Suicide lanes dominant

Traffic flows through Crystal River as motorists navigate north and southbound lanes as well as the middle, turn lane known as a suicide lane. Many business owners like the present configuration because it allows easy access.

We’ve all driven on them.

They’re those center left-turn lanes on U.S. 19, State Road 44 or just about any other major highway in Citrus County.

They’re commonly called "suicide lanes," because traffic from both directions can enter the one lane, creating a sometimes-dangerous situation, especially if two vehicles are entering the lane at the same time.

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The Florida Department of Transportation contends the lanes encourage crashes, while business owners value the access they provide over raised medians that require motorists to make u-turns.

The area with most center-turn-lane crashes in the county is on U.S. 19 in Crystal River between Northwest First Avenue and the intersection with Northwest Sixth Avenue just south of the mall, according to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).

Think you know how to navigate the lanes? Here's a quiz. See how many you get right.

Q: "Suicide lane" is a bit melodramatic. Is there a better name for them?

A: Yes. Call them two-way, center left-turn lanes.

Q: I see people driving a mile or so in these lanes instead of trying to turn left immediately. Are they allowed to be used as third lanes?

A: No. The maximum distance drivers can travel in the lanes before turning is 300 feet. They are not meant to be travelled on for indefinite periods of time.

Q: Can I use them as passing lanes?

A: Absolutely not. Many head-on crashes occur when drivers from either side of the road meet in the center turn lane.

Q: Can I use the center left turn lane to merge into traffic?

A: No, though lots of people do this.

Q: Do I have to use my turn signals in the center turn lane?

A: Yes, you must use your turn signal. This might seem like a no-brainer, but many people don’t do it. Better yet, turn your signal on before entering the lane to warn other drivers.

Q: If these are so dangerous, why even have them? What purpose do they serve?

A: They cut down on congestion by taking vehicles making left turn lanes out of the general flow of through traffic. That cuts down on rear-end and sideswipe collisions. Emergency vehicles can use them, as well.

Q: Any drawbacks?

A: Pedestrians and bicyclists who use the lanes to cross roads are put at greater risk.

Q: I hear that these lanes came up while discussing the widening of County Road 491. What’s up with that?

A: One place suicide lanes will not show up is on the second phase of widening on County Road 491 from State Road 44 north to County Road 486.

A center turn lane had been suggested for the new divided highway, but a consultant said that would jeopardize the state grant that will pay for half the construction.

Q: Downtown Crystal River is full of suicide lanes. What about those?

A: A proposed congestion management study for Crystal River released last year removes sections of the U.S. 19 center turn lane between Northwest Sixth Avenue and the junction with State Road 44, and replaces it with raised and landscaped medians.

Many business owners oppose the recommendation for fear it would make it harder for motorists to access their businesses.

Contact Chronicle reporter Michael D. Bates at 352-563-3205 or mbates@chronicleonline.com.