Starting on August 15, left turns will be prohibited on Peace Avenue from Western Central Intersection to Eastern Central Intersection, reported the Traffic Police Department this week. A significant shake-up in the Ulaanbaatar road network, the move was a surprise to many and it has been a polarizing issue since the announcement. Will prohibiting left turns be able to decrease traffic flow as traffic authorities believe or will it only convolute an already chaotic road system?
“Beginning on August 15, drivers will be prohibited from turning left at all seven intersections on Peace Avenue from Western Central Intersection to Eastern Central Intersection,” Major B.Ochirbat of the Traffic Police Department told media.
To put into perspective, drivers will not be allowed to turn left on Peace Avenue starting from around Gandantegchinlen Monastery (Barrun Durvun Zam) until Kempinski Hotel (Zuun Durvun Zam).
The announcement has received criticisms from the public, with some going as far as to question the competence of the authorities that made the decision. Many critics have scrutinized the police for the sudden change without much notice. Others have questioned why the traffic department did not conduct trial runs at different intersections.
Notwithstanding, the Traffic Police Department will go through with their decision and just as the public became accustomed to the license plate restrictions, drivers will adjust. The question remains, will the new measure work as intended to decrease the pressure of traffic on the main roads of Ulaanbaatar?
What many have declared incompetency could prove to be an effective measure. International opinion and experience aggregated over decades backs the decisions of the authorities to prohibit left turns on seven of the busiest intersections in the city. Studies such as the Analysis of Crossing Path Crashes conducted by the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that left turns not only can increase traffic but are also dangerous. The study showed that 53.1 percent of crossing-path crashes involve left turns, but only 5.7 percent involve right turns.
New York City began restricting left-hand turns over a decade ago in an effort to improve congestion and pedestrian and traffic safety. Since then, minimizing left turns resulted in a 28 percent decrease in pedestrian fatalities and a 22 percent decrease in serious injuries to pedestrians. If one of the largest metropolitans in the world in New York is able to implement such measures relatively without hassle, the same can be done in Ulaanbaatar.
Not turning left is also economic; according to the world’s largest package delivery company UPS. Recently, UPS grabbed headlines after it was reported that by favoring right-hand turns at all times — unless a left is unavoidable — the carrier saves millions of gallons of fuel each year, and avoids emissions equivalent to over 20,000 passenger cars. UPS has since incorporated the procedure in most countries around the world.
The new procedure to restrict left turns at seven intersections will lessen congestion on the main roads but many are concerned of the pressure it will put on smaller roads. Banning left turns will not change the fact that drivers need to go in that direction. Drivers will have to go around and maneuver in order to reach certain roads. The concern of potential congestion in surrounding smaller roads due to the new measure is not baseless. In particular, the already congested small intersection in front of School No.1 will become more chaotic.
The public is right to criticize the authorities for not conducting trial tests, accommodating and modifying the intersections to fit the new restriction, and for announcing it on such short notice. However, the reasoning behind the decision is scientifically sound. Countless studies have been conducted on left turns in developed countries and the majority of them have concluded that left-turns are more dangerous and cause more traffic. The Traffic Police said that their study found that banning left turns on central roads will significantly lower traffic congestion.
While many see this as just another way to restrict drivers, the implementation of more efficient road systems along with a better surveillance system and traffic rule enforcement is helping to make Ulaanbaatar’s road system more comprehensive. Effective albeit unpopular decisions such as this one will help improve the driving culture and safety of Ulaanbaatar.