Vancouver is a beautiful city. But it leaves us with a slight predicament when intersections are much larger than normal due to being divided by a boulevard. Many drivers get confused here and with good reason.

First of all, review some basic principles of turning left:

A) When you’re turning left at an intersection on a green light you should always enter the intersection (if no one is turning left in front of you and/or when you can fit your entire vehicle inside the intersection) and the reasons for this are to line up the vehicle with the lane you’re planning to turn into so that you have a SHORT & QUICK turn when there’s a gap in the traffic, without obstructing oncoming traffic. You don’t want a long time going by after you decide to turn till the time you actually get into your new lane. The other reason to enter the intersection is a legal one. If you’re inside the intersection when the light is green, then you are legally allowed to leave the intersection when it is SAFE, regardless of the traffic light colour. In Vancouver, it seems the light is commonly yellow, or even red, by the time it is safe to leave; and that is fine. (Of course, I would prefer people stop for yellow lights when they’re supposed to, but that is a different story..)

B) Whenever possible you should try to keep your vehicle straight whenever waiting to turn left in case of a rear-end collision. With the vehicle straight, the impact would push you merely straight ahead. With the vehicle and/or steering wheel turned to the left, the impact would push the vehicle towards the left and potentially into the path of an oncoming vehicle. In this intersection, it is possible to keep the vehicle straight, and so you should. (There are a few exceptions to this rule at particular intersections).

C) Left turns have zero right-of-way when turning left at a green light. This means no body should have to slow or stop for you, worry about you, or be surprised by you when you’re turning left. This means you yield to straight thru oncoming traffic, pedestrians on your left, and oncoming right-turning traffic (if applicable). This also means you remain stopped and wait patiently in cases where you can not see whether or not there is oncoming traffic (Ie. the vehicle facing you is also sitting in the intersection turning left and you do not have visibility to see what’s behind that vehicle – in this case wait for the light to change and then leave when safe, hesitating if necessary. Passing on the right to go around a left turning vehicle is legal and fine providing you stay on the road when doing so!)

Here is what I would recommend:

Since two vehicles can enter far enough into the intersection to a point where they are both completely past one another (not in each others’ way) and still line up their vehicle with where they are turning, then that is what they should do. This intersection is enormous and there is tonnes of room for this to work. When you do this you have potentially better visibility while keeping your vehicle straight, you have a shorter turn to your lane, and you are out of the way of at least one other oncoming left turning vehicle. (If there are already 2 left turning vehicles in either direction already in the intersection, the 3rd vehicle should stop and wait behind the white line to avoid blocking the entire intersection).

King Edward and MacDonald Vancouver

Notice that this is the exact same thing we do when we’re turning from a side street onto 1st Avenue (the only difference is the road is curved at MacDonald, there’a traffic light instead of a stop sign, and the roads are wider!):


I can not think of one good reason to turn in front of each other like we are used to at this intersection. It would be awkward, it would make it more difficult for both vehicles to have good visibility, and would increase the chances of having problems with thru-vehicles attempting to go around the left turning vehicles. It would also encourage you to angle your vehicle, which we don’t want:

King Edward and MacDonald

Now this is all fine and good until rush hour when multiple vehicles want to turn left and multiple vehicles want to go straight. I think this works best if people work together. If people merely think about themselves and where they are going, it’s not going to work. For example say you want to turn left but there’s already a vehicle inside the intersection waiting. In that case it may be wise to stop behind the white stopping line (in case the light goes yellow you aren’t in a precarious position) and allow the other left turning vehicle to go (if he can). If you have to stop anyway, you may as well stop so that you’re out of the way of the other left turning car. If by pulling forward into the intersection you would be in his way, then what’s the point? He won’t be able to go anywhere, and he’ll end up sitting there staring at you until you move! May as well let him go. If by pulling forward you would NOT be in his way, then you can pull forward behind the car as well and leave the intersection when safe.

Large Vancouver Intersection

I would encourage all drivers to use courtesy, patience and caution around these types of intersections since many people might not know how to handle it proficiently. **Think of the big picture**

Also just remember the basics. First and foremost everybody yields to pedestrians. Left turns yield to thru traffic. Left turns yield to right turns. Thru-traffic, even traffic that is going around left-turning vehicles, should be given the right-of-way to go. Any left turning driver who is not sure or who can not see or who can not tell if it’s safe, should wait for the light to change to yellow/red and then proceed when safe. Do not take chances.

And as with all left turns, if you can you should try to look far up the road and see what kind of oncoming traffic is approaching so that you can accurately predict whether or not the left-turning car in front of you is going to turn soon. If you look and see nothing at all in terms of pedestrians and oncoming traffic, then you can expect the driver to simply turn.  If you see 50 cars coming, then you can expect to wait patiently.

If you’re turning onto MacDonald then turn like a regular left turn (there isn’t enough room in the intersection to go past the opposite left turning vehicle without blocking each other).


Hope this helps.