When Cars Can’t Go Straight: A Turn for the Worse?

Dear Street Smart:

A disconcerting feature of traffic life is the increasing number of intersections where you are prohibited from going straight ahead but are allowed to turn left or right. Cars on the cross street, meanwhile, are allowed to turn onto the street you are not allowed to enter.

For example, heading north on Flower Street in Santa Ana, you are not allowed to continue past 17th Street, and instead must turn right or left onto 17th. Those coming either way on 17th Street, however, may turn north on Flower.

This sort of thing appears to be spreading. Was there some court decision that allows them to do this? Are we now to have a crazy quilt of regulations for intersections? How is Thomas Brothers going to indicate all this on their maps, so that we can figure out how to get there from here? What is going on?


Howard Ahmanson


These sorts of traffic diversions can indeed be aggravating to the average motorist, but there is a reason. In most cases, authorities have resorted to such tactics to steer heavy traffic away from residential neighborhoods.

Take the case of Flower Street. Residents in the neighborhood to the north of 17th Street complained of being bombarded by traffic each morning and afternoon as motorists traveled to and from the Santa Ana Civic Center a few blocks to the south.

Eager to find a solution to the residents’ troubles, Santa Ana officials in the mid-1980s resorted to a series of changes in the street setup to push traffic off the neighborhood streets and onto nearby commercial arterials such as Bristol and Main streets, said T.C. Sutaria, a city traffic operations engineer.

Among the key alterations was the establishment of the “turn only” lanes off of both northbound Flower and Ross streets. A sign denotes that northbound motorists must make a turn and white arrows painted on the pavement stress the same point. As you say, these regulations divert northbound motorists onto 17th Street, but allow those traveling on the cross street to turn onto either Flower or Ross.

The setup was challenged in court by residents who were irritated that they had to shift their driving patterns to get through the neighborhood. A Superior Court judge ruled against the city, saying the changes were arbitrary and capricious. But an appellate court later reversed that decision, permitting the new traffic management setup to remain in place.

As a result, there has been between a 10% and 25% drop in traffic through the neighborhood, Sutaria said.

The tactic seems to be spreading as cities grapple with the conflicting goals of keeping traffic moving while trying to maintain peace within residential neighborhoods. Santa Ana recently approved a similar traffic diversion scheme at Washington and Flower streets. Other cities have also used such diverters.

Thomas Brothers, meanwhile, would be hard pressed to put the sort of detail into its maps required to show such Byzantine traffic setups. The mapping firm uses arrows to denote one-way streets, but the intricacies of the diverters would prove far too complex for a map book page.

Dear Street Smart:

I live just off the intersection of Red Hill Hill and Irvine Boulevard in an unincorporated area of Tustin. The signal at that very busy intersection is equipped with a left-turn arrow. Only one time in two years have I ever seen the arrow in operation. Is there some reason why this left turn signal does not operate? How does one go about finding whose jurisdiction this problem falls into? Is it the city of Tustin? Caltrans? The county?

The intersection is very busy and cars needing to make left turns often find it nearly impossible, or they take dangerous chances after the signal has entered the “caution” phase, hoping that an oncoming car will not try to beat the signal.

Problem No. 2: The street light at the corner of Red Hill and Cameo Drive has not operated properly for more than a year. Into whose jurisdiction do such street lights fall? Once again, this is unincorporated area and it is difficult for the layman to know whom to call. For example, do we need pole numbers or will the street location suffice?

Charles D. Clark


Let’s start with street lights. When balky, these should be reported to the local electric company, according to Steven M. Hogan, county transportation division manager. In the case of Tustin and most other cities in the county, that would be Southern California Edison. But some cities, such as Santa Ana, own and maintain the 1900s-style street lights that remain a fixture on certain streets. The best place to start in those cases is usually the city public works agency.

That seemingly sub-par signal light at Red Hill and Irvine Boulevard is another matter entirely. It may appear to be a malfunctioning mechanism, but the light is actually performing just the way it is supposed to, according to Sandra Doubleday, a traffic engineering consultant for Tustin.

Known as a “permissive-protective” signal, the light offers up a green arrow only when enough cars queue up in the turn pocket. Otherwise, the motorists must wait for oncoming traffic to clear the intersection before turning.