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Author Topic: Rural 3-lane roads: 1950s suicide lane, or modern efficient highway?  (Read 28559 times)

brianreynolds

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Please pardon if this one has already been discussed to death.

I remember from my own childhood when US-12 between Jackson and Ann Arbor (before I-94) was a three-lane road, with a center lane for passing purposes; each direction had equal access and rights to the center lane.  In concept, a noble notion.  In actual practice, there were predictably dire consequences.

About 10-12 years ago, I went on a vacation with my youngest son to Ontario.  We crossed at Sarnia, did the length of the Bruce Peninsula, took the ferry to Manitoulin Island, and ON-17 to Sault Ste. Marie, and then back home.  The ON-17 stretch is the subject of this post.

My recollection of this road (subject to confirmation) is that it was three-lane much or most of the way.  The critical difference was that every bit of the way was clearly marked as to which direction had the exclusive right to use the center lane.  IIRC (IIRC!) each passing portion was a mile or two long, then would alternate to the other side.

The beauty of this is that every motorist was assured that he (or she, no bias here) would only be stuck behind the pokey grandma (or grandpa, or gender-free young person, no bias here) for a predictably limited time, then have reliably sufficient opportunity to pass.  There would be no need and no incentive to take crazy chances.  I was suitably impressed.  This seemed to be a relatively low-cost alternative to four-lane divided highways.

However, I have not seen this used anywhere in the US.  Maybe that's because I am culturally deprived, live such a sheltered life, need to get out more and experience the real world.

Is this design being used where I have not seen it?

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3467

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The US 20 Illinois tollway in Midwest and the US 54 thread in Central states discuss the modern version and various threads have tried to find the reality of the suicide lane

The modern verion is an alternating passing lane. It has not been discussed to death. With current budget issues facing roads everywhere this along with 4 lane undivideds tolling and everything else need to be discussed.
I think they area good alternate to 4 lane divideds in low volume (under 8000 vpd) situations Missouri claims they are both safe and effective in these situations.
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NE2

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It's used in the U.S., though I can't think of anywhere off-hand.

3467: I don't think those allow passing in both directions at the same time.
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J N Winkler

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Is this design being used where I have not seen it?

The Swedes like it, but their engineering guidance (IIRC) stipulates that it is a bad choice for any two-lane road which is expected to exceed 12,000 VPD during its design life.  They also use center cable barriers and jughandles for left turns.
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The only 3 lane section of road I know of where both lanes can pass simultaneously is a short section of Old Stage Road in Chesterfield County, VA. In this photo, I was heading northbound.


(Edited to fix link)
« Last Edit: May 23, 2012, 11:44:37 PM by Takumi »
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That's interesting - usually you can only cross the centerline in the one-lane direction.
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3467

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You can look at the Google streetview of US 63 north of Houston MO
It has about 4000 vpd,the locals probably wanted an upgrade and MODOT said here try this!
Other parts of 63 seem to have 8-10 foot paved shoulders so it looks like MODOTS cost may have been line painting.
It seems to have worked for safety and speed so MODOT looks to be using these instead of 10 million a mile 4 lane divideds
I agree with JN Winkler this is not for high volumes but really seems ideal for lower volume rural arterials where local communities want something a little more than shoulders
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The only 3 lane section of road I know of where both lanes can pass simultaneously is a short section of Old Stage Road in Chesterfield County, VA. In this photo, I was heading northbound.
(Edited to fix link)

The Chickasaw Turnpike has a similar setup for a brief while.

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It's been removed with the four-laning of the highway, but US 63/167 north of Ruston, LA and south of the state line used to have very hilly areas, where an extra lane was added. High volumes, but no need then to four lane the highway. It was like a four-lane undivided highway, but one direction sacrificed the extra lane sometimes.

It looks like the above photo, but the dashed yellow line was a solid double line. Maybe it was because the area is very hilly, who knows?

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Mexico has a similar setup known as an A2 highway or 'supercarretera', as stated by kphoger:
A2 highways (called 'supercarreteras' in common parlance) are designed for this.  They have wide paved shoulders, and the shoulder line is a broken white line.  They are commonly constructed where traffic volume is too heavy for a simple two-laner but funds aren't available for a four-lane highway.  Some drivers have even developed the habit of riding the shoulder nonstop, I guess so they don't have to watch their mirrors.

Edit:  FYI, A2 highways are 7 meters from shoulder line to shoulder line, and have shoulders of 2.5 meters each.  That's a total width of 39 feet 4½ inches.  By comparison, the standard minimum width for one side of an Interstate highway in the U.S. is 38 feet of pavement (4-ft left shoulder, 12-foot lane, 12-foot lane, 10-foot right shoulder).  So there's plenty of room for three vehicles to pass by each other.  It still makes for a pretty cool picture, though, huh?
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Mapmikey

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Re: Rural 3-lane roads: 1950s suicide lane, or modern efficient highway?
« Reply #10 on: May 24, 2012, 09:45:22 AM »

Virginia had this set up all over at one point.

US 1 still had this near the NC line as late as 2004:
 

There is a picture of US 11 from the 1944 official where it appears the suicide is a real possibility with a curve right there (no pic on line to point to at this time...)

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1995hoo

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Re: Rural 3-lane roads: 1950s suicide lane, or modern efficient highway?
« Reply #11 on: May 24, 2012, 10:03:44 AM »

It's been removed with the four-laning of the highway, but US 63/167 north of Ruston, LA and south of the state line used to have very hilly areas, where an extra lane was added. High volumes, but no need then to four lane the highway. It was like a four-lane undivided highway, but one direction sacrificed the extra lane sometimes.

It looks like the above photo, but the dashed yellow line was a solid double line. Maybe it was because the area is very hilly, who knows?

That sounds more like a "climbing lane," sometimes called a "slow truck lane," and I'm sure it's a lot more common than the scenario the other folks are discussing in which traffic from either side can use the third lane. I know the third lane without a passing zone is very common on some of the "Super 2"–style routes in Nova Scotia, for example. You'll be going up a hill and your side of the road will have two lanes, the other side will have one lane, and there won't be a passing zone for traffic heading the other way. When you think about it, you realize there's less need for passing zones in areas where there are frequent climbing lanes because the climbing lanes help solve the problem of providing room to get past. (In Canada truck and RV drivers will often pull partway onto the paved shoulder to help people pass, but that's uncommon in the US.)


The picture Mapmikey posted strikes me as being a slightly different scenario from the ones Scott5114 and Takumi posted because of the ramifications of the line colors as it relates to who has to yield the right-of-way. That is, in the pictures Scott5114 and Takumi posted I notice there's one set of white lane markings and one set of yellow. I believe that would indicate that the two lanes on either side of those white lines are intended primarily for traffic going in a particular direction and that traffic going the other way may pass across the yellow line only when the way is clear (much like any normal passing zone). If you pull out across the yellow line to pass and then you see someone coming the other way, you're required to move back over, whereas if you pull across the white line to pass you're entitled to expect someone passing the other way to move back over. But in the picture Mapmikey posted (which presents a scenario that was fairly common in Southside Virginia for many years) both lines are yellow, which seems to imply that the center lane would operate on a first-come first-served basis because nobody is entitled to demand that the other driver yield—that is, there is no preferred or presumptive direction for that center lane.
« Last Edit: May 24, 2012, 10:06:29 AM by 1995hoo »
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Re: Rural 3-lane roads: 1950s suicide lane, or modern efficient highway?
« Reply #12 on: May 24, 2012, 11:33:07 AM »

On some roads in Oregon, we have some sections of 3 lane where the passing is restricted and other sections where either direction can pass.  A few places have short stretches of 4-lane so both directions can pass safely. 

US 99 Grapevine was a 3-lane affair before being widened to 4-lanes in the WW II era.  I believe that's where the suicide lane moniker came from.  There was too much traffic for a 3-lane road.

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Re: Rural 3-lane roads: 1950s suicide lane, or modern efficient highway?
« Reply #13 on: May 24, 2012, 01:01:28 PM »

There are many 3-laners that restrict the use of the center lane to left turn movements only (from both directions).  Such roads are typically marked with a dashed yellow line w/a solid yellow line outside of it.

Some of these roads originally had the center lane as a passing lane but converted it to a left turn lane due to accidents; MA 114 through Middleton underwent such a conversion during the early 1980s.
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1995hoo

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Re: Rural 3-lane roads: 1950s suicide lane, or modern efficient highway?
« Reply #14 on: May 24, 2012, 01:24:26 PM »

There are many 3-laners that restrict the use of the center lane to left turn movements only (from both directions).  Such roads are typically marked with a dashed yellow line w/a solid yellow line outside of it.

....

I can think of a number of roads with more than three lanes that use a suicide left turn lane; off the top of my head two five-lane roads (two lanes in each direction plus the center left turn lane) here in Fairfax County come to mind. The particular routes that I'm thinking of were most likely built that way from the beginning, though.
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Re: Rural 3-lane roads: 1950s suicide lane, or modern efficient highway?
« Reply #15 on: May 24, 2012, 02:48:57 PM »

In México, there is a common type of highway which has nearly the same function but different lane striping.  I refer to the highway classification officially called Tipo A2 and commonly called Supercarretera.

On an A2 highway, the shoulder lines are dashed (somewhere between dotted and dashed on a typical US highway), and are intended to facilitate passing even with oncoming traffic.  Slower vehicles and oncoming vehicles ride the shoulder lines to allow a passing vehicle down the center line.

I drew up a quick MSPaint illustration of a typical A2 section (on the left) and what a highway with a suicide lane and 11-foot lane widths might look like in the US.


The main difference is that, on an A2 highway, the shoulder can still be used as a breakdown lane, where as there's basically no room for breakdowns with a suicide lane, at least without widening the roadway.
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Re: Rural 3-lane roads: 1950s suicide lane, or modern efficient highway?
« Reply #16 on: May 24, 2012, 03:27:29 PM »

the A2 is a very good idea, but I wonder how many accidents and near-accidents there would be in the US during an initial adoption phase. 

I remember the photo kphoger posted of passing between two semis on an A2, and other posters remarking on how unusual and frightening that looked. 
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Re: Rural 3-lane roads: 1950s suicide lane, or modern efficient highway?
« Reply #17 on: May 24, 2012, 04:43:55 PM »

I can think of a number of roads with more than three lanes that use a suicide left turn lane; off the top of my head two five-lane roads (two lanes in each direction plus the center left turn lane) here in Fairfax County come to mind. The particular routes that I'm thinking of were most likely built that way from the beginning, though.
I've seen many of those 5-laner roadways.  Baltimore Pike from PA 252 in Media to Oak Ave. at the Upper Darby/Clifton Heights border and MA 114 from Sylvan Street Peabody to I-95 in Danvers are two examples that I am very familiar with.

The only reason why I didn't mention them was because the topic seemed to be directed towards 3-laners.
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kphoger

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Re: Rural 3-lane roads: 1950s suicide lane, or modern efficient highway?
« Reply #18 on: May 24, 2012, 05:51:53 PM »

Suicide lane does not equal Two-way left turn lane
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Re: Rural 3-lane roads: 1950s suicide lane, or modern efficient highway?
« Reply #19 on: May 24, 2012, 10:37:37 PM »

U.S. 15/U.S. 11 north of U.S. 322/U.S. 22 in Pennsylvania (running along the west shore of the Susquehanna River) had that kind of three lane design in the 1960's, but it's gone now (the segment I speak of has two lanes in each direction, and a left turning lane in the middle (mostly open to traffic in both directions).
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Re: Rural 3-lane roads: 1950s suicide lane, or modern efficient highway?
« Reply #20 on: May 25, 2012, 12:03:03 AM »

Kentucky's rural roads with passing (truck climbing) lanes will often allow traffic in the single lane to pull out and pass in the left lane of the two-lane setup. These are signed, "Pass Only When Center Lane is Clear."
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Re: Rural 3-lane roads: 1950s suicide lane, or modern efficient highway?
« Reply #21 on: May 25, 2012, 08:03:18 AM »

My recollection of this road (subject to confirmation) is that it was three-lane much or most of the way.  The critical difference was that every bit of the way was clearly marked as to which direction had the exclusive right to use the center lane.  IIRC (IIRC!) each passing portion was a mile or two long, then would alternate to the other side.

Was it a "2+1 road" like this?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2%2B1_road
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1995hoo

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Re: Rural 3-lane roads: 1950s suicide lane, or modern efficient highway?
« Reply #22 on: May 25, 2012, 09:23:06 AM »

Suicide lane does not equal Two-way left turn lane

I don't believe anyone in this thread said it did. I used the phrase "suicide left-turn lane" because that's what most people I know call that type of lane, but if you look back, I mentioned it specifically in response to the comment from PHLBOS, who noted that many three-lane roads have the center lane set up as a shared left-turn lane.

I think your point might be seen as "not all suicide lanes are left-turn lanes, but all center left-turn lanes shared by opposing traffic are a type of suicide lane."
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Re: Rural 3-lane roads: 1950s suicide lane, or modern efficient highway?
« Reply #23 on: May 25, 2012, 01:48:15 PM »

The only 3 lane section of road I know of where both lanes can pass simultaneously is a short section of Old Stage Road in Chesterfield County, VA. In this photo, I was heading northbound.
(Edited to fix link)

The Chickasaw Turnpike has a similar setup for a brief while.



So, I'm curious:  in the picture above, is it legal to pass three abreast?
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Re: Rural 3-lane roads: 1950s suicide lane, or modern efficient highway?
« Reply #24 on: May 25, 2012, 03:58:18 PM »

The only 3 lane section of road I know of where both lanes can pass simultaneously is a short section of Old Stage Road in Chesterfield County, VA. In this photo, I was heading northbound.
(Edited to fix link)

The Chickasaw Turnpike has a similar setup for a brief while.



So, I'm curious:  in the picture above, is it legal to pass three abreast?

The question assumes there's ever been 3 cars on the turnpike at the same time :P
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