Massachusetts may have its rotary, and New Jersey is filled with jughandles, but Michigan has an asphalt anomaly all its own: the “Michigan Left” is a means of replacing bothersome left turns with a U-turn that follows the intersection.
At first glance these “intersection enhancements” might seem daunting, but much like a roller coaster, once you’ve gone through, they are no longer scary.
Navigating a Michigan Left
If you’re the type of person to panic when the road in front of you suddenly changes, you can relax. The Michigan Left is actually much easier than it looks. If you’re turning left from the divided highway, simply drive past your intersection, make a U-Turn in the “median crossover,” merge over to the right, make a right turn, and be on your way.
Where Did It Come From?
It turns out (bad pun, sorry) that these bizarre-looking turnarounds were created in the pursuit of Michigan driver improvement. Motorists attempting to turn left found themselves watching the seasons change as they waited for a safe opportunity to do so. As a response to this, the Michigan Left was first implemented in 1960, to manage an increase in gridlock and traffic-related accidents throughout Michigan’s many divided highways.
Making Michigan Drivers Safer
When North Carolina University conducted a study on the Michigan Left, they discovered that the Michigan Left can actually improve travel time by 20%. With no need for the “green arrow” phase of the stoplight cycle, traffic flow becomes much smoother. Not surprisingly, North Carolina has since adopted the Michigan Left on some of their own freeways.
In addition to the time-saving element, these quirky turns are actually proven to be safer, as they can reduce the amount of traffic, and thus the amount of traffic-related accidents. The Federal Highway Administration has found a major reduction in left-turn collisions and a minor reduction in merging accidents. It’s even proven to be a safer alternative for pedestrians!
Much like the roundabout and the jughandle, public response was lukewarm at best. But once Michigan residents got used to the concept, it was embraced with a “locals-only” sort of pride. After all, not every state gets to claim such a unique traffic solution as its own.
And yet, despite its efficiency and success with Michigan driver improvement, other states have been slow to adopt the Michigan Left for themselves (a few states have dabbled, and Arizona claims to be “considering” it). The biggest complaint the Michigan Left receives, apart from the first-time confusion, is that the turnarounds could be up to ¼ mile away, meaning that motorists are driving an extra ½ mile just to make a left. That’s a small price to pay for overall efficiency and increased safety—just ask Massachusetts and New Jersey.