Two channelized right turns make the intersection at North and Gottingen unpleasant and less safe for pedestrians.  (Image via Google Maps)
Two channelized right turns make the intersection at North and Gottingen unpleasant and less safe for pedestrians.  (Image via Google Maps)

Because it’s en route to my kid’s school, I cross the intersection at North and Gottingen Streets roughly four times a day, and it is hands-down the most stressful 75 metres of the kilometre-long commute. I hadn’t really considered why that was until a transportation planner from Toronto named it for me: channelized right turns.

Sometimes also known as slip lanes, channelized right turns help right-turning vehicles essentially by-pass the traffic control at an intersection. In doing so, they create extra islands for pedestrians between the newly created lane and the main intersection. (The islands are sometimes referred to as pork chops, because of their shape). Channelized turns tend to speed up traffic, which is exactly what they’re designed to do: increase the capacity of a road by moving vehicles through intersections faster.

But vehicle traffic gain brings pedestrian pain. Not only do pedestrians have to zig zag their way across the street, but they will find themselves crossing roads where vehicles are moving fast and not even required to stop. It can be nerve-wracking and dangerous.

Rod McPhail remembers being surprised at the number of channelized turns he saw when he first moved to Halifax a year ago. The former head of transportation planning for the city of Toronto moved here last June to take on Halifax’s first-ever Integrated Mobility Plan, a 15-year multi-modal transportation plan due at council’s transportation committee on July 26. “The number of channelized intersections is something that hit me right in the head,” says McPhail. “I just thought, wow, these are being removed from most major cities.”

But in Halifax, channelized right turns are everywhere, because our road design rules have required them at any major intersection. “You just get used to them. You don’t even notice them because they’ve always been there,” says McPhail.

Four channelized right turn lanes at Main Street and Caledonia/Woodlawn Road in Dartmouth.
One large channelized right turn at Cole Harbour Road and Caldwell/Dorothea Drive.

Right now Halifax has over 100 channelized right turns, and McPhail figures a much smaller number are actually warranted.

“I’d say there’s a couple of places in Halifax where the capacity requires them, or [they are needed to accommodate] the truck movement.” Larger trucks require wider turning radii, so if there’s enough truck traffic, such turns are warranted to keep trucks from using two lanes to make turns. “But at most intersections, that’s not the way of the future,” says McPhail.

And it may just be that we are turning the corner on channelized right turns. (Yeah, I know.)

When the city issued a request for proposals from consulting engineers to design a new transit corridor along Bayers Road, Young Street and Robie Street, the terms of reference included the constraint that “the channelization of right turning traffic will not be considered.” This means the removal of some channelized turns that are currently in place.

“I would say the majority of channelized right turns will be removed over time as the roads are reconstructed,” says McPhail.  Because removing the turn lanes requires re-aligned curbs, they won’t be taken out with “shave and pave” resurfacing work, but with larger road reconstruction projects, which work on a 15-20 year cycle.

The removal of channelized right turn lanes has not only the potential to make pedestrians safer, but it could also help the transit system be more reliable. Queue jump lanes are short dedicated bus lanes around intersections that help get buses through traffic faster, and the space required for them is similar to that required for some channelized turns.  “When you look at channelized right turn lanes, most of them are on busy roads that have bus routes,” says McPhail. “What a great time to put in a queue jump lane, if it’s warranted.”

This channelized right turn at Robie and Young will likely not be included in plans for a transit corridor.
Two channelized right turns at Bayers Road and Connaught may also go under a new transit corridor plan.

The best news? The move to exclude channelized right turns from the future Bayers-Young-Robie transit corridor was not coming from McPhail, who is soon to move on to his next project, but from permanent city transportation planning staff. And even better, the exclusion came before the lengthy process to update and revise the municipal “Red Book” could get underway, much less finished. That’s a signal that our engineers and planners aren’t going to waste any more time building the city according to the old rules, and are ready to shift towards street design that is geared towards all users.

“What you’re seeing is a really positive movement,” says McPhail. “Clearly we’re done putting the emphasis on cars.”

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  1. I’m glad you’ve identified the proper name for these! Maybe I’ll sound like I have a clue of what I’m talking about next time I complain about them.

    My biggest pet peeve in the use of our public roads is the failure of drivers to make right turns in safety, usually by only looking left for traffic before entering the new street (often accompanied by rolling through stop signs) with nary a look to the right. Many thanks to all the drivers who come to a proper stop and look both ways! Allowing drivers to maintain speed by replacing a 90-degree angle with a driver-friendly curve and replacing a stop sign with a yield sign greatly increases the hazard to pedestrians. I’m really happy to hear there’s potential for some of these hazards to be eliminated.

    Speaking of drivers rolling through right turns only looking to their left for traffic, I hope HRP monitors the MacDonald Bridge on-ramp for Dartmouth-bound drivers when the pedestrian lane re-opens. I fear ~2.5 years without having to acknowledge the presence of pedestrians may have created bad (worse?) habits, regardless of the presence of a marked crosswalk and a traffic signal.

  2. I love learning about something I see every day but know nothing about! I hope these get turned into transit corridors. And I enjoyed the pun.