Left-turn scofflaws plague Longwood

By Christina Pazzanese
Globe Correspondent / March 29, 2009
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Perhaps it's the naturally hectic pace of hospitals or the high concentration of medical businesses clustered in one small section of the city. Whatever the reason, GlobeWatch seems to receive a lot of complaints about traffic in the Longwood Medical Area.

Tipster Margaret Livingstone, who has been commuting to the Longwood area for 35 years, says traffic there is much worse and driving more dangerous than it ought to be, especially on Brookline Avenue between 3 and 6 p.m., when most hospital workers head home.

"For years I have been concerned about driver behavior at the intersection of the Riverway and Brookline Ave.," Livingstone writes in an e-mail. "Brookline Ave. westbound [inbound] gets a leading green light for turning left onto southbound Riverway; when the eastbound traffic on Brookline Ave. gets a green light, the traffic turning left onto Riverway continues to turn left for many cars (sometimes up to 10 cars just keep turning in front of the cars trying to go straight through the intersection in the opposite direction). Thus, at every light change, there is a game of "chicken" going on - the cars trying to go straight (eastward on Brookline) just have to force their way into the line of cars continuing to turn left into oncoming traffic," writes Livingstone.

"I see frequent accidents at this intersection, and I bet they are all from traffic continuing to turn left even though the straight-going traffic has a green light, and the right-of-way. This is stupid. The left turn should be delayed, not leading, so this won't happen. It is also dangerous for the hundreds of pedestrians working at the Longwood Medical Area who try to walk straight across on the southside sidewalk of Brookline Ave., because the left-turners, desperately rushing to turn before the straight-going traffic gets up its courage, never look for pedestrians."

On a lunchtime visit to the intersection by a Globe reporter last week, the left-turn signal on Brookline Avenue seemed quite brief, only about 3 or 4 seconds long. Though traffic was relatively light at that time, a number of drivers queued up still felt compelled to launch into a left turn well after the turn signal had gone dark and drivers in the oncoming lane now had the right of way.

The city responds
City officials watched cars at this intersection last Wednesday afternoon and did see drivers "cheating towards the end of the turn signal," said James Gillooly, deputy commissioner of the Boston Transportation Department. Gillooly noted that between the hours of 2:30 and 8:30 p.m., the left-turnarrow extends to 14 or 15 seconds long to accommodate for the higher volume of vehicles. But he conceded that still may not be long enough, given the frequency of violators. Gillooly said the department will continue to monitor traffic to see if the signal's timing needs adjustment and he will also ask department engineers to consider Livingstone's suggestion about changing the sequence so that the left-turn arrow comes after the all-green phase. Since the Riverway is managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation, traffic enforcement is done by the State Police. Gillooly said he'll notify them about the problem with left-turn sneaks.

WHO'S IN CHARGE Thomas J. Tinlin
Commissioner, Boston Transportation Department
1 City Hall Square,
Room 721
Boston, MA 02201-2026

Look for future GlobeWatch columns in the Globe's Metro section. E-mail

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