line with the through traffic. But of course the danger is those going straight running the yellow lights.

The anticipation  can  be as dangerous as the change  from  the perceived routine.  On  Lincoln there is a  routine for which street gets the  green  light.  As I  travel  on  Liincoln, which  runs on an angle and  my light  turns red, the  east/west goes and  then  the north/south goes. However, there are two intersections where that is  flipped and  anticipation can  be deadly at those intersections. Yes,  I  sometimes start to  move early,  but  have  learned to  slow my roll. The  good  news is you survived and now know what  to do the next time you are  at Chicago/Wells.

The fault is your's not the design of the intersection. Your signal to go is the green light (or, if we're being flexible, the pedestrian signal on your side of the street), not the cross signal going red.

I agree that the cycle is unusual and I've made the mistake of thinking that I was about to get the green at that intersection when, in fact, I was not. Sorry people are giving you a hard time in this thread, though I also see their point. As David Barish put it, the good news is, now you know. :) And as someone else recommended, you could reach out to the alderman's office--would be interesting if you received a substantive response.



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