Saturday, April 4, 2009

A Right Turn

In my opinion, it is time to start rethinking the way that we as a society go about doing everything. There is a problem with the amount of energy that we waste. From lights to the efficiency of our appliances to the miles per gallon our cars get. I believe every sector of energy has places where they can improve, and luckily there are some very easy ways to fix them, such as use Compact Flourescent Lights (CFLs) instead of incandescent, high efficiency water heaters, and reducing idling when traveling.

The Brookshaven National Laboratory website’s section entitled ”Auto Air Pollution Reduction Tips” states “a car uses less fuel when you turn off and restart [the] engine than letting [the] engine idle…” ( I found an interesting way that one company found to reduce the amount of time idling: avoid making left turns. ABC covered a story about how the United Parcel Service (UPS) “UPS plots its delivery routes to make as many right turns as possible” which presumably minimizes the amount of time the company’s trucks are idling at a left turn ( The article cites that the trucks are turning right 90% of the time, which saves approximately “three million gallons of fuel” ( That is a considerable amount, especially since gas prices when the article was written (April 2007) were above $3/gallon.

Granted these are amazing numbers, but you should realize that the company has a distinct interest in saving gas because their business revolves around driving. UPS has invested in “computers, codes and programming that allows them to plot out right-turn routes in minutes,” as well as a wealth of experience in finding the best routes ( It is also apparent to me that optimizing each individual citizen routes for the variety of trips that they take would be nearly impossible. It would definitely be a bad allocation of financial and computing resources.

Can we redesign the way we are constructing transportation route though to decrease the idling at left turns for the average citizen? How often do you find yourself sitting at a protected left turn, which is red even though no one is traveling the opposite direction? I suggest we begin incorporating traffic circles into our transportation designs. They are already in common use in many other countries (Australia, and Europe). Traffic circles, when used properly, allow drivers to not need to stop no matter which direction they are going. I believe that some intersections, specifically high traffic intersections, should still utilize traffic signals. But how difficult would it be to replace four way stops in new neighborhoods, and low traffic intersections into traffic circles, and taken on a whole could make a significant difference in decreasing idling among the public.



contango said...

I hate left turns and really like this post. In addition to the idling time that they cause for the person making the left turn, they also cause congestion and idling for the cars behind them. I would also expect that there are a lot of accidents caused by people making left turns which further increases congestion in addition to the injuries that may be caused.

While New Orleans is not exactly a good example of how to plan a city, they did get one thing right. Any one who has spent any time there probably does not remember making many left turns. Generally you have to make a u-turn a little ways past. The large esplanades that are pervasive in NO make this more practical but it is an example of how this could work.

While banning left turns probably does not rank with the seven wedges to reduce GHG that we discussed in class, it would likely help while making peoples lives a little better in the mean time. Thanks for getting me thinking about this.

Liane Miller said...

I spent the last two summers in Europe (France and Scotland) and encountered many roundabouts. Intersections can be very frustrating, especially at odd times of the day when there aren't many people on the road and you end up waiting at lights for no one. Roundabouts completely avoid that problem. Also, you don't have to worry about what happens when there's an electrical problem and the traffic lights go out-that's always a nightmare. I think more roundabouts in the US would be a great idea.

Click Tappet said...

In some parts of the country, when new lights are added or street improvements around intersections are made, they add sensors to the lights. That way, at night, when traffic doesn't follow some pattern, the sensor detects the weight of a vehicle waiting to make a left turn or go straight and changes the light accordingly. That way, main flow can remain largely uninterrupted but idling time at the light is minimized. The same sensors can be used to do things like not activate protected left turn lights when no one is waiting in that lane, or activate them at the end of a cycle instead of the beginning if someone approaches.

Roundabouts are difficult in America because sometimes they are executed incorrectly or signed poorly (case in point, the roundabout on Riverside in front of the Long Center) and most Americans are quite unfamiliar with driving through them and sometimes get confused or stuck and cause accidents.

As for the idea of encouraging people to change their driving to incorporate more right turns or a route optimized for minimum fuel consumption; it would be pretty easy to implement in a portable GPS system or on something like Google Maps. Already a lot of online mapping/directions services allow you to choose options like 'Avoid highways' or 'Fastest route'. Similarly, they could use historical traffic data that Google and many DOTs collect, as well as route planning, such as including more right turns, to create a 'Minimize fuel consumption' option. Additionally, portable GPS units, which also include these kind of mapping and route planning capabilities, could include this feature as an option, potentially through a simple software update, preventing users from having to buy a new unit to add this functionality. No, it doesn't have the power of tracking previous consumption and it doesn't have data like other people who have driven the same route in the same car at the same time, but it could still reduce overall fuel consumption.