Accepting change: thoughts inspired by turning left

“If the light is green, and there is no one coming in the other direction, you can turn left.”

This is what I learned about turning left at stoplight (aka traffic signal) many years ago when I learned to drive. Over time, though, turning left at a signal has gotten a bit more involved.

In addition to the basic green light, traffic signals gained a left turn arrow, that would let you know when it was OK to turn left without worrying about oncoming (or side) traffic. Sometimes you could turn left with the flow of traffic on your side, sometimes you and traffic opposite would turn left together.  A sign declaring Left Turn Yield On Green appeared on these signals for when the arrow was not lit, just in case the mere presence of the arrow made you forget that simple rule.

[A short detour: When we lived in NJ, there were many intersections that did not have left turn arrows, but had signs declaring Delayed Green. It took me a little while to realize what this meant was, “Your light is green, the other direction’s traffic is not, so go ahead and turn left if you like.” Of course, this was at the seemingly rare intersection where you could actually turn left by turning left.]

Some intersections then earned an actual Left Turn Signal, where a left turn could only be made when the arrow was green, independent of the regular flow of traffic. I assume these are in place to help support efficient traffic flow or safety, but they can be a bit irritating when the main light is green, there is no traffic, and you are stuck with a red arrow and can’t turn until the light cycles through.

There is now a newer variation on the theme, something I first noticed several years ago: a left turn signal, separate from the main flow signal, that included a flashing yellow arrow in addition to the red and green arrows, with an accompanying sign letting you know, Left Turn Yield on Flashing Yellow. At first I thought this a bit silly, not sure what benefit this really gave. But then I had occasion to use one of those flashing yellow arrows to turn left, when the main flow light was red.

I have to admit, it kind of freaked me out a bit the first time I made that turn with the main light red, knowing that the light for the other direction was green. “Freaked out” may be a bit strong, but it was definitely an unfamiliar and uncomfortable feeling. I’ve been driving for 30+ years, and this was a significant change.

A good lesson for any type of change (maybe in your life or your company): acknowledge the change, understand its history, and give it a chance.

Sometimes the long way around is the best option

For the past 5 years or so my typical daily commute to the office was about 20 feet, up the stairs and to the right. A recent change in policy, however, now has me making the slog from West St. Louis County across the river (the big one, the Mississippi) to O’Fallon, IL.

Since I live close to Highway 40 – I mean, Interstate 64 – and my office in O’Fallon is right off that highway, the logical route would be to just take I-64. The only problem is that this takes me straight through downtown St. Louis city. Which usually isn’t too bad. Except, of course at rush hour. In the heart of construction season. A quick look at Google Maps with the traffic layer turned on shows what a nightmare that can be. Just look at all that red.


For the first couple of weeks I took that route. Because it was so direct, even though I could literally see the red as I was stopping and starting in the traffic, putting my defensive driving skills to the test as at least one person every day seemed to actively be trying to take me out. Luckily (for me), every day it was someone else who ended up on the side of the road, insurance company on the phone and the police writing up the report as they all waited for the tow truck.

And then it occurred to me – this is why they built I-270/255. D’uh. I hadn’t thought of it before because that route, that bypass, is a longer (miles wise) and less direct route. A quick check with Google Maps showed what I was starting to suspect. Yes, there are more miles involved, but fewer minutes. And less red.


As it turns out it is only about 5 miles more driving and on an average day (like today) nearly 15 fewer minutes. And a much more pleasant drive with practically no stops, or even slow downs, due to jams. Just a bit more stop and go due to traffic lights on Manchester Road.

So before you think, “I’ll just take the direct route, I’m sure it’s the quickest and least stressful,” take a moment to check your options. Take it from me, you’ll be glad you did.

“It’s not the traffic that stresses you out, it’s your reaction to the traffic that stresses you out.”  — Scott Ginsberg