View Full Version : GPS, Jug heads & Michigan lefts

J. Dillon
02-04-2007, 04:57 PM
What MapQuest and G.P.S. Don’t Tell You Can Get You Lost

From the NY Times Feb 4th

GETTING driving directions is an easy process these days with computer software, mapping Web sites and G.P.S. systems. They will indeed get you from Point A to Point B, but they often do it in standard English, bland as a news anchor’s accent. Whether you’re headed for a Brooklyn brownstone or an Indiana office park, the route will be described as a series of intersections and turns.
For the vernacular version, inquire at a gas station. In New Jersey, you could be told to pass a jughandle. In Detroit, you could be advised to take a Michigan left. Texans could tell you to splash through a ford or take a frontage road. People in Kirkland, Wash., will warn you to watch for a pedestrian flag crossing; the city actually provides orange flags to carry in crosswalks to help drivers see walkers.
“We’re familiar with jughandles and Michigan lefts, but a lot of people aren’t,” said Christian Dwyer, director of operations for MapQuest. Regionalisms “would not be part of the MapQuest narrative.”
But they remain part of the drive in many places in the country. While these regionalisms can make directions confusing, drivers coming upon these turns and loops can become frustrated and disoriented. It may not be hard to understand what’s going on when a pedestrian waves a flag in a crosswalk, but a first encounter with a Michigan left or a jughandle can be daunting.
So some advanced knowledge would be helpful. For the perplexed, here is a field guide.
Craig Randall of Boise, Idaho, was certainly confused. On a business trip to New Jersey, he decided to unwind at a movie theater he could see while driving on Route 10 near Whippany. But the theater was as elusive as a mirage. He got to the intersection, but was unable to turn left from Route 10 to get to the theater.
Mr. Randall was about to discover the jughandle. It is a one-way road that loops vehicles from the right lane of a main road to a cross street where the left can be made without having to cross traffic on the main road. A jughandle is almost like an exit ramp off a highway. (An animation of this and other unconventional intersection junctions are at attap.umd.edu/UAID.php (http://attap.umd.edu/UAID.php), a Web site developed by the Maryland State Highway Administration and the University of Maryland (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/u/university_of_maryland/index.html?inline=nyt-org).)
So Mr. Randall, a business consultant, needed to find the jughandle for that intersection, make a right into it, then loop around to the left to get to his movie. He said the Google map he had consulted didn’t show the jughandle.
“It has a blob next to Highway 10,” he said.
Dan Stessel, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Transportation, said jughandles were first built in New Jersey in the late 1950s. Jughandles reduce traffic congestion and backups, he said.
“They’re well accepted in New Jersey and still relevant today,” he said.
Low-Water Crossings
If you ignore road barricades in San Antonio after a heavy rain, your car might float away. Creeks and streams in many areas of Texas are often topped with a concrete slab, rather than a bridge, where the water can rise quickly after a downpour. So if you come upon one during a strong storm, it may be best to find an alternative route.
Mitchell Welch, a corporate trainer and lifelong San Antonio resident, said he avoided the concrete crossings whenever they had water on them. “They will take your car off the road,” he said. “I don’t go near them, but some people do.”
The crossings, also called fords, are still being built in some places, including Kentucky, because they are cheaper than bridges.
The Michigan Left
“After a year, maybe I’ll stop complaining about it or just get used to it,” said Craig Gross, who moved last April from Southern California to Grand Rapids, Mich., where he is still experiencing culture shock over the median U-turn crossover. It’s often called the Michigan left because of its widespread use in that state.
Like the jughandle, the Michigan left is designed to block left turns at intersections. Drivers wishing to turn left onto a cross street from a main road must first drive past the cross street. An opening through the median is farther down the road, usually with its own turn lane. Drivers then make a U-turn at the opening, often assisted by a traffic light that stops oncoming traffic, and double back to the cross street. A Michigan left, in essence, is a legal U-turn. The theory is that the U-turn is less disruptive to traffic flow then a left-hand turn.
Mr. Gross, the pastor of an online anti-pornography ministry, XXXchurch.com (http://xxxchurch.com/), said the Michigan left had caused him to overshoot his own house and even led him to break the law.
“I end up making more illegal turns,” he said.

The Michigan left has its admirers. In North Carolina, it has been adapted into the Superstreet plan being built along Route 17 south of Wilmington. The Superstreet uses median U-turn crossovers to restrict turns from cross streets rather than the main road, “but it’s the same idea,” said Kevin Lacy, a state traffic engineer, adding that not all North Carolinians have welcomed the new design. “It’s different, and everyone is a little concerned about different,” he said.
Frontage Roads
Another Texas tradition is the service, or frontage, road built next to a highway — thousands of miles of asphalt Mini-Me’s that offer easy access to the stores, restaurants and office parks.
So if drivers want to stop at a diner off the highway, they exit, then use the parallel frontage road to get to the restaurant.
In an effort to cut costs, the Texas Department of Transportation in 2003 proposed limiting the construction of new frontage roads. However, “the public outcry was pretty loud,” said Mark Cross, a spokesman for the transportation department, and the proposal was withdrawn.
“Texans are used to frontage roads,” Mr. Cross said. “They just did not see them going away.”
Pedestrian Flags
In more than a dozen states, including Utah, Virginia and Washington, pedestrians can carry brightly colored government-supplied flags in crosswalks to be more conspicuous.
Outsiders wonder what’s going on, but they brake. “If you’re driving and you see a person waving a flag at you, and they’re in a crosswalk, you kind of get the idea,” said David Godfrey, the transportation engineering manager of Kirkland, Wash.
He said his city’s pedestrian flag program began in the mid-1990s. At 50 locations in the city, pedestrians are encouraged to take flags from holders placed near crosswalks, hold them aloft while crossing the street, then return them to receptacles on the other side.
Some communities, including Berkeley, Calif., have abandoned their flags because few people used them and many flags were stolen. Mr. Godfrey said pedestrians in Kirkland would sometimes whirl the flags playfully while crossing, perhaps because “they’d feel foolish carrying them in a safety kind of way.”
Some of these regional oddities are finding a place in online maps. Microsoft’s Live Search maps (maps.live.com (http://maps.live.com/)) includes a pushpin option that allows users to write pop-up captions on directions, like “Take the jughandle here to make your left.”
And MapQuest said it would also offer a way to add commentary to its maps when the company comes out with a personalizing feature later this year.
“Consumers could say,” said Mr. Dwyer of MapQuest, “ ‘This is what MapQuest tells you, but let me tell it to you another way.” ’