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Doug Robinson: Meet Tim Taylor, the man who gets you to and from work every day

Published: Monday, July 14 2014 3:00 p.m. MDT

Traffic engineer Tim Taylor of WCEC Engineers poses for photos Friday, July 11, 2014.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Ever wondered who creates and implements those crazy, counterintuitive intersections with the NO LEFT TURN signs that are so in vogue these days?

You know the intersections I’m talking about.

It appears the traffic engineers were possibly insane when they drew them up on the drawing board late one night, just for laughs. They’re silly with left-turn bans, U-turns and veering to the other side of oncoming traffic so that drivers are actually driving on the "wrong" side of the road. This can be so confusing for the uninitiated driver that online videos have been posted to explain why and how they work. You know things have changed when you have to be tutored to make a left turn in this state.

Well, anyway, I met one of the guys who designs and/or implements these things. His name is Tim Taylor. It turns out that Taylor is sane and devoted to his job, and that those intersections are considered high-tech and innovative. Oh, and they work, too.

I interviewed Taylor one afternoon, and all I can tell you is that I’m not smart enough to talk to him about traffic theory. It was like hearing Stephen Hawking explain black holes and quantum mechanics.

Some kids want to play football when they grow up and others want to be a doctor or lawyer or bass guitarist in a rock band: “Since I was a little kid, I wanted to do something with roads,” says Taylor.

Which accounts for the passion he brings to the job. He doodles intersections on paper the way football coaches draw up plays. He can’t drive by an empty lot without wondering what it will become in the future and how he will solve the traffic challenges it will create. That’s how traffic engineers roll.

“We are passionate about what we do,” he says. “Nerdly passionate. We feel we have a responsibility to get people somewhere safely and efficiently. That’s an exciting thing to think I can help people do that.”

Taylor’s job is not as simple as it sounds, largely for one reason: LEFT TURNS. Left turns are the bane of his professional life. Left turns are to traffic engineers what viruses are to ITs.

At a busy intersection, only a few hundred drivers want to turn left, while thousands want to drive straight through. The few impede the many because the latter must stop to allow the former to pass in front of them, if you follow. The traffic engineer’s challenge is to resolve, as much as possible, the conflict between left turns and through movements by getting those left turns through with the least stoppage of the through lanes as possible.

Taylor likes to say: “You can’t build your way out of congestion. A 20-lane freeway is not going to resolve the problem.” His point is that there are still intersections and people trying to make those left turns. One option is to have one lane pass over or under the other, but the cost is prohibitive and rarely utilized anywhere other than on a freeway. The solution, according to the best minds in the business, is innovative intersections.

To wit: The continuous flow intersection, or CFI. There are 11 of them in northern Utah, most of them in the Salt Lake Valley along Bangerter Highway. According to a UDOT tutorial online, the CFI allows cars to cross over to the left side before they get to the intersection, which reduces “conflict points” or places where traffic must stop for left-turn cars. Watch the tutorial for more clarification.

"The concept is new to Utah, but they've been using them in Michigan for years," says Taylor. "It's called a 'Michigan left,' or a 'thru turn.' "

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