The signage eastbound on 168th Street SW as you approach Highway 99 is confusing and leads to people in the center lane illegally turning left. Lynnwood’s traffic engineer said it’s all up to standards and code. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The signage eastbound on 168th Street SW as you approach Highway 99 is confusing and leads to people in the center lane illegally turning left. Lynnwood’s traffic engineer said it’s all up to standards and code. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Why am I driving straight under a left-turn sign in Lynnwood?

A reader asked about 168th Street Southwest and Highway 99 signage, which a city engineer says is OK.

Drivers process a lot of information while piloting their vehicles.

Road conditions. Signals. Distance in front, to the sides and behind. Speed. Room to change lanes. Traffic ahead. And signs, signs, signs.

Major roads are a barrage of symbols and words cluing people to what’s coming.

Sometimes, that can confuse drivers even when the signs are made and positioned according to standards and statutes.

That could be the case for at least one driver at a busy intersection of Highway 99 at 168th Street Southwest in Lynnwood. It’s almost at the northern city limits near Keeler’s Corner where 34,000 vehicles used the highway every day in 2019, according to Washington State Department of Transportation data.

“This intersection has bothered me for several years, but last week I saw yet another car make a left turn mistake, so I am writing you,” Gary Noble of Lynnwood wrote in an email to The Herald.

His concern was for eastbound drivers on 168th Street Southwest. As they approach the highway intersection, drivers have three lanes: left turn, straight, and a straight or right turn. Noble said the problem is the signs and lights across the intersection.

As drivers going east on 168th Street Southwest pass through the intersection and under the traffic signal and signs, vehicles in the straight lane go directly under the left-turn only sign.

“This confused me one rainy night several years ago, and since then I have seen many instances of cars in the center lane hesitating and suddenly turning left instead of continuing straight,” Noble wrote. “This could be easily remedied by replacing the single large left-turn arrow sign with the standard three lane designation sign (left arrow, forward arrow, forward/right arrow).”

I drove through the intersection recently to see what Noble described. As I approached the intersection from 48th Avenue West, the signage marking the lanes’ directions seemed clear enough and led me to the center through-lane. But as I crossed the intersection, sure enough that left-turn sign went right over my car.

As odd as that design may seem, it’s all up to code, City of Lynnwood traffic engineer Paul Coffelt said.

“It is perfectly standard,” he said. “The sign and the signal head are positioned very appropriately.”

This year, there have been five collisions at that intersection, according to WSDOT crash report data. Of those, only one collision reportedly was related to signage, and it was the driver’s fault for allegedly ignoring the signals and signs.

That’s indicative of the data Coffelt regularly reviews for his job, which he has held since 2009. Travel patterns, including crashes, can flag problems on roads. Not to disparage the good people driving in and through Lynnwood, and certainly not Noble, but the citywide numbers tell Coffelt that human error could be the problem more than any engineered feature.

“On our streets, there is a fairly consistent percentage of drivers who cannot correctly judge distance, time and speed,” Coffelt said.

He hasn’t found anything in the traffic safety data for this particular intersection or, at least, not related to improper left turns or confusion about lane designations.

“I tried real hard to find even a single collision that I could point back to of a driver being confused about being the straight lane or the left turn lane,” said Coffelt, who also checked with the traffic unit in the Lynnwood Police Department for their anecdotal information about 168th and Highway 99. It wasn’t on their radar.

Information bombards drivers as they approach that intersection. There are overhead signs along the roadside, markings on the street itself about which lanes are turn lanes and lines to denote what kind of lane it is.

“People don’t see signs,” Coffelt said. “Signs disappear, you see hundreds or dozens of them, then eventually they kind of disappear or fade into the background.”

The city could install more signs west of the intersection. An advanced lane use sign, white with black letters, at least 300 feet before the stop lines, is one option. But if there are issues at an intersection, Coffelt said the priorities are to check that the pavement markings are intact and the paint is bright.

On the east side of the intersection, the driveway into the commercial strip with a Starbucks has been the site of several crashes. Coffelt and the city’s public works employees haven’t found an engineering solution yet.

“There’s a lot of processing that should be going on in drivers’ minds,” Coffelt said.

Have a question? Email Please include your first and last name and city of residence.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Closing this bedroom door during an apartment fire in Everett helped contain flames, smoke and carbon monoxide, firefighters say. (Everett Fire Department) 20220120
Crucial move during Everett fire: Closing the bedroom door

Two residents were rescued from a bedroom at the Riverdale Apartments. In all, three were injured.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Stanwood in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Regulators OK doubling of composting operation in Stanwood

Lenz Enterprises can now handle 150,000 tons a year. Residents worry odors will be a problem.

An alleged impaired driver hit and killed two adults Thursday morning at the intersection of 204th Street NE and Highway 9. (Arlington Police Department)
2 pedestrians die after being hit by allegedly impaired driver

The two adults were struck in Arlington around 2:30 a.m. Thursday at an intersection on Highway 9.

Police respond in downtown Everett after a man collapsed with a gunshot wound Nov. 27, 2021. He later died. (Caleb Hutton / Herald file)
Everett police continue to investigate November killing

Jerome Burnett, 48, died at the hospital. A suspect fled, according to police.

Judge: Sex abuse of former Marysville student violated law

A woman sued the district last year, accusing a longtime art teacher of sexual abuse in the 1980s.

NO CAPTION NECESSARY: Logo for the Cornfield Report by Jerry Cornfield. 20200112
Democrats ready to ditch the other ‘grand bargain’ of 2021

Here’s what’s happening on Day 10 of the 2022 session of the Washington Legislature.

Darrell Cain, Pierce College Puyallup president and incoming Everett Community College interim president
Pierce College Puyallup president picked to lead EvCC for now

Everett Community College’s board chose Darrell Cain as its interim president.

Michael Jensen, left, and Nathan Jensen, right, pick up trash in their encampment that they being forced to clear out of by Parks Department the near Silver Lake on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Annual homeless count could shed light on pandemic’s impact

Snohomish County canceled its 2021 point-in-time count. Officials hope this year’s will bring clarity.

Ballots sent for special election on public schools’ funding

Levies to pay for staff, programs, computers and capital projects are on the Feb. 8 ballot across Snohomish County.

Most Read