Rules of the Road:

Posted on : Jan. 5, 2014 Updated on : Jan. 5, 2014 in: Tips .

Which lanes do you use turning from Chestnut onto Ellis?

Question: At the stoplight on the corner of Chestnut and Ellis streets in downtown Bellingham, there are two left-turn lanes on Chestnut Street for cars turning north onto Ellis Street. However, there are three lanes on Ellis Street, so which are the appropriate two lanes for cars to turn onto? Is it the left and middle lanes, or the middle and right lanes?

I would assume you turn into the left and middle lanes, as it should be assumed that "extra" lanes on a road would always be added from the outside. Is that correct? I have had several near misses here as cars in both lanes turn left but then carelessly merge right to get into the right-turn lane for Lakeway Drive.

Answer: You are correct in your belief that cars turning should turn into the left and middle lanes of the roadway. The following RCW explains it in legal terms, but your description says the same thing.

RCW 46.61.290, Required position and method of turning at intersections (2) Left turns. The driver of a vehicle intending to turn left shall approach the turn in the extreme left-hand lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the direction of travel of the vehicle. Whenever practicable the left turn shall be made to the left of the center of the intersection and so as to leave the intersection or other location in the extreme left-hand lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the same direction as the vehicle on the roadway being entered. As in many rules, there are exceptions. There are some intersections where it is signed and striped to show a different movement (Sunset Drive and Barkley Boulevard for one example).

 Q: I am a teacher and am aware of most schools in the area. I also follow school zone speed limits very closely, however, one school zone has me stumped. On Fraser Street down behind Civic Field there is a school zone yet I can't find a school anywhere. In fact the nearest school I know of is Carl Cozier Elementary, which is quite a ways from there. Was there a school in the area that is no longer there?

A: No, as you observed, the closest school is Carl Cozier. The school zone is in that area due to the large number of students who live in the area and walk to school. This is one of the "Safe Routes to School" that was marked and signed by the city of Bellingham and the state of Washington several years ago.


Rules of the Road is a regular column with questions and answers on road laws, safe driving habits and general police practices.

Answers come from David Wright, a retired officer from the Bellingham Police Department who is now serving on the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force.

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